STEAKSALL KINDS

If you're like me, steak is not a weekly part of your diet. But I still like a good piece of meat every now and then, to celebrate a special occasion or satisfy a craving. Next time this happens, you'll find me at the new Ruth's Chris. It has everything I want in a steak house.

Continuing our drink analogy, if Ruth's Chris is Scotch-and-water-on-the-rocks, the Chart House is more like a pina colada.

This extremely popular McCormick Ranch restaurant lacks the visual calm of its Scottsdale Seville counterpart. Here the eye is immediately assailed by a chaotic pastiche of floral patterns. From the vibrant carpet to the Hawaiian-shirt-inspired waitstaff uniforms, the decor goes beyond busy to disorienting.

But drowning itself in tropical prints has not hurt the Chart House's business. This well-located restaurant, with a 180-degree view of a manmade lake and green fairways, is packed to capacity on the weeknight my dining accomplice and I visit. Every booth and table is full of business folk or couples on dates or families celebrating something or other. At least, I assume they're here for business or a special occasion, because the Chart House isn't cheap. Entrees start at $15.25 and work their way up to $35.95 for the double-tail Australian lobster. But included in this price is vegetable, potato and bread as well as the thirty-foot salad bar or a bowl of New England clam chowder or a salad prepared by your waitperson. The third option is probably the way to go.

We make the mistake of choosing the salad bar. Sure enough, no sooner do we queue up than gridlock develops. No wonder. I spot an artiste up ahead. She is selecting, ever so carefully, from the orange carrots, the red radishes, the green scallions. She is selecting so carefully, I'd like to strangle her. Meanwhile, the line bulges into the dining room behind us, and people grow impatient for their turn at the tongs.

And anyway, call me a snob, but there's something so declasse about salad bars. Sure, back in high school and college I thought they were pretty groovy--the concept was totally new then. Now, however, I simply find them a hassle and a turnoff. If I'm in a fine-dining setting, as the Chart House purports to be, I want to relax, not wait in lines. Just bring me a nice salad, okay? If I want an appetizer, I'll order it. But enough on that score.

It is our good fortune to have a waitress who is very attentive. She observes the salad-bar snafu and times the rest of our meal accordingly. When our entrees arrive, I am pleased. My prime rib is pink and perfect, my baked potato fluffy and steaming. My accomplice's plate of coconut shrimp is also quite attractive. Eight large fried shrimp are presented atop a bed of white, strawlike noodles on a black, shell-shaped platter. Too bad the side dish of rice pilaf looks so ordinary by comparison.

I get the feeling not too many people make it to dessert here. No big loss. The Chart House offers only three items: chocolate mousse pie, mud pie and Key lime pie. Our waitress warns us that the mud pie is big enough for two. She is right. The Chart House's version is a gargantuan concoction of coffee ice cream edged in fudge on a chocolate cookie crust, topped with whipped cream and salted crushed almonds. It reminds me of the "Mexican sundaes" of my youth in upstate New York (ice cream with chocolate sauce and peanuts). I end up taking two thirds of it home. It actually survives the trip and I eat it for brunch a few days later.

The Chart House owes much of its success to that age-old real estate formula: location, location, location. Not only is the restaurant situated in tony north Scottsdale, but it has one of the most impressive views in town. I can see why people flock here, but I don't have to join them.

Ruth's Chris Steak House, 7001 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 991-5988. Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday; Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

The Chart House, 7255 McCormick Parkway, Scottsdale, 951-2550. Hours: 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

anywhere

Just being in a roomful of admitted steak lovers can seem positively fraternal.

ruth chris

The restaurant serves only aged, corn-fed beef bred in the American Midwest. The meat is never frozen and is cut to order.

chart house

She is selecting, ever so carefully, from the orange carrots, the red radishes, the green scallions. I'd like to strangle her. The Chart House's mud pie is a gargantuan concoction of coffee ice cream edged in fudge on a chocolate cookie crust.

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