Saturday, September 12, 2009

Is that Ray?

(Photo Courtesy of Northern Virginia Magazine)

Ray's the Steaks -- (no website, but all information is available here:,1071592.html)

Last night B stopped off on his way home from work to snag us a 7pm reservation at Ray's the Steaks. Review to follow, but first a bit of background on my history with Ray's.


As I noted in an earlier post, Ray's in one of our go-to restaurants; we probably eat there about once a month and love to bring out of town guests and steak lovers alike. When we first moved to the area about four years ago, Ray's the Steaks was still in its old location, and Michael Landrum, the eccentric yet brilliant owner was threatening to close the restaurant because he refused to serve, in short, "a**holes" (his word, not mine). Our first time dining was a week before the supposed closing. (Thankfully, this did not happen and Ray's now has a new expanded location even closer to our condo)

On our first visit Michael was there and we got to talk to him for a while, learning that the concept of Ray's came from the Daily Catch (great seafood place in the North End of Boston, where the food is served right in the pan and wine comes in dixie cups). At Ray's the core idea is to serve up top-quality steak that is affordable, and the location no-frills. We were hooked after talking to Michael in 2005, and tasting cuts of meat that are truly out of this world. And I have a soft spot in my heart for this place because when we first moved down here, I really missed Boston and not only was Ray's based on the concept of a Boston mainstay, but it was the first truly great meal B & I enjoyed in the DC area.

Now, while things have changed since that first visit (reservations are now accepted, the menu has expanded slightly, Michael managed to add Mark Slater ,the former Citronelle sommelier, and the clientele as shifted in some ways for the worst -- more on that later), it is still a fantastic restaurant.

Okay, back to last night. So we were seated in the "fancier" of the two dining rooms. By fancier (and anyone familiar with the restaurant knows this), I mean it is carpeted, and has leather chairs and mirrors on the wall.

Upon being seated the usual spicy cashews arrived and we asked to speak to Mark about what wine to order. Mark is a delight. I love talking to this man about wine. His storied career working with Michel Richard makes for some great stories and he really knows his wine and can select a great wine for you at any price. Last night, B & I asked for a Burgundy selection since we are headed there (so excited) in about a month. Mark regaled us with stories of his last visit, selected a fantastic 2001 vintage, and returned with restaurant recommendations for the Paris portion of our trip. The wine, in the words of B, was exquisite. B & I normally go for a bolder Zinfandel, a CA Cabernet, or most recently a Spanish Rioja with our steak, but this wine was a bit more complex and really complemented the meal.

As for the food, last night was unseasonably chilly for early September, which made it a perfect night so start with the soups. I had the Clam Chowder, a New England style cream chowder with corn, carrots, celery, bacon, and of course clams, that was very good (especially after a few shakes of pepper). B had the sherried crab bisque which was really on last night -- silky texture, sweet flavor, and delicious hunks of crab.

B & I are definitely in a bit of a rut (in a good way) when it comes to our steaks at Ray's. I always get the filet, cut butterflied and cooked medium well (steak fans start turning up your noses, but at Ray's medium-well is medium) and B gets the NY strip medium rare. We also generally add a sauce, usually the brandy mushroom cream. The steaks at Ray's are the same cuts, if not better, that you would find in any fine steakhouse (Mortons, Capital Grill). Last night was no exception. And unlike a traditional steakhouse, sides of a garlicky creamed spinach and mashed potatoes are included in the $30-35 price. B did better than me and finished his steak, but now I get to enjoy leftovers later this weekend!

And dessert -- ah dessert. At Ray's I think I like the dessert as much as the steak. For me there is no question, its the dark chocolate mousse which is just wonderful. It is almost like eating the inside of a chocolate truffle -- in terms of both consistency and flavor. And be forewarned, they do run out often, so if you have your heart set on this dessert consider ordering early. B and I will sometimes split the mousse, but he got the coconut creme pie last night, which actually posed a formidable challenge to the mouse. A rich coconut custard on a thick graham cracker crust. And if these two treats were not enough the usual tiger butter fudge accompanied the check.

I really love this restaurant. Last night's tab for two soups, a fillet, NY strip, mousse, pie, and the Burgundy wine ($65, well above our normal wine ceiling) and tax and tip was $180. Its usually closer to $150 but we splurged on the wine.

Now I would be remiss if I did not revisit my comment on clientele. Of course it is still filled with yuppies, but the mix has changed quite markedly since the restaurant started taking reservations.

After talking to Mark about the wine, the older, loud lady next to me leaned over and yelled, "Is that Ray?!" (Please note the restaurant's name is a pun -- as in 'raise' the stakes). This was clearly lost on her, and when I said no--it was the sommelier--she yelled even louder, "the WHAT?!" So I dutifully translated "wine guy," and explained how there is in fact no Ray, but that a man by the name is Michael Landrum is the owner. I'm not sure she fully understood that "Ray" does not exist, but if she did, she was probably a bit disappointed.

And then as this woman's party was leaving another eclectic party arrived. They ordered the scallops as an appetizer and then asked the waiter what exactly a "scallop" was--meaning (I guess?): is it a fish, clam, part of an animal?! He then posited that everyone eats them but no one knows in fact what they are. Enough said.

Then the woman on the other side lamented how she does not drink red wine, but was willing to try if they had anything that was "sweet." The waitress looked perplexed and did her best to try to explain that they did not have red wine that was all that sweet, but to no avail.

Needless to say -- it was entertaining, we left, full and amused.
Ray's the Steaks on Urbanspoon

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