Ruth’s Chris Steak House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ruth’s Cris House in Albuquerque’s Uptown Area

During a recent Friends of Gil (FOG) outing, a newcomer asked how my Kim and I can afford to eat out as often as we do (about three times  week on average).  The practice of “dating your mate” is something we began half a lifetime ago when we were stationed in Mississippi and my Air Force salary was, to put it conservatively, considerably less than one-thousand dollars for every year of my life.  Despite the fact that I’d been handpicked for the only job of its kind in my career field, a position with significant responsibilities usually accorded to someone of higher grade and experience–not to mention the possibility of war and deployment every service member faces–by most standards we would probably be considered at the bottom rung of the middle-class.

Our date nights could hardly be considered extravagant or high-end. Fortunately the Gulf Coast had a multitude of reasonably priced restaurants serving high quality seafood, Southern cuisine and barbecue. During our frequent visits to New Orleans, we favored“second tier” (in reputation and price, but certainly not in quality) Cajun and Creole restaurants because we couldn’t afford the anointed restaurants that had made the Crescent City a world-renowned dining destination. For our tenth anniversary I was determined to do something special for my bride. It literally took months of scraping and going without, but eventually I managed to save enough of my weekly allowance to take her to dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Mobile, Alabama.

First Floor Bar and Seating

Even back then–long before the advent of social media and a connected world–Ruth’s Chris was regarded as the place to go for special occasions, albeit one that cost a king’s ransom. Mobile was actually one of the first cities across the fruited plain to boast of a Ruth’s Chris franchise and it was less than an hour from our Ocean Springs home. Praying ninety-five dollars (adjusted for inflation, that’s about two-hundred dollars in 2016 dollars) would be enough, I asked my Kim to don her finery and ferried her to the most posh dining establishment we’d visited during our years together. Ruth’s Chris was everything we had hoped it would be.  The ambience—from subdued lighting to spacing and music—was one of comfort and intimacy, but it was the sizzling prime beef which took the spotlight and we were a rapt audience.

Fast forward twenty-some years to my most recent “Jack Benny” birthday. After years of chiding her for taking me to such paragons of mediocrity as Subway and Olive Garden for my birthday, my Kim decided to surprise me with our first return visit to a Ruth’s Chris restaurant in more than two decades. She wouldn’t have been able to do so even a month earlier because Ruth’s Chris didn’t grace the mean streets of Albuquerque until about a week before our visit. For some reason, the extravagant eatery didn’t deign to launch in America’s 32nd most populous incorporated city until 2016—more than twenty years after setting up shop in Mobile, the country’s 123rd most populated city. Even if that speaks to the widely-held perception that Albuquerque is a cow town, shouldn’t a cow town (especially a cow town) boast of arguably the most popular high-end steak house in America?

Bread

Fittingly Ruth Chris landed in the Uptown district, increasingly the city’s center of commerce. More specifically, it’s located in the Park Square shopping center in a three-story space previously occupied by Robert R. Bailey Clothiers. Few, if any, vestiges of the natty haberdashery remain. Nor are there any de rigueur abobe-hued touches or tributes to the Southwestern architectural design style that defines Albuquerque. Instead, Albuquerque’s Ruth’s Chris would fit in at every other city in which the 150-strong chain plies its craft.  A large mural in the downstairs bar area depicts Tucumcari’s legendary Blue Swallow Motel, a Route 66 landmark, but there isn’t much else that bespeaks of the restaurant being in the Land of Enchantment.

Step into the restaurant and you’ll find yourself in the lap of opulence. A comfortable waiting area beckons, but waiting is wholly unnecessary if you’ve got reservations. Your hostess will escort you to your table which is bedecked in white tablecloth with place settings and glassware for your party. The lower level doubles as a capacious bar and dining room, but for more quiet and intimate dining, you’ll want to dine at mezzanine level which you can reach via a few winding stairs or you can take an elevator. A large circular skylight with dozens of dangling lights ensures the mezzanine is flooded with natural light and artificial light as needed.

