I rarely find memorable experiences at chain restaurants, much less outstanding wine programs and service. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Destin, Florida delivered a completely unexpected pleasure on a recent visit.
My wife and I arrived early for a reservation and decided to have a cocktail at the bar. Beverage Director Skot Harville overheard my request for the wine list, which he delivered. After browsing, I asked which wines were drinking well that he would recommend to go with dinner. Without hesitation he suggested the Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino 2010, priced with a hefty markup at $150. Everything was proceeding as I would expect at an upscale chain restaurant, with somewhat impersonal exchanges building up to a high-dollar wine pitch.
But the conversation expanded as we enjoyed our cocktails and studied the list. Skot described the Brunello in depth, asked questions about our wine preferences, and we discussed various regions of Italy. Next, he surprised us when he began bringing out bottles for us to taste, each served in a new glass with a significant pour. First there was Southern Belle Precious Syrah 2011, a Spanish wine supposedly finished in old Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon barrels. It was full and spicy initially, then as promised, wood-charred and sweet on the finish. As interesting as the wine was, the back label verbiage might have been even better. He followed that with a new bottle of Cheval des Andes 2010, a joint project of Cheval Blanc and Terrazas de los Andes. A Malbec-based Bordeaux blend, it was almost black, with floral and minerals heaped upon layers of dark berries. As he opened the bottle, he justified out loud that he would save the rest for a large group that evening. We would have enjoyed either of the other wines, but chose the big Brunello for dinner, which was opened at the bar for a quick gasp of air. We lingered several minutes after finishing our drinks enjoying the wine talk.
Our table had been ready for twenty minutes, but there was no pressure to be seated. "Whenever you are ready", said the hostess. Dinner was excellent, with solid team service. Skot checked at the table to confirm we agreed the Brunello drank well with our steaks. The pairing was very nice, although I saved most of the wine to savor after the meal. It was bold, but not too big, with burned edges, very dry, and long-lasting. I returned to the bar before we left to thank Skot and snap photos of the earlier wines. I mentioned my interest in the Cheval des Andes, and he allowed me to purchase a bottle for just above his cost, a nice discount from retail price.
This Ruth's Chris experience, dominated by the basics of great service, wine and steak, is my favorite from a large-scale steakhouse. It would have been better than average had I not been engaged by Skot at the bar, but his attention and interest put it over the top. When in Destin, be sure to look him up.
Ruth's Chris Steak House - 15000 Emerald Coast Parkway, Silver Shells Resort, Destin, FL 32541