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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Decent food with no big surprises

Ruth's Chris is a dependable choice for decent food with no great surprises (except maybe when you see the bill).
The Business Times - September 10, 2012
By: Jaime Ee
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Decent food with no big surprises Steak your claim: there are no quibbles with the aged US prime steaks - PHOTO: MSLGROUP SINGAPORE

THE life of a steak-eater is a mighty complicated one. It's not as simple as say, picking a rib-eye over a sirloin, or testing your knowledge of cow anatomy with the likes of an onglet, hanger, tomahawk or tri-tip.

No. You have to pick from grass or grain-fed specimens from the competing pastures of Australia and New Zealand; ponder the merits of half-breed against full blood wagyu; engage in debate over whether the Australian marbling of eight or nine can compete with the Japanese A4 or A5; mull over whether the premium prices of USDA prime are justified and; do you even want to consider including Argentinian in this spectrum?

So maybe it's just as well that at Ruth's Chris Steak House, much of the decision making has already been done for you. Odd name notwithstanding (there's a story about it at the back of the menu), the Louisiana-based chain restaurant banks on the old-fashioned philosophy it started out with in 1965 - only US beef, a few standard cuts and the option of cooking it rare to well-done, seared on super high heat on both sides and sent to your table on a sizzling hot plate. No fuss, no muss.

That Ruth's Chris has parlayed its success into a 100-restaurant franchise success does raise the scepticism level a little - is it a Morton's wannabe or the Applebee's of steakhouses? But once you step up to the entrance of its Marina Mandarin restaurant (the former Ristorante Bologna premises), you're well assured that this is a well-oiled operation that offers an upscale steak-eating experience in classic steakhouse surroundings.

The first thing you notice is the swirl of accents in the dining room - Hong Kong, Taiwan, with a vague American twang thrown in. Ruth's Chris has outlets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, so some staff have been seconded to help the month-old Singapore outpost find its footing.

The service is polished, and as old-school as its dining room decor of warm wood tones, rich pile carpets and leather upholstery. Each table is assigned a specific server who will attend to you throughout your meal - ours is named Zack, a friendly and very experienced staff from Ruth's Chris in Taipei.

After some dithering over whether to order the crab cakes ($35) or the barbecued shrimp ($35), we picked both. Crab cakes seem to be a steakhouse staple, and this particular version appeared as two large lumps of meaty crabmeat and little else, just panfried in butter and lemon, with a scattering of diced peppers.

Presentation doesn't seem to be a big thing at this restaurant - much of the food comes unadorned, on utilitarian white plates (maybe because they can take the strain of being exposed to the kind of high temperatures that you wouldn't submit fine bone china to).

The crabcakes were very decent, even if they didn't quite rock our boat with its one-dimensional flavour note. If someone had clubbed a couple of Sri Lankan crabs that morning and freed them of their hard shells by hand, we might have been more impressed, but the meat - though perfectly acceptable - tasted like a more convenient method had been employed.

Meanwhile, the barbecued shrimp appeared grilled and bouncy, swimming in a thick creamy orange-hued sauce made from cooking down butter, garlic, white wine and spices. Pleasant, but it reminded us of a warm, more mellow-flavoured cocktail sauce - the kind that accompanies cold shrimp at American family restaurants which want to offer something more stylish than thousand island dressing. The shrimp came with a chunk of garlic toast - made from the same airy, dry lacklustre loaf in the bread basket.

The chopped salad ($23) was pretty good - a tasty melange of shredded lettuce, radicchio, red onions and raw mushrooms in a creamy dressing with croutons, blue cheese and crispy onion rings adding extra dimension. The seafood gumbo that was the soup of the day tasted like a beefy minestrone, but was actually a shellfish broth cooked with vegetables and spicy sausage which gave it a pleasant smoky accent. Compared to an in-your-face gumbo this is pretty much a shy cousin, but even then, it's a bit of an acquired taste.

Once we get down to the real thing - the aged US prime steaks - there are no quibbles at all. The 8oz petite fillet ($85) and 12oz rib eye are grilled as they should be. Both sides are seared just enough to get the prerequisite grill marks, and the meat is juicy and done to request - medium rare.

The fillet cut is usually too lean to impart much flavour, but this version is mild, tender and oozing with juices. The ribeye with its attendant marbling is of course tastier, but we enjoyed both. The only bugbear was the small plates used to hold the steaks that preclude adding accompaniments such as steak fries or vegetables on the same plate. What the thinking is behind using the kind of plates you usually find at buffets because they don't want you to take too much food, we don't know.

Finally, an issue with their banana delivery meant that we couldn't sample its famed banana cream pie. Reluctantly, we agreed to try the cheesecake ($25) which turned out to be the highlight of the meal - a thick fortress of biscuit crumb crust encasing a light, citrusy cream cheese filling. It's the size of a small cake and so good, they ought to retail it.

So - if you're a steak-eater looking for a new place to check out, Ruth's Chris is a dependable choice for decent food with no great surprises (except maybe when you see the bill). In this case, the truism holds true - you get what you pay for. Although the next topic up for debate could be: Is the high restaurant price of a good steak really worth it?

Rating: 7/10

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