Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Steak at Stake: Ruth's Chris Versus Peter Luger

Yeah right.

Is there even a competition here? I think we all assume that Peter Luger Steak House (the century-old, highly revered, and much heralded dry-aged steak restaurant) would blow any chain restaurant competition out of the water. Plus, Bon Appetit magazine lovingly appointed Peter Luger as "the best" steak in the U.S.

But you'll be surprised at my findings at which restaurant really takes the cake, or should I say, "steak."

"Are you ready for a steak throwdown?"

First up is Ruth's Chris Steak House in San Francisco, California.

There is a bustling city street in San Francisco lined with great steakhouses: (1) Harris' (where they serve pretty delicious steak and potatoes au gratin and obtain their beef supply from the Harris Ranch arm of their business), (2) House of Prime Rib, and (3)
Ruth's Chris Steak House. All three steak houses are within less than a city block's distance away from each other on Van Ness Street in San Francisco. Since the beau and I were trying to eat in that area, we agreed to dine at Ruth's Chris, the only steakhouse participating in the Dine About Town prix-fixe program. (This year, the beau convinced me to give the monthly Dine About Town promotion in San Francisco a go one more time. Despite my reluctance and bad experiences with Dine About Town in the past, I agreed.)

Included within the
Ruth's Chris $35.00 prix-fixe Dine About Town meal was a simple salad of iceberg, romaine, and baby lettuces with halved grape tomatoes, garlic croutons, and slices of red onion rings. Since our evening was all about the meat, we quickly wolfed down this salad and its light vinaigrette dressing without much fanfare or any real attention. It was a generic salad, nothing more, nor nothing less.

Additionally, the
Ruth's Chris prix-fixe meal came with a choice of sides, either (1) a windswept casserole dish of mashed potatoes topped with delicate pools of melted butter and garnished with minced Italian parsley or (2) milky creamed spinach, chopped, strained, and saturated with heavy full-fat cream. We ordered both. While the sides were hearty and filling, they were merely supporting co-stars to the main celebrities of the evening, the dense cuts of dry-aged beef.

For the main course, the beau and I split two types of steak: (1) ribeye, which, according to the menu, is "[a]n outstanding example of USDA Prime at its best. Well marbled for peak flavor, deliciously juicy," and (2) the petite filet mignon, which the menu described as the "[m]ost tender cut of midwestern corn-fed beef."

The ribeye came with showered with a sprinkling of chopped herbs and a melted lake of foamy butter, cascading down the surface and into crevices of the medium-rare meat. Within the seared exterior of the ribeye lay huge canyons filled with rivers of crimson jus. The slick and glistening cut of ribeye meat was bursting with juices and possessed a hearty, nutty flavor. The ribeye was definitely the highlight of the protein-packed evening.

Oddly, I found the filet mignon to actually be a little tougher and more resistant than the ribeye. I could definitely feel the strength of the meat grains against my steak knife and my teeth. Despite the firm, dense texture, the filet was full-bodied in beefy protein flavor. The filet was delicately surrounded by what looked like moat of emulsified butter heated under a broiler until browned and bubbly. Ah, butter. The perfect dipping sauce for steak!

We ended our meal at
Ruth's Chris with two desserts, the first being a New Orleans-style bread pudding with a whiskey sauce. A powerful yet sweet whiskey and vanilla fragrance permeated the condensed milk and absorbent bread pudding mattress. The saturated pudding was (1) interspersed with plumped raisins, (2) flavored with grounded aromatic spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, and (3) blanketed with a mahogany-colored caramelized crust.

We also shared a key lime pie, which was sinfully as rich and decadent as a cheesecake, but also light and refreshing. The pie was complimented with an awakening and invigorating bite of brisk lime zest and tart lime juice.

Now, onto the competitor! How do the steak and sides at
Peter Luger in Brooklyn compare to that of a (gasp), upscale chain steak restaurant? According to many of my New York friends, you haven't lived until you've dined at least once at Peter Luger. Therefore, I had high expectations for Peter Luger from the moment I walked in, despite its non-pretentious German beerhaus decor.

