Was there a convention in town? I wondered. The Capital Grille was packed on the Saturday night, and I know the Pointe Orlando steakery is a favorite among meat-mad meeting attendees. So crowded was the CG that the 8 o’clock reservation hour had come and gone and my guest and I were still relegated to the bar, along with scores of others waiting for tables.
But there was no convention, at least not one that brings thousands of hungry conventioneers to the streets of Orlando. This, our server told us when we were eventually seated, was the result of Orlando Magical Dining Month. And seeing as how it was the last weekend of the September-long event, lots of diners were there to take advantage. That was understandable: it’s why I was there, too.
And why not? The $30 three-course menu offered a chance to dine at the steakhouse where you’d normally pay more than that just for the steak.
And we ended up getting more that the three courses. Because of our long wait for a table, the manager bought us a glass of wine in the bar and we were served a complimentary appetizer of fried calamari. Although fried, the breaded squid was a bit moist for having been pan-fried with sweet and hot peppers, the addition of which negated the need for any dipping sauce.
My friend started the first official course with the salad of tossed greens, which were dressed with vinegar and oil and dotted with chewy chunks of blue cheese. I had the New England clam chowder, an OK version that had a velvety texture and pleasant clammy aftertaste,
We both chose steaks for our main course (salmon and lamb chops also were available). I went for the filet mignon while my companion chose the sirloin.
My steak, an 8-ounce cut, was cooked perfectly, the medium-rare temperature showing a still-red center. The outside had a wonderful crust, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
My friend’s steak was another matter. It was way past the requested medium-rare, and the kona crust offered little more saltiness. We pointed out the overcook to the server when he eventually checked back, and he immediately offered to have another prepared. But seeing as the time between our soup and salad and the delivery of the steaks was nearly as long as we had waited in the bar for our table, my friend declined. Who knew a great deal like Magical Dining Month could tax a restaurant like The Capital Grille?
Instead of asking which of the three desserts on the MagDngMo menu we’d like, the waiter brought us the banana cream pie and cheesecake, neither one on the list. I suppose this was meant as a means of apology for the steak and that these desserts were considered upgrades from the offerings on the special menu. But don’t you think he would have asked if we even liked banana cream pie or cheesecake? As it turns out, we do. But not these versions. Very little banana flavor in the pie and a whipped cream consistency in the cake.
Throughout the visit, service staff and managers were accommodatingly solicitous, though, apparently, helpless to solve the timing issues. Still, the operation of the restaurant is a vast improvement over when it first opened, and before it was under the Darden umbrella. And under the direction of master sommelier George Miliotes, the wine list is an impressive array of the world’s best grape juices.
And the atmosphere remains one of a stereotypical yet comfortable boardroom with a decidedly masculine mien. The Capital Grille is certainly a good restaurant, and one worth visiting. But I think I’ll wait to visit again when it isn’t so busy, when it’s merely run over by conventioneers instead of Magical Month Diners.
The Capital Grille is at 9101 International Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner nightly. Valet parking is complimentary. The phone number is 407-370-4392.