The Capital Grille: A Steakhouse Chain That Thinks it Isn’t
Visit just about any Capital Grille, anywhere in the country, at about 6:30 any day of the week and you’ll most likely find the bar area absolutely packed with businessmen in suits enjoying an after-work cocktail. This is the norm for just about every high-end steakhouse, but not so much for chain restaurants. Even though it’s a chain (owned by Darden, which also owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse) with more than 50 locations nationwide, The Capital Grille is the chain steakhouse that thinks it isn’t. I recently dined at the location near New York’s Grand Central Terminal at the invitation of the restaurant, and had a meal that rivaled those I’ve had at New York best steakhouses.
At this particular location, the sprawling restaurant is divided into several different sections, including a main dining area with high geometric glass ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto 42nd Street. The tables are well-spaced, the several hundred bottle-strong (and surprisingly affordable) wine list is presented on an iPad for easy browsing, and our server appeared to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every item on the menu as well as the night’s specials. We started with some Champagne (a few special bottles, including Dom Perignon, are available by the glass for the holiday season), and told the server we didn’t mind if the meal flowed at a leisurely pace.
It began with an appetizer of shrimp and crab cocktail; the shrimp were well-cooked but weren’t quite as colossal as advertised, but the chunks of jumbo lump crabmeat were perhaps the largest I’ve ever seen. For the main course, we ordered a special bone-in filet mignon and their signature 24-ounce porterhouse steak. As opposed to most chain steakhouses (and most steakhouses, period), all steaks are both butchered and dry-aged (for 21 days) on-premises, and these were and cooked to a perfect medium-rare, with that deep, dark crust that’s impossible to recreate at home. The filet was tender enough to eat with a spoon, and both the strip and filet sides of the porterhouse were perfectly cooked, which is no easy feat. Roasted Brussels sprouts were tossed with lardons of Nueske’s bacon, aged sherry vinegar, and shaved Grana Padano and make for an ideal side dish, and mustard vinaigrette and green onions were a surprisingly spot-on complement to roasted fingerling potatoes. For dessert, a coconut cream pie with housemade caramel sauce was a fitting way to end the evening.
In a city with no shortage of great steakhouses, it’s no surprise that its three locations of The Capital Grille are packed every night of the week. All you need to do is dine there and you’ll understand why.