House Salad with Blue Cheese

Even among the masses who’ve frequented Ruth’s Chris over its forty-plus year existence, the genesis of the name “Ruth’s Chris” isn’t widely known. Contrary to a widely-held notion, the steak house isn’t named for someone named “Ruth Chris.” More than forty years ago, “Ruth Fertel, a divorced mother of two, mortgaged her home for $22,000 to buy a small 60-seat restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana named Chris Steak House. Shortly thereafter, a fire forced her to change the original location and she renamed the restaurant, “Ruth’s Chris Steak House.” Her restaurant has since featured custom-aged USDA prime (only two-percent of all beef earn this distinction) beef broiled to your exacting specifications in 1800-degree heat and served on a 500-degree plate still sizzling when it arrives at your table.

Despite the name on the marquee, Ruth’s Chris is about much more than USDA Prime beef. In addition to steaks and chops, the menu offers surprising variety, including seafood and specialties (chicken, fish or vegetarian fare). Appetizers and sides are internationally inspired, not only prepared to order, but guaranteed to complement any entrée. There are eleven starters on the menu, including a veal osso buco ravioli dish. The ala carte menu also includes numerous side dishes as well as soups and salads with soups and dressings all being made in-house. Bargain hunters will appreciate seasonal three-course meal offerings at prices substantially lower than some of the pricey steak entrees.

Sizzling Blue Crab Cakes

Much as we had remembered during our inaugural visit decades ago, personal and attentive service was a hallmark of our dining experience at Ruth’s Chris. Quickly noting our genial server sported a tie emblazoned with the Air Force logo, we struck up a conversation and discovered that Kenneth is, like me, an Air Force retiree. He’s also originally from New Orleans where we’d spent so much time during our eight years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Kenneth proceeded to guide us through the ordering process, sagely recommending dishes he thought we might enjoy based on preferences we expressed. Throughout our two-hour visit, the tandem service ensured our beverages and bread were faithfully replenished without us having to ask.

As we contemplated the menu, a small loaf of bread with whipped butter was brought to our table. A hard crust belied the soft, pillowy bread inside. The soft butter spread easily onto the steaming bread, a simple pleasure that seems somehow lost on fine-dining restaurants that insist on serving warm bread with cold butter. Good as the “staff of life” is with just some simple butter, it’s a bread whose purpose in life, other than granting pleasure, may well be for sopping up sauces and dressings. You’ll certainly want some of this inspired bread on your table to dredge up any of the steak house’s amazing blue cheese dressing (because licking your plate at a fine dining restaurant isn’t cultured.)

Loaded Baked Potato

The blue cheese is absolutely amazing, replete with sizeable chunks of picturesque blue veining and an earthy sharpness that characterizes fine blue cheese. It’s the highlight of an excellent steak house salad (fresh Iceberg, baby Arugula and baby lettuces tossed with grape tomatoes, garlic croutons and red onions). Don’t be shy about requesting a ramekin or three extra servings of the blue cheese because you’ll want some on every bite of the fresh, crisp greens, not to mention on the warm bread. Grape tomatoes are another highlight. Despite their diminutive size, they have a meaty texture with a thick skin and just enough sweetness and acidity for balance. The garlic croutons, red onions and blue cheese dressing will wreck your breath in the most delightfully delicious manner.

There are eleven starters on the Ruth’s Chris appetizer menu with ten of them featuring seafood. The only landlubber’s choice is the veal osso buco ravioli. A chilled seafood tower that includes Maine lobster, king crab legs and knuckles, colossal lump crab meat and jumbo cocktail shrimp sounds more like an entrée than an appetizer. We opted for sizzling blue crab cakes (two jumbo lump crab cakes served with sizzling lemon butter). Deposited on a sizzling pool of butter and surrounded by finely chopped red and green peppers, three generous, hand-formed lumps of crab meat looked good enough to eat…and they were. Alas, the lemon butter and peppers probably took away a bit too much of the crab’s natural sweet and briny flavors, but at least there was none of the “fishiness” you sometimes find in seafood served at landlocked locations.

Bone-In Filet

A baked potato (one-pound potato fully loaded “with all of your favorite fixings”) is but one of several inviting items on the thirteen-item signature side dishes menu. Frankly we haven’t had a truly excellent baked potato, especially one of such behemoth proportions, since the Great American Steakhouse closed in 2008. At Ruth’s Chris, “fully loaded” means chives, bacon bits, sour cream, melted cheese and butter, all of which are piled on where the potato is sliced open. Though the potato is baked well, not every forkful includes some of the fixings. On those forkfuls lacking fixings, we found the baked potato just a bit on the dry side (not an uncommon event considering the Duke City’s altitude).

