HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >
Do you create unique foods?
TELL US

Ray's The Steaks is a mediocre steak house at best.

f
Fracis Mar 2, 2010 06:58 PM

Ray's The Steaks seems to be the default steak house recommendation on this board. I would like to spend a few sentences discussing why it is not so great.

1. The dining experience. Advance reservations are not accepted. Why not? Is this Olive Garden? There is a group oif 50 people standing outside the dining room waiting to get in. That is not my idea of the start of a good dining experience. Then you get to your table, and you are seated within inches of the next party. While many restaurants use bistro style seating, none that I have experienced try to squeeze as many people into as few square feet as this place does. Finally, the waiters are rude and rush guests out of the restaurant as fast as possible, presumably to turn over the table. For the money I am paying, I expect a better dining experience.

2. The food. It's a steak house. You don't need to do that much. Have excellent quality meat, well-butchered and cooked perfectly. Offer good sides to complement the meal. Nobody is expecting Jose Andres-quality innovation. But what they do, they better do well. And I'm sorry, the steaks are just not that great. They aren't bad, but it isn't great meat. And in my experience, the kitchen does not understand what rare means. This wouldn't be a problem if I could find my waiter and point this out to him. But unfortunately, he clearly has too many tables and is trying to turn them over (see Point 1) as fast as he can, so once your meat is down, you won't see him again until the plates are cleared. Meanwhile, the sides, two which come free (a supposed great selling point) are really not that great. Kind of plain actually. They aren't disgusting, but they aren't anything to write home about either.

3. The wine. Wine list here is adequate. It isn't great. But it isn't terrible. In fact, I'd probably say it's mediocre.

4. The prices. Supposedly, people come here because it is a great meal at a reasonable price. Yeah, it's not a bad meal. But this place isn't cheap. Sure you get your 2 sides for free, but you are paying premium prices and a dinner for two with wine is still going to set you back a pretty penny. Steaks are about ten bucks cheaper per cut than Morton's or the Palm. But these aren't Outback Steakhouse prices. You're still dropping $30 bucks on a filet. Sure you can get a hanger steak for less. But you can go to JG steakhouse and get a $25 hanger steak too. If you know what to order, you can eat very well for less money at any restaurant, but overall, while it's cheaper than the big chain steakhouses, it's still pricey.

You aren't going to have a bad meal at Ray's. And if someone invited me along, I would go happily. I like the place in general. But I don't understand the adulation for this place. I just don't believe that the experience, the prices, the food or the wine list merits it as one of the gems of our area.

-----
Ray's The Steaks
2300 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

  1. s
    Soup Mar 10, 2010 01:56 PM

    To me, the thread is interesting because it exposes some very protective behavior amongst the chow hound group. Ray's, amongst this community, seems to be one of those places which is beyond reproach and has a very vocal and loyal following. I guess people vote with their voice and feet but I fail to see the reason for unflinching allengence to this place. Its fine food. The value is very good. Is it the best steak in town... No. Is it the best valued steak meal in town...maybe. But the wait staff really ticked me off, the few times I went (old location, haven't been to the new), I just stop going. I guess I voted with my feet.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Soup
      m
      mjhals Mar 11, 2010 10:27 AM

      I think the drawbacks you mention are worth noting, because there are significant minuses to Rays in addition to the stuff they do well (that bisque!).

      First, the place is always jammed, and the waiting area is a lot better in the new location, but still, it can be a tight fit. But it's not a place that encourages a nice, long lingering dinner. I would never recommend it for a romantic evening out. I've always found the staff to be polite, but it's clear that your table is prime real estate and lingering is not welcome. For anyone considering Rays for a long, relaxing dining experience, it's not going to be a good fit.

      Second, they obviously pride themselves on the quality of their steaks and reinforce this in the fact that they almost refuse to cook some cuts above a certain temp. And I do think they skew towards cooking the steaks too rare. I always ask for my steak to be "med rare, closer to rare than medium". In almost every case this gets me a perfectly cooked steak (to my tastes). At Rays, this has resulted in a severely undercooked steak, twice. Not rare, (I can deal with rare, and in fact prefer it in a really good quality steak) but this was raw, closer to "blue" than anything. Had to send two steaks back that were too raw after ordering this way. I've gotten the sense that ordering something rare, or close to rare, is almost a challenge to the cooks. Sort of like, "you want it rare, do you?, we'll show you rare". Unfortunately, they've shown me raw, twice. I'm just going to go back to ordering it med rare at Rays to compensate for the undercooking, I'm hoping that solves the problem. To their credit, I've never had a problem sending it back after noting that it's a little too raw for me.

