Chef Michael Landrum has been a busy guy of late. Building on the well-earned esteem garnered from his flagship restaurant, Ray's the Steaks, Chef Landrum has built a miniature empire of DC area restaurants, including Ray's the Classics of Silver Spring, and Ray's Hell Burger of Arlington, to which he will soon be adding Ray's the Nets, a reasonably priced seafood option modeled on his established trope of cheap-but-awesome meateries.
When I learned that Landrum and his crew were moving Ray's the Steak's -- synonymous this past eight years with criminally under-priced, house-aged steaks and rich-as-Midas sides -- I was a bit concerned. Why mess with success, I asked myself? Yes, the old space was cramped, to the extent that even taking reservations was out of the question, but they had a formula! It worked! The place never had a spare seat, and ... what? Did you say that the new location is at 2300 Wilson Blvd, a mere seven minute walk from my apartment? What a brilliant idea! It's high time they moved out of that old crapshack, anyhow. Status quo be damned!
On a whim, Eliza and I wandered over last Wednesday around seven o'clock, and managed to snag an eight o'clock seating (yes, Ray's now takes reservations!). The new space is huge, offering some 150 seats between its two large dining rooms. The set up is a bit schizophrenic: walk in the front door and look to your right, and it is just like the old place, complete with pirate flag, open kitchen, and a collection of tightly packed, bare-wood two and four tops; behind the host stand, Ray's has a more traditional steakhouse look, with burgundy carpets, black table clothes, and high-backed white chairs. We were seated in the "retro-Ray's" room, and after a few minutes, floor-to-ceiling windows notwithstanding, it felt just like old times.
I got to speak briefly with Chef Landrum the other day about switching locations. His one concern, if you could call it that, was that when you make such a dramatic change, psychologically, people want to find something wrong, something different from their idealized memories of the past. Well, let me assure you right now that, beyond general decor, Ray's has not changed at all. At all. The menu is the same off-white card stock it has always been, offering the same great steaks at the same great prices (though I've been told to keep an eye out for a new lamb dish in the near future). The service is as quick and efficient as ever, with the same crack staff dancing agilely between tables, and getting you through 8 oz of meat and a bottle of wine faster than you would have ever thought possible without being rushed. Eliza and I both ordered Hanger Steaks, rare, and they were exactly what we'd come to expect: perfectly cooked, flavorful, and the best damned steak deal in the area, period. New to me were the fois gras and bone marrow toppings ($9 and $3, respectively), which Chef Landrum tells me they started offering soon after opening Hell Burger. I got the marrow, and while I wouldn't call the additional fat strictly necessary, it was just the sort of beefy Jello I have grown to love, and was just the thing my decadent, Francophile ass was looking for.
If you loved Ray's as it was, do not fret: Daddy still loves you, he just had to move away, for grownup reasons. If you weren't a fan, and chalk that up to the chaotic ballet that was the old dining room, you might should see how you feel about the new plusher side. As for me, I am really bummed that Ray's moved into my backyard like two weeks before Lent; I was really not banking on that kind of temptation. I'm strong, I'll resist... but if you do happen to see me there on a Friday, please don't tell my mom.
Ray's the Steaks
2300 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Street Parking
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Courthouse
Reservations: Taken for part of the restaurant. There is also a portion of the restaurant that is first come, first serve.
Baby-Friendly Rating: 2 out of 4 diapers. Laid back and casual environment. The restaurant is bigger and therefore, louder, but there is only one child seat.