Restaurants & Bars 10

One-Stop Review: Capital Grille (Denver)

e_bone | Mar 20, 200808:03 AM

Went with some friends there a few Saturdays ago. Not a huge steakhouse guy (can’t really afford to be one either) but very much enjoy a good hunk-o-beef and really wanted to do something special with our friends. We’ve been several times to Del Frisco’s (love it) and have data points at Morton’s (not so much) and Ruth’s Cris (even less). Inspired by Jason Sheehan’s review and by some word of mouth decided it was worth the big bucks risk.

We had reservations at 8:00pm but arrived about 15 minutes early. We found a couple of bar stools and waited. Our first impressions of the place were very positive: the door service, the professional hosts and most importantly: attentive and speedy bar service. Our waitress had our cocktails in quick fashion. A detail that far too many places seem to miss: those of us who are ready for our cocktails have sometimes been ready for hours! We *need* them. It was interesting doing the people-watch in the bar area. I’m by no means a style or etiquette freak but it was interesting how purposefully poorly dressed a lot of the younger folks were. Slobbish t-shirts, ugly fleece work out gear, loud banter and a lot of see-and-be seen behavior. Perhaps there was a concert or something later, but it felt like one of those horrid Vegas evenings and not a fancy night out. We were glad to leave the bar.

And timely: we weren’t even done sipping our $9.00 martinis when our table was called promptly at 8:00. Was there any of that “your server would prefer you close your tab before going to your table”? Heavens no. “Have you settled your tab or would you like me to transfer it?” My friend wanted to spring for the cocktails. The hostess seated us and then did the legwork of moving bills and payment back and forth so he wasn’t forced to wait. Putting the customer first. Nice!

They had decorated our table nicely and had written a card (as I’d told them at reservation time it was both a thank you dinner and two birthdays). A nice surprise for our guests. The room is as loud as others have said. It’s busy and bustling but also very comfortable. One drawback besides the noise was a less than adequate ventilation system around the grill / salamander area. The room carried a pretty heavy layer of salted and fried animal fat in the air. Not noxious, but not desirable either. My clothes stank of it the next morning.

Our server was a little too over-the-top for us.. big, loud and proud. He did a nice job for sure but he wasn’t “himself”; he was acting and it was pretty obvious. As though the waitstaff had been sent to “Flair School” or something. He was passionate about the menu and knew all the finer points of service so he was by no means inadequate- but he made us a little uncomfortable like a commission-based car salesman would. “Hey kid, don’t smile so much, okay?” Overall, the service was pretty dang amazing as advertised. When it was time to clear the table it was an army of folks working in concert. When food was delivered the food runners knew who was supposed to get what dish (another thing that drives me crazy.. how hard is it for restaurants to teach a system so that reading a ticket allows a food runner to know who ordered what??). When I got up to use the restroom the busy service staff working around the floor acted as though they were the Red Sea and I was leading my people to the loo. This was all very trained behavior obviously but it catches your attention.

And what of the food? A mixed bag to be sure but overall great stuff. We had
*Calamari done with hot cherry peppers- more like good bar food than anything else. They were nicely crisp but also very salty. The “hot” peppers were standard issue pickled cherry peppers.
*Oysters – we are oyster snobs and agreed to order only after our waiter spoke intelligently where they were from (Malpeque –PEI and Fanny Bay- British Columbia) and swore that they were fresh. They were fabulous and as good as we’ve had in ages.
*Caprese Salad- I wouldn’t have ordered this as 1) it’s not summer 2) I’m a mozzarella snob too. But this was surprisingly good. Well done considering how hard it is to get a nice tomato in early March. Mozzarella was a nice surprise- soft, tangy, salty.
*French Onion Soup- Soups in most restaurants are on my don’t-try list as many places rely on salty, MSG-laden soup base as everyone has forgotten how to make stock. This, however, was the absolute bombola. Perhaps the best I’ve had. Yes, sadly, better than mine. Rich, brown beef and/or veal stock that had a depth of flavor that seemed to last for minutes. Onions were alternately sweetly caramelized or crisply fried. The Gruyere on top was molten and delicious on bread. I’m salivating thinking about it.
*Wedge Salad- not too hard to do well. This one was superb. Gobs of good bleu cheese (Maytag?)
*Potatoes Lyonnaise- ridiculously decadent and good. Crisp, oily and perhaps a touch too salty (a theme here for sure)
*1/2 order of Roasted Asparagus and ½ order of Mushrooms (our waiter offered the combo- a nice touch as we were torn)- these were perfect: cooked but still al dente.
*Delmonico steak w/ Porcini crust and 8year old Balsamico. This was pushed and pushed hard by the waiter. “It’s the signature.. none better”. I actually found this to be disappointing. The meat was done perfectly but the porcini rub created an earthy, muted and unpleasant dryness in my mouth that made me crave salt. (By contrast- the crisp, sweet, salty crust on the outside of Del Frisco’s is the pinnacle of beef perfection in my book. I’ll concede that it may be simply a matter of taste as my companions appeared to enjoy theirs… but I wasn’t thrilled. Also, it’s a dry aged beef and perhaps I prefer wet-aged. I loved the texture of the meat it was simply the flavors didn’t work for me. My expectations were crazy-high too. It’s not often I spend $41 on a steak!
*Steak au Poivre w/ a brandy cream sauce- this was more my style although the peppercorns were slightly overbearing as they were large chunks and seared to darkness. I know you’re saying- “hey idiot, that’s what Steak au Poivre is!” but I’ve had and made many “au Poivres” that weren’t so overpowering in the pepper department. The cream sauce was amazingly good- it tasted as though there was true demi-glace in the house.
*Dessert.. chriminy.. who cares? We were packed. The waiter comp’ed our desserts for our special occasions and we were delivered a slab of chocolate cake the size of an Ottoman and a massive bowl of fresh berries in a crème anglaise. The cake made for fabulous leftovers.

Oh.. and wine!! Great great list as you’d imagine and sommelier (I wish I could remember her name) was just a joy to work with. She gave us a deal on some wines off a “short list” that were rolling off the main list. I’m not saying they weren’t marked up substantially but considering the inventory they carry I completely understand. She found us a 2003 Barbaresco from Marchesi di Gresy for $75 that was perfect with the food.

All told it was a pretty special evening. I wish I could do it over again and order a different steak.

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