On Thanksgiving Day, 2013 I had the opportunity to eat a holiday dinner with my family at the recently opened Capital Grille in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. This high-end chain steakhouse has locations in more than 20 American states.
Prior to arriving at The Capital Grille, I went to their web site so I could get an idea of what to expect when we got there. Since it was the night before Thanksgiving when I went to the web site, a promo for their special Thanksgiving turkey dinner was in the foreground on the site’s home page.
A nice closeup photograph of the special turkey dinner looked appetizing enough but right away I noticed that there were no mashed potatoes on the plate. When I saw there were no mashed potatoes included, I figured it must have been an oversight. After all, who ever heard of a Thanksgiving turkey dinner that did not include mashed potatoes?
When I called the restaurant I was amazed when I heard the prices charged for the various menu items. Although I have worked as a cook at several high-end restaurants that feature expensive dinners, I was amazed by the high prices that were on the menu at The Capital Grille. As soon as I heard the prices, I thought of the high-priced Morton’s Steakhouse chain of restaurants and figured that the two chains were similar in format and pricing. The price per entree for the Thanksgiving turkey dinner was more than $30.
When we arrived at the Capital Grille in downtown Hartford, valet parking was offered to customers. The curbside attendants were eager to assist us and they were quite friendly.
Upon entering the restaurant, the first thing I saw was the large and very tall selection of wine bottles that were available for patrons to enjoy. The lighting was fairly subdued and the atmosphere was formal. For the most part, the staff members seemed friendly and greeted our party as we entered and when we sat down at the designated long dining table.
It should be noted that the service at The Capital Grille was very good. The table bussers and servers were working hard and they were also friendly.
Shortly after being seated our party was served a basket full of rolls along with a small container of butter. Breads are one of my favorite foods and I usually consider a restaurant’s bread offerings to be an integral part and often a barometer of the overall dining experience.
As soon as I bit into the roundish brown dinner roll I selected from the basket, I thought the outer crust seemed too hard. Previously, I had eaten similar rolls and they were always softer than the one I selected. Normally I eat two or three rolls when I’m dining at a restaurant. At our Thanksgiving meal at The Capital Grille, I didn’t even finish eating that first dinner roll.
Almost everyone in our party ordered the special Thanksgiving turkey dinner. My nephew decided he would rather eat their roast chicken option instead. After having an appropriate amount of time to talk and share a couple of appetizers, our meals were served.
The long oval plate on which the turkey dinner was served looked awfully barren for a Thanksgiving dinner plate. There were six fairly thick slices of turkey laid on the plate along with some brioche stuffing and a small amount of a cranberry chutney. There were no mashed potatoes, or turnips or green bean casserole or sweet potatoes.
Side dishes are often my favorite part of a meal and I was eager to try the side dishes produced by the kitchen at Capital Grille. Fortunately, my sister and brother in law orchestrated the ordering of side dishes for our entire party to share. Among the side dishes ordered were mashed potatoes.
The side dishes and the gravy were passed around the table and right away I noticed that the color of the gravy looked unusual. To me, the gravy possessed more of a yellowish hue than I’d ever seen with turkey gravy before. Unfortunately, the gravy did not offer very much in the way of flavor.
Several side dishes to share were ordered for our party. Among them were the aforementioned mashed potatoes, au gratin potatoes, creamed corn with smoked bacon and asparagus spears.
From a veteran restaurant cook and avid eater’s point of view, I was largely disappointed with the side dishes. The au gratin potatoes lacked a balance of flavors and seemed too funky-cheesy to me. The creamed corn with smoked bacon possessed a wonderful flavor but seemed almost watery in consistency.
The mashed potatoes that I had been pining for let me down. Mashed potatoes are something I know a thing or two about. From eating great spuds at home and at Grandma’s as a kid to being the cook responsible for cooking and preparing a huge pot of mashed potatoes every day at an upscale French restaurant for a year, I have lots of experience with fluffy white potatoes.
The mashed red bliss potatoes were not blissful to my tastebuds. They were lumpy and not very flavorful. From a cook’s point of view, it seemed ludicrous to me that the kitchen at a high end restaurant would think the mashed potatoes were up to snuff.
On the plus side, the turkey meat was quite good, the creamed corn with smoked bacon was a little thin but delicious and the asparagus spears featured a delightful lemony flavor. The small portion of chutney that was served in place of cranberry sauce was also quite tasty.
Having eaten approximately one-half of my turkey dinner, I decided to take the other half home in a to-go container. My nephew, who had ordered the chicken entree, also decided to bring home the uneaten portion of his dinner.
The following day when I took the cardboard to-go box out of my refrigerator to reheat the contents, I noticed that the remainder of my nephew’s chicken dinner was sitting in the box, instead of the remains of my turkey dinner. Strange thing is, the box was marked ‘Turkey’ in blue ink. C’est la vie.
Great customer service and an attractive yet somewhat clubby and refined environment are offered at The Capital Grille on the all-new Front Street in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. An expansive bar area and tastefully decorated restrooms are also present. While I was less than impressed with the Thanksgiving turkey dinner offered there, I believe that at least two meals should be eaten at a restaurant before determining how good or bad the establishment is.
For what it’s worth, I was not the only member of our party who was less than impressed with the overall dining experience provided at the Capital Grille.
Through my years of experience as a restaurant cook, I am aware that special holiday meals can be daunting, especially for a relatively new establishment. But for a restaurant that maintains a reputation of excellence, I really did expect to have a better dining experience.
Personal experience with dining at The Capital Grille