The Cincinnati-based steakhouse is over the top, but it's tough to argue with the quality steaks and sushi.
The loss of many traditional high-end eateries in the recent past—Handke's Cuisine, The Clarmont and Bexley Monk—left a void in Columbus that Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse seems happy to fill, barreling onto the dining scene late last year with white tablecloths, elaborate décor and nods to another era—as well as outrageously priced food.
At first, restaurateur Jeff Ruby's Cincinnati-based steakhouse chain, situated near the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Nationwide Boulevard, may feel like an awkward fit for Columbus. Our palates have become more sophisticated and adventurous since those aforementioned mainstays shuttered, with focus shifting to global flavors and New American cuisine. Jeff Ruby's, with its logo-adorned everything, is a brand mainly focused on red meat. The culinary trends of the current day are absent here: no sous vide, no kale, no foam.
But about those steaks. The petit filet ($44) is enough to make someone quit vegetables. The exterior was crispy, the inside pure umami. The steak prices jump to as high as $115 (for a30-ounce, dry-aged tomahawk rib-eye), but the restaurant has a few options to get around the pricing, including a loyalty club and off-the-menu specials offered only on Facebook. This summer, those in the know could order two lobster tails and two 8-ounce filet mignons with small portions of grilled asparagus and house-made mashed potatoes for $99 (a $207 value). While the charred lobster meat was perfectly cooked, the juicy steak with its signature, salted seasoning stole the show.
Jeff Ruby's steaks can be served with a variety of toppings—which can make or break the meal—for an extra charge. One order of the 14-ounce New York strip ($49) topped with mushrooms and onions ($4) was unremarkable. The vegetables were overcooked, a little too sweet and had a hummus-like consistency. But on a second try, the crispy garlic butter topping ($4) made for a lovely sharp flavor and a variety of textures.
Bread and butter are served complimentary with every meal. Warm slices of rye and sourdough come to the table with a pâté-like selection of two butters (truffle and regular) and a parchment circle with Jeff Ruby's logo on top—just so you don't forget.
From the appetizer menu, the seared scallops ($22) were perfectly cooked and served with all the best flavors: cucumbers, avocado and lime juice. And while the raw bar is a spectacle to the eyes, the reality of its breadth is sometimes a letdown. During one visit, only one variety of specialty oysters ($4.50 each) was available.
Unlike some traditional steakhouses, this one has a sushi chef and offers a menu ranging from sashimi ($4–$10 apiece) to specialty rolls ($18–$42) to entrées like the Chirashi, a 12-piece chef's selection with “enhanced presentation” for $64. I tried the Hamachi Tataki ($26), which was fantastic. A beautiful fan of thin, seared yellowtail tuna slices in a bath of miso ponzu were joined by black and white sesame seeds floating atop. Accompanying it were a snow-like pile of shredded radish, a nest of seaweed and bright green onions. The only downside was that the dish was served without a spoon, meaning the piquant broth, as much of a draw as the tuna, was unreachable.
Sides are served a la carte and can be shared with the table. The award-winning baked macaroni and cheese ($13) came highly recommended. Cavatappi meets super-creamy cheese (the menu promises “six imported cheeses”) and a crispy top. Tangy Gruyere stands out, adding depth to the richness. Another promising side is the sweet truffle creamed corn ($13). Served in a small cast-iron pan, it takes the traditional Thanksgiving recipe and adds pieces of truffles and fresh parsley. The sweet corn is an ideal complement to Jeff Ruby's steaks.
Should there be room for dessert, the Bananas Foster for Two ($18) is an excellent close to a meal. One part performance and one part educational experience, the bananas are flambéed on a tableside cart with Disney-like flair.
The ambiance? It's about as subtle as the menu. From its stained glass bar ceiling to its velvet walls, uncountable chandeliers, glass jellyfish lamps and celebrity photos, the décor is a mish-mash of what might happen if someone with unlimited cash Googled, “What do rich people like?”
Grabbing a seat in the bar is the simplest way to get a table without reservations, which are essential for the formal dining room and the basement, with its private seating for parties. In the bar, the giant, book-like menus are a bit unwieldy to navigate while seated at the smaller bistro tables. The restaurant places a heavy emphasis on wine (no surprise there) with a list—to give you an idea of its depth—that includes its own contents page. The selection is impressive, and the prices are hefty, with no bottles listed below $40, though half-bottles are appreciated. In addition to a beer list that includes several Ohio brews, there is a sizable scotch selection and a handful of cocktails, like the Orange Cream Old-Fashioned ($13), which has the ability to pull you back to a different era. Live piano music and a slight cigar scent wafting from the patio help to accompany it.
The service here is, of course, formal, with distinct roles delineated by distinct uniforms. Servers have their own assistants, and the hierarchy is in your face. Meanwhile, the image of female servers expertly traversing the bar in cocktail dresses and heels seems like an out-of-touch vestige in the post-Harvey Weinstein era.
The actual quality of service was inconsistent. Courses and drinks were delivered flawlessly in some cases, with the food magically appearing at exactly the right time. On other occasions, I had awkward interactions. There was the bartender who chose to warn me that a glass of rosé would be expensive but provided no editorial when a more affluent-looking guest ordered the same glass. During another visit, sides were delivered 10 minutes after the mains. And during one memorable experience, a senior-level host scolded a new hostess in front of us for suggesting a poorly positioned table. Although he provided us with a better table, the memory of the hostess holding back tears as she apologized overshadowed the rest of the evening.
Like the formal country clubs it resembles, Jeff Ruby's is not for everyone. It celebrates an era in time, food and service that some have moved beyond. Yes, it's gaudy, but it cooks a steak and offers a night out that one won't soon forget.