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Inside the Surprise Opening Night of Michael Landrum's New Steak Frites Restaurant, Ray's to the Third

[R. Lopez, 9/21]

Michael Landrum opened his latest Ray restaurant last night in Arlington — though with only a few hours notice to the public and without leaking a name or menu. About four parties filled the stark space at the start of the 6 o'clock dinner hour at the now-named Ray's³ (pronounced Ray's to the third), with the owner chatting with customers, delivering orders to tables and even working with the hostess, in Spanish, to best seat guests.

But, "as recently as Monday," Landrum admitted, he wanted to move Ray's Hell Burger Too, which sits across the street, to this new 1650 Wilson Blvd. location. Hell Burger Too could have used a more "modern facility," Landrum says, adding that, "On one hand it made a lot more sense to move Hell Burger [Too] across the street to its long-term home; I would never have to worry about it again." With the larger space, Landrum envisioned adding one or two steak frites to the burger-heavy menu. Instead, Landrum realized Hell Burger Too "works perfectly where it is" and decided to create a full-on steak frites restaurant.

The menu at Ray's³ relies heavily on beef with 13 combinations of steak and sauce, all served with fries and salad. Hanger steak with Bearnaise sauce, sold for $16.99, is the cheapest option, and a filet mignon surrounded by foie gras, truffled porcini mushrooms and sauce Bordelaise tops out at $33.99. Most steaks frites on the menu hover between $19 and $24, a price point that particularly pleases Landrum, who says "the value that we offer sometimes gets lost because there's nothing to compare to," while ticking off high- and low-end chain steakhouses. Fried chicken, a few seafood dishes (crab, salmon, shrimp, catfish) and the requisite portobello mushroom entree help out the non-red meat eaters.

The atmosphere was calm for a soft opening, with servers eager to impress guests and plates routinely exiting the kitchen. The Landrum austere aesthetic carries over from his other restaurants with bare, latte-colored walls and uncovered wood tables. The only adornments moonlight as necessities: salt, pepper, fork, steak knife, napkin.

Right now, Ray's³ is only open for dinner. Landrum wants to offer something different at lunch and flirts with the idea of burgers, but cooked differently than the burgers at his other restaurants. He isn't sure when daytime service will start, but lunch will happen when we "get really good at dinner."

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Ray’s³ [Ray's To The Third]

1650 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22201 703 841 7297