First off, our lofty expectations of
Peter Luger were only reinforced when we tried the baked goods inside Peter Luger's tabletop bread basket. Inside the complimentary basket o' carbs sat a diverse offering of onion rye bread and seasoned crackers encrusted with sesame seeds and sizeable salt crystals. The breads and peppery crackers were intriguingly and lip-smackingly delicious, for they were packed with multi-dimensional flavors from the potent rye seeds and the liberal salt seasoning.

A tiny taste of
Peter Luger's famed steak sauce further increased the hype. The steak sauce tasted like a chunky combination of Worcestershire sauce, crushed tomatoes, molasses, and grated horseradish. The sauce was so sweet, it bordered on cloying, but had a bright, tangy, and palate-refreshing bite. Simply summarized, that sauce was hella good, and delivered a swift punch of deliciousness to my tongue.

The sauce and bread though, only whetted our appetite for the main attraction, the steak.

After apprehensively staring at their barebones menu, we finally decided to order after a good half an hour. We settled on the (1) prime rib and (2) porterhouse steak, both medium-rare and both dry-aged in the classic
Peter Luger fashion.

Based on my understanding, the process of dry-aging beef produces the most supple of results. Wikipedia states that there are two steps to the process of dry-aging beef: "First, moisture is evaporated from the muscle. This creates a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste. Second, the beef's natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, which leads to more tender beef."

Upon being served, I immediately noticed a blackened outer layer of carcinogenic char encrusting the steaks, which was a little bit of a turnoff for me. Also, unlike other steak restaurants,
Peter Luger's steaks come out pre-cut into large fish stick-sized hunks, with the accompanying bone. The only beef I have with pre-cut meat (pun intended), is that Peter Luger deprives you of the joy of piercing into steak and watching the liquid jus spill forth. Also, I felt that the servers left a little too much meat on the bone, and the orientation of the bone wasn't conducive for removing the remaining meat without making a scene and gnawing and chewing the meat off with my teeth like a cavewoman.

As for the taste? It was heavenly. The beef definitely lived up to its dry-aged claims. The texture of the steaks were lusciously buttery. Through the dry-aging process, it was clear to my tastebuds that the beef flavor had concentrated and evolved into a complex meaty explosion of flavors, ranging from earthy to "wow." The steak at
Peter Luger was supple and creamy, yet firm and rich, almost like a silken pate or meat pudding with a slippery, juicy finish. There was a soft nuttiness, and I could clearly taste a strong beef flavor, which was dissimilar from my previous experience of eating kobe beef. (If that kobe beef had been dry-aged, I would have been on that steak like a fly.)

The bone held together the remnants of sinew and jiggly beef fat that tenderly clung on like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

Along with our steaks, we also ordered two sides: (1) Luger's special German fried potatoes and (2) creamed spinach. As for the fried potatoes, I implore you, don't expect anything life-changing. Basically, these potatoes are the equivalent of chunky breakfast potatoes that you can get at your local diner. Overpriced? Yes. Only decent? Yes.

Lastly, and actually, least appealing, was the mushy, slimy excuse for creamed spinach. It was overseasoned with nutmeg and pulverized into a sloppy goop akin to baby food or liquefied paste. The free chocolate coins that the server handed out with the bill couldn't even redeem this disaster.

To its demerit, Peter Luger really failed on its disappointing sides. The lackluster sides were a mere afterthought, and seriously overpriced.

Nonetheless, in the battle for superior steaks, as expected,
Peter Luger won this round, for juicy and succulent dry-aged steaks. However, Ruth's Chris came out a worthy contender with its delicious ribeye steak, and its affordable prix-fixe option which included salad, sides, and a dessert for $35.00.


  1. The descriptions of the steaks left me drooling! Thanks for the reviews. Would you recommend one of these steakhouses as the best or is there an even better one in your opinion? Looking for a place to take the steak-loving boyfriend for our fourth anniversary.

  2. I'm so hungry right now.... especially after looking at the steak :)

  3. What a thorough and descriptive review! I have been to several Ruth's Chris (since they are ubiquitous), and I have always been pleasantly surprised at the quality for a chain restaurant. I love the melted butter on top and the sizzling plate the steak comes on. But, you're right about the legendary Peter Luger's... I have not been, but the dry-aging process is what makes them famous. And high five on also being a medium rare girl!

