Ruby Foo’s Times Square is part of the sprawling B. R. Guest Restaurant Group. The owner, Stephen Hanson, seems to have a Ph.D. in populism. Once called “king of the one-star restaurant world,” his empire now stretches to sixteen restaurants—some of them clones, and most of them in New York. They are usually riffs on popular genres. His lone failure, as far as I know, was the ill-fated Barça 18, which not even the services of Le Bernardin’s Eric Ripert as consulting chef could save.
The first Ruby Foo’s (now called Ruby Foo’s Uptown) sported a $3.5 million David Rockwell interior (an extravagant sum in 1999), but managed to keep dinner under $30 a head. An approving Ruth Reichl awarded two stars in the Times. It was an instant sensation, and the Times Square branch opened just a year later. The Times reported that the outdoor neon sign alone cost $1.5 million.
The rhythm of the neighborhood is tied to Broadway. Most restaurants, whether good or not, are packed until about 7:30, when they abruptly clear out. Many of them do a brisk after-show business, too. We had no trouble getting a same-day 9:30 p.m. reservation, as it was early enough that most shows hadn’t let out yet. We saw a steady stream of late customers coming in after us. The menu is well suited to “grazing,” making Ruby Foo’s especially attractive for a late-night snack.
Like many restaurants in the pan-Asian genre, the menu at Ruby Foo’s is divided into multiple categories, with both creative and traditional takes on Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine. The menu announces that “the fun is in sharing — your server will guide you.” We didn’t get much guidance, and it was hard to tell how much food to order.
Colossal Spicy Tuna Tempura Maki Roll (left); Thai Chicken Wings with Spicy Tamarind Glaze (right)
There are almost 20 kinds of rolls in two categories: Ruby’s Rolls ($7.00–9.50) and Monster Rolls ($9.00–10.50). The server advised that, despite the names, all rolls are the same size, except for the Colossal Spicy Tuna roll ($10.00), which is slightly larger. So I ordered that. The whole roll seemed to have been deep-fried, and while it wasn’t really that spicy, it was enjoyable nonetheless.
There are about 10 kinds of Dim Sum ($7.00–$10.50). We tried the Thai Chicken Wings ($7), which weren’t a bad deal at all, although they were a bit too spicy for my son, who doesn’t care for spicy food. I would have gladly eaten more of them, except that we had a lot more food to go.
Pad Thai Shrimp & Chicken (left); Dim Sum Sampler (right)
My son’s main course was the Pad Thai ($19.50). The photo doesn’t give a proper sense of depth. It was an enormous bowl, and I doubt anyone would finish it if they also ordered an appetizer. It tasted rather generic to me, but certainly acceptable.
The Dim Sum Sampler ($13) came with two apiece of Shrimp Dumplings, Vegetable Dumplings, Szechuan Pork Dumplings, and Chicken Pot Stickers. The pork dumplings were the best of the bunch, while the chicken and vegetable dumplings were so similar in taste that I couldn’t tell them apart.
My main complaint with the service is that all of the food came at once. It also took a long while to arrive. Some of these dishes surely could have been ready sooner, and delivered to the table in stages, so that our meal could have had some pacing to it.
The décor is a feast for the eyes. Even my 12-year-old son appreciated that the atmosphere was a cut above the typical Chinese restaurant. He was particularly taken with the restroom attendant, although he wondered about the purpose of having someone to turn on the faucet and put the soap on your hands, as if it were at all inconvenient to do this yourself.
We had a mixture of hits and near-misses at Ruby Foo’s, but all the food was at least reasonable, as was the bill. For quite a lot of food, it was just $63 before tax and tip (that included one mixed drink). At that price, I wouldn’t mind giving Ruby Foo’s another shot. And there’s still plenty more of the menu to try.
Ruby Foo’s Times Square (1626 Broadway at 49th Street, Theater District)