One of the restaurants I've had on my bucket list of places to eat for quite sometime is The Capital Grille. This Rhode Island-born - Florida-based national chain of upscale steakhouses is known for their great food and service, served in classy and elegant settings at 45 locations around the U.S. During the recent CEDIA Expo held in Indianapolis this past September, the guys from Focal Loudspeakers took us out for dinner at The Capital Grille.
(A quick note - The Capital Grille restaurants are not to be confused with The Capitol Grille in Nashville. I was confused by the one in Nashville until I realized they spelled it with an "o" and not the "a" in the Capital Grille restaurants. You can click here to see my entry on The Capitol Grille.)
I always thought The Capital Grille began in Washington, D.C, but it turned out the first one was founded in 1990 when restaurateur Edward "Ned" Grace opened the doors of his posh steakhouse in Providence, R.I. Grace also owned Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse, a chain of Canadian-mountain lodge inspired restaurants found throughout New England, and Hemenway's, an upscale seafood restaurant in Providence. Hemenway's was named after Grace's grandfather who, in addition to being an entrepreneur who owned a beverage company, a railroad and a record company, introduced soft-serve ice cream to the world at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Before that, Grace also owned the historic Old Grist Mill Tavern in Seeconk, MA for a number of years. (The Old Grist Mill Tavern was destroyed by a fire after a semi-truck carrying bananas slid out of control earlier this summer and ran into gas and power lines causing a huge fireball that engulfed the restaurant.)
At the time that Grace opened the doors, the area around the original Capital Grille was rather run down and people wondered if Grace had lost his mind opening a lavish new steakhouse in the middle of a blighted area. At the same time, the economy was in a mild recession, but Grace envisioned his new restaurant as a destination for both political and business leaders in Rhode Island. His hunch turned out to be spot on. Within a couple of years, The Capital Grille was profitable and growing.
By 1994, Grace took both Bugaboo Creek and The Capital Grille public and two years later he sold the restaurants to the LongHorn Steakhouse which took on Grace's corporate name, RARE Hospitality. Grace was a director and a vice-chairman of the company. In 1996, The Capital Grille expanded into Boston and Washington, D.C., with four more locations opening in 1997. In 2008, RARE Hospitality was acquired by the Darden group of restaurants whose holdings include Red Lobster, Olive Garden (two restaurants where I refuse to eat), and Bahama Breeze.
The Indianapolis location opened in April of 2007 and is located inside the upscale Conrad Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. (see map) We were staying just down the street and around the corner from The Capital Grille, so it was less than a three minute walk from the front door of our hotel to the front door of the restaurant. A storm was looming in the distance and we were happy to be inside.
We had a large group - 18 of us total - and usually the food and service suffers in a large group. I enjoy eating with my colleagues from North America and France, but I would rather have my first experience at The Capital Grille be with a much smaller party. Beggars can't be choosers, the old saying goes, so I was just happy that I had the chance to eat at a Capital Grille.
Our large group was shepherded through the restaurant that had dark walnut walls with large portraits of prominent Indiana residents looking down at the people eating in the front dining area. We passed portraits of actress Irene Dunne and former Indiana governor Robert Orr as we walked through the room. Our group was seated at a large table in the smaller dining area in the back. (There are also a couple rooms off to the side of the front dining room that can be used for either overflow or private dining.) Knute Rockne, the former Notre Dame football coach, looked down at me from a wall above our table. Across the room, a portrait of Ermal Marsh, the founder of the Marsh grocery store chain, hung prominently on the wall. (A couple of us at the table had to look up who Ermal Marsh was.)
We had two servers covering our table that evening along with a couple bus boys. The young lady, whose name escapes me, welcomed us to The Capital Grille. Menus were placed in front of us at our settings and she told us that it was an open menu night, meaning that we could order anything we wanted. Most of the times with larger groups restaurants will want to have a pre-determined menu to take pressure off the kitchen when they have to prepare a number of dishes at the same time.
My boss had the wine list presented to him by one of the guys at Focal and he took a look at a number of South African wines since he had just been to some of the vineyards there earlier in the year. He found that The Capital Grille had bottles of the Ernie Els Proprietor's Blend, a full-bodied red wine that he and his wife tried when they visited the famous golfer's winery in what would have been the summertime in South Africa. It was a damn fine wine and we had many bottles of that wine that particular evening.
