The Capital Grille is the latest titan to enter downtown Fort Worth's red-meat melee. Facing off against its Main Street neighbors Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House and Ruth's Chris Steak House, the 7-week-old Capital Grille delivers a high-quality, if slightly paradoxical, dining experience.
Its design, clearly mandated by its national corporate parent (Capital Grille has 46 locations, including four in Texas), is an eccentric mix of exterior art deco-lite (all shiny chrome, glass and black-and-white lettered awnings) and a touch of Vegas-kitsch, with two bronze lions flanking the entrance. The interior could have been plucked from a 19th-century English hunting lodge. Buttery leather chairs abound, and the deep mahogany walls are covered with paintings of bucolic landscapes, hat-wearing society matrons and -- cannily for this market -- several specially commissioned portraits of such Fort Worth notables as Amon G. Carter Sr. and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame founder Margaret Formby.
The cosseting environment, exceedingly professional service and near-faultless food are in line with Capital Grille's meat-elite competitors. And so are its nosebleed-inducing prices. Appetizers average $16 (with two at $49 and $99), entrees are $28-$49, and add-on sides are $9-$16. A meal here is an investment -- or at least a special-occasion splurge -- for anyone without an expense account.
But the high prices reflect a long list of top-drawer ingredients studding nearly every Grille dish. The Wagyu beef carpaccio ($15) offered razor-thin slices of this luxurious brand of steer, wonderfully offset by a peppery baby arugula salad with confetti of shaved Parmesan cheese. Prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella ($15) were little cigar-shaped starters bursting with a cheesy interior. Oddly, they were all but outclassed by some of the brightest-tasting "vine-ripe" tomatoes I've ever sampled locally. The shrimp cocktail with red sauce, meanwhile, was standard-issue; for $15, you might expect it to be delivered by the Little Mermaid herself.
The 10-ounce filet mignon ($42) was perfectly cooked to the specified medium-rare, and it was silkily tender. It reminded me how sometimes the simplest cut of beef, unfettered by fussy "au poivre" sauces, can be blissfully tasty.
The bone-in, Kona-crusted, dry-aged sirloin ($44) stimulated a whole other part of the palate. A Herculean 18-ounce shank of beef, this sirloin packed a lustier taste than the filet, and it was the perfect billboard ad for the Grille's dry-aging technique (which it applies to almost all of its steaks). And even butter-phobes will succumb to the onion-infused pond of shallot-butter that laps up against the sirloin's outer crust.
Capital Grille knows its way around the ocean, too. (Darden Restaurants, its parent company, recently bought Eddie V's Prime Seafood and also owns Red Lobster.) So it was no surprise that the salmon with tomato fennel relish ($35) was a hit, too. You could taste every bit of the fish's cedar-plank broiling, leaving it with a pleasant char and a nutty taste, while the fennel imparted just the right hum of anise.
With a restaurant of this polish (granted, corporatized), the Grille gets the small things right. The service was impeccable -- I can't remember the last time a server crumbed my table three times. The copious, family-style sides of bacon-scented creamed corn ($9) and au gratin potatoes ($10) were comfort-food allies to the meat and fish mains.
Decadence won out when it came to dessert, as the flourless chocolate espresso cake ($9) packed the desired caffeine punch with its espresso powder blanketing a cake both intensely flavorful and mousselike light. That combination easily trumped the healthier fresh fruit of the Strawberries Capital Grille ($9), even with its elixir of port and Grand Marnier sauce.
From the carpaccio to the chocolate cake, Capital Grille's dishes were exactly the quality you would expect at this price point. Offering roughly the same lineup of steaks and seafood as its more established neighbors, the Grille's distinction is that it is the new kid on the block. Combined with highly professional service and a spiffy outdoor dining terrace, it may have a tiny leg up on the competition for the moment.
How long that moment lasts is anybody's guess.