      1. re: mjhals
        beauxgoris Mar 11, 2010 10:40 AM

        ^^I know what you mean, but if it's overcooked you can't go backwards - and they can always throw it back on the fire. I order "medium" and I get: "medium rare" - not just at Ray's, but most steakhouses I go to. This goes for burgers too. Over the weekend we ordered burgers at Morton's "medium" and got very "rare-medium" burgers. I think all steakhouses can be guilty of this to an extent, which is why I over-temperature order now.

        1. re: beauxgoris
          m
          mjhals Mar 11, 2010 10:56 AM

          See, that's funny, because I feel most places overcook, which I why I emphasize that it's ok for my "medium rare" to be close to rare. But I think Rays takes "rare" and runs with it, sometimes too far. Just going to order it plain ol' medium rare next time and see what I get.

          You're right that they can re-fire it, but I find that gives it a little too much char and comes back a bit bitter. Still ok, but would rather it come out right to begin with, obviously. I will say, that the two raw steaks I got were very, very clearly undercooked. Not by looking at them, but by touch. I went to cut mine and just feeling it with my knife it was just too squishy to be near cooked enough.

          1. re: mjhals
            DanielK Mar 11, 2010 11:06 AM

            I like that Ray's actually defines the done-ness of their steaks on the menu.

            Rare = cool red center
            Medium-rare = warm red center.

            This is probably closer to the European definitions of done-ness; in the US, frequently rare means warm red center, and medium rare is starting to tend towards pink.

          2. re: beauxgoris
            w
            weezycom Mar 11, 2010 12:24 PM

            This may have to do with the amount of time the meat rests after it comes off the grill. I think a lot of restaurants push out the table's order before meat has a chance to come up to its intended temperature.

            1. re: weezycom
              beauxgoris Mar 11, 2010 08:12 PM

              DanielK - I think you may be right. When I order medium rare I'm thinking " warm pink center" and I guess that's more medium? At least at Ray's it is. No matter the lingo, I still get the steak the way I like it - so it works for me.

              1. re: beauxgoris
                hill food Mar 11, 2010 10:35 PM

                this is why I order tartare or carpaccio if it's available

                1. re: beauxgoris
                  alkapal Mar 12, 2010 03:25 AM

                  as i recall, on their menu, ray's has a list of descriptions for their "rare," "medium-rare," etc.; i.e., at ray's, *this* is what we mean for "rare" and the like.
                  ~~~~
                  anywhere, one can order with descriptive language, saying, e.g., i want the ny strip with a "warm pink center" (using as an example what i know as "medium"). http://www.colinmcnulty.com/blog/images/cook-a-steak-blue-rare-medium-welldone.jpg

                  http://www.colinmcnulty.com/blog/imag...
                  i can't recall if ray's own descriptions track these in the link.

                  1. re: alkapal
                    DanielK Mar 12, 2010 05:24 AM

                    alkapal - that seems pretty close.

        2. a
          a1234 Mar 6, 2010 06:30 AM

          1. So what? Some of my favorite restaurants don't take reservations. First come, first served - democracy. If you want to get all dressed up and be fawned over by three waiters or just make a night of it, fine,go somewhere else, and pay the price.
          2. So what? A good steak well-prepared at a reasonable price is fine with most people. BTW, Andres is the most overrated chef in the history of the world. New isn't always good, and small plates are often just a way to overcharge you for food.
          3. Who cares? When I eat out, I want good food that I can't prepare at home as well, not wine I can buy in the liquor store at one-fifth the price. On any wine list, there is always some wine worth drinking. If you don't think so, bring your own - it's cheaper anyhow.
          4. So the quality is about the same as a Morton's and the price is (at least) $10 less? So what's wrong with that? Maybe you prefer some tapas at an Andreas place that you can get elsewhere for half the price or a mish-mash of tiny bites and foams and the "thrill" of hobnobbing with chefs for a fee that would buy you three really good meals?

          1. j
            jaydreb Mar 5, 2010 05:55 AM

            Does Ray's use USDA Prime beef? I've never seen any mention of this on their menus so I'm assuming that the answer is no.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jaydreb
              DanielK Mar 5, 2010 07:39 AM

              From what I understand, they buy from smaller farms that don't grade their meat (generally, only giant factory farms grade), so you can't specifically label it as Prime, Choice, etc.

