In the world of steakhouses, there are two distinct types. There are the family style restaurants with casual settings and, often, for some reason, peanut shells scattered about the floors. These are your LongHorns, your Lone Stars and Outbacks, among others.
Then there are the high-end steakhouses, with no peanuts on the floor or in the pricing. In this category you’ll find the Del Frisco’s, Shula’s and Ruth’s Chrises.
Some of these restaurants fall under the same corporate umbrella – Lone Star and Del Frisco’s, for instance – sort of like Toyota and Lexus.
But just as luxury cars brands have their lesser models (a Lexus ES350 is basically just a Camry), so too the luxury steakhouses. Think of them as the low end of the high-end meateries. Or a third category: not casual enough to be a family restaurant and without the quality to be considered top-notch.
There are three restaurants that I would put in that category based on my previous experiences: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar; Palm Restaurant; and the Capital Grille. The dinners I’ve had at these restaurants in the past have been OK but not good enough to justify the hefty price tags. I thought it might be time to check back to see if there have been any changes, especially in light of Darden Restaurants buying the Capital Grille (and getting LongHorn Steakhouse in the deal).
I don’t know if the new ownership had anything to do with it, but the Capital Grille was the most improved among the three, and that includes service and overall experience as well as the steaks.
And what steaks. I had the Delmonico ($40), basically a bone-in ribeye, that was had a flavorful, well-seasoned crust and beautiful red center. The higher fat content of the cut made it juicy and tender.
My companion chose the Kansas City sirloin ($40), offered as a special on the night I visited. Also a bone-in cut, the steak had a characteristically coarser texture but was cooked just as perfectly as the other and was every bit as flavorful.
So here’s the surprise: Capital Grille serves steaks graded USDA choice, not prime, although you wouldn’t know that from the pricing. Just as with luxury cars there are quality levels within each meat grade. CG is obviously purchasing the upper echelon of choice.