>> 1/20/15

145 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 953-2000

Unless I find myself meandering through a suburban neighborhood at sunset, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a reason to dine at a chain restaurant, and Capital Grille, with fifty locations across the country, in spots ranging from urban corporate centers to shopping malls, is most certainly a chain. And, although Capital Grille is owned by Darden, the same people who brought us the Longhorn Steakhouse, the two are worlds apart in everything except the calorie count.

Pike and I had just come from a work-related excursion in Flatiron when he suggested dinner at a steakhouse. Les Halles, which was packed to bursting when we arrived a few minutes later, told us that, regardless of what OpenTable might think, we would have to wait an hour plus. Preferably outside in the cold so we don't block the door. Sorry, there's no room at the bar. Poking our heads into a few other restaurants as we wandered uptown left us nonplussed. "Y'know," I began, "they just opened a Mortons back where we started. There's a rumor going around that they have steak." "Nah" he replied, "Let's not go backwards. How about the place just like them over there at the thing? You know who I mean?" Capital Grille? "That's the one!"

As I may have mentioned four seconds ago. Capital Grille is not Longhorn, despite having the same owner. Do you have a favorite wine and seek to ensure that it's always available for you or the clients you're schmoozing? Capital Grille will rent you a wine locker complete with your name engraved on a placard so that everyone entering  the dining room can see that you're the guy who's ponying up the bread for that little luxury. There is no kitch, though there certainly is a theme, and the theme is Big-Money. This is where cold corporate types can go to have cold corporate meals served by waiters in shapeless, anonymous tan uniforms who can be easily ignored and their existence forgotten. There is a decided lack of warmth. Being there is almost like watching a restaurant scene in a TV show.

"I realize how hypocritically ironic what I'm about to say is, but I find it offensive that there are so many people here." Pike said. "Don't they realize that there are a dozen world class steakhouses in every direction? Yet they choose to eat in a chain?!" "Maybe they all came from Les Halles." I replied.

You never think about how bad your food is for you until someone tosses a calorie count next to it. I know what you're thinking. Sacrilegious though it might be, you're thinking that despite being at a steakhouse you can just get the roast chicken, endure a few dozen rolled eyes, and go to bed knowing that you didn't just shit all over your New Year's resolution. AHA! Sucker. The roast chicken is literally one of the worst things on the menu (1360 calories, FYI). So get the filet mignon like I did. Of course, first I ordered the Potato Leek Soup. I have to say, it was fantastic. Creamy and smooth and rich and I tried very hard to pace myself eating it. Pike got the French Onion Soup which he said was good, albeit not mind blowingly so.

Once my soup was lovingly consumed, my relatively svelte 10oz Filet Mignon (470 calories) was delivered along with a side of Truffle Fries. The fries are, like all sides in these kinds of restaurants, extra. The steak was pretty good, but I wasn't drooling over each bite. I preferred Pike's choice, the Seared Tenderloin with Butter Poached Lobster Tails. The meat was, in my opinion, just as tender, and the creamy butter sauce was perfect. Plus, there was lobster. And yet, he preferred my entree by a wide margin. We also ordered a side of Brussels Sprouts. Pike thought they were okay. I thought that they stunk. I had two and passed on the rest. Soggy and disappointing. The best Brussels sprouts I've ever had are at a gastropub right down the block from me called Station House that are made with bacon and hard cider and these didn't hold a candle to those. They weren't even in the room with the guy holding the candle.

For dessert, Pike got a roundlet of Cheesecake with a berry compote while I stuck with coffee. Still, I boosted a bite and it was quite good. Better than quite good. And you know what pushed it over that hump? A sugar crust like you get on creme brulee. I have to use that idea the next time I make a cheesecake... which admittedly doesn't happen all that often.

So. Conclusion.  Well, on the whole, Capital Grille was good, Brussels sprouts and cocktails (the cocktails were pretty bad) notwithstanding. Is it worth going to if you aren't using an expense account? Probably not. Certainly not at its price point. Between Peter Luger or Delmonico's or Nick & Stef's or Sparks or Christo's or Gallagher's or St. Ansalem or Keen's or M. Wells (and those are just off the top of my head), there are simply so many non-chain options out there in the city to choose from where you aren't eating in a cookie cutter clone of something they have in Paramus, Plano, Palm Beach, Phoenix, Providence, and Pittsburgh.

In the end, two soups, two entrees, two sides, three drinks, two coffees, and a dessert came to $190 before tax and tip.

The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon



>> 1/12/15

93 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10009
(212) 529-2314

One of the great things about New York is the availability of good food from anywhere just a subway ride away. In this case, the good food is an arepa, and the subway ride away is the East Village. An arepa, for those unfamiliar with Venezuelan/Colombian street food, is basically a pita sandwich, except that the pita pocket is made out of cornmeal. Then you fry it or bake it and stuff it with a vast quantity of options, all of them delicious.

Caracas Arepa Bar, a micro mini chain with three locations (The East Village, Williamsburg, and the Rockaways) was where I headed on a few occasions recently. I figured that if one arepa was good, two would be gooder. And three would be gooderer. And so on. With its raw brick, floral wallpaper, and vintage photographs of old people from the old country, one can imagine that they're eating in a dusty South American cantina killing time while waiting for the next bus between villages. Of course, turn your head and take a gander at the artsy types in cashmere sweaters and the fantasy is killed. So I made sure to sit in the corner facing the wall.
I tried a number of dishes over the visits. If it's available when you're there, ask for a bowl of the Lentil Soup. It will blow your calcetines off. Unlike many lentil soups that I've had in the past that were practically a stew, this is more broth heavy. I have a hard time believing that is was vegetarian as the broth tasted very chickeny, but if it was a vegetarian soup, then I say good job. So much flavor. The Guasacaca & Chips (guacamole and chips) I could have done without. The chips were very heavy plantain chips, not corn chips, and the guacamole was only meh. Plaintain chips are a taste I can't fully get into. This is probably because if someone offers me a banana, I'd ask them if they have an apple.

Pictured below is the De Pollo arepa, chicken, cheddar cheese, and caramelized onion. Fantastic. Stop reading my blog and go eat this right now. The La De Pernil, roast pork shoulder, tomato, and a spicy mango sauce was next on the list. Also very good, but not very spicy. The De Pabillon was fantastic. I could eat these all day. Filling what is effectively a big fat corn taco with shredded beef, black beans, white cheese, and sweet plantains might make this the least healthy thing I ate from the menu, but it was good. The Los Muchachos, an arepa of grilled chorizo, spicy white cheese, jalapenos, and sautéed pepper was the least enjoyable of the lot. It was spicy, but the chorizo was bland and over-dry. The arepa pocket isn't the most moist types of bread and therefore, really needs a moist, tender filling. In the words of Detective Boyle from Brooklyn 99, it didn't have the proper "mouth feel" and in the end, I felt indifferent about it. Sucks. I love chorizo.

There are vegetarian arepas, but I couldn't bring myself to order one when pork was available.

A word of warning. If you are like me and like your spicy food spicy enough to strip the rust from the underside of a '68 Mustang, then do not ask for "extra hot sauce on the side." I did this and they gave me some yellow concoction that teared my eyes, numbed my tongue, and caused my nose to drip. Naturally, I loved it and bathed my arepas in it. But you probably won't be so thrilled.

The average arepa will set you back $8 and they're only about five inches in diameter, so my advice is to order two. You'll leave satisfied without being stuffed.

Caracas Arepa Bar on Urbanspoon

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