My problem with steakhouses in general is that with the help of my instant read thermometer or my index finger, I can pretty much cook at least as good as their kitchens and for a lot less money. So here is my recommendation: If you want a steak, go buy it at Laurelhurst Market and ask them how to cook it.
But we are not gastro-snobs at MagoGuide, and we do understand that for some non-trivial percentage of the dining public, a steakhouse is their favorite way to drop some serious dining ducats. So, if you want to eat at a steakhouse in Portland, you have a couple of choices in MagoGuide’s humble opinion. Either go the traditional route with Ringside or go to Laurelhurst Market and try their unusual cuts of beef served with excellent non-traditional sides.
Telephone: (503) 223-1513
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Rostra rating: 3.5
TeamMago showed up at Ringside on a bustling Saturday night with my old high school debate partner turned serial entrepreneur to review Portland’s most beloved and long-standing (as in 1944) beef emporium.
If you are going to indulge in bible thick steaks and portions large enough to feed Beaverton for a week, Ringside is a far better choice than its national chain competitors like Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s where luxurious yet sterile high-end cookie cutter dining spaces are filled with expense account executives, local TV personalities, and visiting professional sports personnel. For one thing, although Ringside pays lip service to a “business casual dress code,” diners can and do wear anything they can get away with in any other Rip City restaurant.
The food at Ringside can hold its own against any classic, Brazilian or Argentinian steakhouse. In terms of starters TeamMago and its unpaid-but-not-unfed intern enjoyed a dozen fresh PNW oysters (i.e., they were from Washington) — briny umami dollops that were unfortunately less than expertly shelled, which is strange for a family-owned steakhouse that also has a very popular fish restaurant downtown.
The Dungeness crab cocktail held an amazing amount of crab meat that completely overcame the mediocre bespoke “zesty” cocktail sauce.
Roasted butternut squash soup with Kurobuta pork belly, pumpkin seed pesto, Rogue Bleu crisps, and apple jack was the prettiest dish of the evening, surprisingly rich and sweet with a great pig candy mouthfeel, and interesting flavor counterpoints from the bleu cheese croutons and apple jack.
Ringside’s Caesar salad and onion rings are some of the best in Bridge City, which is no small feat. I really liked the use of fresh anchovies (boquerones en vinagre) that were applied with a deft hand on the salad.
The onion rings were lightly battered, perfectly fried, and served in enough quantity to founder an entire frat house (and we had the small(er) portion).
The Brussels sprouts were the least appealing of the sides, undercooked and under seasoned.
But you come to a steakhouse for steak right? And where Ringside totally kills its classic competitors is in the realm of dry aged beef. Their in-house locker turns Certified Angus Natural Beef bone-in cuts into something you just don’t find in chains regardless of how much they hype their product or gouge their customers. Ringside is the realm of the diminishing ranks of independent steakhouses where meticulously sourcing beef and aging it properly takes pride of place over the bottom line. Our table of three split the bone-in rib steak (cote de boeuf), and it was more than enough. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare, expertly sliced, and served with restrained panache. The combination of certified Angus beef and the chemical cooking of the aging process lends a profound depth of flavor to the meat that will ensure you never again believe that a wet, aged, buttery slab of USDA Prime is the best steak you ever had.
It is, however, best to enjoy your steak sans sauce at Ringside. The meat came with a glossy, almost clear, liquid that the menu calls “a natural juice-infused beef jus glaze,” but which our waiter referred to as “tallow,” and he was much closer to the truth, although I would have called it grease. It sucked, and, sadly, so did what passes for béarnaise, which was actually old bottled hollandaise, or the worst scratch béarnaise since Jesus was a commis.
The bread rolls seemed like store bought sourdough that showed signs of lingering too long in the warming oven, while butter showed up in essentially liquid form and was way too salty.
The wine list at Ringside also beats it competitors with a stick, consistently winning awards big and small. Our intern, however, wanted to drink a big merlot from Pomerol, and when I perused their wine list on line the Pomerols were eye watteringly spendy. So for a twenty dollar corkage fee, I brought a 1995 La Fleur Petrus from MagoGuide’s cellar (that would be our friends at Willamette Wine Storage). Our waiter William Gentry treated the wine like one of his own offspring, opening it with the coolest opener I have ever seen, a combination of screw and prong that holds the cork absolutely stable during extraction — especially useful for older vintages and their associated aging corks. William then expertly decanted and poured our vino, which did not disappoint with loads of juicy forward black fruit, followed by tobacco, leather, and terroir (or as Patti styles it, cow poop). If you have decent wine cellared, or even if you buy an expensive bottle at a wine store, paying the corkage fee at Ringside will save you a ton of money.