Preliminaries out of the way, we were ready for the main event, ever curious to see if Ruth’s Chris steaks were as good as we remembered them to be so many years ago. From the Porterhouse for two, a whopping 40-ounces of prime beef, to the petite filet at four-ounces, there’s a cut for every appetite though price points can be a bit traumatizing. Eschewing the heftier cuts, I opted for the bone-in filet, a 16-ounce cut with a blend of marbling and mellowness near the bone. A perfectly pulchritudinous sear on the outside belies the medium rare degree of doneness on the inside (as per my exacting specifications). As advertised, the steak was still sizzling angrily on the 500-degree plate. Perhaps because of the plate’s heat retention properties, red steak juices didn’t drip off the steak onto the plate. By no means was this a desiccated slab of steak. It was one of the most delicious filets we’ve had in years.

12-Ounce Ribeye

My Kim ordered a Ribeye, described on the menu as a 16-ounce cut of USDA prime beef that’s well marbled and deliciously juicy. After struggling to cut the steak, she asked me when sinewy and tough became synonymous with well marbled. Sure enough, the Ribeye was far more chewy than we’d expected, too much of a challenge to enjoy. We sent the steak back and ordered another filet in its place. Staff and management apologized profusely and more than “made it right” with our second filet of the evening.

American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was once quoted as saying “take care of your memories, for you cannot relive them.” While that may be true, our return visit to Ruth’s Chris did rekindle memories of when we couldn’t afford such a meal and made us appreciate that we can now splurge every now and then. Ruth’s Chris is the perfect memory-making, occasional splurge restaurant.

Ruth’s Cris Steak House
6640 Indian School, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-3350
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 May 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$$$
BEST BET: Bone-in Filet, Baked Potato, Bread, Sizzling Blue Crab Cakes, House Salad with Blue Cheese

Ruth's Chris Steak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

California Pizza Kitchen – Albuquerque, New Mexico

California Pizza Kitchen, an Uptown Favorite

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. This is Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog, champion of the mom-and-pop restaurant, defender of the independently owned eatery, supporter of the family owned and family operated diner…and this is a review of a chain restaurant. No, this blog has not been hijacked by some corporate cabal bent on corrupting the American diet with homogeneous mediocrity…and no, this review was not written under duress or the promise of free food. It was written of my own free will, sound mind and full accord. Lest you condemn this seemingly traitorous affront, hear me out.

Several years ago, I made my own version of a Faustian pact. Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a scholar who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. In my case, I made a deal with my Kim to take her to the Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year. I sure got the rotten end of that deal! On Labor Day 2015, my Kim decided to collect my soul, er….have me make good on my promise and take her to the Olive Garden.

Thai Chicken Tortilla Egg Rolls

In the traditional deal with the devil motif, when Satan comes to collect the witless pawn’s immortal soul, the pawn begs, bribes, cajoles and barters to no avail. Unlike the pawn, however, I had one barter up my sleeve. “Rather than the Olive Garden, wouldn’t you rather go to a better chain restaurant, one in proximity to the best gelateria in town?,” I pleaded. Much as she’d wanted to try the California Pizza Kitchen, it was the promise of gelato that sealed our bargain—a one-year reprieve from the Olive Garden.

Sadly, I must admit to many close encounters of the third kind familiarity with the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). Back in the days when I traveled to Phoenix quite regularly for business, CPK was, by far, the best restaurant in the Sky Harbor. With that distinction, it held a captive market. Those of us from New Mexico wouldn’t deign to eat at the Phoenix-style Mexican food restaurants on the concourse and other options were even less palatable. Besides, several CPK offerings were actually pretty good.

Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza

If California Pizza Kitchen at the Sky Harbor, an express fast food to go operation, is better than Olive Garden anywhere it stood to reason (at least in my convoluted mind) that CPK in a casual-dining ambiance would be far better than the CPK at the Sky Harbor, ergo much better than the Olive Garden. Albuquerque’s CPK, situated in the heart of ABQ Uptown, is an expansive sit-down establishment in which menu items are prepared to order. That menu is much more expansive than at the Sky Harbor, offering everything hearth-baked pizzas to salads, pastas, entrees, soups and sandwiches.

