Wednesday, November 16, 2011
With last month's quiet opening of Ray's to the Third, the latest creation of Michael Landrum, Wilson Blvd is fast becoming Ray's World. The restaurant occupies the sprawling first floor space of the Bennett Park apartments -- the long speculated location of Landrum's now (apparently defunct) seafood concept, Ray's the Catch. Ray's to the Third follows the land-loving and somewhat tired Landrum playbook, and is somewhere in between the original Ray's the Steaks and Ray's Hellburger on account of both price point and menu offerings. The majority of the staff was out-placed from the now "closed for renovations" Ray's East River.
True to form, the Third's food is decent-to-good, comforting and flavorful. The spicy fried chicken gets its heat from both the batter and a devilishly good dipping sauce. The talented and entertaining Wayne, who came down from the Steaks (and before that, Old Ebbitt Grill) to manage the Third, would not relay the secret recipe, but he did tell me the sauce starts with habanero paste and vinegar, and is kicked up with paprika and chili powder adding heat and depth. Regardless of the exact recipe, the sauce is hellishly hot and a perfect companion for the chicken. For about $12 you get two large pieces of fried chicken, a tangy coleslaw, decent (but not nearly as good as the Steaks) macaroni and cheese, and chunk of jalapeno corn bread. The steaks, cheaper cuts of meat than up the street, hover between $15 and $20; pretty good fries replace yawnishly requisite mashed potatoes and creamed spinach sides.
While I would not go out of my way to eat at Ray's to the Third, it is a welcome neighborhood addition to the Orange Line corridor. The Third offers a solid option for casual dining with plenty of seating, a local clientele, and if recent visits are any indication, no waiting. But if you do have to wait or just wish to dine solo, the Third (unlike the others) offers draft beer and a full bar.
Though my excitement for this once grand Titan of fine/casual dining has waned in recent months, I still have perhaps an unrealistic hope that the Ray's Empire may once again be great....