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Feb 12, 2009 05:17 AM

New Ray's the Steaks: My Report

Last night, we went to the old Ray's location around 7:15 or so. When we approached, we learned that they were in the new location at 2300 Clarendon Blvd., just up the street a bit, as of the night before. There was a gentleman with a reservation clipboard and a cellphone, calling over with our names to the new spot. He informed us that there was maybe a short wait there, but we would probably get right in.

He described where to park (under the Arlington County Government Building), and a chaffeur was asking if we needed a free ride over! Nice customer service. We drove, though, so hopped on over, parking underground. Because I didn't want to "miss it" if they called our name while we were all walking from the parking lot, wherever that ended up being, I dropped off the guys, and then parked down on level G-2 there across the street from Ray's, under the government building. The resto is located on the corner of N. Wayne Street and Clarendon Blvd. -- just across from the Clarendon metro elevator! Great location!

When I got there, the place seemed almost completely full, with more space in the carpeted room on the left (more on that later.) The men had already been seated (a different policy from the old Ray's location?) and were about to order some wine when I got to the table. We got a Cote-du-Rhone for $26. I didn't try it, but they enjoyed it. I think that is a great price, though.

As i sat down, Mr. Alka was waxing enthusiastic about the spiced cashews on the table. It looks like they had already eaten most of them, by the time I got there. There was also a fine-crumbed bread on the table, but I didn't try either the cashews or the bread, anticipating the steak to come. At some point, the cashews were refilled.

We ordered the scallops wrapped in bacon, on caramelized onions with some puree-type chutney (apricot? mango?), entree portion, and the scampi entree portion as appetizers to share. It wasn't too long before the apps arrived. The scallops had perfect velvety texture and a nice light smoky flavor from the bacon, but the bacon itself should have been a little more cooked. (Solution, par-boiling? Par-broiling?).

The grilled scampi used quite large shrimp, which had very little sauce (simple olive oil?) accompanying them -- pooled very barely in the dish ;-(. They were firm in texture, and perhaps somewhat overcooked. They were not in and of themselves very flavorful or moist. (I'm from Florida, and love all kinds of shrimp. Mom says smaller shrimp are sweeter, and uses them for things like creole.). The sauce was very mild with garlic. Very mild. We all wanted more garlic -- and more sauce. What little there was, our friend sopped up with the bread. Also, the same caramelized onions appeared on this dish. They would be better cut in smaller pieces; as they were, they seemed unwieldy at 3" or so, in general.

The table was crowded with plates, wine glasses, water glasses. I don't know how 4 people would be able to sit there and have any space. Strangely, the appetizer "plates" were actual saucers -- with the coffee cup ridges. (waiting on enough serveware to arrive in sufficient volume?).

It was only half-way through our apps (or one-third way) when the steaks arrived. The servers started putting them down on the (available ) space, which turned out to be ACROSS the corners of the table! (Talk about recipe for disaster!). When I said that it was too early for the steaks, the servers weren't quite certain what to say/do - except to say if they took them back to the kitchen, they would likely be overcooked! Mr. Alka wanted to send them back, but I asked them to just go ahead and leave them. I had to make room on the table by removing two water glasses, the salt and pepper, and putting them on a little nearby low window ledge. We'd been forced to choose between cramped space and a decently cooked steak (which sat, uneaten, steaming away as we finished our apps!).

We began on our steaks after finishing the apps. The apps plates stayed on the table, as no one came to remove them. (I thought they might be having some special attentiveness to this, but apparently not. But, they were busy!). After quite a while, we ended up stacking (ugh! I know!) those so we had some little ROOM to eat. Finally, they came to remove the apps plates -- recall -- two big plates and three saucers.

Mr. Alka got one of the many specials, steak with marrow on top. I got the New York strip with brandy mushroom sauce, and our friend got the strip with blue cheese crumbles. Of course, the delicious sides arrived with the steaks. The spinach was as delicious as ever. I didn't have any potatoes, but the men liked them enough -- no raving, though. Our friend asked if they were garlic mashed potatoes, and I told him I didn't think they were supposed to be. "Ah, that explains why there is no garlic flavor," he joked.