Steaks and seafood are the primary items on the menu at The Capital Grille. They do have a handful of signature items such as the Kona coffee rubbed dry-aged sirloin steak, the cedar plank salmon with the tomato fennel relish, and the sliced beef filet tenderloin with Cippolini onions and wild mushrooms. That sounded pretty damn good to me.
One the specials that evening was a wagyu sirloin. That sounded pretty interesting to me, as well as did the dry-aged sirloin steak au poivre with a Courvoisier pepper cream sauce. Oooo... I do love a good steak au poivre. When the servers came back to see if we had any questions, I asked if I could get the wagyu sirloin, only with the au poivre sauce. "Absolutely, sir," was the quick reply. I was set to order.
I started out with an appetizer of thinly sliced wagyu beef carpaccio with wasabi arugula. I then ordered a wedge salad with the blue cheese dressing. And I went with the wagyu sirloin au poivre - rare. As usual, all the Europeans and Canadians in the group were ordering steaks because, as I've pointed out, the beef usually ain't as good in other places as it is in the states.
The wagyu carpaccio featured seven thin, but large slices of rare beef with arugula drizzled with a wasabi-based dressing and topped with thin slices of parmegiano cheese. No one else wanted any, so I had the whole plate to myself.
Actually, some of the appetizers that were ordered were pretty good sized. Above right is the pan-fried calamari with spicy cherry peppers. The little peppers had a nice little bite to them and the calamari was outstanding. The first plate went so fast at our end of the table that another one was quickly ordered up.
My wedge salad came out with others who ordered salads or the French onion soup. I was sort of torn between getting the caprese salad or the wedge, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that instead of tomato chunks on top of the wedge, they had a couple slices of fresh tomato off to the side. Real applewood smoked bacon bits were placed on the cream and chunky blue cheese dressing. It was a very good wedge salad. And the wedge wasn't too large where I couldn't finish it.
A severe thunderstorm was raging outside when our main entrees made it to the table and most of the people had steaks. Below left is the 22 oz. Delmonico bone-in ribeye steak that one of my colleagues ordered. That was a big steak. But it wasn't as big as the one the director of world wide sales for Focal ordered. He got the 24 oz. dry-aged porterhouse. It completely covered his plate.
Above right is my wagyu steak before they brought out the au poivre sauce. It wasn't very large, probably about 10 oz. But that was fine. With everything I'd had up to that point - and the number of sides that we had to share on the table - I was going to be fine with that.
Here's a shot of the wagyu sirloin with the au poivre sauce. The steak was tender and could have actually been cooked to a medium rare and still been able to keep the consistency in the tenderness. The au poivre sauce had a wonderful taste to it and the peppercorns gave each bite of steak a little zip. Compared to the other steaks at the table, it was pretty puny in size.
The funniest thing that happened during the meal was that the guy from Focal who ordered the 24 oz. porterhouse steak, Arnaud, literally devoured the whole thing in about five minutes. Arnaud is not a big guy, but he obviously has a big appetite. Most of us weren't even a quarter of the way through our steaks when someone looked over and said, "Jesus Christ! Arnaud! You ate that whole thing that quick?!" We were amazed and astonished at the same time. I had never seen anyone eat anything so big so quickly in my life. Like I say, they just don't get the same beef in France like we do in the states.
The sides we ordered to share on our end of the table included the lobster mac 'n' cheese, which was just all right. Actually, I don't think I've ever had a lobster mac 'n' cheese at any upscale place that offered it that I really cared for. The au gratin potatoes with layers of various cheeses were pretty good, as was the creamed corn with real bacon bits. Overall, it was a pretty fine meal. I was stuffed and didn't partake in dessert, but one of my colleagues from Montreal, Francois, had the chocolate hazelnut cake that he said was, "Fantastic!"
Well, I certainly can't say that I was disappointed with my meal and the experience I had at The Capital Grille. The food was very good, the service was impeccable and the atmosphere was sophisticated, yet warm and friendly. There's a lot of steak places to choose from in downtown Indianapolis, but it would be tough to beat the meal I had at The Capital Grille.