              That said, what makes a cut Prime is the level of marbling, and, having gotten them raw from Ray's for home cooking in the past, I find the steaks as marbled as any I've seen at the big steakhouses or local butcher shops.

            2. m
              MikeR Mar 4, 2010 06:35 AM

              Well, I have to admit that J.R.'s has a lot of what Indy looks for - except exceptional meat. I only go to a restaurant for steak maybe 3-4 times a year, and I go to J.R.'s (and J. Gilbert's, too) more frequently than Ray's because I'm usually dining with friends who live in Vienna and they always want me to pick them up rather than the other way around (I live 10 minutes from Ray's). We can walk into either J.R.s or Gilbert's on a Sunday evening without a reservation and be seated immediately. But on the few occasions when I've felt like a steak in the middle of the week, I've hit Ray's by myself, calling ahead, going fairly late, and while seating for one isn't the greatest (I don't like eating at bars - don't even know if that's possible at The Steaks) the food is always good and I get all the service that I need.

              Your collective mileages may vary.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MikeR
                beauxgoris Mar 4, 2010 10:30 PM

                We've been to Ray's the Classic several times and have always had an excellent experience. The steak has been as good as any I've ever had in the D.C. area, the sides are classic steakhouse fare (and good) - and it's been a pretty easy no brainer meal (no food towers or crazy combinations). As someone mentioned it's also very well prices vs. other steak meals I've had - certainly better than the $42.00 steak at Buck's. I'm not sure what people are looking for steak house wise. But we love it and continue to go back.

              2. i
                Indy 67 Mar 3, 2010 06:55 PM

                This thread has been fascinating. I didn't feel I had much to contribute since my one and only meal at Ray's the Classics was over a year ago. However, my husband and I went to ... the Steaks for dinner this evening.

                First, a comment about my ...Classics experience. I came away from that meal with a really negative feeling about my steak. I ordered the strip steak "Black and Blue." At both ... the Classic and ... the Steak that phrase means the steak is crusted in pepper corns and liberally sauced with blue cheese sauce. The pepper corn crust and the blue cheese crust are each very assertive flavors. In combination, these two preparations are fighting each other and, more significantly, they overwhelm the taste of the meat. I typically think of such heavy saucing treatment as a way to disguise inferior meat. Why any of the Landrum's restaurants feels it needs to do this with their excellent meats is a mystery. The meat stands on its own considerable merits; it needs no heavy-handed disguise. That night, I solved my objection by removing all the sauce and peppercorns and eating the meat unadorned. (This black and blue preparation still remains on the menu.).

                Tonight, my husband and I made a last minute decision to eat at ... the Steaks. We phoned ahead and got our name on the waiting list for the no-resergvations space at the front of the restaurant. The noise level in this room is fearsome! The crowd waiting for their table and the many reflective surfaces produce a very agitated ambiance. From my point of view, no food is going to triumph over such aggressive noise levels.

                My husband and I both ordered rib eye steaks. The cooking was done perfectly and the steak had a rich, meaty taste. Two quibbles: the horseradish sauce was ice cold and no one automatically offered freshly ground pepper. I overcame my first objection by not using the horseradish sauce until I was most of the way through the steak and the sauce had warmed up considerably. I overcame objection number two by asking for a pepper mill.

                Ultimately, I'm not going to rush back to ... the Steaks since I'm not a big enough fan of steak to suffer through the din. I want a calmer ambiance when I eat out. (I don't know whether the reservations-section of the restaurant would be different enough to satisfy my objections.)

                Couple the noise with the $27.95 cost of my rib eye steak, and I'm happy to cede my place to those of you who think the sun rises and sets on ... the Steaks. I can get chef's value-added cuisine at J & G Steakhouse for the same cost and in a much quieter atmosphere. (I adored the tilefish I had at J & G recently. My husband's short ribs were divine. And my friend's seared tuna was awesome.)

                5 Replies
                1. re: DanielK
                  i
                  Indy 67 Mar 4, 2010 12:27 AM

                  Your price data is probably accurate, but that information ignores an essential point I made in my post: I prefer a place with a different ambiance to Rays. It matters little to me that I've saved money on my steak if I walk out of the restaurant exhausted from the constant assault of noise.

                  Clearly we disagree on the relationship between the cost and the value of a meal at Ray's. To me, the cost does not produce value using the standard of a pleasant dining experience. To you, the cost produces great value using the standard of high quality meat. Neither of us is right in a universal sense; our different points of view are simply right for each of us.

