Nov. 27, 2012 06:02 PM

When Ruth's Chris Steak House gears up for its happy hour, it actually feels like things are powering down. The lights are dim, the only noise from behind the bar is an occasional drink being mixed in a shaker and there's the slight hum of conversation across the floor.

The kitchen fires up the ovens at 5 p.m., but drink specials begin at 4. Ruth's bar menu is a mélange of dishes featuring the restaurant's famed steak and a few seafood options for lighter fare. Everything on the happy hour bar menu is $7, which makes it easy to snack before dinner or create a meal out of the largely portioned appetizers while imbibing on some pretty strong cocktails. Happy hour ends at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, so there's plenty of time to arrive after the daily grind and relax for a few hours.

If it's been a rough day, start with Ruth's Manhattan, which blends Jim Beam, sweet vermouth, Southern Comfort and a Luxardo gourmet cherry - on the rocks is my preference. For food, go for the steak sandwich with fries, a hunk of French bread sliced open and covered with sliced filet and Béarnaise sauce - and though it falls in the appetizer category, it's more like a meal. For something lighter, the ahi tuna with "spirited sauce" is perfect. The tuna is seasoned on the outside and ever-so-slightly seared, then set in a puddle of this sauce, where the "spirited" is code word for wasabi. The kick of the wasabi is further accented by the Moscow Mule cocktail, a blend or Smirnoff, Canton ginger liqueur, lime juice, ginger ale and topped with a piece of candied ginger. For a palate soother, the tuna comes with a pickled cucumber salad on the side.

Other steak house mainstays that make an appearance on the menu are prime burgers, in the form of sliders or a burger with fries - which are difficult to stop snacking on - or the tenderloin skewers grilled with sesame soy sauce and spring greens. Lobster is also available in the form of a New England Lobster roll with fries or spicy lobster lightly fried and tossed in a spicy cream sauce. For cocktails, try the Classic Cosmo or pomegranate martini for a fruitier take, or the Rocks Rita for a south-of-the-border departure. Or keep it simple with wine or beer.

If a free Friday afternoon is in the cards, wander over for a Ruth's Chris lunch, which is only served on Fridays. The menu is a little lighter, with salads topped with seafood and soups like gumbo, onion soup au gratin and lobster bisque. Of course, there are steak options, as well, including the classic New York strip or petit filet. Portions are smaller, but staying until happy hour is not unheard of - so snatch up another appetizer if the urge strikes. Stay and sip a cocktail until the weekend's activities begin.

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