Our steaks were cooked correctly, although mine was a little more done than I'd actually ordered, maybe because I had ordered "extra char". (I'd thought they would compensate, but they didn't). Mr. Alka didn't comment on the marrow at the time. He tells me it was "ok", not fantastic. Overall, he was happy.

My steak was a little tougher than I had remembered from past visits, and there was a tiny strip of a gristle? running through the middle, lengthwise. Odd. My mushroom brandy sauce was good, not overly thick and creamy, but rich enough, and not overpowered by the brandy. Nicely seasoned. However, there was a dearth of mushrooms...perhaps only a level tablespoon or two of thinly-sliced cooked mushrooms. Overall, I was happy.

Our friend liked the blue cheese crumbles, and said it was better than having an overly-strong sauce made with blue cheese. He said the blue cheese was strong, but the crumbles gave him freedom to pick the amount of cheese in each bite. He was happy.

Mr. Alka had no leftovers, and he finished last. I finished first, and wanted to take my leftover steak and spinach home. A server's helper very nicely took my plate, and returned with my styro box and a bag, unopened, laid on top. I asked him if he'd included the spinach, and he said yes! When i looked later, he'd also kindly included the potatoes that were on the original cast-iron serving skillet.

As a very kind gesture, they showed up with two desserts "on the house". They were great: dark chocolate, very rich and thick mousse (imo, like a dark "dove bar" or really, it was like a callebaut ganache!!!) with nice, softly-whipped cream on top and a strawberry garnish in a wine glass. That ganache-mousse alone is enough for three people! The other dessert was a key lime-coconut tart. Again, garnished with whipped cream and strawberries. It was delicious, too. Nicely tart, a little sweet, and light in feeling -- so, welcome after the heavy steaks. We ordered coffee, and it was good. They never came to refill it. But, while we were still enjoying the coffee and desserts, the server brought tiny cups of hot chocolate (we had probably 6 servers over the time there -- they don't seem "assigned" to a table by any means). They were really going out of their way to "make up" for the bad-timing issue. (The manager did say at the time she'd talk to the chef).

We were not unpleasant in any way about the premature arrival of our steaks, just taken by surprise. Hey, this was only their second night in this location -- with so many more patrons. In fact, I remarked to my husband and our friend that I find it hard to understand how restaurants in general can get apps timed right with entrees for so many tables.

As to the set up, the right section of the restaurant , with hardwood floors and a tin-tile high ceiling, is much noisier than the other side, which is carpeted with more space between tables -- and softer, more upscale chairs. (I can't recall, but wonder now whether I saw tablecloths. Mr. Monk I am not!) Same prices, both sides. I assume that left, carpeted side is the "reservations in advance" side. Oddly, the restrooms are only on that side, so you have to thread through the tables in that section to get to the restrooms. The ladies room was utilitarian, modern, nice.

As a note, I want to mention that the smoke from the kitchen is voluminous -- IN the kitchen. It really doesn't permeate the dining area out of the open doorways or through the thick dark blue velvet curtain that hides the "entry" into the kitchen. The sconces that line the off-white walls are deco in feeling, as are the interesting double-bladed ceiling fans. The waiting area is fine, a little seating and some space. The place is lined with huge plate glass windows. It is spare, but attractive. (Question, is the large-ish, 45-ish man with a linen-type loose shirt the proprieter, Michael Landrum? He was definitely the top dog there last night. Very professional.) The place was very busy -- almost full -- until 8:15 or so, and was still busy but maybe 2/3 full when we left around 9.

As we walked outside after leaving, we noticed a special banquet room for private events. I'm guessing from recollection it could seat 35 people?


So, overall, an "A" level experience, with kudos for customer service (and grace for nearly-opening-night adjustments). They really tried hard to have very satisfied customers. And we were! The steaks are good, and the value is superb. The wine list is reasonable. Much better location and parking situation! (One pet peeve, Michael, ask that one server not to wear her belly-baring top. It's not appropriate for your restaurant, imo.)

Best wishes to Michael Landrum and his crew in their new location.

And...I'm excited about Ray's the Net (hopefully arriving soon).

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  1. Alka- Awesome report! Thank you so much! I live close by and love Ray's. I'm very happy to see that they seemed to go the extra mile with the customer service, maybe they're turning over a new leaf. I consider Ray's to be far and away my favorite restuarant in the area, which says a lot for their food b/c I've had some pretty unpleasant service from them.