  4. What awesome comparisons.Such great detail. I hae yet to try Peter Lugars, but I hope to one day!! Perfect review!

  5. I love a good steak, but it is quite a luxury product here so I rarely get to eat that kind of cut!

    Great looking food!



  6. Intersting. Great reviews! I could hear the sizzle!

  7. hiya PE, I'm going to be the tacky one... so how much was dinner at Peter Lugers? I've considered ordering their steaks online, but just couldn't part with the $$$$. I ordered steaks from Lobels, which were awesome, but I thought Peter Lugers was hella too expensive! :) I love Ruth Chris's especially the butter, and it's even better when you can catch them with the DAT, or their recent special 3-course for $39. I was disappointed to learn that they wet-age their beef, but thought the meat was delicious, especially with all that butter dripping off my fork!

    Maybe one day, when my wallet grows up (that is very unlikely), I will be able to try Peter Lugers...

  8. The plating design looks great at both restaurants! I like the detailed descriptions and the mouthwatering photos.

    Personally I've only been to Ruth's Chris, but that was only for breakfast (as part of a hotel rate). This post makes me want to visit Ruth's Chris soon!

  9. Wow, $35 is a pretty darn good deal for good steak. I'll have to let my hubby, Meat Boy, read your post, as he has been curious about Peter Luger.

  10. PE, have you been to Morton's? Recently went there but I am not much a meat eater so am wondering if you have been and your verdict, if any.

  11. The consensus of me and my dining companions was that Peter Luger was the ultimate victor in terms of the steak itself. However, I found the sides to be a little lacking. Peter Luger is also killer expensive. If your anniversary falls in a "restaurant week/month," definitely check out a chain like Ruth Chris. You can find great bargains then CG the Foodie.

    I get hungry from looking at your site Selba!

    Haha, thank you Christina Kim, I agree about Ruth's Chris and how it is surprisingly good! And Peter Luger is definitely worth visit if you are a medium-rare girl!

    If you try it, you'll need to tell me about it Donna-FFW!

    I remember the pricey nature of meat when I traveled in Switzerland Rosa's Yummy Yums, even for thin slices in the fondue chinois!

    Thanks Lisa Is Cooking, I thought the steak was quite memorable myself!

    Foodhoe, that is totally a valid question! If I remember correctly, the individual steaks were about $40 and the sides were roughly $10 each. The portions were huge though, and since my husband took out his parents and a few other family members, the total was around $400. Had it not been for him, my frugalness would have prevented us from even walking "near" that place!

    Ruth Chris is a great steakhouse to visit when you have a discounted rate. I would only check it out during restaurant week/month, when they participate in those prix-fixe menus EatTravelEat!

    I agree that $35 is incredible Carolyn Jung, but unfortunately, that price is not applicable at Peter Luger!

    Hey Rasa Malaysia! I have been reading your blog but not commenting! I am so happy to hear from you! I actually have never eaten at Morton's either, but since you asked about it, I definitely have to try that place!

  12. Hi PE!
    Your blog is beautiful! Let's go out to lunch soon. :)

    I've started a blog but am nervous to leave the link. It is so simple compared to your work! I need some tips!


  13. i'll pass the meat and go straight for dessert :)
    too bad we don't have them here :(

    neki desu

  14. Thanks for the review. While I have dined at Ruth's Chris in Chicago, I have not had a Peter Lugar steak.

    That being said, I hate when people say "this is the best you will ever have" because then your expectations are so high.

    This is the same for Gene & Georgetti's in Chicago. I was horribly disappointed. Not only was it crowded and noisy, but it definitely did not live up to the hype for me.

    On the other hand, The Chop House has just about the best meat I have ever had. Simple, clean flavors, nice sides.

    I will try Peter Luger's if I get the chance though!

  15. Great Great Post!!! Your photos and writings are mouth watering! I just still haven't found a steakhouse that i like more than Peter Lugars, and I am not just biased because I grew up with it... their steaks cut like butter on the inside!

