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There's also nothing wrong with the thick 14-ounce filet mignon, a buttery piece of beef that you can cut with a glance. And at $19.95, the tenderloin brochette is almost a bargain: five two-ounce chunks skewered with onions, pepper, mushrooms and tomato, coated with a peppery diablo sauce and served over rice. The rib eye, however, is a comparative disappointment, falling short in both beefy wallop and juicy tenderness. Maybe that's why it's about 20 percent cheaper than the sirloin, porterhouse and filet mignon.
Be careful with side dishes. They're big enough for two people to share, and they run up the bill. My top choice would be the sauteed wild mushrooms, a fragrant blend of portabella, cremini and shiitake varieties. Crispy lyonnaise potatoes are thick with bacon and onions,but very heavy. Hash browns are all crunch, no potato, and unpleasantly oily to boot. And if you crave greenery, the steamed broccoli spears are satisfactory, as long as you don't drench them with the unimpressive hollandaise.
It's not very likely you'll be hungrily panting for the dessert tray. But Morton's does make it tempting to linger. On the heels of a big steak, the overpowering chocolate Godiva cake, a rich, moist chocolate sponge cake encasing a molten chocolate interior, will test your body's limits. An authentic New York-style cheesecake and berries in a light sabayon will send you home smiling.
7001 N. Scottsdale Road
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
Region: Paradise Valley
One word of warning: After dinner at Morton's, do not attempt to operate heavy machinery.
Ruth's Chris Steak House, 7001 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 991-5988. Hours: Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10:30 p.m.
The steaks at Ruth's Chris sure smell good. But I have no idea how they actually look. That's because management keeps this place as dark as a tunnel of love.
I don't get it. It's so dark here, you can't even read the menu: The servers, evidently prepared for customer complaints, come armed with small flashlights. Maybe some people think eating in the dark is romantic. I think it's annoying.
Gastronomically, the two operative words at Ruth's Chris are "beef" and "butter." Like Morton's, the meat is prime, the best you can get. But here, the steaks are cooked at scorchingly high temperatures, sizzled in butter. (When your steak arrives, the server asks you to raise your napkin over your shirt, so you won't be splattered with butter.)
The steaks aren't the only things drenched in butter. The mushroom-caps appetizer, thickly stuffed with crabmeat, sits in enough butter to make a Wisconsin dairy farmer stand up and cheer. Same for the five barbecued shrimp, which also benefit from a dose of Cajun spices. A serviceable Italian salad, made with iceberg lettuce, tomato, artichokes, anchovies and cheese, is a lighter way to start off.
When I'm paying more than 20 bucks for a slab of U.S.D.A. corn-fed prime beef, I don't expect any lapses. Every steak should be perfect every time. Unfortunately, our dinners turned out to be a bit more hit-and-miss.
When the kitchen staffers are paying attention, they're clearly capable of sending beef lovers to steak nirvana. That's particularly true for the T-bone, 16 ounces of animal-protein perfection that almost explodes with beefy flavor. I could literally feel my body jumping for joy with every bite. It's also true for the 14-ounce filet mignon, a meltingly tender morsel that goes down as smoothly as a '61 Lafite-Rothschild.
But someone on the line flubbed our 50-dollar, 48-ounce porterhouse for two. We asked for medium, which, according to the menu, means a pink center. Instead, we got a steak so red it must have been blushing. Now, since the kitchen trims the meat off the bone and cuts it into smaller slices, how come nobody back there noticed the discrepancy between what we ordered and what we got?
What annoyed my dining mate and me even more was that we had to eat some of this misprepared steak to discover the problem. That's because it's so dark in here that we couldn't see what we were eating. We called the server and her flashlight over to verify our suspicions of undercooking. She was properly apologetic and whisked the meat backed to the kitchen for additional treatment. But the incident left a bad taste in my mouth.
So did the rib eye steak. Because of the cavernlike darkness, my friend couldn't tell until it was too late that he was trying to chew a piece of gristle that he had cut into. After several more ineffective stabs in the dark to isolate the meat, he threw up his hands in despair.
I had the server wrap up the rib eye for home lab inspection. I found about one-third of the 16-ounce slab a mass of inedible gristle. How did this steak ever pass muster?
I've always thought Ruth's Chris' side dishes deserved star billing, and recent visits haven't changed my mind. Cottage fries come crisp and sizzling; steamed broccoli au gratin arrives draped with bubbling Cheddar cheese; lyonnaise potatoes don't stint on the fried onions; and the rich creamed spinach makes it easy to eat your vegetables.