Ruth's Chris Steak House has had an eye on Downtown for a long time. I remember reporting on this topic for the Statesman a few years ago, when the glitzy corporate restaurant first showed interest in the Boise market.
Patience has paid off for Boise Ruth's Chris co-owner Mark Robbins, who committed to a showcase spot on the first floor of the new Eighth & Main building. (Robbins also owns the franchise rights to Ruth's Chris in downtown Salt Lake City.)
Boise's Ruth's Chris is sure easy on the eyes. The swanky lounge area, right inside the front door, features deep booths and a long bar with attractive sandstone-colored tiles as a backdrop, under which bartenders stay busy shaking martinis and Manhattans.
The dining room gets split into two hemispheres by a glass-encased wine cellar, brightly housing hundreds of bottles of red wine from around the globe. (Chilled wines - whites, rosés and sparklers - are kept elsewhere.)
Here, diners will find comfortable brown vinyl chairs, tables set with white linen, and tall lamps reminiscent of oversized cream-sicle push pops.
I have eaten at other Ruth's Chris locations (Seattle and Denver), so I kind of knew what to expect on one recent evening, but we listened to our waiter's spiel anyway. It's obvious this guy had lots of fine-dining experience, based on his suaveness and attention to detail.
We soon committed to a three-course dinner ($44.95 for a primetime special offered until 6:30 p.m.) and a bowl of lobster bisque ($9) - redolent of boiled lobster shells and brandy - floated with delicately steamed pieces of lobster.
The velvety bisque was served with the first course of the prix fixe meal, an arugula-heavy mixed greens salad with shaved red onion, grape tomatoes, golden croutons and chunky blue cheese dressing - unattractively plopped on top.
People don't come to Ruth's Chris for locally raised, grass-fed beef. It's all about old-school steaks cut from corn-fed Midwest beef. Expect to find the usual suspects, such as New York strip steaks, ribeyes, T-bones and filet mignon, charbroiled at high heat and served on sizzling 500-degree ceramic platters, splattered with lots of butter. (Don't worry: the steaks come slightly undercooked to allow for carry-over temperatures.)
I chose the 16-ounce New York strip ($43), ordered between rare and medium-rare, and a side of lightly steamed asparagus ($9) with buttery Hollandaise sauce.
My seared strip loin boasted a robust, beefy flavor, and the steak came just how I wanted it: deep red in the center, fading to pink around the edges. A dab of melting butter on top added to the richness of the perfectly cooked steak, mingling well with a glass of fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon ($9/Tomero) from Argentina.
Side dishes (they cost extra) tend to be no-frills and utilitarian by design, to not steal the sizzle away from the steaks and other entrées ranging from lamb chops to classic seafood dishes.
The blue crab cakes, the second course of the aforementioned deal, came to us sputtering and smelling like the sea - in a good way. Three loosely formed cakes sat high on the plate, with a golden-brown crust that easily gave way to the tender lump meat underneath, simply accented by a drizzle of lemon butter and sautéed diced green and red bell pepper.
My dining partner chose the creamed spinach as her side (also part of the deal), but that didn't offer much flavor.
We finished with a slice of dark and dense chocolate sin cake, the finale to the three-course special, a flourless torte with a backbeat of espresso, served on a lake of bright raspberry sauce.
During my second visit, on a night when the dining room was packed, I ate with some winemaker friends who brought a magnum of their reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The restaurant charges only a $10 corkage fee, and our friendly server even decanted the wine for us.
We got things rolling with orders of shrimp remoulade ($17) and the braised veal osso buco ravioli ($14), four toothsome pillows of saffron-laced dough filled with delicious minced veal shank, bathed in white wine demi-glace. The custom-made baguette from local Gaston's Bakery worked great for soaking up the extra pan sauce.
The shrimp pays homage to the restaurant's Creole origin, and while the four lightly poached jumbo prawns were ultra-tender, served with a ramekin of tangy remoulade (mayonnaise-based sauce with capers, mustard and herbs), we all agreed that there just weren't enough of them for the price.
With a big bottle of Cabernet sitting in front of us, we turned our attention to the steaks.
Ruth's Chris offers two sizes of filet mignon. We chose the smaller eight-ounce petite filet ($36), ordered at a medium temperature, with a side of crispy and delicious hand-cut fries ($8.50), picked from the "Idaho potatoes" list.
The cooks slightly missed the mark on the filet's temperature (we got it somewhere between medium-rare and medium), but we really didn't mind because it was so fork-tender and bursting with rich flavor.
Our 16-ounce ribeye ($43), which they gladly split for us, came out of the kitchen perfectly charred to the requested medium temperature. This beautifully marbled steak, served with a side of boring sautéed button mushrooms ($8), also melted in our mouths like butter.
Ruth's Chris is a polished operation that has surely hit the ground running in Boise, as evidenced by a full reservation book on most nights. Since it's an expensive, special occasion restaurant, it should be interesting to see whether it can sustain these numbers after the infatuation wears off.
Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org