                  1. re: Indy 67
                    DanielK Mar 4, 2010 04:27 AM

                    If you make an advance reservation, and sit on the "quiet side", to the left of the host stand, there is no din. And Silver Spring is pretty quiet in the main dining room.

                    But you're right, this is not the traditional clubby steakhouse atmosphere, and it's not a high-end restaurant. That's what costs those places the other 50% of the bill, and I am happy to do without it. If I pocket the difference, every 2 or 3 times I go to Ray's instead of one of the larger steakhouses, I can then go to Corduroy with the savings. :-)

                  2. re: Indy 67
                    c
                    ciaoda Mar 4, 2010 09:27 AM

                    I feel the same way about Two Amy's. Ive had some wonder small plates there but the Pizza's are inconsistent. The craziness of the atmosphere (kids screaming, close tables, crammed packed) precludes me from making it a regular dining spot (yet most folks at this sight think it's a slice of heaven). I prefer the "total package".

                    1. re: Indy 67
                      s
                      spoon99 Mar 10, 2010 11:59 PM

                      You obviously knew what Black and Blue was, so why whine about it now?

                      1. re: spoon99
                        i
                        Indy 67 Mar 11, 2010 01:39 AM

                        My complaint isn't that I didn't know what black and blue meant. My complaint is that the combination was unsuccessful. Major difference. We'll agree to disagree on whether or not there's an expiration date on saying something negative about a dish that's still on the menu.

                    2. a
                      Adam23 Mar 3, 2010 01:52 PM

                      This post cracks me up and is also pretty much inaccurate since the new location opened.

                      1. Reservations are accepted.

                      2. No comment other than you are entitled to your own opinion. I think the steaks are in the top tier of what is available in DC. Always cooked perfectly as ordered.

                      3. The wine list is rather good with lots of unique choices. Not sure if we are talking the same place but since their new wine director has arrived, i'm impressed with the options.

                      4. Having been to way to many steak houses in DC over the past few weeks, I have to say Rays is easily the best value in town on the food quality/price ratio. I think I payed $44 or my fillet at Cap Grille last week, when the comparable choice is $30 at Rays (may even be less). That's almost 50% more for Cap Grille and in my mind, food-wise, Cap Grille not 50% better.

                      Sorry you didn't have an enjoyable experience, but that leaves more room for the rest of us.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Adam23
                        m
                        MikeR Mar 3, 2010 03:46 PM

                        I think the important thing about Ray's is that it's a great value for a good meal. Some people don't consider value important (they're probably lawyers) and are only interested in where the cows and the chefs went to college. That's OK. There are places where they can go and enjoy their perfect steaks and $100 bottles of wine.

                        I'm happy with a Ray's Hell Burger and an occasinal steak.

                        1. re: MikeR
                          Dennis S Mar 3, 2010 05:02 PM

                          I still crack up about the East Coast attitude towards steak in the first place, and Ray's comes about closest to being okay. The recs for The Palm, Capital Grille, etc., crack me up even more.

                          But, I do know I'm lucky. Pretty much if you've eaten beef in the past 40 years, my Grandfather owned some of it at one point in time. I don't say this to boast on that fact, but the man knew his beef (I can tell you more about Cattlemen Days in KS sometime over lunch). Anyway, there are some great beef finds in the midwest that only come near the $20 price point, and that includes a salad (albeit iceberg mainly) and a side (usually a baked potato w/o addl charge).

                          But the beef is as good as I've had at most places out here, and certainly better than some - including Morton's in Reston on that last list.

                          I'm guessing it's sort of like the Lobster Roll difference btwn here and Boston.

                          But at the end, if I were to go for a good steak in the area, Ray's is up there and I also disagree with the OP, and feel they are posting late, not with altruism, and/or some other reason.

                          1. re: MikeR
                            g
                            Giggling Gourmand Mar 4, 2010 08:54 AM

                            Hey! I went to Rays with a group of lawyers a few weeks ago and we all had a blast. We showed up as the kitchen was closing and held them up and the service was still excellent, really excellent. The waiter was gracious, funny and recommended a very nice wine in our low budget. I think we all had the cowboy cut rib eye and everyone's was cooked perfectly. The crab soup, like everyone says is the best damn soup ever. I don't eat sides when I have a huge steak in front of me so can't comment on those.

                            I wonder if they would ever consider starting to dry age

                        2. g
                          gyozagirl Mar 3, 2010 12:37 PM

                          To each their own- but just to address one thing- They do take reservations, I've done that a few times already (up to 1 month in advance).