Frankly, my expectations (which tend to be rather low for chain restaurants) were exceeded in every way. Service was first rate—not the saccharine, rehearsed wait shtick with which some chains insult diners, but personable, friendly and attentive service. Seating, while in near personal space proximity, was reasonably comfortable. Delivery was well spaced, meaning there was ample time between delivery of our appetizer and delivery of our entrees. Beverages were replenished faithfully. Best of all, our meal was delicious.

Jamaican Jerk Pizza

The appetizer which first caught our eye bore the name tortilla spring rolls.  What a great idea!  Why have we limited ourselves to boring tortilla roll-ups, tortilla pinwheels stuffed with cream cheese and sundry ingredients?  There are three types of tortilla spring rolls, the most enticing of which was the Thai Chicken Spring Rolls, flour tortillas sprinkled with herbs and baked in the hearth oven stuffed with bean sprouts, scallions, carrots, cilantro and mozzarella served with an addictive peanut sauce.  The peanut sauce is the topper, both literally and figuratively.  As good as peanut sauce at many Thai restaurants, it’s the perfect dip for an otherwise very good starter, elevating it into an excellent introduction to CPK.

CPK’s pizzas are categorized as “original hand-tossed” and “crispy thin crust.” Though there are plenty of traditional toppings, we opted for pies topped as no other pizzas we’ve seen in New Mexico are topped.  These are true California pizzas, constructed from imagination and creativity (not that the Land of Enchantment’s pizzaiolo don’t have these qualities).  The first was a Pear and Gorgonzola pie (Bosc pears, sweet caramelized onions and hazelnuts topped with chilled field greens in Gorgonzola ranch dressing).  Wow!  This salad on a pizza is a winner thanks largely to the creamy, sharp Gorgonzola ranch which penetrated through the greens onto the thin crusted pie.  The Bosc pears are sliced thin and are caramelized by the baking process, rendering them even sweeter, a nice contrast to the Gorgonzola.

Perhaps even more creative is a Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizza (spicy-sweet Caribbean sauce, authentic Jamaican spices, Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon, red onions and bell peppers).  Make sure to ask for pineapples (from the fruit, not a can) for a tangy-sweet complement to the assertively wonderful ingredients that come standard with this beauteous pizza.  Though you might be tempted to tell your server “Jamaican me crazy with this pizza,” your servers have all heard that before.  Nueske’s applewood bacon is porcine perfection, as good a bacon as you’ll find anywhere.

My Kim enjoyed California Pizza Kitchen so much, our Faustian deal might just have to be amended.  It’s a deal with which this anti chain crusader can probably live and it’s so much better than the Olive Garden.

California Pizza Kitchen
2241 Q Street, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 883-3005
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Jamaican Jerk Pizza, Gorgonzola & Pear Pizza, Thai Chicken Tortilla Egg Rolls

California Pizza Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fox’s Pizza Den – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fox's Pizza Den in Albuquerque's West Side

Fox’s Pizza Den in Albuquerque’s West Side

There may have been no more amusing (or, tragically, accurate) depiction of the “meat market” that was the dating scene in the 1970s than a recurring Saturday Night Live skit about two wild and crazy guys named George and Yortuk Festrunk. The Czech brothers, portrayed brilliantly by Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd, dressed in tight pants and loud, unbuttoned polyester shirts with medallions singing over their chests. They lived for “swinging” in their bachelor pad.  The hedonistic Festrunk brothers especially loved to cruise the fox bar in pursuit of swinging foxes who might just have the hots-on for them and who might let them hold on to their big American breasts. In their minds, there was no other pair of Czech brothers who cruised and swung as successfully in their tight slacks which gave them great bulges.

It’s hard to believe that in the 70s, “foxes” was a term not used exclusively to describe a carnivorous animal. It was also used as a not always endearing and almost always sexist term for very attractive women. Though I don’t keep up with contemporary vernacular, I believe the modern day equivalent is “hottie.” Alas, at my age, “cruising for foxes” now has an entirely different meaning–as in driving my “sensible” married and adult car over to Fox’s Pizza Den for lunch or dinner (so long as it’s well before my 10PM bedtime).

