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Michael Landrum gave me an impromptu tour today of the still-unfinished Ray’s the Steaks in the Navy League Building at 2300 Wilson Blvd, just a few blocks west of the current location in Arlington. The space is enormous, nearly 5,000 square feet spread over three rooms, including a front section built to resemble the no-frills, white-washed dining room of the original RTS and a more elegant, white-tablecloth back room built to resemble RTS’s glamorous Jazz Age cousin, Ray’s the Classics in Silver Spring.
The new spot has been more than two years in the making, delayed by the usual assortment of crap: permits, inspections, architectural plans, contractor bids, you name it. But Landrum is near completion, just waiting for his liquor license and a health certificate. He’s aiming for a January open date. “But if you would have talked to me a month ago, I would have told you the first of December,” the chef/owner says. “It’s whatever date I say and add nine months.”
Landrum’s being tongue in cheek. But maybe not completely.
The menu at the new RTS will likely incorporate a number of dishes from the wider-ranging Ray’s the Classics, though perhaps not immediately. That very idea, of course, makes Landrum giddy over the irony. People may be expecting the new generation of Ray’s the Steaks, he says, but the place may turn out to be closer in spirit to “Ray’s the Classics II.”
However the new RTS turns out, one thing will be for certain, Landrum says. He won’t serve his widely praised Hell Burger at the new location. The Navy League building also houses a Five Guys, “so I can’t do burgers,” the chef says. “Well, I could, but I don’t want to.”
The two main dining rooms will also mirror RTS and RTC in another important way: The more informal front room, with space for about 75 diners, will seat folks on a first-come, first-served basis, just like at RTS. The back room, with about 40 seats, will accept reservations, just like at RTC. There is also a back dining room for private parties.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the forthcoming Ray’s the Steaks is that, as part of the deal, Landrum has also leased out the location next door. It’s a 2,000-square-foot space. He wouldn’t tell me what plans he has for it. Perhaps that long-promised charcuterie project? Or another Hell Burger joint to run that nearby Five Guys out of business? Don’t you know that Landrum would love to kill me for speculating wildly like this?
Once RTS does officially move, Landrum plans to open Ray’s the Net in the old location. It’ll be, as the chef says, a “seafood version of Ray’s the Steaks.” Tuna and salmon entrees, which routinely cross the $20 threshold at many restaurants, will run in the $13 and $14 range, he says.
So what happened to Landrum’s A Place at the Table concept, in which he’d serve a meat and three sides for $18 and roll the profits into scholarships for disadvantaged students? “What I’m doing in NE satisfies my mission much better,” Landrum says about his future project, Ray’s the Heat in Ward 7. “It’d be a stretch [to do the concept in Arlington]. I’d be forcing the concept into this neighborhood.”