The opening of Ray's Prime Steak & Seafood in July on the west side of Fort Worth in the spot once occupied by Aventino's Ristorante was low-key but nonetheless newsworthy: The kitchen is manned by noted chef Pedro Castrejon, formerly of the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Ferré, the Mercury Chophouse and, most recently, Belmont Hotel hot spot Smoke in Oak Cliff.
Local diners should already know who "Ray" is: longtime North Texas restaurateur Raif "Ray" Jumeri. As the owner of the nearby Fortuna Italian Restaurant, Jumeri has been a part of Camp Bowie's restaurant scene for nearly a decade.
Ray's menu has some traces of Italian, but the focus is on quality steak and fresh seafood. Jumeri -- whose experience in fine dining is rooted in his ownership of La Bistro in Hurst and the Cafe Portobello restaurants in Coppell and Colleyville -- says the beef is certified Angus, and the fish is brought in from various corners of the globe: tuna from Hawaii, salmon from Scotland, lobster from South Africa.
The menu also includes Dover sole (market price), deboned tableside; bouillabaisse ($35), a saffron tomato broth-based seafood stew; and a 20-ounce, center-cut tenderloin Chateaubriand for two ($52). With dishes such as these, along with a full bar with more than a dozen wines by the bottle and glass, Ray's is on the same playing field as the downtown and West Seventh Street steakhouses.
While the menus of Ray's and Fortuna are different, the ambience is similar. Jumeri has pieced together his own vision of fine dining that bucks flash and trends in favor of exuding sincerity. Ray's looks frills-free, with a sparsely decorated, open dining room adorned with tablecloths, a handful of paintings and partial stone walls.
Service is personable and efficient; Jumeri can often be seen delivering slices of sourdough bread and chatting with patrons.
Whatever pizazz the dining room shuns can be found on plate. Such was the case with the portobello mushroom appetizer ($7). A grilled, plump portobello came filled with tender, flavorful crab meat and roasted bell peppers. Two sauces turned a good dish into a great one -- a bright swirl of basil pesto, juxtaposed with a robust balsamic reduction.
The chopped salad ($6) was full of nice surprises. First, the presentation: Two lettuce wedges were arranged to resemble an open clam shell, with the bottom wedge holding chopped lettuce, ripe yellow and red tomatoes, red onions, real bacon and house-made blue cheese dressing. On top was a small pile of lightly seasoned onion strings, which infused a bit of heat into this cool salad.
Ray's star attraction is the steaks, a selection that includes three treatments of filet mignon. Our choice, the New York Forestiera ($30), was excellent. Cooked precisely to our order of medium rare, the 14-ounce New York strip came outlined in a blackened crust that shielded a warm, red center. Typically, the word "Forestiera" implies the presence of mushrooms, but instead, Castrejon intentionally used roasted bell peppers -- in an homage to a recently deceased chef who prepared the dish the same way. A Barolo red wine demi-glace and row of bite-size cipollini onions added to the dish's complexity and also counterbalanced the meat's peppery seasoning. One hitch: A side of garlic-rosemary mashed potatoes was cold.
Our seafood choices were as good as the steak. Atlantic salmon ($17) was grilled yet moist, an 8-ounce rectangle that came in a tomato-based, chardonnay stew with artichoke hearts, capers, kalamata olives and sliced purple potatoes, a colorful touch.
Sea scallops ($22) were dessert-decadent. Four large, succulent scallops sat atop a bed of plush and flavorful corn risotto -- rich on rich. On the side, a drizzle of citrus butter garlic emulsion emphasized the garlic, creating a bit of weight to temper the richness of the scallops and risotto.
The real dessert came in the form of the house-made vanilla bean creme brulee ($7). Its hardened, caramelized roof gave way to rich custard flecked with vanilla bean -- a simple, subtle ending to a dinner that otherwise was anything but.