Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – Calgary, AB
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
294-115 9 Avenue SE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.