Note: This review was rewritten in 2011. You’ll find the current review here.
Not long after I wrote the Portland steakhouse roundup, Ringside Steakhouse announced they would be closing their NW Portland location and temporarily moving to the Fox Tower downtown, while the old restaurant was completely rebuilt. Now that they have been open for a while in the new location, I thought it was time to go back and give them another chance. I was a bit gun-shy after my last Ringside meal, and it was with some trepidation that I returned for another meal. Fortunately, it was a good decision. Ambiance: The new restaurant is on the second floor of the Fox Tower, in what was for a short while, Tondero. The space is quite large – the old restaurant would fit into the bar area of the new one. It’s sleek and modern, with clean lines, high-backed booths, and a nice view of the new “park” across the street. In the evening when the shades go up, it’s fun to watch the lights dance through the glass canopy, occasionally with startling effect, such as clouds blowing by, or trees blowing in the wind. The autographed pictures from the old location have been re-framed and brought over to the Fox Tower – a nice touch. All of the dishes, glassware and flatware have been upgraded. Even the steak knives from the old location have been replaced with higher quality modern versions. Like every restaurant, some tables are better than others, and conversation at those towards the middle can be difficult over the roar of happy diners, but looking around, I couldn’t figure out any easy way for them to mute the sound any better than they have.
While the space is not nearly as romantic as the old Ringside with its huge stone fireplace and dark booths, it’s still nice, just… different. Maybe if they dimmed the lights a bit, the feel would be a little cozier and a little less Palm Springs. Though parking can be difficult in that part of downtown, they have a valet right outside the front door for a reasonable $3. Grade A-
Service: The staff no longer wears tuxedos, but if they did it wouldn’t fit the new atmosphere. Instead the dress is black tie. Service is excellent, from the valet parking ($3), to the host, and the entire wait staff. Considering there wasn’t an empty table in the large restaurant, this is a testament to their new direction. Though at times our server seemed a bit in the weeds, as the evening slowed we got more attention and a bit of personality which was quite nice.
I was happy to see so much of the staff from the old Ringside location has stayed on, as some of them have decades of experience. These waiters know how to read a table, when to interact and when to stay away. Overall, I’d rate it equal with the service at El Gaucho. Grade A
Salads: Once again, we each had a Caesar. It was worlds better than my last experience. The salad was properly dressed, the anchovies crisscrossing the top moist and flavorful, and the large shards of Parmesan cheese were of much better quality than you normally find on a steak house salad. If I had to find a complaint, it would be that the greens were just average, but it is the middle of August, so I wouldn’t expect them to be outstanding. The dressing, while good, could have a bit more oomph, but then Ringside being a special occasion/date/business type of place, perhaps it is better they have toned it down ($8.50). Grade B
Sides are much stronger than they used to be. Entrées come with “your choice of Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Baked Potato, French Fries, Jasmine Rice Pilaf or Cottage Cheese”, which gives you a bit more bang for your buck. A side order of their “famous” onion rings were the best I’ve had in ages. The rings are perfectly cooked, still with a slight snap as you bite down. The onions had a nice sweet flavor that was able to stand up to the light breading. The overall preparation was excellent, no excess grease. If I didn’t have so much more food coming, I could eat an entire basket. Two sauces are served on the side: a thousand island-blue cheese combination, and plain ketchup. Both were just fine ($6.50 – enough for three persons). An accompanying baked potato was just what you would expect: large and moist, good potato flavor, high quality sides ($8.95). Grade A-
Steaks: The steak platters arrive still sizzling on the plate Overall the meat was well-trimmed and flavorful, second only to my steaks at El Gaucho, this because of a bit of gristle here and there and a slightly off texture on the fillet side of the Porterhouse ($37.95). My 14 ounce New York was cooked to the proper medium rare with a perfectly seasoned crust. The 24oz. Porterhouse was also cooked as ordered and flavorful, but for me, the tenderloin side doesn’t pack the same amount of flavor or as nice a texture as the short loin section ($46). Overall, the steaks are quite good, barely second out of all the restaurants I tried in the roundup. Grade A-
Desserts: After having tried the El Gaucho bananas Foster, I was interested in sampling the Ringside version. No tableside show here, but perhaps this is just as well. The reworked dessert is one of the best versions of bananas Foster I have had. While the large scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center is rather pedestrian, it holds its shape while you eat, and the bananas are properly cooked and not soggy as they are in so many restaurants. The layer of sugar over the top is like a brûlée, crackling under the pressure of your fork, with the accompanying sauce rich and loaded with good caramel flavor and a hint of rum. No graininess here from low-heat tableside cooking. Highly recommended ($7.50). Grade: A-
Miscellaneous factors: Drinks from the bar were fine; a Tanqueray tonic was $8.50. The list of wines by the glass was good, with 16 reds, 16 whites. The list has changed over the past year, with more of a local focus. Prices range from $8 – $16 per glass. A white wine flight is available for $17.50 for three 3 oz. pours.
The bottle list is impressive, with a large selection of over 750 bottles from around the world. It has some very good choices. The list is kept up to date, and designates the proper vineyard and year. A random sampling of markup versus retail found it to be slightly higher than other steakhouses I have reviewed, depending on the bottle. Domestic wines seem to be a better deal.
Overall, I walked out happy and sated. The owners of Ringside obviously got the message, and didn’t just move, they started over from scratch. It appears that the menu has been retooled, with old recipes thrown out and much better replacements. Every single thing I complained about in my review of Fall 2009 has been corrected, and judging by the crowd, people have taken notice. Ringside has come roaring back, and is poised to be the best in town. As it is a home-grown business, I couldn’t be happier. The total cost of an average meal for two, consisting of two cocktails, two Caesars, two steaks, two sides, two desserts, and two glasses of wine priced in the center of the wine list, was $164. You could easily bring this price down by splitting some of the items.
This is part III of a roundup of Portland Steakhouses. You can see the introduction here, Ruth’s Chris here, Morton’s here, and El Gaucho here. The final roundup with all the scores and price spreadsheets can be found here.