The Price of Friendship
Am I wrong in thinking it’s a little inconsiderate to invite people you barely know to a birthday party at a fancy-in-the-pantsy, high-priced steakhouse? It would be one thing if the hosts were footing the bill, but they weren’t. And based on how a few of the party-goers ordered, it was clear that The Capital Grille (800 Main St.) was a little out of the price range of more people than just me.
The Capital Grille isn’t the sort of place I typically enjoy. It’s part of a massive upscale chain, which tends to make my eye twitch. And it’s a chain joint that’s bracketed by two other upscale steak restaurant chains — Del Frisco’s Double Eagle and Ruth’s Chris. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought I’d entered a glitch in the Matrix, right there on Main Street. Everywhere you turn, it’s the same restaurant.
As much as I wanted to hate it, I couldn’t. The food is just too good. My biggest issue with the place is there’s just not that much that sets it apart: The menu is pretty generic, and the décor is manufactured old-school, like those jeans you can buy that are already worn out and have holes in them. It’s all brown leather chairs, white tablecloths, and wood-framed pictures of long-dead old men. (The ghoulish face of Charles Tandy stared at me throughout the duration of my dinner. If that night were a horror movie, his eyes would have moved.)
The service was ghost-like, too, but in a good way: unobtrusive yet ever-present. Smartly dressed servers swarmed the table to deliver and clear the plates, then faded into ye olde woodwork until we needed something else. The wine list is enormous. I felt like it should have been presented on a parchment scroll that reached to the floor. My guest and I opted for the delicious Trefethen Cabernet ($15 a glass), a sturdy cab with bright tannins and a plum jam punch.
The menu includes a ton of steak offerings, of course, a few seafood options, and a list of sides. For starters, my guest and I went for the pan-fried calamari with hot cherry peppers ($13) sautéed in garlic butter. Our server warned us they had a nice kick, and she wasn’t exaggerating. The tender, crunchy squidlings didn’t go down without a fight. The lobster and crab cakes ($19) topped with shallots and served with a sweet corn relish were cooked beautifully brown and stuffed with giant chunks of succulent lobster and crab.
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a rare filet mignon. A picture of Capital’s sliced filet mignon with cipollini onions and wild mushrooms ($44) should be mandatory in culinary textbooks. The meat was so tender that my steak knife went through it, as they say, like buttah, and the accompanying subtly sweet fig sauce elevated the dish to decadent heights. The 8-ounce filet Oscar ($45), served with steamed asparagus spears, huge chunks of sweet crab meat, and a creamy Béarnaise sauce, struck a similar sweet-savory balance. I hadn’t felt that satisfied since the last time I gorged on Halloween candy as a kid.
Capital Grille is open for lunch, so I guess that sets it apart. While it may have that upscale steakhouse-in-a-box vibe, it still deserves a lot of credit. Everything I put in my mouth, from the wine to the squid and steaks, was exquisite –– albeit priced accordingly. The service was flawless and the attention to detail second to none. I’d definitely go back. Maybe I can con someone into taking me there on my birthday. You come too — no gifts, just bring cash.
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