The first time we went to Ray's Hell Burger, B high-fived the guy manning the grill (note: this was before the Obama rush when you could do such a thing). So, when I was in search of a restaurant for his birthday dinner, I knew I couldn't go wrong heading to another of Michael Landrum's "Ray's" establishments. I chose Ray's the Steaks East River.
With successful steak houses in Arlington and Silver Spring, Michael Landrum ventured east of the Anacostia to open his latest edition. It is a fantastic addition to a neighborhood whose only other sit-down establishment is a Denny's. The restaurant has a parking lot next door that saves you from circling to look for street parking. That was much appreciated on this frigid winter evening.
The atmosphere is casual and the prices are affordable. Steaks come with a dinner salad, baked potato (or choice of side), and a vegetable. The menu is straight and to the point. There are only two appetizers so we decided to try them both. First was a creamy cup of crab bisque. It was so rich that it might be more accurate to call it cream with a side of crab. An indulgence best reserved for special occasions.
Next was a plate of beer-battered jumbo shrimp whose crackling coating tasted almost tempura-like. The size of the shrimp (that's a full sized dinner plate!) was a sign of things to come: Ray's doesn't skimp on portions.
B and I made a food-sharing plan so we could try a signature steak as well as a non-steak item. B ordered the baby back ribs with a side of the sweet potato fries we fell in love with at Ray's Hell Burger. The rib meat packed a peppery punch and were flavorful enough to have been served without the added flavor from the tangy sauce. Still, that didn't stop us from dunking the ribs and fries in the sauce until we were stuffed silly.
From the steak menu, I ordered the classic rib eye. It was served a perfectly pink medium rare and behind those perfect diamond sear marks was one of the most tender, flavorful steaks I've ever eaten. The broccoli and baked potato were nothing special, but that just left more room to devour the steak.
We were beyond stuffed and couldn't even look at the dessert menu but managed to find room for the two small rice krispies treats that were presented with the check. Speaking of the check, I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that the subtotal was under $50. What a deal! Now that was something that made B's birthday a happy one indeed.
Second Thoughts from B
My love for Ray's Hell Burger has been well documented on this blog but ever since the President visited, it has ballooned beyond the charming hole-in-the-wall that it once was. The days when you could identify, speak with, and even high-five your burger architect are long gone.
Maybe it is all in my head but the increased demand seems to have decreased the consistent, mind-blowing awesomeness of the burgers. Let me be clear, I'll still argue to the death that they are the best in the land, but something is missing from those first few visits. It is like that underground band that you followed from coffee house to neighbor's basement. When they make it big, you'll always reminisce about those times when you were one of the enlightened few who could see their talent.
And that's why I'm so excited to have found Ray's the Steaks East River. Not only was the ribeye high-fiveable, but we were once again eating at a place that had that undiscovered, diamond in the rough feel to it. Hell, there was not one, but two people wearing Santa hats. When's the last time you saw that at a top notch DC steakhouse?
So what I'm saying is that I can't more highly recommend a place so long as you are not a celebrity that will draw hoards of people to my new found oasis (I'm sorry Mr. President, this would include you).
As J said, everything is big and bold at Ray's. The crab sauce... errr, soup should have come with antacid while the shrimp needed a forklift. I couldn't shut up about the ribs with their unique and distinguishable flavors. But let's get to the steak. J and I both love prime rib and were hoping that Ray's could oblige. Since the prime rib was unavailable, we settled for the ribeye that was amazingly as tender as a great cut of prime rib... and just as flavorful. It was almost as if there were no muscle fibers to add toughness. The only thing left was flavor.
I don't know how Ray's does it. I just know that I've found a new favorite place in DC. Just be careful who you tell.