What Really Makes The Capital Grille Steaks So Delicious?

Starting as a standalone restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island in 1990, The Capital Grille has since turned into a chain of upscale steakhouses spread across more than 70 U.S. locations. An acquisition by Darden Restaurants in 2007 (which also owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse) helped expand the restaurant and keep it at the top of steakhouse chains in America. But what makes The Capital Grille special enough to garner so much praise and relatively little criticism? It's the steaks of course, which are sourced, prepared, and cooked to perfection, paired with top-notch sides and wines, and delivered to guests on a platter much like a piece of art.

The Capital Grille certainly qualifies as a fine dining establishment, with award-winning wines, tender and juicy steak filets, and a sophisticated atmosphere to match. It attracts a certain crowd and keeps them rooted to their spots throughout the meal by providing an incredible dining experience.

We spoke to chef Michael LaDuke, Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef at The Capital Grille to get his expert insight on how the steakhouse chain delivers high-quality steaks while maintaining consistent quality. Here's what he had to say.

It dry ages its steaks

Enjoying the perfect melt-in-your-mouth steak on your plate starts long before you enter the restaurant — 18-24 days prior, in fact, says LaDuke. Steaks at The Capital Grille locations first go through a procedure known as dry aging, which requires that steak is stored in a cold environment with plenty of air circulation. This helps to concentrate the beef's flavor. According to a 2016 paper published in the Journal of Animal Science and Technology, dry aging also kicks off a chemical process that lends each cut a tender bite, enhanced by an intensely beefy and nutty flavor. They take the dry-aged steaks seriously at The Capital Grille, where the meat cabinets are kept near the restaurant's in-house butchers who will hand carve each cut.

The restaurant didn't come up with its unique dry aging process overnight, LaDuke tells Mashed. "We have taken time to test various lengths of aging to create the most exceptional dining experience for our guests and found that to maximize the flavor and to get the best texture, the perfect length of time is 18-24 days," he says. "We have a temperature and humidity-controlled dry age room in every Capital Grille where our in-house butcher cuts and dry ages our steaks, leading to optimum tenderness and maximum flavor. The key to the dry age room is keeping it at 34-38 degrees and approximately 75% humidity. If the room is too cold or too humid, the meat won't age properly." 

It uses high-quality USDA-grade beef

There's a reason so many of us rush to steakhouses to get our meat fix: it's all too easy to ruin an expensive steak cut at home. That's a big part of why steak restaurants don't play around with the quality of beef, sparing no expense with the meat's grades. So, it makes sense that The Capital Grille sources only USDA-grade Prime and Certified Angus beef for their steaks, according to LaDuke. The USDA recommends Prime beef for steaks, particularly due to its origin from young and well-fed beef cattle, which produces plenty of marbling and is best cooked dry-aged, broiled, and grilled.  

Addressing how The Capital Grille keeps its meat's piquant taste intact across all locations, LaDuke says, "We spend countless hours ensuring that only the highest quality beef gets to our restaurants so that everyone starts with great steaks. Each restaurant has an in-house butcher who is dedicated to the craft of aging and carving steaks to ensure unparalleled flavor and tenderness." 

Since the formula is the same for all of the restaurant's locations, it's no surprise the final product rarely fluctuates in quality. According to LaDuke, "the Executive Chef Partner focuses on delivering a consistent, exceptional dining experience for our guests, through training and inspiring the team to create expertly prepared dishes each and every night." 

The steaks are paired with intense seasonings and indulgent sauces

Most steaks can hold their own just by being cooked at the right temperature, but the right seasoning and sauce pairings can enhance their flavors tenfold. Chefs at The Capital Grille understand this formula and combine their steaks with a proprietary spice blend that enhances the beef's natural savory taste, says LaDuke. Although he wasn't at liberty to disclose the restaurant's signature spice blend to us, he shared the chefs' technique to finish steaks before serving, which involves a combination of butter and beef tallow. The tallow is ideal for creating the signature outer crust the restaurant's steaks are known for, as this fat's high smoke point of 420 degrees is perfect for searing steaks and lending the cuts an added beefy flavor.

When asked about popular steak pairings, LaDuke says, "At The Capital Grille, we often pair the classics like shallots, onions, and mushrooms, but we work with other combinations to either compliment or contrast the great flavors of our steaks, too. Our Gorgonzola-Crusted Dry Aged NY Strip with Cherry Cabernet Reduction is an example of a range of flavors that creates an exciting experience." Other favorite steaks among customers are from the restaurant's Chef's Suggestion menu, which features tender steak cuts served with flavor-enhancing ingredients, such as the filet mignon with cipollini onions, wild mushrooms, and fig essence, the Kona coffee-crusted NY Strip with shallot butter, and the seared tenderloin with butter-poached lobster tails.

