Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – Calgary, AB


Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
294-115 9 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 246-3636

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

I’ve been sitting on this review for a while, as it never seems to be the right time to bring it up, but i’ve decided to bite the bullet and post it. Ruth’s Chris. I’ve been called a traitor for eating here. By my best friend no less. Ruth’s Chris, in my opinion, is one of the most controversial restaurants in Alberta. In the middle of Canadian Beef country, stands this iconic US chain serving…USDA Prime Beef? Regional protectionism aside, you have to admit that you’d be surprised if there was a place trying to serve Canadian beef in Texas. Other than the thought of oil dollars and population expansion in Alberta, i’m not sure why they ventured into Alberta, but it makes for interesting discussion that they did.

Ruth’s Chris was founded in New Orleans, and has expanded into a global empire of “fine dining steakhouses”. They sell themselves on two key things – the temperature that they cook their steaks at (1800 F), and the corn-fed, US beef that they serve.  They have a standardized, high end look, and pride themselves on their service, the decor, as well as high quality beef.  The prices certainly match the image. Service is designed to be high end – but it has a tendency to be a bit overbearing. Especially the sneer when tap water is ordered.  A little more laid back would be appreciated on my part.

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In terms of a menu, it’s all classic steakhouse. Big meaty appetizers and salads, beef entrees, and the obligatory entrees for those who don’t eat beef (seafood, lamb, chicken, veg option). I havent looked, but i would guess they would have cheesecake and creme brulee on the dessert menu.

We start with a tomato salad. Big beefsteak tomatoes served on lettuce and topped with red onion and blue cheese. The tomatoes were ok. Not quite ripe enough to have a good juicy flavour, but they were meaty, and the onions, blue cheese, and vinaigrette formed a nice accompaniment. They’re ok, but not great, and definitely not worth the money.

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Next up is the main course. Now Ruth’s Chris prides themselves on serving, for the most part, USDA Prime beef. USDA Prime is a classification of beef that applies to roughly 2% of all beef produced.  The beef that they use is corn fed and corn finished – you can notice the yellow coloring to the fat in the steak itself – a telltale sign of corn feed. Grass or grain finished has a much whiter look to the fat.

When they first moved into Canada, there was a large uproar that they failed to serve any Canadian beef. To stem the criticism, they added a Canadian Prime strip loin. With only 0.7% of Canadian beef graded prime, it is, in theory, a higher grade of beef.

I order the bone in rib-eye – a cut with a lot of fat that lends itself well to cooking at high heat. What arrives is a large piece of USDA prime, with the price tag to match. Their cooking method is to cook on a flattop at extremely high heat, sear both sides. The resulting cut of beef is cooked well to order, their timing needing to be quite precise, or it will be overcooked.

So how was it? I have to say, it’s a decent cut of meat. Im not a huge fan of corn fed beef, as it’s fast finishing techiques leave the beef heavy, and greasy. I prefer the cleaner, more dynamic taste of grass fed beef, but that’s a personal preference. The big issue is they have a tendency at Ruth’s Chris to finish everything in a mountain of butter. In the case of the steak, it severely detracts from the flavour of the beef, and leaves each bite a chore. Make sure you order no butter if you order steak there at all.

The million dollar question is, is it better than Alberta beef? Well, sure to draw the ire of many people, i have to say, it depends. USDA Prime is a good grade of beef, no question, and when compared to single or double A, there’s clearly no contest. I’ve had Alberta AAA that is better than USDA prime, and i’ve had USDA prime that is better than Canadian Prime. The thing is, when you compare steaks, there are a lot of things to take into account. What it ate. What it was finished on. How it was treated. Handled. How it was aged. How it was cooked.All of these things add up to the piece of meat you put in your mouth, and only a fraction of it has to do with the beef itself. It isnt better strictly on country alone.