Speaking of service, William was excellent. He handled a table of old friends celebrating a long-postponed reunion with aplomb and helpful suggestions when we veered off from steakhouse ordering etiquette and requested sides for appies and onion rings for sides, defiantly flaunting the order in which things are supposed to reach one’s table. In the end he comped us the corkage fee, for no other reason than just to be nice as far as I could tell. William wore a tux and had business cards, a true professional and another reason to eat at Ringside where one does not face tip-seeking bimbos masquerading as wait staff and conducting scantily clad meat demonstrations in lieu of a menu — not to put too fine a point on it.
Mago Tip: If you want to eat at Ringside without taking out a second mortgage, go during happy hour for some of the best food and drink deals in the Great Gastropolis (as in onion rings, steak bites, monster cocktails, and craft brews). If you have out-of-town Republican guests that think the world of steak begins and ends with [insert high-end chain here] take them to Ringside and make them pay.
Laurelhurst Market’s Restaurant
Telephone: (503) 206-3097
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Rostra rating: 4
So Ringside compares favorably to high-end chains and South American meatporn purveyors, but it falters significantly when compared to Laurelhurst Market. Ringside wins awards for its wine list whereas Laurelhurst’s laurels are for Chef Ben Bettinger’s food. Laurelhurst Market (LM, per their website) is actually three venues in one: a world-class butcher shop, a great steak house, and a mediocre sandwich shop. The butcher shop is the best east of the Willamette River and one of the top three in Portland (the others being Chopped and Phil’s, in Team Mago’s humble opinion). You simply cannot go wrong with anything you buy from the helpful, attentive, and expert cutters.The restaurant utilizes the butcher shop’s product for a venue that a) has no trace of steakhouse decor or ‘tude, b) has plenty of fish and veggie offerings for non-carnivores, and c) is packed and very noisy most nights making reservations essential and timing important (as in go early or late if you want a normal decibel conversation with your dining companions).
But we are talking about steakhouses and you go to a steakhouse for…. So let’s talk beef. Yes, at Laurelhurst you can get a dry aged bone-in New York strip and it will be great (and cheaper than Ringside’s version), but classic ‘Muricun cuts are outnumbered three to one on the menu by the likes of culotte, spinella, and bavette. The meat itself is fanatically sourced and includes Waygu beef from Snake River Farms.
Want a nice perfectly cooked piece of foie gras to go with your steak? They got that too. And LM’s steak frites can definitely go the distance with St. Jack’s version. When was the last time you saw herb-roasted marrow bone, marchand de vin, chimichurri, or horseradish cream as sauces on a (non-Brazilian) steakhouse menu? It was probably in France and there is a touch of Chez Robert et Louise to Chef Bettinger’s semi-rustic cuisine.
Team Mago has really enjoyed a grilled Rosewood Wagyu Denver (served with a blue cheese vinaigrette salad and crispy fennel)
We also enjoyed the steak and greens (a pan seared Piedmontese Bavette served with garden greens, lemon vinaigrette, and Romesco sauce). Both are very unusual cuts for a steak house.
Another reason MagoGuide rarely frequents classic steakhouses is that the ‘tizers and side are boring — even if correctly executed. Not the case at LM where you could and should make a meal on appies and sides alone. Starters are where the butcher shop’s killer charcuterie hangs out, as well as the only pescatarian-friendly section of the menu. Head to the sides for more and varied vegetarian options than you will ever locate on an old school steakhouse menu.
They even have veggie specials, at least if you count bacon as a vegetable. Team Mago was impressed with fried green beans with Calabrian chili aioli and bacon bits — a nice PNW twist on haricot vert employing very, very fresh beans done in a hot pan with pig candy accompaniment and a nice spike of heat.
While it could be argued that LM’s wine list punches above its weight, it’s still no contest viz. Ringside’s twenty-nine page tome (although LM has fifteen wines by the glass). The corkage fee is the same, however, and since LM deserts its culinary Francophilia on the wine list to opt for monster Left Coast reds, you might want to BYOC (that would be bring your own claret, dude). On the other hand LM’s bar kicks Ringeside’s butt, as do the associated cocktails and suds.
Mago Tip: You can experience LM’s excellent proteins for beaucoup less ducats if you purchase a steak at the butcher counter and let them instruct you on how to cook it yourself at home without the accompanying hoards and daunting noise. But then you would miss an excellent bar and all the rest of a fantastic menu. So let circumstance be the tie breaker. The only fly in this gastro-ointment is the inexplicable mediocrity of the sandos produced by that stellar butcher shop at lunch time. The main problem is the bread, which is too soft and doughy, but in general the sum of all that great charcuterie somehow turns out to be less than its parts. If you want a decent sanguich, have them slice the charcuterie for take away and then hit the relatively nearby Cheese Bar, which also sells Ken’s bread, and make that sucker at home.