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Originally published Friday, June 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Restaurant review

Capital Grille: Indulgence beckons in plush steakhouse

One wonders why, with 31 locations nationwide, The Capital Grille would venture into Seattle, a market already well-marbled with many fine...

Special to The Seattle Times

The Capital Grille

2.5 stars


1301 Fourth Ave., Seattle


Reservations: Recommended.

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays- Fridays; dinner 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays- Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays.

Prices: $$$$ (appetizers $8-$17; lunch entrees $14-$35, dinner entrees $24-$55)

Drinks: Full bar; vast wine list with many Northwest bottles.

Parking: On street or in nearby lot; free valet after 5 p.m.

Sound: So well- upholstered, noise is muffled.

Who should go: A grand setting for wooing and wowing, whether for business or for pleasure, but not for penny- pinchers.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: No obstacles.

One wonders why, with 31 locations nationwide, The Capital Grille would venture into Seattle, a market already well-marbled with many fine steakhouses, from the homegrown variety — Metropolitan Grill, Daniel's Broiler and El Gaucho come to mind — to chains like Morton's and Ruth's Chris. Do we need The Capital Grille?

Or maybe that's akin to asking a woman with a closet full of shoes why she needs another pair.

Judging from the lunch and dinner crowds filling the plush dining room and mirrored bar on recent visits, The Capital Grille, which opened downtown in February, is finding an audience. Most were in business attire, making them the perfect extras for a set designed to look like those exclusive men's clubs of yore.

A thick, Oriental-patterned carpet covers the floor, antlered stag heads gaze down from mahogany columns and ornate frames hold life-size portraits of local luminaries from Chief Sealth to Eddie Bauer. Other familiar names are etched on the brass plates of private booze lockers prominently placed near the front door. Along the upper ledges of the capacious booths, magnums of wine stand tall as if ripe for plucking, should the whim to celebrate overtake one of these titans of commerce. It is all reminiscent of an earlier century, another Gilded Age.

"Recession?" I thought. "What recession?"

Once seated, you are handed a four-page, poster-sized card. On the front is the menu; the inside spread catalogs the restaurant's global wine cache. Bottle prices start just under $30 and quickly soar to three figures, particularly if you've a mind to ask for the separate reserve wine list, where the DeLilles, the Drouhins and the Gajas are gathered.

As steakhouses go, this one isn't as pricey across the board as some that serve exclusively prime meats. Still, steaks cost upward of $40 at dinner, and that's a la carte; sides are extra.

If you want prime, your choices are limited to the 22-ounce Delmonico ($42) or (when available) a 20-ounce dry-aged, bone-in New York strip ($55). The porterhouse and smaller, boneless New York strips, both dry-aged, are choice cuts, as is filet mignon. Have them plain, or with embellishments such as crushed peppercorns, a Kona coffee crust or a porcini rub.

I tried both options with mixed results. I ordered the Delmonico dusted with porcini and glazed with balsamic. The rangy bone-in rib-eye is a fine, flavorful steak, but its charms were obscured by an overpoweringly salty seasoning. A boneless sirloin strip, unadorned but for its own well-seasoned jus, was entirely satisfying. The meat had a faint mineral tang, the texture was pliant and light marbling contributed a rich mouth feel.

Not everyone who eats here is asking, "Where's the beef?" Three guys at the next table slipped off their suit jackets to better attack fat fillets of halibut, tuna and salmon. Those, along with chops and chicken, are less costly than the steaks. Grilled halibut ($33) was an impressive catch; faultlessly cooked, it rested against gently gingered rice on a plate rimmed with mango coulis and cilantro oil.

Seafood stands out among starters as well. Pan-fried calamari tossed with garlicky hot cherry peppers has the crispy, crunchy coating good fried chicken gets. Fresh corn salad and terrific tartar sauce loaded with capers and pickles accompany loosely bound lobster and crab cakes, lush patties dense with lumps of seafood.

Memo to those saving up for their next tank of gas: Lunch makes a smaller ding in the wallet. A 10-ounce sirloin strip is $26, and most other entrees are under $20, including the cheeseburger and "lollipop lamb chops," three petite rib chops on long, slender bones arrayed alongside a vinaigrette-dressed salad spiked with feta, pepperoncini and cured black olives.

"Everyone is ordering the cheeseburger today," observed our waitress. No wonder. At $14, the ground sirloin patty, soft, slightly smoky and exceedingly moist under a cheddar melt, is affordable and delicious. It's served with lettuce, pickles and slices of yellow and red tomato but in a manner that befits the pomp and circumstance of the room, on a specially designed plate with separate slots for little bowls of ketchup, Dijon-spiked mayo and chive-peppercorn aioli.

A momentary quandary over whether to have the truffle Parmesan fries or the housemade potato chips with the cheeseburger was resolved by the waitress. "Have the fries, and I'll bring you some chips too," she suggested. Next time, I'll bespeak those gossamer chips and skip the limp fries.

Servers dressed in old-fashioned jackets and long aprons are glib marketers and facilitators of your dining experience. They are forthcoming with menu and wine guidance, assiduous in the topping off of iced tea or water and fastidious about scraping crumbs from the white tablecloth that result from repeated assaults on the sumptuously stocked breadbasket. When an order is up, reinforcements are called so that everyone at the table gets their food at once. There is no synchronized lifting of silver domes; it just seems that way.

In this indulgent atmosphere it is hard to forego dessert. My friends and I split a lovely raspberry-bedecked wedge of flourless chocolate espresso cake, envious of three svelte young lionesses right out of "Lipstick Jungle" in the booth opposite. Their dress sizes added together wouldn't equal mine, yet not only weren't they sharing their crème brûlée, cheesecake and ice cream, they were chasing it with champagne.

Providence Cicero:

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