    Love It!

  16. Hi PE!

    Ribeye is always a good choice - good amount of fat content and meat =) I can't say I've been to either of those places so thanks for the review!!!

  17. Wow! I held on to every word you wrote to savor it. I've never been to Peter Luger, but have been to Ruth's. I wish you could go to our local fave here, called Mastro's, so that you can do a compare contrast with it.

    That's surprising that Luger's falters on something so simple as creamed spinach!

  18. Sorry I took so long to comment on your excellent post. I wanted to ask my hubby about his experience with Peter Luger's (he's been there several times for work). He thinks Luger's is definitely overrated, he says there's so much grease on the porterhouse that it starts to congeal when it cools- very unappetizing. He prefers going to Del Frisco's (another steakhouse chain with a location in NYC) where he loves the way they season their meat. He also agrees with your assessment of the Luger's creamed spinach -yuck. I've never tried Ruth's Cris before but after your positive review I'll have to check it out!

  19. Thank you for the comments everyone! I thought the steak was definitely delicious, and lived up to the hype (and high expectations), but the creamed spinach was another story... Also, thank you Biz319 for the advance warning about Gene & Georgetti's and the good words about The Chop House!

  20. before i read your post i knew what the answer HAD to be - peter lugers. besides the steaks i ate in buenos aires, peter lugers is still one ofthe most memorable. and that char on the outside is what makes it! it seems your turnoff wasn't too great b/c you were able to understand how delicious that crispy char and moist, flavorful, pink middle makes their steak. god, get me to lugers.

  21. Ah, but you missed the bacon appetizer at Peter Luger! One sizzling thick cut per order, but oh so perfect. Their onion rings are the best side I had there - surprisingly skinny, not the thick cuts I usually like. Very tasty and crunchy! I agree on the home fries (nothing special). As for the porterhouse steak - you didn't mention the pound(s?) of melted butter co-mingled with the juices from the meat on the dish that the waiter spoons over each portion he serves. I found this blog looking up the number for Peter Luger's because my husband was trying to talk me into going tonight. Sad to say, my frugality won.

  22. I just eat at Peter Luger's on Friday night. After all the hype I was expecting the best steak I have ever had. It was a very good steak but ultimately I was a little disapointed. I had the steak for 3, medium rare, it had great texture but not alot of flavor. I was expecting more. I have had more flavorful steaks else where including Morton's, Ruth Chris, etc.
    Sides were terrible not worth the long cab ride to Brooklyn.

  23. great steak. loved the steak, best I have ever had hands down.

    meat has excellent flavour, and they have a great cooking technique. I think they use very high temperature grills.

    the service left a lot to be desired, but would go there again.

  24. Just a mention re: Luger's -- your experience with the sides was completely to be expected. Basically, people have been noting that the only thing there that's truly great is the steaks themselves, and many don't even bother with the sides. Which is lame, because....when I'm at a steakhouse and dropping some serious change, I want me some good creamed spinach. Its just a necessity. Oh -- forgot, there's one side that many do like, there, and its the Tomato Salad (if I recall the name), which amounts to big thick slices of (ideally) fantastic tomatoes, and slices of onion -- which are then drizzled with some of the sauce that you raved about (and which people seem split about 50/50 love/hate on). Oh, and also -- next time, order steak for two, instead of the individual. People always insist that the steaks for multiple people are superior to the individual ones. Can't say I know.

  25. Peter Luger's steak beats Ruth's Chris by far! It's like comparing a hyundai to mercedes. You get what you pay for! I been to Peter Luger's every year for my birthday for the last 20 years. The steak melts in your mouth. You can cut it with a fork. I am so glad my Birthday is March 3rd. I can't wait any longer! Take my word for it you must go to Peter Luger's. Leave now!

  26. Hey there , Thank you for your new web blog document, how do you pick out so many stories and it not be uninteresting. . .Awesome looking website. I recently built mine and I was looking for some design ideas and you gave me a few. Can I ask you whether you developed the website by yourself?

    Gourmet Secrets Canada

  27. Superbly written article, if only all bloggers offered the same content as you, the internet would be a far better place..
    Best Steak


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