The key question for me is whether or not the steak is worth it, and I can almost unequivocally say no. The prices are extremely high. The meat, while premium, is at once a bit greasy, as well wet aged, not helping the beef develop far more interesting complexity through dry aging. At these prices, I can get a lot better beef elsewhere.

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A steakhouse without a great steak doesnt leave much, but it is worth mentioning the sides. Also drenched in butter, the mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese are all rich, heavy, sharable side dishes.  They are actually quite good, but anything cooked with a pound of butter is bound to be.

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Overall, i don’t have the prejudices that many Albertans seem to have against US beef. As i mentioned, i’ve had some great quality USDA Prime before, and would eat it again. But in the case of Ruth’s Chris, the prices are high and the preparation is off. And at these prices, you expect pretty much perfect every time. Their steak is reasonable, but lacks the care and attention that a high end steak house should demand from their product. At the end of the day, I still need to levy a verdict. Would i go if someone else was footing the bill? The answer is likely yes. Would i go if i’m footing the bill myself? No, likely not. I think there are great steak options these days in Calgary, and unfortunately Ruth’s Chris isn’t one of them.

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

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19 thoughts on “Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – Calgary, AB

  1. Have you have a chance to try the Sawmill in Alberta? It serves Alberta beef and I have to say it’s overpriced and not that good either. I hate to admit it, but for the best value in steaks from a big chain, I still like the Keg…

  2. Hi Sherman,

    I have tried the Sawmill many times – i was subjected to the “let’s go for the salad bar with the all you can eat shrimp” a few too many times. I agree with you there, it’s poor value and not very good.

    I don’t hate the Keg (IE i would eat there if i had to), but these days, i prefer to go to independent places that don’t buy their beef in bulk. Just a personal principle thing. Had a steak dinner last night that was amazing – look for the review coming up soon!

    • Yes, the Keg wouldn’t be my first choice either. I like Morton’s but unfortunately, I’d need to come into some money to eat there more often. I still need to try Gotham. Have you been?

      • Gotham is good – they serve Cdn Prime – but i found out on the weekend it’s owned by the same owber of the Keg/Hy’s chain. I know this shouldnt matter, but it colors it a bit for me :) Not sure it’s worth the price to be honest though.

  3. Business dinners. For steak Morton’s was first choice, Ruth Chris was second by my clients.
    In Vegas. Where you virtually had every celeb chef set up a steak house. Marketing trumps every time.

  4. Good review Foodosophy. The prices at Ruth’s Chris are eye-popping aren’t they….and for those prices, you expect to be given a PERFECT, WOW meal….hence the disappointment for me too. Plus, I don’t appreciate the stuffy atmosphere either – we got the “raised eyebrow” due to my 4 year old nephew being with our group and he was having trouble keeping his tones “hushed”…

    Oh and (just having recently returned from Texas) …there is at least one Texas Steakhouse that offers Alberta Beef. I laughed when I saw it. Also Malpeque oysters and mussels (from PEI) are another common delicacy down there, despite having their own ocean coastline.

  5. Great review. I’ve never visited the restaurant, probably because I’ve also heard very mixed reviews which doesn’t jive well if I have to fork over a good chunk of change. The one general consensus was that everything was just slathered in butter – something some people like, while others don’t.

    I like your thoughts on beef, as I find it difficult when people make the ‘best steak’ claim’. Like you mentioned, growing and handling conditions can definitely affect every bovine differently.

  6. HP – definitely the expense account crowd can be found at RC’s, and im not surprised it’s a favorite. I find they usually pick places they can’t afford themselves, which says something about the prices :)

    KC – i would love to hear more more more about this steakhouse in Texas – are you serious!? :) Where is this place, and what is it called??

    Raidar – absolutely. One thing that i didnt get into, is also the idea of what a great steak is. I personally like dry-aged steak, mostly for the added dimension of flavour, and a bit of tenderness. But many people don’t like the gamey-ness of dry aged steak, and are looking for a pure tender cut of meat, which would be signatures of wet-aging beef. So post handling will significantly impact what you taste too.