White Garlic Pizza

White Garlic Pizza

Fox’s Pizza is an example of the American entrepreneurial spirit gone right. Founded in the Pittsburgh area in March, 1971, Fox’s was voted 1993’s “best pizza franchise” by the National Pizza and Pasta Association and is consistently ranked as one of America’s “best pizza and sandwich franchises” by Entrepreneur and Pizza Today magazines. It’s the sixth largest pizza franchise in the United States.  So why haven’t you ever heard of Fox’s Pizza? That’s probably because Albuquerque’s sole franchise is ensconced in a small shopping center on a road less traveled. Unless you live in Albuquerque’s far west side and Golf Course and Irving are part of your daily commute, you’ve probably never seen or heard of it. There are several apartment complexes in the area and many of their residents certainly know about this burgeoning chain.

Chain. Yes, I admit to having broken my own personal edict about not eating at chain restaurants, most of whom I consider a blight (or carbuncle if you prefer) on the landscape. My first visit was by accident (thinking it was a local restaurant), but subsequent visits have been by design. I generally will visit chain restaurants only if they offer a “niche” product, something you can’t find anywhere else. Fox’s pizza does this. Not only that, the product on the marquee is pretty darn good–far better than Pizza Hut, Dominos, Papa John’s and the like.

An Italian Wedgie

At its most elemental form, pizza is about bread, sauce and sundry ingredients which top the crusty canvas. Despite being slightly stiff (it’s not the type of pizza you fold vertically as you would in New York), Fox’s pizza crust is chewy, buttery and delicious. It’s so good you might even devour the crust at the top which many people don’t ever eat. The crust is neither too thin nor too thick and it has just a slight char. Fox’s uses 100 percent real Mozzarella with no preservatives added. It makes a huge difference in the taste. The sauce has fresh, herbaceous qualities and is seasoned very well. It’s wholly unlike the bland and boring sauce used by competitors. Ingredients are fresh and plentiful.

The menu includes a vast array of options from pizza to wings, hoagies, stromboli and salads to an impressive number of sides. In the pizza department, you can have a traditional pie topped your way or you can opt instead for one of the gourmet pizza offerings. Pizzas range in size from small to extra large. From among the gourmet pizza menu, Fox’s offers a white garlic pizza, the likes of which are commonplace in the East Coast. This is pizza without tomato sauce and there’s no doubt, the recipe for Fox’s rendition had its genesis in America’s East. On this pizza, the crusty canvas is adorned with a rich garlic butter sauce and plenty of Parmesan and olfactory arousing oregano plus any other ingredients you might deem necessary to add. Great as it is, you won’t miss the traditional pizza sauce.

Beef, Bacon and Cheddar Wedgie: Roast beef, bacon, and cheddar cheese topped with lettuce, tomato and mayo.

Roast Beef Wedgie

The “niche” I mentioned previously is a wonderful sandwich offering called a “Wedgie,” a term which in the 70s represented a demeaning prank in which a victim’s underpants were pulled up sharply from behind in order to wedge the underpants uncomfortably between the victim’s buttocks ( worse was the atomic wedgie in which the rear waistband was hoisted up and over the recipient’s head).  Thankfully Fox’s Wedgie has nothing to do with cruel wardrobe malfunctions. Wedgies are essentially sandwiches served on a pizza crust instead of a bun. Most pizza crust can’t pull this off, but Fox’s pizza crust can. The Wedgies are very good sandwiches made on nine inches of pizza crust.

My early favorite is the Italian Wedgie–ham, hard salami, cotta salami, melted provolone and mozzarella, green peppers, onions, lettuce, tomato and a gourmet Italian dressing. You can probably find a sandwich in Albuquerque with the same ingredients, but what makes Fox’s version special is that pizza crust. It’s hard-crusted yet soft and pliable enough to really make this unique sandwich work without dominating the sandwich.

Fox05

Steak Wedgie

There are twelve Wedgies on the menu including a poetic Veggie Wedgie.  The ingredients for each would probably go well on a standard hoagie or sub roll, but probably wouldn’t taste quite as good.  One intriguing option is the Steak Wedgie constructed with several of the ingredients which come standard on many a Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwich: choice sirloin steak, melted Provolone and Mozzarella, sweet peppers, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and mayo.  Wedgies are cut in half so you can share them.

In time perhaps more Fox’s Pizza Den restaurants will launch in the Duke City. For now, however, if you’re in Albuquerque’s Northwest side and hankering for pizza, cruise on over to Fox’s.

Fox’s Pizza Den
9221 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 899-8444
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 21 February 2013
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: White Garlic Pizza, Italian Wedgie

Fox's Pizza Den on Urbanspoon

1 2 3 6