Comments & Curiosities: Salivating for upscale grille

How excited am I? Go ahead, ask me. No really, ask me. Just say, "How excited are you?" Who me? I'm glad you asked. On a scale of one-to-10, I'm a little past 18 and climbing. Why? Because we are finally getting our own Capital Grille, that's why.

This is huge. Do you remember The Clubhouse next to Bloomie's at South Coast Plaza? Forget that. It's a Capital Grille now.

If you don't know about The Capital Grille, which is a condition you need to fix immediately, you will soon. In fact, it opens its very stylish doors on Monday, and has already hosted a special event for the Festival of Children Foundation, a great organization that supports children's charities far and wide. If you haven't experienced The Capital Grille, I would call it an upscale "steak-chops-seafood-impeccable service-world class wine list-sumptuous décor" kind of place for short. It all started far away in Providence, R.I.. There are a number of them across the country and this is their second California location, the other being Beverly Hills, which is much closer than Providence.

I get to Washington, D.C. a lot, and that's where I cut my teeth, which is just an expression, on The Capital Grille. It isn't just the world-class steaks or the jaw-dropping wine list. For me, it's all about the service, and the service at The Capital Grille is what recovering foodies like myself always hope for but seldom find — friendly, knowledgeable and attentive, but never intrusive. By the way, The Capital Grille in Washington has the best server in the Western Hemisphere, Tom Stevens. If you ever get there, just mention my name and he'll ask you to leave. Do you know why the service at The Capital Grille at South Coast Plaza will be world-class from top to bottom? Because the managing partner is Chris Szechenyi, formerly the top cop at Five Crowns and now large-and-in-charge at The Capital Grille, which means the place will run smoother than a 12-cylinder Bentley on its way to pick up the Queen.

You'll like what they've done to the place. Talk about an extreme makeover — elegant but relaxed, warm and welcoming, a posh private club except it's not private. I'd call it a "rich mahogany and brass, sparkling crystal, Tiffany chandelier thing" with leather booths that a family of four could live in, no pets though.

Can we get to the menu please? Starving. The culinary Master Blaster at The Capital Grille is Executive Chef Derek Venutolo, formerly of 555 East American Steakhouse, and, boy, is he whipping up some things for you. You can kick things off with the lobster and crab cakes or The Capital Grille's star player — the pan-fried calamari with hot cherry peppers and scallions. Try it once and you will never look at a squid the same way again, not that you look at squid all that much.

The steaks? Good golly, Miss Molly, where does one begin? At The Capital Grille, one begins with their dry-aged steaks, which are the hand-carved, perfectly grilled stars of the show. Dry-aged steaks have less water weight (I get that on long flights) and really intense flavor, like you didn't know that. If I give you the entire roster of steaks I'll get light-headed, but here are just two for you to chew on — the Delmonico, a 22-ounce, bone-in ribeye that is a religious experience, and the Kona-crusted dry aged sirloin with caramelized shallot butter. Just give me a second; I'll be OK.

Wait. No, I'm good, let's keep going.

If things that swim in the sea are what float your boat, you can snag the grilled halibut with lemon shallot relish, the seared citrus glazed salmon or fresh Atlantic lobster that can duke it out — claw it out maybe — with any lobster you'll find in Bar Harbor, sorry, "Bah Hah-baa." The sides are also wicked good, with top billing going to — wait for it — lobster macaroni and cheese … a light and fluffy mac and cheese turbocharged with serious chunks of lobster.

The desserts will fulfill every sugar-filled fantasy you've ever had, including one that is so decadent it's illegal in five states — the flourless chocolate espresso cake … a dense rich chocolate marvel with a hint of espresso, fresh raspberries and Melba sauce. Sigh.

I think that's it. Dry-aged steaks and stellar seafood, lobster mac and cheese and a magical chocolate dream machine. It's all at the Capital Grille. And remember, if you turn the desserts on their side, all the calories fall out. Seriously, I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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