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Dining: Setting the Stage

Dining at Carlo & Johnny is an entertainment event

By Annie McManis · September 13th, 2001 · Dining
We were not even two steps inside Carlo & Johnny, Jeff Ruby's newest and most extravagant restaurant, when the words flew right out of me.

"Close your mouth, dear."

You see, my husband had caught his first glimpse of Ruby's $3.6 million establishment, and he was in awe. Not with the elaborate décor. Not with the stunning architecture. Not even with the dramatic dining rooms. No, he was mesmerized by the women. Babes. Eye candy, as he says. Three of them, all dressed in black, (but more Aerosmith-than-Robert-Palmer-video chicks), young and leggy, who eagerly greeted us at the door.

The attractive hostesses and cocktail waitresses are just one of many ways Ruby sets the stage for a dining experience that is truly an entertainment event, not just a meal. Carlo & Johnny combines his signature showmanship style, a dash of humor and the skills of Executive Chef Jimmy Gibson to create a dining experience unlike any other in the city.

Ruby bought and renovated the building on Montgomery Road in Montgomery that was most recently Charlie's Oyster Bar. In its storied past it's also been a private mansion and a nightclub/gambling joint. Ruby has transformed it into an elaborate, Chicago-style supperclub and nightclub that, like his other establishments, attracts visiting stars, local celebrities and athletes, and folks just willing to drop a pretty penny for a dry-aged steaks.

The bar/lounge area, with its pockets of plush, cozy seating arrangements, is the perfect setting for a cigar and a good glass of Scotch early in the evening. Too late, however, and the small area is transformed into a boogying frenzy with a rockin' 10-piece band that keeps the crowd swinging and the cocktail waitresses (and their bare midriffs) hustling. You'll see plenty of single (or should I just say, "solo"?), 50-ish men discussing politics with the cocktail servers and female bartenders, especially early in the evening.

Beyond the lounge is the raw bar area, complete with an Italian gondola full of huge prawns, oysters, king crab legs and the like, plus a costumed gondola attendant. (How they convince the boys at the raw bar to wear those outfits is a mystery to me.)

The show continues into the three separate dining rooms, and although you can state your preference when making reservations, the hostess makes the call regarding where you're seated.

Fortunately, all of the signature steaks, the raw bar selections, and most of the salads and side dishes can be found in any of the three dining rooms.

The elegant Emerald Room has the glamour and feel of old-time Hollywood, with its green velvet walls and red leather banquettes. Its nine-page menu lists items with a Hollywood theme, like Francis Ford Cappacola ($9.95 per person), billed as a "legitimate Italian antipasto. The only one in the city with imported Italian meats and cheeses." I had to smile at Penne From Heaven ($19.95), with lobster, shrimp and crab in a light crème sauce, and Silence of the Dry Aged Lambs ($32.95), lamb chops served cutlet style, accompanied, of course, with fava beans. Although it offers the most extensive list of choices among the three rooms, the Emerald Room also appears to feature mostly the highest priced selections.

The Chicago Room is modeled on Italian steakhouses, with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and hardwood floors. Pastas, from Linguine with White Clam Sauce ($15.95) to Hand Rolled Penne with Braised Veal and Borlotti Beans ($19.95), and Italian specialties, like Veal Marsala ($21.95) and Osso Buco ($24.95) are found here.

The Grill Room, where we dined, has more of an exclusive men's club or lodge feel to it, with a massive stone fireplace and plenty of stuffed (formerly live, not Muppet) animals displayed throughout. The menu here is pared down, still offering all the steak selections, plus few choices from the other dining rooms.

Of all the Ruby establishments I've visited, the service we received on this night at Carlo & Johnny was by far the best. Our server (a young man, as they all are here) was personable and sincere, making excellent recommendations and keeping us happy throughout our evening. The only slip came when another server cleared away our dinner plates without asking if any of us cared to take home our leftover bounty -- and considering the size of the portions, a lot of food went to waste.

Among the four of us at our table, we managed to sample what seemed like a little of everything from the Grill Room menu. Our picks from the raw bar included huge prawns, oysters and giant lobster claws. Salads (and sides) are all à la carte, and we sampled the delicious Beefsteak, Onion and Mozzarella ($4.95), and the fresh, crisp Iceberg Wedge with Bleu Cheese Dressing ($2.95). Then came the steaks: Our guest enjoyed his Ruby's Bone-in Filet (Market price, $44) topped with fois gras ($4.95). The Ladies Filet ($32) was a smaller cut; our guest, who had hers topped with Maytag Bleu Cheese ($1.95), raved about it. She was especially happy that our server didn't cringe when she ordered it well done: It was indeed cooked as she had requested. I was the only non-red meat eater of the night, but I devoured my Wood Grilled Swordfish ($19.95). It was a thick, moist fish steak that could have fed two.

We wisely took our server's advice to share side dishes and ordered the Potato Latke with Homemade Applesauce ($4.50), a delicious potato pancake with a touch of onion, and the Italian Macaroni and Cheese with Prosciutto, a creamy, flavorful twist on an old favorite ($4.95). Both offered far more than we could finish, even among the four of us.

Desserts, like the entire evening itself, were decadent and ranged from Ruby's homemade signature cheesecake ($5.95), to Strawberry Shortcake ($5.95), to a rich, dense Chocolate Tower ($5.95).

For a special occasion, a chance to feel like a celebrity -- or for people-watching with a sense of humor -- and of course, for those steaks, Carlo & Johnny steals the show.

Go: 9769 Montgomery Road, Montgomery

Call: 513-936-8600

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.

Prices: Expensive

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Dozens of seafood options, from swordfish, to salmon, to seafood pasta dishes, depending on the dining room. Salads and sides alone could make up a meal.

Other: Valet parking. Reservations suggested.



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