    One question, do they still have the sherried crab bisque on the menu? That stuff is amazing, would bath in it if I could.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mjhals

      Crab bisque, full of big lumps of crab meat, is still on the menu but the onion soup is not.

      I was there as well as last and pleased to see that the staff has made a smooth transition to the new site. The mashed potatoes seemed a little off-a bit grainy but otherwise the entire meal was spot on.

      The left side of the room does have tablecloths on the tables and a more elegant atmosphere, much like RTC.

      I have to admit as great as the new space is I do miss the intimate, relaxed atmosphere of the old place.

      Also, I believe I read on another food board that the smoke is due to a problem with the vent and will be fixed this weekend.

      Kudos to the staff for working through the smoke to deliver a damn good steak.

      1. re: pineapple sage

        I agree about the mashed potatoes. I was there on Tuesday and they seemed a bit off - a bit thin and grainy. Everything else was fantastic - especially the hanger steak, cooked to a perfect medium rare.

        I live across the street and had my windows open yesterday and started smelling the steaks cooking around 5 pm. I am hoping this is due only to the ventilation problems as that smell makes it hard to want to eat anything other than a steak and I can't dine at Ray's every night!

    2. i forgot to mention: ray's has no booze! we wanted to order a B&B after dinner, and were told that they don't have a license. i didn't ask if they'll be getting one.

      is it that they don't want a liquor license? is it a lot more expense and/or liability? why no liquor, then?

      9 Replies
      1. re: alkapal


        But didn't the table order a bottle of wine?

        1. re: fourunder

          yes, we had wine. isn't there a different license required for hard liquor?

          1. re: alkapal

            Every state is different when it comes to liquor laws. You can break down into either two or four categories in simple terms for food establishments.


            Consumption or BYOB


            Full Consumption and Package
            Beer and Wine Only

            Yes there can be variations to this...but you get the idea. There was a topic earlier about the idiosyncrasies of Massachusetts liquor laws...where you could not order an alcoholic drink while standing and/or unless you were seated, if I can recall correctly. I am sure someone will correct me...afterall this is chowhound.

            I just found it odd a restaurant would make such a major transition to an area without a full liquor license in tow to a presumably high rent area.....possibly the full license is pending a transfer of sorts to ownership if the new location is in another municipality....although up the street to me suggests it should be within the same municipality and an easily transferable document to a new location with same ownership...just an address change. That's how it would be done here in New Jersey specific. As a matter of note for anyone who has New Jersey, some municipalities are now requiring a license fee to register as a BYOB......legalized stealing in my opinion.

            1. re: fourunder

              Ray's the Steaks did not serve liquor or have a bar at the fomer location, just a few blocks away. It should not shock the conscience that there is no bar and liquor is not served at the current location. As unfortunate as this is for some, if one prefers to go for a cocktail before or after, there's Kitty O'Shea's across the street.

              1. re: crackers

                who said it shocked anyone's conscience? in any event, drinks at kitty o'sheas do not equal an after-dinner drink at the resto table where we desire to continue our pleasant dining experience.

                1. re: alkapal

                  You wrote: "i forgot to mention: ray's has no booze!" as though it were shocking news to you. Ray's has never served liquor, as far as I know.

                  After-dinner drinks would be anathema to the Ray's the Steaks philisophy - it's a well-known fact that Ray's does not encourage people lingering after their meal. They would prefer you continue your "pleasant dining experience" elsewhere. You were there about an hour and a half - plenty long enough to eat and git.

                  1. re: crackers

                    thanks crackers for your insights. well known fact or not about ray's "philosophy", i have a dining "philosophy": i would've enjoyed a liqueur with my coffee, esp. since we were there for a friend's last dinner here in the states before 3 years in kiev.

                    i have never thought to order booze at ray's prior to this occasion, because it wasn't a nice space. so their state of "no liquor license" wasn't forefront in my consciousness. i just think it is odd that with a nice location and atmosphere, ray's does not get a liquor license, like other nice steakhouses. whatever. if he can't turn tables fast enough with booze, or doesn't want booze dulling the palate, then that is his business prerogative.

                    finally, i think an hour and a half there was fine, thankyouverymuch. our pleasant dining experience could've only been carried on there at the same table we ate -- thus the entire dining "experience." not at a nearby bar. in any event, any gitalong cop is not getting a christmas card from me.... ;-).

