Cole Porter sang about it in his usual witty, sophisticated style, so we thought we’d inquire about exactly what they’re putting on at the Ritz-Carlton these days. It had been a while since we visited The Grill, the elegant, stately wood-paneled room that serves only dinner. Breakfast and lunch are in the sunny corner room called The Restaurant.
Since it remains the Ritz, dinner doesn’t come cheaply. Entrees range from $24 to $42 but the result is often worthy -- certainly not a bargain, perhaps a good investment.. What one receives are versions of American classics that have been designed and executed in a first-class manner, served in an atmosphere that, while dignified, isn’t overwhelming or stuffy. This attitude has evolved because hotel guests, the room’s primary clients, usually are dressed rather casually. Even the business types often have shed their ties. And the noise level in the restaurant is conducive to conversation, something found less and less often these days.
Things are off to a happy start with the presentation of the bread basket. There are a couple of accompanying slathers like a red pepper hummus, which is nice enough, but it’s the bread, which arrives neatly arranged in a lidded box, that seduces. A tall, tender chive biscuit sits atop slices of whole grain and raisin-and-walnut breads, the latter unusual in this part of the country but a frequent favorite in New York. All three are excellent, but they’re trumped by the corn muffin, which contains crunchy little pieces of good bacon. Divine, but small enough to cause wistfulness; nevertheless, don’t worry, the staff offers refills, thank goodness.
Crab cakes are not our choice in most restaurants. We’ve talked before about our preference for real lumps of crab and minimal filler and seasoning. Somehow, though, this one called. The dish is available in two sizes, and the small was about the size of a slightly flattened golf ball. It wasn’t quite as lump-filled as our beau ideal, but other than that, it was excellent, full of crabby flavor, and crowning coins of fingerling potatoes that had been cooked with lardons of some more of that good bacon. No crabbing about this crab cake. The Caesar salad was accessorized with marinated white anchovies after it was tossed in the dining room. A nicely pungent dressing and small, fresh croutons complemented the romaine lettuce, which was cut in small-enough pieces
Steak Diane, a fifties classic that really doesn’t have an agreed-upon standard version, offers tournedos of beef with a sauce that uses green peppercorns, cream, and seemingly a little red wine as well as the more common brandy, all adding up to a rich, elegant blend to go with the tasty, juicy beef. Duchesse potatoes, basically rich mashed potatoes elegantly piped onto the plate, came alongside as well as some asparagus. A section of the menu offers various kinds of meat with the diner’s choice of a number of classic sauces. Three double lamb chops deserved bearnaise and received a particularly tangy version. Baked butternut squash wasn’t quite cooked through in some parts, a shame because it can be so good, but a house-made "fall chutney" with apples worked wonderfully with the good parts of the squash. Both dishes had a swirl of narrow-cut french-fried onions to top them off.
Souffles for dessert still make our hearts beat a little faster. There’s nothing quite like the puff towering over a dish, the aroma pirouetting up to the eager diner. There are times when nouvelle-r isn’t better. Grand Marnier or chocolate? A difficult choice, but the Grand Marnier offered just what we always hope for, fluff and buttery-sugary crunchy sides and the creme anglaise scented and anointed with the orange-flavored liqueur. Souffles should be so moist the sauce is nice but not necessary; this one came close. Another classic is on the menu, too, unexpectedly: Gooey butter cake. At the Ritz? Well, yes. Two pieces sandwiched a scoop of mocha ice cream. This seems like a good idea, but the particular cake deserves to be served warm or at room temperature, and this was rather cool, making it much chewier than the lush, fat-filled dessert ought to be. As far as the ice cream goes, we like our mocha on the coffee end of the spectrum rather than the chocolate, but that’s just us. Still, it’s the sort of simple dish that can be gussied up to look nice on an elegant menu. And when you think about it, that rather typifies The Grill at the Ritz. Service is the same, not affected but simple, courteous and prompt.
The wine list is long and expensive, but has some gorgeous bottles and vintages to satisfy any taste, as long as it’s on the upper end of the price scale.
The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton
100 Carondolet Plaza, Clayton
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Good