Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The Ringside, like those metaphorical laurels upon which some rest, is illustrating the old adage, I'm afraid.  All the historic pomp and landmarkedness is up and running full bore, but if the food quality is living up to its reputation, it was entirely lost on me.  Granted, I'm not a big meat eater/steakhouse girl, but there were those at my table who were, and none were thrilled.

The restaurant itself is warm and festive, traditional old school steakhouse swank with glowy globe lighting and exposed brick, heavy, dark wooden tables, and even tuxedoed waiters with a handlebar moustaches.   Or at least ours was, waxed and dapper, and as such pretty much constituted the high point of the evening: a theatrical and witty and thoroughly competent gent, but unfortunately the waiter's aptitude cannot compensate for such pricey, lackluster food.

It was ample, however, this food.  Big, typical steakhouse portions meant everyone we saw on their way out was toting cardboard boxes of leftovers, and unless you share, this really can't be avoided.   The size of portions is great for a large party as was ours, so the beet salad I ordered made its way around the table, some appreciating it more than myself.  Pretty unimaginative display of sliced roots atop a tumble of greens, requisite wad of goat cheese (admirably sourced from local Portland Creamery), an excess of candied walnuts and a zesty vinaigrette, but absolutely serviceable.  Well
 aware of the impending bounty, we took just one order of their iconic onion rings, which was more than enough.  They were double-crisp: the deep golden crust, of course, but also the onions within were  too raw.  None of the fry oil's heat seemed to penetrate the impressive breading enough to render the onions tender and fragrant- they remained, instead, insultingly bitey.  I've had better onion rings, on myriad occasion, elsewhere, despite their cult-like following.  A potato and leek soup stepped up a bit in their wake, warm and soothing, although unfortunately daubed with truffle oil (undoubtedly 2.4 dithiapentane flavored
 oil, not real truffles) instead of just relying on the decadent mound of fresh Dungeness heaped amidst, which was more than a luxurious enough condiment.  Another soup might've been more successful as a condiment instead; it was so rich it was almost unfinishable, even in its rather diminutively sized crock.  A thick cap of gruyere shrouded the copper pot, oozing down its sides and permeating the thick, sodden crouton with enough grease to set off multiple cardiac red flags.  While a couple of spoonfulls made for a tasty splurge, more than that might elicit concern for actually even making it to the main course.  On a positive note, the food came out in quite a timely manner.  There was not too much of a lapse between ordering and our first courses (delays came later), giving just enough time to further peruse the Brobdingnagian wine list, which provided a less delightful Cabernet but an absolutely swoon-worthy red from Pingus.  Not a surprise, as Wine Spectator has noted The Ringside every year since 2011 for it's comprehensive wine list.

Speaking of Brobdingnagian, entree sizes are commensurately enormous.  Easily splittable, and those that are intended for a deuce could be quadrupled.  All the meat is grain fed- not a single grass-fed option on the docket, which inspired a few look seaward.  I even downsized to an app for an entree, both for that I wasn't getting the feeling I'd really even want the leftovers, but also to allow for stealth sampling of other people's entrees.  So my scallops-that-were-technically-appetizers were, as such, a normal restaurant's entree size.  Their prep sounded attractive on the menu, teamed up with some of my favorite ingredients: leeks and mushrooms, squash with orange.  But the tourniquets of fatty bacon around them turned rubbery and
greasy, imparting some decent smoky flavor to the scallops but almost totally bereft of any meaty bits.  But the mushrooms beneath were delicious, tinged with bacon and onion flavor to enhance the chewy earthiness.  The orange was more sugary than bright: some acid would've helped the dish immensely.   But it added a gentle sweetness to create a pretty luxurious plate, probably one of the stronger of the night.  Another seafood option fared more poorly, almost indistinguishable as a piece of fish rather than some bulbous mass showered in matchstick fries.  Quite unfortunately, too, our fetching waiter accidentally broke a wine glass right next to it while refilling, and thus the entire entree was whisked away, refired and re-served after most the rest of us were already finished.  A
 simple, forgiveable human error, but the entrees had taken their own sweet time in arriving, and this further delay just showcased that all the more blatantly.

But onto the steaks, the reason most visit The Ringside.  They were all cooked exactly as requested, from the pricey porterhouse for two, to a petite filet.  The porterhouse, at a whopping $128, does provide a cross-continental delight of NY strip and filet, although the combo of which was far too marbled for my tastes, the orderers reveled in the fatty cuts... although cashed in far from finishing it.  Center cut filet mignon was a more manageable 6 or 12 oz. but even a 6 oz. cut ordered by a more delicate eater left some bites for me to sample, along with it's filling baked potato alongside that appropriately topped could've been a small meal in itself.    Much of the meat is touted as "Natural" , but that's such an ambiguous designation that it's basically meaningless.  But the Lava Lake Natural Lamb actually backs up it's natural-ness: in addition to being local-ish from nearby Idaho, it's also grass-fed! Which was never disclosed at the restaurant, but confirmed post-prandially.  Quite obviously, I don't share steakhouse-people's priorities.  At any rate, this lamb was succulent and mild, and paired with brussels sprouts I might've actually ordered had I known it's pedigree... but we got sides of brussels, anyways, so I fulfilled my quota there.  They were okay- too sweet, really, with a
syrupy maple glaze.  A house favorite, the roasted cauliflower gratin was slaughtered in gratin, although some of the peripheral florets were just tinged with cheese and achieved a delicious roastiness.  Mushrooms were classic, a little oily but simple and flavorful enough, and probably the best side of the night.  The spinach (offered sauteed or baked- we chose
the former) was underseasoned and underwhelming, $10.25 for probably about a dollar's worth of wilted leaves.

Strangely enough, easily the most delicious and memorable dish (besides the Pingus) was dessert.  Because of the wine glass debacle, they offered us a dessert on the house, which none of us really had room before- but one bite of which made a strong argument against
that axiom.  Key Lime pie, not local, not necessarily seasonal, but just magically wonderful featured a pale, tangy custard of ur-liminess beneath a whimsically sastruga of marshmallowy Swiss meringue.  It was an absolutely flawless rendition of the classic: precisely what I had expected from The Ringside at every turn.  Unfortunately, it only presented this evidence of quality here, at the finale.  But a fitting finale it was, and lent an air of hope for the future.   True, I might've  just have been better off at Ringside Fish House, but the steakhouse is currently closed and under renovation, so to reopen as The Ringside Grill.  Hopefully the menu will get spiffed up along with its new name.


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