The Capital Grille Offers Two New Reasons to Visit

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The 2003 Freemark Abbey Sycamore was a standout wine.
A couple of new developments had me headed back to Capital Grille recently. One is, presumably, a permanent addition: a new bar menu for those who don’t want to commit the time or financial resources to a full dining room meal. The other is the Master Wine Tasting Event, a summertime promotion featuring wines chosen by master sommelier George Miliotes and offered at a ridiculously low price.

The two are mutually exclusive of one another, but I combined them on a recent visit to get a taste, literally, of both.

I should clarify that the Master Wine Tasting Event is actually two events. The first one features selections from California, Italy and New Zealand and runs through July 25. From July 26 through September 5, the featured wines will be from California, Spain and Australia. Each features 10 wines on the list, and guests may sample all of them for only $25. You may now say “Wow.”

I tried all 10 on my recent visit -- what, I’m going to say no to one or two? -- and the best of the bunch as far as I’m concerned was the 2003 Freemark Abbey Sycamore cabernet Sauvignon blend. But then I’m a sucker for big, full-fruited wines. Miliotes’ tasting notes say it all: “Black raspberries and dark cherries wrapped in a milk chocolate coat.” (By the way, Miliotes is apparently very big on 2003 wines, something to consider as you stroll through your favorite wine shop.)

I also liked the New Zealand Craggy Range Te Kahu merlot from Hawkes Bay. The 2006/07 -- you know how those Aussie and New Zealand vintages are a little off-kilter -- also had good forward fruit, this time very plummy, but also with a bit of spice. Among the whites, the 2006 Cambria Bench Break chardonnay, another California wine, was a standout. I found apples and honeysuckle in the nose and buttery notes on the tongue.

As I said, the master tasting is not meant to be paired with the new bar menu, but there were some nice match-ups nonetheless. The menu features nine items priced from $9 to $19 -- not exactly snacking prices but reasonable when compared to the dining room menu and its premium steaks.

Those looking to have a taste of the Grille’s signature meats will want to consider the miniature tenderloin sandwiches, truly tender and graced with
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Miniature tenderloin sandwiches are topped with wild mushooms and Boursin cheese.
wild mushrooms and a bit of Boursin cheese, delicious on the cute little buns. Or try the “signature cheeseburger” with truffle fries. (We’re almost past this truffle fries phase, aren’t we? Please?) The miniature prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sandwiches (fancy ham and cheese!) were also delicious.

One of my favorites was the chilled seared tuna, buttery-tender sushi grade fish served with three distinct dipping sauces: wasabi oil, which was just hot enough; white soy for a slightly sweet note; and ginger vinegar for a bit of saltiness. I liked them all. (This, by the way, is the $19 item.)

I also liked the chilled shrimp, three prawn-sized shrimp that were fat and firm and served on a pretty bed of red lettuce with a ginger and mustard vinaigrette. One of the bargains at $9.

The lollipop lamb chops were fine but ultimately non distinct in flavor. They were also a bit overcooked for my taste, which is a good time to point out that none of the bar menu items are cooked to temperature. At least, the servers will not ask what temperature you would prefer. I’m certain that if you chimed in and made the request it would be honored.

The Capital Grille has fit nicely into the Darden pantheon of restaurants, even as its most upscale brand. Managing partner Randy Cook, who has been with TCG since before Darden purchased it, says he’s seen only improvements since the Orlando-based restaurant company took it over.

Me, too. The quality continues to improve. And with the new bar menu, it becomes a little more accessible. But if saving some money when dining out is part of your goal, be sure to take advantage of the wine tasting event, as well.

The Capital Grille is at the Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive, Orlando. (Complimentary valet parking is right outside the door.) It’s open for lunch and dinner daily (bar menu available at lunchtime, too). Here’s a link to the Web site.