Aug 122010

Gabriele and I had a really fine meal at Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington last weekend. We were giving Ray’s a second chance at their new Arlington location on Wilson Blvd.

Michael Landrum has made a big name for himself with his growing empire of Ray’s locations. I’ve had a couple of good meals in the Silver Spring restaurant, but that one is a little more traditional steak house than the DC and VA locations. The last time Gabriele and I went, it was to the old Arlington location next to Ray’s Hell Burger. I was thoroughly underwhelmed at the time.

The evening featured a long wait, dark and cramped location, and an amphitheater noise level. Yes the steaks were good and fairly priced, but that was it for the pro side of the ledger. But this past Saturday we were in the mood for steaks, and I knew the Arlington restaurant had moved to a new, larger location. What we got was a total transformation, with the excellent food retained.

I called to see if we could get a reservation — none between 6:30 – 8:30. But they offered a 9:00PM slot, and we showed up a few minutes early. After a very short wait, we were seated in a very bright, sparingly decorated dining room. The feel was like a very large, beige living room.

Our waitress Stacy was fantastic. She knew the menu, and she knew wine. The list was long and varied, with very fair pricing. We wanted something good without breaking the bank. When I told her we like GSMs, she suggested a 2006 Domaine Paul Autard Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Back in May I had a glass of the 2007 at Evo Bistro, and knew it as a good Rhone name. It complemented our meal perfectly.

The wine had very nice but restrained fruit on first taste. Stacy recommended we wait about 20 minutes, and let the wine open in the glass. It definitely did, with a lot of cherry, plum and blackberry but not overly fruit forward. There was also the trademark CNP pepper on the finish, which is why this wine has a reputation as being really good with steak. It was smoother to me and a bit less tannic than the 2007.

It’s a light-bodied blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Muscardin and Counoiseare grapes. Here’s Robert Parker on the wine, in a BusinessWeek article on top CNPs.  I’m looking for the wine now in stores — it looks like it should retail for around $40, and Ray’s sells it at a small markup. Gabriele doesn’t often like French wines, and it’s exciting to find a delicious CNP at a relatively affordable price.

Our meal was superb. We started with deviled eggs, filled with beef tartar. You either like tartar or hate it, but these were delicious and not that heavy at all. Scallops appetizer was a big size portion of perfectly cooked blackened scallops, with garlic and grilled onions.

For our entrees we both had the filet mignon perfectly medium, and when I was unsure whether to have mine with the bearnaise or the au poivre with peppercorns, Stacy said “I’ll bring out a small container of both for you.” Nice service! We added a side of mushrooms to the creamed spinach and mashed potatoes that come with the entrees, neither of which was heavy or lumpy.

There’s a nice buzz inside this Ray’s – very Clarendon. The vibe seems to be sort of shabby chic, with some diners falling short of the “chic” part. But it’s a casual place with a variety of looks and dress. It’s still a pretty loud place. We never felt rushed, as some online reviews had warned. You’ll only find reviews online — there is no web site, and no online menu.

It was a great evening, and Ray’s is fully redeemed in my eyes. (Just in case you were worried, Mr. Landrum). Get there soon, ask for the Autard CNP — and for Stacy.

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