Chow, Baby: Wednesday, April 23, 2008
High Steaks

Here’s Chow, Baby and its conflicting loyalties standing smack in the middle of Main Street. On the west side of the street is the legendary Del Frisco’s (812 Main St.), one of Chow, Baby’s top exhibits when bragging to other-worlders about Tarrant County’s culinary greatness. On the east, the just-opened Ruth’s Chris Steak House (813 Main St.), a nationwide chain, yuk — but one that was founded in New Orleans, and it so happens that the very first Ruth’s Chris was the setting for a teen Chow, Baby’s very first real-steakhouse steak. So where would Chow, Baby dine this evening? Would it feast at the best steakhouse in Cowtown, or would it try to recapture the thrill of its first time? The dramatic tension didn’t last long, as traffic was approaching, and the answer was well-duh: yes. Without heed for budget or cholesterol levels, Chow, Baby would have two steakhouse dinners in a single evening.
Three hours later, Chow, Baby hauled its leftovers home and tallied the score sheets. Ruth’s Chris got a point for cooler go-bag. Bread was better at Del Frisco’s. Fancy au gratin potato and creamed spinach sides ($7.50-$9) were a hedonistic tie. Yada yada yada. To the meat of the matter: two 16-ounce rib-eyes (Ruth’s Chris $38, Del Frisco’s $35.95), both prime, both seared at hell-high temperatures, both simply seasoned with salt and pepper. One came out OK. The other was exquisite: thicker, juicier, much more flavorful, with distinct strata of crispy-seared crust, juicy pink mantle, and warm red core. Chow, Baby checked its findings at midnight and again cold the next morning, and there was no variance: By every criterion, Del Frisco’s was succulently superior. And $2 cheaper!
The other night-and-day difference between the two restaurants is mood, as established by décor, service, and staff. Befitting the world’s largest steakhouse chain and this branch’s 400-seat location in a multinational hotel chain, Ruth’s modish décor is swirly-bar stylish — reminiscent of the old Blade’s, in a way, with a dash of P.F. Chang’s. It bears zero resemblance to the original Ruth’s Chris in New Orleans (the clumsy name dates to 1965, when businesswoman Ruth Fertel bought Chris Steak House), a humble joint that more resembled Cattlemen’s. The front-of-the-house staff is very well trained — Chow, Baby couldn’t trip up enthusiastic young Daniel on any facet of the menu or Ruth’s Chris’ history — but there’s a too-well-planned, attention-grabbing feel to the place. Like, the hostess makes a show of thoughtfully replacing your white napkin with a black one, so the white won’t schmutz your black pants — so attentive! — but given the predictable distribution of pants colors at a steakhouse, why don’t they just set out black napkins in the first place? It felt like a focus-group-approved gimmick.
Chow, Baby prefers the unmanipulative, black-napkin’d, dark-wood elegance of Del Frisco’s, whose classiness extends to treating everyone, even the thrift-store-finery-clad, like VIPs. As on every Del Frisco’s visit, Chow, Baby immediately and gushingly crushed on its fabulous waiter, this time the unflappably patient Corbin, who achieved his declared goal of making sure Chow, Baby had a wonderful dining experience. Chow, Baby should have thought of the old Fort Worth adage earlier, when it was standing in the middle of Main Street: You want style, head east. For substance, go west.
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