Each steak is prepared uniquely

Steak enthusiasts will know how unique each cut is, with flavors that depend on the part of the animal they were taken from, marbling, the ratio of muscle to tissue, the animal's age, and how it was fed. Whether it's  fatty ribeye, beefy sirloin, or tender filet, chefs at The Capital Grille cook and pair each steak in ways that will enhance the overall taste and mouthfeel. Chef LaDuke sheds light on how the restaurant makes its steak cuts distinct: "We select the preparation of each steak based on the flavor and tenderness of the cut being used to capitalize on the natural flavors. Take our Porcini Rubbed Bone-In Ribeye, for example, where we add big flavors to a well-marbled ribeye to balance out and accentuate the bold, natural flavors."

Another way you can experience the diverse flavors of each steak is by ordering them cooked a certain way. Fans of a tender cut should order steak au poivre, a French technique in which chefs coat filet mignon in peppercorns and sear it on high heat, creating a tender interior with a crunchy outer crust. Or simply ask servers to prepare your steak how the chef likes it, which is bound to have you smacking your lips with the result!

Chefs use the freshest ingredients

No matter where you're dining, fresh food can make or break the experience. The Capital Grille takes its fine dining image seriously, promising high-quality and fresh ingredients in its recipes, a commitment you can see mirrored in its dishes and ethos. So, before the meat is dry aged, it is sourced from top ranchers in the U.S., such as the chain's American Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms in Idaho. The Capital Grille isn't shy about sharing its special beef with consumers either, as is evident from their venture, The Capital Butcher, where anyone can order grille boxes of cuts like filet mignon, NY strip, Prime ribeye, or custom cuts, all accompanied by the chain's signature steak sauce.

Moreover, fresh seafood is a staple at The Capital Grille, where it is much loved by guests who claim to specifically come there for the seafood. There, you can enjoy succulent lobsters and crabs, juicy salmon, and sea bass and tuna (depending on location). The restaurant also aims to offer vegan and vegetarian options to its guests at every location. Guests can simply request any soup, salad, appetizer, or side dish to be prepared according to their specific dietary needs, and the staff will ensure that the chef makes them accordingly.

Temperature control is crucial

Just like each cut of beef is prepared uniquely at The Capital Grille, each is also cooked and seared at a particular temperature to lock in the meat juices and seal the outer crust. Custom flame broilers in the steakhouse generate 1200-1800 degrees of heat, allowing the meat to become charred and gain tasting notes of sweet and savory, all thanks to the Maillard reaction that can help to give steaks a perfect finish each time. LaDuke notes that careful attention to the unique properties of each cut is key, saying, "Steak temperature is really a personal preference, but steaks that are well marbled and cooked too rare will not deliver on the full flavor benefit of the cut. My personal favorite cut is a ribeye and I prefer it cooked medium rare to medium, depending on the thickness."

After the high heat has grilled the steak properly, it's moved to a cooler part of the broiler to avoid burning. There, it will finish cooking to the guests' desired level of doneness, a process that is overseen by the restaurant's dedicated broiler cooks. This complex process of maintaining temperatures to produce the perfect steak is something chefs at The Capital Grille have spent countless hours perfecting.

The Capital Grille's chefs bring real expertise to the table

Maybe the Capital Grille chefs should form a band — because they can cook up some serious hits! The restaurant prides itself in its dedication to delivering quality steaks, a task that's upheld by its expert chefs. LaDuke himself bears 30 years of restaurant experience and now oversees the chain's overall menu development and operations. Other Executive Chefs at The Capital Grille's locations bear similar accolades and are committed to maintaining exceptional experiences by delivering the restaurant's signature flavors.

Aside from head chefs crafting the meal's execution, The Capital Grille employs other trained experts to oversee every part of the dining process. These include in-house butchers carving steaks, a saute/broiler cook who finishes the steaks, master sommeliers arranging wine tastings, and pastry chefs doling out desserts after every meal. In short, The Capital Grille experts cover every facet of your dining event to make it unforgettable. Your meal is the result of a true team effort that takes a village and speaks of the chain's devotion to guests. As LaDuke says,"Taking the extra time to provide expertly prepared steaks by an in-house butcher is rarely seen in other restaurants, but is part of what makes our guests' experience special."

