When The Capital Grille opened its thick, bevel-edged glass doors last November, the Republicans were reclaiming Congress for the first time in decades. With its politically incorrect emphasis on red meat, the Grille became an immediate hit with lobbyists, members of Congress and staffers who congregate around the Capitol dome, which looms just a few blocks east of the Grille's awning-draped windows. Newt Gingrich is reportedly a loyal customer, said to prefer the gargantuan 24-ounce porterhouse, cooked medium rare.
That is a sound choice, as the Grille is a temple of beef. An immediate tip-off is the refrigerated, glass-enclosed meat locker visible immediately upon entering the clubby, wood-paneled reception area. Hanging in the locker are huge slabs of well-marbled beef in various stages of colorfully moldy aging. The Capital Grille dry-ages most of its beef on the premises, in its own lockers, for 28 days. As a result, its sirloins, filet mignons, Delmonicos and prime ribs, which range in size from a 10-ounce filet ($18.95) to a specially ordered 48-ounce double porterhouse ($55), share a captivating hint of mustiness and one-cut-of-the-knife tenderness.
Appetizers are similarly sumptuous. Highlights include the crisp, lightly breaded crab and lobster cakes; pan-fried calamari with hot cherry peppers; fresh oysters on the half shell and a cold baby lobster served split over fresh greens. Among the side dishes, not to be missed is the mixture of cottage fries and crisp onion rings, served big-enough-for-two in a pile as high as a Don King hair-do. From the entree list, besides the beef, the lamb chops are a fine choice, tender and mild. Seafood aficionados will revel in the slightly smoky swordfish steak or the delicately broiled lobsters.
Winner of an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator, the wine list is especially strong in French and California selections that complement the red-meat fare. There are some real values in older vintages. A 1971 Cos-d'Estournel direct from the chateau cellars is $135, a Ducru-Beaucaillou 1983 is $90, and for $125, you can have your choice of Haut-Brion 1981 or La Mission Haut-Brion 1983. At the lower-priced end, the fruity Hanna 1992 Merlot is $27 and the 1991 Round Hill Napa Zinfandel is only $19. In keeping with the aged-on-the-premises theme, wines are stored in a redwood-shelved, glass-enclosed wine room in the center of the mahogany-walled, thickly carpeted main dining area. Wine service is attentive, informed and courteous. (On a recent visit, a mildly corked bottle of Léoville Poyferre 1988 was replaced without a hint of reluctance.)
Cigars are a specialty here, with a fine selection of Davidoffs, Cuesta-Reys, Dunhill Peravias and others served from the restaurant's humidors. These can be enjoyed at your table in the large smoking section or at the imposing bar, as both areas are equipped with powerful ventilators. Two private rooms are also available to cigar fanciers, the larger of which features its own wine cellar along a wall. A three-page selection of Cognacs, Armagnacs, Grappas, Ports and other after-dinner drinks is offered.
With such amenities and fine food, there is one thing that Republicans, Democrats and independents can agree upon: The Capital Grille is a perfect place to dine in the nation's capital.
-- Ben Giliberti
Ben Giliberti is a wine writer for The Washington Post.
The Capital Grille
601 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Phone: (202) 737-6200
Dinner: approximately $100 per person, with wine