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Ok, I don't have any opinion about serving liquor, as long as there's wine I'm happy, but I'm glad this brought up the topic of the "gitalong police" as Alka mentions. Does anyone have a sense whether or not they'll cease and desist now that Ray's is in the bigger location? As I've mentioned, I LOVE Ray's, but I've had some pretty awful experiences due to the hustle out at the end (and yes, I've read all the disclaimers Mr. Landrum has posted), most recently on my 30th birthday when they seated us 15 min. past our given time, then insisted on us leaving on time. What was really awful was the fact that we were ready to leave, and trying to do so, but the manager mistakenly thought we still hadn't finished our dessert (we had, it was MY dessert and I'd licked the goblet clean by the time she came by insisting that we take the dessert to go).

                      I always recommend Ray's highly on these boards and to friends, guess I just hope to see some reciprocal love now that the space has grown. What do you think, wishful thinking?

                  2. re: alkapal

                    Thanks for the excellent comments on Ray's. We've tried to go to their old location several times without reservations and couldn't get in. We will definitely try their new location. Thanks!

        2. Thanks for the report!

          What cooking method do they use for the steaks?

          4 Replies
          1. re: 1FASTMF

            >> What cooking method do they use for the steaks?

            Open flame.

            1. re: DanielK

              >>re: 1FASTMF DanielK Feb 19, 2009
              >> What cooking method do they use for the steaks?

              Open flame.

              That's too bad

              1. re: 1FASTMF

                >>re: 1FASTMF Feb 19, 2009
                >> What cooking method do they use for the steaks?

                Open flame.
                << That's too bad

                Repeated from the other thread - why? What's the better way to cook a steak with a proper char?

                1. re: DanielK

                  I have not seen open flame develop a good crust and I have been to Ray's and LOTS of other steak houses that do it over open flame. It is not hot enough and there is no way to control the air flow. Heat + air, then add the fuel (steak) = fire. This is why a gas grill will not properly work and why open wood or gas flame does not cut it.

                  With MASSIVE heat, a means to control the air is necessary to avoid turning the steak into fuel for the fire instead of food that the heat acts upon. I have seen lots of gas grills that claim to be anti-flare but the only time I have seen them in action they did indeed flare or they were cooking boneless, skinless, chicken breast - something that does not flare up anyway.

                  Need a proper steak oven/broiler - home ranges, even the professional quality, do not get close to the temps needed. Options that work are a very hot pan on the stove top or a charcoal Webber grill.

                  The charcoal is not about some special flavor that gas can't produce as much as it is about the heat and control of air in the grill. A large pile of charcoal will make the proper heat needed. A US Prime steak on the grill will burst into flame almost immediately but putting the lid on the grill will have the oxygen used up before oxidizing the meat (burning or consuming it as fuel) but still provide air for the coals. So the heat remains but the air is gone on the top of the grill.

                  This will make a crust that a gas grill owner will think could only be developed in a deep fat fryer! NO BLACK STUFF. The entire surface will be carmalized and a fork dragged across the surface of the steak will sound and feel like a most incredible crust that can be felt and heard; open flame does not go that far.

                  I believe it also has an effect on the center of the steak that seems to permit a medium rare with a rare texture (like a lite med. rare). Dry Aging a Rib Roast before trimming and cutting into steaks will also have a dramatic effect on texture and flavor - well worth the effort!

                  I must admit that I am a bit fanatical about certain items and as such my replies should be appropriately tempered :)

          2. does anyone know if the carpeted side is only for the people with reservations, and the right side with hardwood for the walk-ins? how is the reservation system working, anyway?

            2 Replies
            1. re: alkapal

              I've had reservations twice, and without specifying, once we were sat on the carpeted side, and once on the hardwood side. I suppose you could probably put in a request for one or the other. Actually, when we were sat on the hardwood side, we were given the option of waiting 10 minutes for a table on the carpet side, but we had the kids with us, so decided not to wait.