By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
So, yeah, I do use a chip as a shoulder pad. I'm proud of my identity. But I can't stand being treated specially because of my sex, whether it's a form of harassment, ingrained centuries-old tradition, or just plain discrimination (which is particularly rife in South Florida). I don't want a man hooting at me, I don't want him to open a door for me if I've already gotten to it first, I don't want a man's name instead of my own (though even that might be better than being referred to as "and wife," which is how I am now identified on the mortgage). And I especially don't want to be put on a pedestal at a restaurant simply because I have breasts.
I took a large party to the Capital Grille, the luxurious new steak house in the Rivergate Plaza on Brickell Avenue downtown. The sixth restaurant in a high-end national chain that originated in 1989 in Providence, Rhode Island, and that has outposts in Boston and Washington, D.C., the Capital Grille fancies itself a place where the city's power elite can cut deals over beef and Beefeater. But the only politics I sensed were sex-based.
Our server insisted on a ladies-first procedure throughout the meal. This, manager Rob Orvis later told me, is a policy at the restaurant: "The lady will be served first as long as it doesn't interfere with the comfort of the customer." Only our waiter must have nodded off during the second half of the orientation. The table we were seated around was large enough to make his tactic quite uncomfortable -- not to mention obvious and foolish. He couldn't reach across, so he had to constantly circle in order to serve the women before the men. He skipped the men's wine glasses to fill the women's first, including mine, though I'd been the one to order the bottle (from the 400-plus selection) and taste it, and so should have been poured last. Later he made a point of stopping by each woman's chair to ask about her meal before sparing a moment for the men -- though when one woman complained about a peppery sauce, he pompously explained to her that he was inquiring only about whether the meat had been properly cooked to order. And when handing out dessert menus, he commented to the man next to me, who had reached for one, "I was going to give that to her," nodding at one of the other women in our party. "But since you grabbed it...."
I can stand only so much "politeness" before I lose my appetite. I don't mind being catered to in a restaurant as long as everyone is treated equally; the same goes for being ignored. I do despise being a visible female guest when all I want to be is a typical diner.
Fortunately the steaks eclipsed the service.
Main course portions -- served a la carte in the New York-style steak house tradition -- are monstrous, far too big for my dainty appetite but perfect for the hungry power broker. With filets and fillets this big, you don't really need appetizers. That said, get the French onion soup anyway. It's rich with Gruyere, a cheesy lid that hides a deluge of soft, fragrant onions. The broth was a hearth-warming pleasure, soaking a slice of French bread with deep caramel flavor. One of the better crocks of soup I've had in a long time, but a filling one for sure.
For a lighter, milder beginning, hearts of palm salad was good if not inspiring, coined hearts of palm laid out on a bed of soft butter lettuce, pale yellow and green. A honey-sweet Key lime vinaigrette accentuated the mild vegetables.
Also on the palate-preparation side, Capital Grille offers the typical shrimp cocktail, the smoked salmon, the oysters on the half shell. Looking for something a little bit more South Florida to start, we were tempted by stone crab claws until we found out the price -- $14.00 for one (colossal) claw. So we went for crab and lobster cakes instead. Good choice. Plump and meaty with crab, nubby with lobster, the cakes were delicious, accented with red bell pepper and pan-fried to a crunchy golden-brown finish. Another seafood starter, squid sauteed with hot cherry peppers, was tangy stuff. Not too spicy but certainly zippy, the flour-dredged cones of calamari were tender, like al dente noodles.
Seven cuts of beef, including a 24-ounce porterhouse and a 20-ounce Delmonico, vie for attention as entrees. We started to order prime rib but desisted when we found out it couldn't be done rare; apparently it was already past that point. Steak au poivre was a disappointment we actually got to the point of tasting, an overly peppercorned sirloin strip dressed with a starchy sauce. We couldn't detect any of the "dry-aged" beef flavor under all that fuss.