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Steakhouses are iconic in American dining culture, whether you're dining out in Salt Lake City or New York City. For many diners, when we put on our Sunday best with the intention of sitting down to a fine meal, there's usually meat and potatoes on the menu.

At Ruth's Chris in Salt Lake City, that idea is alive and well. Worldwide, in fact, the chain epitomizes the American steakhouse.

A friend who worked for a big-wig Hong Kong company once told me that no matter where her clients were from, when the meetings were done, they all wanted to go to — you guessed it — Ruth's Chris.

Yes, the brand is a franchise, and yes, its first iteration at another Salt Lake City location (just a stone's throw away) got off to a very rocky start. But with new owners, management and a new setting, this latest Ruth's Chris offers old-school allure within a comfortably contemporary setting.

In this case, that setting is dark, but not brooding. The entryway funnels you either into a vast dining room or an area by the bar with smaller booths and a handful of tables that creates a casual atmosphere. Diners can eat a filet mignon with blue cheese ($39.95) at the bar and keep tabs on all the NFL scores on the HDTV.

But the main dining room provides the restaurant's real magic. Here you're seemingly in another world, an era of limitless expense accounts and three-martini lunches set within a labyrinthine layout of tables and dark wooden booths. This could be the set for an episode of "Mad Men," circa 2010, as designed by the art directors of GQ.

The set-up is flanked by private dining rooms where, presumably, wheelers and dealers make or break a company or couples celebrate another year of nuptial bliss. As part of the restaurant's storage, wine bottles are arranged artfully in vertical columns along the wall that leads to the restroom. Wine prices here, as in many other steakhouses, are exaggerated. If you have a tried-and-true red you want to enjoy with your cowboy bone-in rib eye ($43), you should consider bringing it and paying the $10 corkage fee.

Still, if you have a good server, as we did one night, the suggestions can be marvelous. All by-the-glass options are in the food menu, and the separate wine menu lists bottles only. As our server promised, the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc ($13) paired well with a luxurious terra cotta-hued lobster bisque (spiked, as it should be, with plenty of cognac, $9) and Alaskan king crab leg appetizer. There's a brief primer about how to enjoy steaks with wine in the back of the menu.

I enjoy getting my hands dirty by breaking my own crab legs ($20). Ruth's Chris, however, caters to the crustacean-apprehensive, dissecting the meat from the shell for you tableside; for me, a kind, if misplaced gesture. After about 7 minutes of shelling a few legs, we had our small pile of sweet, simple flesh along with a few flecks of shell for texture. Shellfish is abundant on the appetizer menu, too, all of which are generally good, while a promising ossobuco ravioli ($12) was subdued and too monotone for its price tag.

Still, the food is largely solid, the portions ample, served in traditional steakhouse style. You choose how you want your steak cooked. And quite frankly, if you're going to throw down $30 for a superb, prime grade, dry-aged meat (dry aging concentrates the flavors, so you're not paying for water weight), you shouldn't cook out all the flavor by ordering it well done. Medium at most. Rare is ideal.

Ruth's Chris is one of the few places in town that can successfully pull off a "black-and-blue" preparation — nicely charred exterior with a rare interior — thanks to the kitchen's high BTU stoves and salamanders (broilers). My New York strip ($39) came out textbook perfect.

The intensely high cooking temperatures are prolonged with a 500-degree serving plate and a good dose of butter for extra measure. Between the flavorful meat and butter, trust me: You won't need A-1. Just taste the meat. A word of caution though — the plates are literally sizzling.

Sides will cost you extra, and the quality varies. There are spuds aplenty.

Though french fries ($3.75) and a loaded baked potato ($7.50) are standard, the best potato option is the Lyonnaise ($7.50), with pieces of crispy golden slices of potato tossed with sweet caramelized onions. Broccoli gratin ($8) was a gooey, cheesy pool of green flecks, while the simpler bright green asparagus with a rich hollandaise sauce ($8.50) was far better.

Of course, then there's the Oscar-style treatment to any of the steaks. Think of it as a cut of meat with an appetizer (the crab cake) and a side (asparagus and béarnaise) added on. On a T-bone ($62), it's superb. With a tender filet on one side of the bone and a strip steak on the other, there's a lot of beefy nuance of flavor. With the Oscar add-on, you can look forward to a well-prepared golden, tender crab cake, al dente thin spears of asparagus and a creamy, vinegar-inflected sauce on top.

After dinner, we encountered two men as we walked out the door. "Is this place any good? They said it was a 40-minute wait," one of them said. "They both wore Bluetooth ear pieces and button-down pastel shirts. His accent was Bostonian, I guessed, Morton's steakhouse territory, while his equally hungry co-worked was from China.

They both wanted a good steak. My reply was simple: "Yes."


Ruth's Chris Steak House

Food • HHH

Mood • HHH

Service • HHhj

Noise • bb

Yes, it's a chain, but the restaurant is locally owned and operated, and it's doing something right. The T-bone and filet served on 500-degree plates are mighty fine, as are the potatoes Lyonnaise. Service is efficient, but wine prices are exaggerated. If you can afford it, order the steak Oscar-style for a lovely crab cake, hollandaise and asparagus crown.

Location • 275 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City; 801-363-2000

Hours • Monday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $$$

Liquor • Full bar

Corkage • $10

Reservations • Accepted

Takeout • No

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • Valet, $4

Credit cards • All major