    AYGET – thanks for your compliments – we don’t see you around here enough! Love to get your take on things in the Alberta scene. Don’t be a stranger :)

  7. YES, I AM serious – But I have been trying to relocate the place(s) that offered it and so far have been unsuccessful. I lived in Houston for 6 years….I think it was at the beginning of my residency there that I noticed this “Alberta Beef” on the menu…. maybe with the Canadian Beef scare and import restrictions this was discontinued. I’ll keep searching for it and will let you know if I find it..

  8. hmm. I’ve never heard this, but im definitely intrigued and interested. Thanks for the reference. I’ll look it up.

  9. John: Yes, I actually wouldn’t want to eat much coming out of that typically nasty gulf water either , but people do and restaurants do serve it. Many shrimpers ply those waters, but typically shrimp further out.

    My point was that the Texas restaurants were importing seafood from Canada and marketing it as superior.

    I also second the recommendation of Omnivore’s Dilemma – it’s an interesting read.

  10. Hi, I second reading the entire ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and agree wholeheartedly with your review. Below is what I wrote when someone asked me about my one and only trip to Ruth’s Chris. As you can see it echoes the salient points of your review. Love the site by the way!

    “Ruth Chris’s does not have a good price/quality ratio. At all. The decor is nice – boring but very acceptable, and the wait staff was excellent. We had a small group lunch and the waiter gave the standard speech about the history of the steakhouse, and proceeded to explain how they only use corn-fed midwestern beef. HELLO? We are the land of excellent grass fed beef here. Cows don’t eat corn. It’s cruel to them and less tasty for us. There is a host of economic, ethical and political issues with corn fed beef and I kind of wanted to laugh, but refrained at his obvious pride at his spiel.

    On to ordering – I got a steak salad, my neighbor a steak sandwich with gumbo, and my other neighbor the mixed platter of chicken encrusted with blue cheese, a small steak, crab cakes and the previously mentioned fried tomato. My steak was perfectly cooked, very tender and since it rested on a bed of mushrooms did not overcook. It was drenched in previously mentioned butter and had that unmistakable ‘off’ flavor that US corn-finished beef has. To my taste buds it’s a slightly sour undertone rather than the buttery beefy flavor I look for in aged AB beef. The salad was mediocre. Somehow the blue cheese dressing managed to be completely boring with salt as the dominant flavor, and did not mix well with crumbled eggs.

    My companion reflected that she prefers her gumbo with actual chunks of seafood, not tiny shreds; the steak sandwich was not open faced but stuffed into a thick roll/bun that was too much bread to steak; the proverbial 8.00 tomato was drenched in sugar and lacked salt, tang or garlic to even it out. It was literally a very sweet concoction sprinkled with a bit of parsley.

    Overall, Ruth Chris’s food was entirely overpriced and rather bland, boring and mediocre. For good steak go to Saltlik, it’s a much better value and way more fun.”

    • Tatiana, great points! We’re always happy to meet like minded folks here. Thanks for both your perspective, and for the +1 on the omnivores dilemma. We definitely appreciate your contributions.

  11. Great review. A level perspective is nice to read. I tried Ruth’s Chris in Kentucky and much preferred Jeff Ruby. I don’t see myself putting out the money to try the Calgary location when the choices are so good here. I still cannot understand why any store trying to call itself a top-shelf steakhouse would use wet aged beef. I also agree with your points regarding corn fed and finished product.

  12. Glad there are more people out there who appreciate dry-aged…it’s really underdone here in Alberta, and i don’t understand why. I’ve tried dry-aging my own beef in my fridge, but to quite mixed success. The corn feed is definitely another problem too.

    What is Jeff Ruby’s?

  13. Average sales @ Ruth’s Chris in the US are down 28%, Vegas is down 40+%, and they had to close the Flamingo location.

    That’s what happens if you are overpriced and underdeliver?

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