145 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
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.