- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

There’s beef, and then there’s beef.

The Capital Grille is where you find the answer to the question Washington is forever asking: “Where’s the beef?” The meat here is terrific, as tender, juicy and full of flavor as meat can be.

The Capital Grille, part of a nationwide chain but without feeling like one, is at the foot of Capitol Hill on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. It has the clubby, smoky atmosphere (cigarettes and cigars in the bar only) that movers and shakers demand: dark wood paneling; paintings of hunting scenes, still lifes of flowers and fruit, and bucolic country scenes; waiters and waitresses in old-fashioned aprons.

An enormous buffalo head hangs over the bar, and various other heads with impressive antlers look out from the walls.

The chairs are comfortable, the tables with their white cloths and small hurricane lamps are well-placed, and the hum and babble in the background are not overwhelming. Despite appearances, not everyone is a member of Congress or a lobbyist, lawyer or Capitol Hill sycophant. The clientele is a nice mix of tourists and locals from the Hill and around town.

What attracts them all is the food and the ambience. The Capital Grille makes no attempt at contemporary cooking. What it offers is straightforward classic meat dishes and some fish, with traditional steakhouse sides and desserts at prices to match.

Dry-aged sirloin is a specialty. The chef’s suggestions offer the sirloin with caramelized shallot butter, or it can be ordered plain, as can a dry-aged porterhouse. Delmonico steak and filet mignon are other cuts.

We tried the sliced filet with cipollini onions and wild mushrooms, and it was superb, cooked exactly as ordered (but the onion and mushroom sauce was a tad sweet for the meat).

A veal chop, actually a porterhouse large enough for two, is another marvel, though the accompanying thin Roquefort butter sauce is not necessary. Roquefort is a strong flavor; veal is relatively delicate. The two do not blend well. This veal can do it alone.

Four double-cut lamb rib chops and roast chicken round out the meat main courses. Seafood choices include lobster — 2, 3, 4 or 5 pounds — grilled swordfish, seared farm-raised Atlantic salmon with mustard sauce, and seared tuna with gingered rice. Linguine are paired with scampi and roasted tomatoes.

None of the main courses comes with a side dish, which must be ordered separately: mashed potatoes, au gratin potatoes, cottage fries or baked potatoes; asparagus; mushrooms; and lovely creamed spinach. The seasonal vegetable on a midsummer’s night will be fresh corn in cream. Vegetable and potato side dishes are large enough to be shared by three or four diners.

Appetizers and salads, like the main courses, tend toward the classic steakhouse offerings. The popular wedge of iceberg lettuce with an excellent blue-cheese dressing and a hearty sprinkling of bacon is first-rate. The dressing tastes particularly good slathered on the sliced ripe tomatoes that decorate the dish. A seasonal special of heirloom red and yellow tomatoes with thick slices of fresh mozzarella topped with chopped basil leaves is another perfect starter. The salad is dressed lightly with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Caesar salad, spinach salad with warm bacon dressing, a simple garden salad, and tomato and onion salad are excellent choices, as are the clam chowder and French onion soup, though the soup is better in winter than on a hot summer night.

Shrimp cocktail and oysters on the half-shell are classics well done. Other appetizers include lobster and crab cakes, smoked Norwegian salmon and steak tartare as well as pan-fried calamari with hot cherry peppers.

Desserts, like main courses, are for true trenchermen; they include creme brulee, chocolate hazelnut cake, white chocolate mousse, cheesecake with strawberries, ice creams and sorbets. The coconut cream pie, which isn’t a pie at all, is a thick-crusted tartlet filled with a coconut custard and a mound of whipped cream. Good, but oh, so rich.

The wine list, which includes hundreds of bottles from all over the world, is outstanding, with offerings in half bottles and “large” bottles. There’s a category of “interesting reds” and one of “interesting whites,” which include such unusual wines as a Chateau Kefraya from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and a pinot grigio from Napa. Prices range from the mid-$40s to the mid-$500s, with a few bottles in the $30 range. A dozen or so reds and whites, obviously chosen carefully, are available by the glass.

Wine bottles are part of the decor. A wood-paneled wall with lockerlike boxes filled with bottles of wine stands at the entrance, with the names of the bottles’ owners inscribed within on a copper plaque. The maitre d’ explains that the bottles are owned by regulars, kept there in event the restaurant runs out of their favorite vintage. One locker, with three bottles visible, is inscribed with the name of F. Sinatra. The selections may be to die for, but he is not expected soon.

Many of the dinner dishes are served at noon, and, in addition, the luncheon Caesar salad is topped with blackened shrimp, chicken breast or tenderloin. Salads include lobster, tuna and salmon. Hamburgers, club sandwiches and, of course, steak sandwiches are available at lunchtime, as are a spit-roasted chicken and tenderloin hash.

The Capital Grille is what used to be called a man’s restaurant, but women are appreciated. It’s a friendly place to take an appetite because portions are for the manly.

RESTAURANT: Capital Grille, 601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202/737-6200

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and until 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

PRICES: Appetizers $8 to $17; main courses $28 to $39; sides $8 to $11; desserts $8 to $9; lunch prices a few dollars less

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Complimentary valet parking after 5 p.m.

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Archives on Yellow and Green lines


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