Massive stone lions on pedestals flank the entrance to The Capital Grille, the swanky steakhouse that opened last summer on the ground floor of the new Bank of America Tower at North Hills.
Just inside the door, some 3,000 bottles of wine (representing more than 400 labels) are displayed behind floor-to-ceiling glass. Nearby, names engraved on brass plates denote the owners of the bottles in separate private lockers.
Waiters in jackets and ties circulate in a dining room designed to set an opulent mood: deep leather banquettes, shaded brass candlestick lamps on tables draped in white linens, wood-paneled walls, floor carpeted in rich hues of russet and sepia. The ambiance – old-school clubby, brought up to date with abstract art, an open kitchen and a wine list on iPads – is clearly meant to impress.
But the image that sticks with me, and the one that best captures the reason you might want to drop a hundred bucks a person here (or considerably more, depending on how serious you are about exploring that excellent wine list), is a closeup of the steak I cut one night with a butter knife.
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The steak was a 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye, and the butter knife was not a stunt. I used it because I didn’t have a steak knife – an omission that stands out precisely because missteps are so rare among a wait staff that are thoroughly trained and polished to the extent of crumbing the table between courses. They’re unfailingly eager-to-please, too (though being told that everything you order is “an excellent choice” can come across as a little too eager).
I might have known the steak knife would arrive with apologies just a couple of minutes after the steak. I didn’t wait to find out, though, because I wanted to see if the steak was cooked to the medium-rare I’d specified, and if it had been properly rested.
The answer is a resounding yes on both counts. Seared under a broiler at 500-plus degrees, the steak was well-seasoned, juicy and so tender I could have done without the steak knife. Did I mention that the bone-in rib-eye is USDA Prime?
The rib-eye is the only Prime-graded steak on the menu, but the Porterhouse and strip steak offer a different sort of attraction for the aficionado: Both are dry-aged in house for 18 to 24 days, just long enough to concentrate the beefy flavor and impart a subtle whiff of dry-aging’s highly prized distinctive funk.
The menu also offers a handful of gilded-lily steak presentations, including a porcini-rubbed bone-in rib-eye with 15-year-aged balsamic (billed as the restaurant’s signature steak) and a bone-in Kona-crusted New York strip. Judging by samplings ranging from seared tenderloin topped with a brace of butter-poached lobster tails, to a purist’s dream of a 24-ounce dry-aged Porterhouse, I think it’s safe to say you can feel free to follow your whim when choosing a steak.
Options for those seeking an alternative to red meat are, not surprisingly, limited: an herb-roasted chicken with mushroom risotto, and a handful of seafood dishes, including salmon seared with a translucent citrus glaze and served over haricots verts and a sprinkling of Marcona almonds. If you’re a vegetarian, then whoever brought you here owes you a big favor.
Unlike the chicken and seafood entrees – and true to steakhouse tradition – steaks are served à la carte. You’ll want to choose a couple of sides from the selection of nearly a dozen options ranging from classic creamed spinach to Parmesan truffle fries. The woody stem ends of asparagus spears hadn’t been sufficiently trimmed when I ordered them (a rare kitchen miscue), but creamed spinach, roasted wild mushrooms and au gratin potatoes have all been on the money.
Be advised that portions are family size. Half portions (sufficient for two) are available for all the sides except lobster mac and cheese.
As long as you’re splurging, might as well spring for a lavish starter. Pan-fried calamari with hot cherry peppers are popular, and the elegant layers-in-a-cylinder presentation of steak tartare is fetching. But I’ll have the lobster and crab cakes, thank you. They’ll set you back $19, but you’ll understand why when you see how many thumb-size lumps of lobster meat are crammed into them.
Naturally, you’ll want to end your meal with a sweet exclamation point. A warm, molten-centered double chocolate cake with port wine-infused cherries and house-made ice cream (try the salted caramel) ought to supply the proper punctuation.
The Capital Grille chain is a strong move into the fine dining segment for Darden Restaurant Group, whose diverse holdings run the gamut from Olive Garden to Yard House.
Each Grille location is run by a managing partner (Joseph Butler, a Darden veteran of 14 years, in Raleigh) and a chef/partner (Matthew McNeely, the youngest chef in the chain to earn that title) who work together to build a local reputation for the restaurant in its own right.
Butler and McNeely have succeeded in doing just that. Those well-filled private wine lockers attest to the restaurant’s success in attracting local corporate clients. Red roses and complimentary champagne glasses on tables sprinkled with confetti are a frequent sight, evidence that The Capital Grille is quickly becoming a popular destination for celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. And if you’re thinking “Valentine’s Day,” I’d suggest you book a table yesterday.
The Capital Grille
4242 Six Forks Road, Suite 110, Raleigh
Atmosphere: clubby, upscale
Noise level: moderate
Recommended: lobster and crab cakes, steak tartare, seared salmon, steaks, warm double chocolate cake
Open: Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner nightly.
Other: full bar (outstanding wine list); get a sitter; minimal vegetarian selection; complimentary valet parking, or park in the Bank of America Tower garage
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.