I was invited to experience the US and World release of the new vintage Grange wine at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Dallas as the famed eatery put on a spectacular five course food and wine pairing show featuring the wines of Penfolds and the culinary artistry of Executive Chef Charles Miller.
As we all know, everything is big in Texas, and the steaks at Ruth’s Chris might well have been invented to suit that phrase. Actually, the restaurant chain – now one of the largest and most successful inAmerica– got its start in New Orleans in 1965 when founder Ruth Fertel mortgaged her house to buy an existing local eatery, Chris Steak House. The deal specified that the word “Chris” could never be dropped, so Ruth added her name and – though she is said to have hated the cumbersome moniker – went on to earn a place in history as a steakhouse pioneer. Today, the restaurant empire she founded numbers more than 100 locations worldwide.
At its wine dinners, done with pretty much monthly regularity at the venerable restaurant – the next one will be with Napa winery David Arthur – Ruth’s Chris pairs wines with food offerings impeccably, then goes over the top to raffle off generous door prizes to those in attendance. These include original artworks created by an in-house live painter, custom shirt fittings from a local haberdasher and several gifts of chef’s dinners to entertain the winners and a sizeable number of their friends. The winery, of course, kicks in some large bottles of its wines. No wonder there were so many guests in the room!
The capacity crowd expressed enthusiasm at every turn, and I noticed more than a few doggie bags being filled with overflow from the gargantuan portions that were served during the evening.
Dallas, like other cities where Penfolds and Ruth’s collaborated for this simultaneous wine and food pairing extravaganza, is allotted only a certain amount of the Australian producer’s latest varietals, which have been known to sell at auctions for record prices.
At last week’s dinner, food and wine connoisseurs in attendance enjoyed a salad of tiger shrimp, sweet crab meat, spring greens and white balsamic vinaigrette, paired with a Thomas Hyland Riesling. This was followed by a light, delicious spring leek and asparagus soup, topped with a nutmeg-spiked crème fraiche and served with Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay.
The third course – a duck confit Napoleon – think dense polenta corn cake meets New England Thanksgiving cornbread stuffing – was my favorite. We were served not one, but two portions of this luscious concoction, which was topped with a thick, sweet black cherry demi glace and served with the Australian vintner’s St. Henri Shiraz.
“Two more courses to go,” we were told – to which the response came from across the room, “are they both called ‘dessert?’ “
But no, out came the piece de resistance entrée, an entrée-sized hunk of Ruth’s Chris’ butter-topped filet mignon, plated with a crab-stuffed lobster tail and roasted garlic mashed potatoes and served with the fabled Penfolds Grange – referred to during the evening as “The Grange.”
Dark chocolate ganache-covered cheesecake and a glass of Penfolds Club Tawny Port ended the meal, which inspired guests to adjourn to the bar and continue the lively conversation to the amusement Manager Matt Hannby, Assistant GM John Richardson and GM Charles Bruen.
It was getting late, and I was sure the restaurant was trying to close.
“It’s ok; we’re used to this,” said Hannby.
“These dinners are about having fun.”