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Meat eaters will swoon over the juicy beef -- it's impossible not to be awed by the sizzling platters, the steaks crisscrossed with grill marks and dressed simply with a sprig of herbs. It's a toss-up as to which cut I like the best, the impressive 24-ounce porterhouse bursting with deep flavor, or the tender 22-ounce Delmonico (rib eye). Though it doesn't take much prompting to turn me toward the sirloin, either, rubbed with peppercorns and drizzled with a velvety rich Courvoisier cream sauce. The veal chop is a signature dish for good reason, too, drizzled with tangy Roquefort butter sauce, and I gnaw another plate of lamb chops to the bone, relishing the crisp edge and cool interior of the four double-cut ribs.
Capital Grille also gets points for not treating diners who aren't in the mood for red meat like second-class citizens. A broad selection of lighter entrees brings the best of the best, like live lobster (broiled, from one to five pounds), grilled swordfish jardiniere, seared salmon with mustard sauce, shrimp scampi over linguini, and a delightful tuna fillet, grilled rare and capped with roasted red potatoes and artichoke hearts. One evening's special of sea bass brings sparkling clean fish paired with scallops and summer vegetables -- fish is flown in fresh every day except Sunday, my server confides.
What really converts me to the Capital Grille craze, though, isn't necessarily meat. It isn't fish. It isn't the succulent roasted chicken, spitting buttery juices when carved. It's the Grille's marvelous appetizers and accompaniments. One evening, in fact, has me bagging up my main dish to take home; I've gotten so stuffed eating starters and sides.
2502 E. Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Region: East Phoenix
16489 N. Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Region: North Scottsdale
602-952-8900. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m.
The magic starts with oysters on the half shell, Malpeque models served on chipped ice. A spritz of lemon is all these critters need; they're so silky flavored. French onion soup served bubbling in a crock is golden good; split pea soup, thick with legumes, is fun for its novelty. I'd happily feast on steak tartare as an entree, smitten as I am by the minced raw meat mixed with raw egg and dotted with onion and capers. I haven't enjoyed calamari this much in ages, either -- the secret here is pan-frying, and a mix of hot cherry peppers and scallions. I could very happily eat the Grille's mashed potatoes by the bucket (I don't want to think about how much cream and butter has to be in the recipe), paired with a glorious side of roasted wild mushrooms in natural juices.
And here's a dinner salad that's easily worth $4.95, even if it is just a giant wedge of iceberg. That's because it just happens to be the most excellent, crisp lettuce, draped in robust bleu cheese and sprinkled with crunchy bacon. A simple garden salad is exquisite, each piece of produce picked for its handsome looks and fine flavor.
Simply put, Capital Grille feels as good as it tastes, and the mood is infectious. One evening, I find myself riveted, watching the antics of a neighboring table. It's a herd of tanned, manicured men, still dressed in suits on a Wednesday night, and having way too much fun for a weekday. I've been watching them sip their way through an impressive array of wines, bottles selected from the Grille's circa-300 label collection. Their silver steak knives flash like precious jewelry in the low-lit room, and I imagine that this dinner is a stop between working a perfect job, then going home to a perfect house and perfect wife.
Just being at Capital Grille makes me feel I might be rich and powerful, too, and it's a feeling I really like. Even if, for me, the feeling lasts only until the bill comes.