An icon of fine dining has finally come to Princeton and very elegant it is too. Located at Forrestal Village on Route 1 South, Ruth’s Chris Steak House is unimposing from the outside but has certainly one of the area’s loveliest interiors. The retro-metro feel is awash in color; Chihuly-style blown glass adorns the ceiling and walls. The bar area, where my friend and I had drinks and appetizers, is rich with deep aubergine, cherry and midnight blue. The lighting fixtures over the sweeping, well stocked bar were worthy of jewelry.
On the late Sunday afternoon we went, we were greeted very cordially and that warm welcome did not fade even when we said we were only there for drinks and a nosh. Given the tendency of some local eateries to shoo you to the back of the bar for such a faux pas, being given the choice of the bar, bar tables, cocktail seating in lush conversation groupings or even a section of the dining room that spills into the bar area was a real luxury. The service was very prompt and not intrusive. The temptation was to change our minds and have dinner but the variety of appetizers, both from the main menu and a bar menu, was certainly enough for our wants that particular day.
To call Ruth’s Chris Steak House a chain is a gross insult to the elegance and sophistication of the venue. It was begun in the early 1960s by Ruth Fertel, a scholarly woman with a degree in chemisty and physics from LSU and the first female trainer of thoroughbreds in Louisiana. The establishment’s odd name stems from her purchaseafter her divorce of a New Orleans landmark steakhouse called Chris’s. A quirk in the contract prevented her from using the name Chris in any other location than the original. When that building was destroyed by fire, she reopened down the block with the new moniker.
The menu is obviously focused on beef — finely aged corn-fed USDA Prime beef broiled in a trademark 1,800 degree oven and served on a plate heated to 500 degrees. Be sure to bring your wallet as the prices can be steep. The Cowboy Steak is $44. Sides of veggies and starch are separate and run in the $8.50 to $9 range. An entree of three lamb chops is $37. However, as we discovered, the salads are modestly priced and generous and the appetizers are large as well. I had the calamari with sweet-hot Thai chili. They were very light and there was certainly enough to share. The Ahi tuna was also sharable. The wine list is extensive and wine by the glass can range from $8 to over $20. Our bill for food and drink came to $90 including tip so be prepared for even a light meal to run away from you. As we were leaving, one diner on the way to pick up something from his car asked us if we had taken out a mortgage.
That said, a bit of restraint on the alcohol (hard to do with the list of delicious sounding cocktails) and one can have a lovely meal of appetizers and salads. The website, which is fun to read, has the full menu and will make a carnivore out of anyone.
The dining experience is worth it. The main dining room harkens back to the ’30s with intimate alcoves with deep benches lining the walls. You can imagine Gloria Swanson swathed in furs and her latest handsome swain having a tete a tete. The only thing missing is the drapery to hide behind. The lighting is subdued but not to the point where you have to use the flashlight on your keychain to see the plate. And the wait staff in the extensive dining rooms is equally friendly and helpful. Wandering around to get a full sense of the ambiance of the multiple rooms, the staff was gracious and did not give me the impression I was in the way. The ceilings are low and therefore the noise level is nowhere near the cacophony of some places we know. There is also an area for private parties.
An added pleasure is the late hours for the kitchen on Fridays and Saturdays; at last an elegant eatery that is open for orders until 11p.m. They are open seven days a week for dinner only. The kitchen closes at 9 p.m. on Sundays and 10 p.m. other nights. While they have only been open three weeks, they have become busy on weekends. The one affectation is the complimentary valet service. It’s a bit unnecessary given the huge amount of parking at Forrestal Village but would be nice in a downpour. (We were able to circumvent the valet by entering the parking lot from the rear.)
While the ambiance is very elegant, diners wore anything and everything from jeans to halter tops to Sunday suits and ties. But finally there is a place that is perfect for that silk dress that makes my eyes so blue. This is the destination for a very important date or the dinner for the very big boss in town for the night. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse lives up to its reputation and then some. It is steaks and more without the “let’s see how much of a cow we can eat, boys” feel of some other venues. Pamper yourself and indulge in a legend.
— E.E. Whiting
Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Two Village Boulevard, Princeton Forrestal Village, 609-452-0041. Dinner: Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; and Sunday 5 to 9 p.m.