You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Round 2

Okay, so we pass through the green doors into Manny's restaurant. It is packed. People are running every which way. We make our way over to the maitre d'. There is a huge painting of a black bull. Definitely a bull and not a steer; his full masculine glory swinging freely for all to see. Matt turns to me, "Moo, we need a painting like that in our house."
From the people waiting in line to be seated, to the completely filled bar, to the cars still pulling up outside, you would never guess that there is a recession going on. Recession Scheemession.

We check in and we are a little early and the host tell us they can seat us now. They say, "Happy Anniversary!" and I'm thinking, so far so good. Full disclosure: it wasn't our anniversary when we went to the Capital Grille, but I wanted to see what the difference would be between the restaurants. Tonight it actually WAS our anniversary.

The hostess leads us around a corner into the main dining room and leads us to our table. Which was what it was. A table. Not a booth like I had requested. No rose petals. No complimentary champagne. No card. I looked around; there were booths available lining the outside walls and several of them only had 2 people in them. I am a bit put off, but we sit down.

Point: Capital Grille

A word about the restaurant and it's atmosphere. I had not been in the old Manny's but after hearing from several people who had been, the room is done up the same. Gleaming wood floors, dark red subway tiles on some walls, photographs on others and above the booths were brown and white cow hides wallpapered for emphasis, in case you forgot exactly what this place was known for. MEAT! MEAT! MEAT! It's a vegan's nightmare in here; the subway tiles reminding one of what the rooms actually might look like in a slaughter house at the end of the night. I would classify the decor as masculine and classy; there was an old WWII photograph I noticed of General Douglas MacArthur storming the beach with his soldiers, and I had to agree. This is a place the General would go for dinner. BECAUSE MANLY MASCULINE MEN EAT MEAT, DAMMIT.

Another thing. It is brightly lit. It is loud. By loud I mean it has the decibel level of a junior high cafeteria. Or a jet runway. Seriously, it was ridiculous. We were seated 2 feet from tables on either side of us and you couldn't hear what the other people were saying to each other. A couple of times I couldn't even hear what Matt said to me, and had to yell, "What?"

When you are spending $100+ on a meal I feel that this is completely unacceptable.

Point: Capital Grille

Our waiter was nice and because I was a little crabby by this point I decided I'm not ordering a bottle of wine. About half the wines on the list were over $100. I order a glass of Riesling, instead. The waiter assures me it is excellent.

Then another lady comes over with plates wrapped in saran wrap. At Manny's there is a meat cart that is wheeled around the room and has every item on the menu. They show you the tenderloins, porterhouse, new york strip, rib eye, the lobster, the surf and turf, the pork chops and salmon, and something called the bludgeon of beef, which looks exactly like it sounds. It is a gigantic rib eye with the bone sticking out of it. At 55 oz. you definitely could use this as a weapon: it's a bonafide meat cudgel.

We decide to order the shrimp cocktail, creamed spinach, a side of mashed potatoes, and we decide to split the bone-in rib eye, which is a mere 24 oz. For dinner I order a glass of Ghost Pines Cabernet.

The shrimp cocktail is good, the spinach is garlicky, but I preferred the texture of the Capital Grille's spinach. The potatoes were good, covered with cheese, chives and chunks of thick bacon. The side dishes are absolutely enormous, easily feeding 4-6 people. This is why we split the rib eye.

The rib eye is outstanding. Fantastic. Perfect. We ordered it medium, which meant a warm red center. It's not bleeding, but it's definitely red, not pink. It has so much flavor I can't get over it; I'm amazed how good it tastes. It is easily the best tasting steak I've ever eaten. It is definitely better than a New York Strip steak. This, I think, is how meat should taste. We are surprised then by how small it seems. Matt is sad. "This is 24 oz.?" Then I realize that they are including the weight of the bone, because it's a bone-in rib eye. I pick up the bone. "This has to weigh at least 8 oz."

Matt says the rib eye he had at Capital Grille was just as good, if not better, so I guess this one is a draw.

Another thing we noticed. People on either side of us sent their meat back. They had probably ordered "medium" as well, but thought it wasn't done enough. The couple to our left ordered their tenderloins and when they cut into them I saw their meat was mainly gray, hardly pink at all.

These people, I decide, are totally stupid and shouldn't even be allowed in a steakhouse. What an absolute waste of money. If you are that worried about undercooked steak you should stay at home and eat your microwaveable Hot Pockets. I don't know, it might be a Midwestern thing, people who always ordered everything "well-done".

Listen people, if you going to do something wrong, at least do it right. Live dangerously.

We decide that we are too full for dessert. Also, they don't have creme brulee on the menu. If they did, I would have ordered it and done another comparison. We just get coffee, which is also very good.

I walk out of there feeling very conflicted. It was good, but not great. It didn't dazzle me and I was expecting to be dazzled. I wonder if I hadn't gone to the other steakhouse would I have been as disappointed? I decide, that yes, I would still be disappointed. I expect for that price for everything to be outstanding, and I don't think that is asking too much. I had a preconceived idea of what a steakhouse should be like, and Manny's just didn't jive. It was very nice, but I can't see myself going back there, not when there are so many other places that are just as good if not better. For me, I only go to expensive restaurants for a special occasion, maybe 2-3 times a year, and I don't think it's asking to much to expect the total package: Outstanding service AND food AND a nice atmosphere. I care very much about my surroundings, everything from the tablecloth, to the stemware and dishes, to the lighting and music and general feeling that when you walk into this place and hand over your hard-earned money, you're going to get taken care of and given a couple of hours of enjoyable company and a memorable evening. It's not just about the food; it's everything.

We ended up spending a lot more coin at the Capital Grille, but felt we got our money's worth, and a better deal. Go figure.

But you don't have to take my word for it. I could be wrong.

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