Award-winning drink pairings enhance the steak's flavors

Nothing screams fine dining more than a steak and wine pairing, and The Capital Grille doesn't disappoint on this front either. The chain's locations house impressive displays holding acclaimed world-class wines, with nearly 350 selections and an inventory of 8,000, all curated by an Advanced Sommelier. Some selections on the wine list are much sought after by wine enthusiasts around the world. 

You can also enjoy the flavors of these wines fused with your meal as steak sauces that include a cherry cabernet reduction, an aged sherry sauce served on lobster bisque, and a Champagne vinaigrette on salads. Since 2006, the restaurant has also garnered Wine Spectator awards for its wine list.

Fans of The Capital Grille's wines are also treated to a wine tasting every summer, known as The Generous Pour. The experience typically lasts from July to September and presents guests with up to seven world-class wines for a mere $35 (at the time of writing). If you're not sure which wines to try with your meal, The Capital Grille staff can recommend the perfect pairing to make your steak flavors stand out. The wines are sourced from illustrious wine regions in France and California's Napa Valley, among other locations, and include Old and New World selections that expose guests to a variety of flavors that complement the bold taste of their steaks.

Steaks are enhanced by indulgent sides

Steak may take center stage at The Capital Grille, but the restaurant doesn't hold back with its sides, either. Combinations of pasta, burgers, seafood, and fresh vegetables come together to whet your appetite for the upcoming steaks, or to fill you up on their own. Some customer-favorite mentions include the Lobster Mac n Cheese, a creamy blend of rich cheese sauce packed into an al dente pasta with buttery, poached lobster, their heavenly Soy Glazed Brussels Sprouts with smoked bacon, Lobster and Crab Cakes with tartar sauce and a vibrant corn and onion salsa, and the creamy Lobster Bisque with an aged sherry drizzle, to name a few. If descriptions alone bring water to your mouth, you're not alone, as customers rave about these sides in their reviews, praising their generous portions and the fresh seafood fare that accompanies them.

The Capital Grille is also known to occasionally have a selection of secret sides that you can ask for — just be sure to stay updated via the chain's social media. The secret menu also lets you experiment with your steak's size, like with a 30-ounce bone-in Tomahawk steak prepared on request at certain locations. Both the regular and secret menus are a testament to the culinary team's dedication to experimenting with newer and bolder ingredients to deliver unmatched flavors.

Restaurant ambiance sets the scene for exceptional steaks

What started as a standalone restaurant in Rhode Island is now a chain with quite a few locations scattered across the country, which is no small feat for a steakhouse chain. The Capital Grille seems to have done this with a compelling combination of excellent steaks, thoughtful customer service, and a dining atmosphere that doesn't make you want to leave. Upon entering, you'll find that each restaurant has chic, low-lit interiors with mahogany wood detailing and Art Deco-inspired chandeliers that set the mood for a sophisticated evening ahead. The architecture doesn't hide what the restaurant serves either, with dry age cabinets that put hanging meat on display, while glassed-in closets often display the location's massive wine collection. With all that, it's no surprise that guests expect an exceptional fine dining meal even before they've sat down.

However, the interior isn't everything, as you need to attract a crowd before they can slice into the steaks and be transported to carnivorous heaven. With locations like those in Washington, D.C. not far from the Capitol Building, in the Chrysler Building's Trylon Towers in NYC, the historic Equitable Building on Wall Street (which includes a converted bank vault), and in Las Vegas facing the Strip, The Capital Grille's restaurant locations attract a crowd that can appreciate a good steak and spread the word about their fine night out in the right circles.

It offers diners an experience to remember

From the moment you enter The Capital Grille until you leave, one experience trumps all others: hospitality. Each attentive server takes into consideration guests' dietary needs, special requests, and additional concerns. A TripAdvisor reviewer simply couldn't stop raving about how the restaurant made their anniversary special with its great service in addition to the impeccable food. It's hard not to appreciate a place that puts in a genuine effort into service as much as the food. Chef LaDuke noted that this care is part of the kitchen side, too, stating "There is a lot of time and energy invested to make the perfect dry-aged steak. This is one of the ways we deliver a world-class dining experience to our guests."

On the restaurant's vision for the future, LaDuke says, "We continue to focus on great quality beef and excellent execution, paired with our iconic sides and world class wine list to deliver exceptional experiences."