                          1. r
                            richarm1 Mar 3, 2010 12:33 PM

                            I have to agree with the original poster here. I fail to see what all the fuss is about with RTS. Both the Palm and Smith & Wolenski have superior meat, in my view. Granted, they're chains, but so is Ray's now. I've always felt that Washington restaurant critics, and maybe even some people on this board, seem to grade suburban restaurants on a steep curve. Every time I've made a trek out into the 'burbs to find some raved-about restaurant, I've been disappointed ... with a few exceptions on some Asian restaurants.

                            1. c
                              ciaoda Mar 3, 2010 10:31 AM

                              Be careful. People at this site get very protective and defensive about anything Michael Landrum. I havent been to Rays the Steaks but have been to Rays the Classics. I thought the waitstaff was rude and aloof, some of the items (filet, sides and soups) were pretty good and others were not prepared as requested. All in all it was an ok meal but I wouldnt run back. And I didnt think it was inexpensive either. I miss Sam and Harry's.

                              Try saying anything mediocre or negative about Rays Hellburger and await the fallout......

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ciaoda
                                ktmoomau Mar 3, 2010 12:52 PM

                                But see I don't find your post offensive at all. Because it isn't wildly old or inaccurate. The wine program is so completely different now with Mark Slater. It takes reservations. It is the fact that the review at this point is so old and inaccurate that really makes people take offense, at least me.

                              2. d
                                DCDeb Mar 3, 2010 09:50 AM

                                Wow, the headline sure got attention. I have to disagree with the OP on all points except the closeness of the tables. Since he doesn't like it, more for me!

                                1. ktmoomau Mar 3, 2010 08:00 AM

                                  Well since you don't like the wine service at Ray's please please don't go to Mark Slater's wine bar. I want it all to myself.

                                  I to disagree with everything you have said, and think it is silly to post a complete thread about a restaurant you haven't been to in at least a year or more, but to each their own.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: ktmoomau
                                    alkapal Mar 4, 2010 05:54 AM

                                    yes, the timing is odd.

                                  2. a
                                    AlexDer Mar 3, 2010 06:52 AM

                                    I've always had a good experience at Rays. I feel the mashed potatoes are pretty good and so is the cream spinach. Though the cream spinach might not be as good as The Prime Rib, its still very good for a included side item. I feel the steaks are good steaks and they always cook it the way i like (pittsburgh style). The crab bisque is also one of my favorite soups i've ever had.

                                    I will agree on a few of your points and that is they use to not accept reservations and that has changed at their new location. I did agree that their tables at the old location were pretty close together but that was to accommodate more guests and reduce the waiting times. I feel the prices are very reasonable given the location and the food quality you get. A New York Strip steak is $21.50 at my local outback for a 14oz and you get a much larger and better one at Rays for under $30 from what i remember the last time i was there.

                                    1. j
                                      JenBZB Mar 3, 2010 06:44 AM

                                      I have been to their old location. It was fine but not great. Not motivated to go back and try the new one with all the other choices out there.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: JenBZB
                                        Dennis S Mar 3, 2010 06:59 AM

                                        What are your more favored places?

                                      2. j
                                        jaydreb Mar 3, 2010 06:01 AM

                                        Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, but it seems that the OP hasn't been to the new location.

                                        1. m
                                          mjhals Mar 3, 2010 05:49 AM

                                          I'm not going to go point by point to disagree (which I emphatically do), but have you actually gone there recently? First of all, in the new location they do gladly accept reservations so in my opinion tthe fact that you're wrong is going to undermine your review a bit. It also has much more room and a much better setting.

                                          Of course the steaks are still cooked perfectly with wonderful flavor. Even if the steaks were subpar (which they're not) the crab bisque makes up for any other failing, ever. It is the best crab soup I've ever had.

                                          We're closing on an apartment this month that is across the street from Ray's- and that's one of my favorite things about the apartment. I plan to never cook again and just live on their bisque.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: mjhals
                                            s
                                            Steve Mar 3, 2010 06:21 AM

                                            Was "across from Ray's" listed as an amenity on the MLS?

                                          2. DanielK Mar 2, 2010 07:35 PM

                                            I hope more people read this and agree with you, to cut back on the lines.

                                            Oh, that's right, I don't care about the lines, because I always make a reservation.

                                            And you realize that "mediocre" wine list was put together by the most decorated sommelier in the city, right?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: DanielK
                                              s
                                              shawnb Mar 3, 2010 07:56 AM

                                              I agree. I wish there were more people like Fracis out there to make more room for the rest of us. God knows Ray's isn't hurting for business.

                                            Show Hidden Posts