Wine and Wagyu: The Capital Grille’s perfect marriage
by Tyler Dean
What makes a perfect burger? The answer, inevitably, differs from person to person whether you’re discussing the variety of toppings to choose from—lettuce, tomato, bleu cheese, bacon—or the restaurant itself (I personally go out of my way past the McDonald’s and In-n-Out’s in my area, in favor of the sketchy Royal Donuts & Burgers – a good jaunt across town). For instance, what I personally believe it all comes down to is the patty; sure you can load up your burger with ranch and jalapenos, but what good is it if you’re trying to suck down a burnt puck? We’ve all been there: the frozen patties which have been kept at warm temperatures with the help of heat lamps or hot water; the yellow-dyed cheese squares that seep into porous sesame seed buns, gluing your burger together with steadfast stubbornness; a tribulation of sauce-of-the-week concoctions that turn what was an enjoyable meal into a race against time as the burger slowly steeps into an unrecognizable and unappetizing soup. Now, prepare yourselves, because what I’m about to reveal next may just be the game changer all of us foodies have been waiting for: I have found the perfect burger. And its name is Wagyu.
Hosting its second annual ‘Wagyu and Wine’ program, The Capital Grille, known for its dry-aged steaks and award-winning wine list, continues to outdo itself with the namesake of its program, the Wagyu burger. Sourced from specially bred Wagyu cattle from the Kobe region of Japan, the subsequently unique marbling of the meat promises an experience not yet had by this burger enthusiast. Lounging on a toasted brioche roll, topped with rich Havarti cheese, lettuce, crisp onions and, wait for it, a sunny-side up egg, the Wagyu sounds more like a breakfast entrée than an item you might entertain at a fine dining establishment. You would think.
My guest and I find our seats in the dim anonymity of a room oozing with perpetual class, swing and jazz, and the comfort of the waiting staff coming and going with practiced efficiency. As with any restaurant of mirth, a bread basket is brought to the table along with our wine to diverge our awaiting palates happily distracting the senses. Lifting the veil of the basket, I immediately gravitate towards what looks to be white bread topped with garlic and caramelized onions. Yes, it’s just bread. Yes, I’ve (quite willingly) borne the task of devouring basket upon basket of specially-arranged crackers, breads, and grains, while waiting for food in many a restaurant. But let me tell you, when I took that first bite, as innocuous as the concept might seem, there was a moment when I became very conscious of the degree of taste with which I’d be dealing with tonight. All of this to simply say that leveling a modest compliment this early in the game would be not only be to insult the efforts of the fine men and women of Capital Grille, but to you readers as well. It was that good.
A few minutes later our server returns with a gentleman carrying our burgers on two very hot plates (he had to use napkin towels to protect his hands). Taking the bread basket—an event which, I’m not ashamed to admit, was cause for brief mourning—the plates are set before us. Accompanying the burger, a side of Parmesan truffle fries sit stoically in a tin cup off to the side. What I like about them already is how they aren’t doused with grease the way you might find at, say, a lesser qualified restaurant. I take up the steak knife brought to the table earlier in the evening and begin to cut my burger in half, taking notice of the combined pressure of my hand and the knife having forced the egg to spill its yolk in a small pool at the base of the two halves. Whether it was the restaurant’s intention or not, I take this as a sign to utilize said spillage as a sort of buttery dipping sauce, and take my first bite.
Were I to describe the indescribable in that moment, I’m almost positive I would be talking about the Wagyu. The beef, cooked to medium rarity, danced a quasi can-can waltz along perforated taste buds; the Havarti, eggs, and onions a maelstrom of heavenly bliss, overtaking the music, even the presence of mind, if only briefly. We talked earlier about what makes a perfect burger, and I said it was the patty. Let me submit an alternative answer: it is when all the condiments, toppings, sauces, breads, and cheese come together to create a wholly new flavor that isn’t relegated to any one source but as a whole rises to a new plane of consciousness. You hear all the time about food being “mouth-watering” or “melting” on your palate, but once again the Wagyu supersedes all of this with food that not only melts but simmers eloquence. Not wanting to lose the momentum, I forgo the usual catsup and fries combination and opt instead for the olive aioli. Delicious. Not overbearing, but aware of itself in an unambiguous medley of garlic and other spices.
Unlocking these hidden flavors is the Wagyu’s dancing partner, the Silver Oak Cabernet. At the start of the evening, my guest and I were tasked with choosing between it and the Belle Glos “Dairyman”; I chose the former, while my guest chose the latter—coincidentally, this meant being able to compare the two. According to our server, the Silver Oak is highly regarded for its great depth, concentration of black plum, cassis liqueur, rose petals, nutmeg and sandalwood. The “Dairyman”, by contrast, is a super premium wine produced by the celebrated Caymus Vineyards featuring a bright, deep garnet, with aromas of cola, blackberries, and a sweet cedar note. To be quite honest, I’ve never been the strongest connoisseur when it comes to teasing out the complex intricacies of a wine’s text. To me, wine is wine, and I’m sure the sentiment is shared by many a restaurant and patron. But not Capital Grille; sipping at the seductively translucent Silver Oak after taking a bite of the Wagyu, the flavors compound into a concourse of oblivious clarity. The nutmeg and sandalwood tones are especially to blame here, enveloping the savory burger in an embrace that only soul mates could understand.
The “Dairyman”, in my opinion, had much more character than the Silver Oak, and certainly complimented the intricate blueprint of the Wagyu. Rather than compounding the flavors into a long-after-finished linger as its Cabernet counterpart, this Pinot Noir serves more as a brief, albeit refreshing, clearing of the palate between bites. However, being the glutton that I am, my love affair with the smoother and prolonged effect of the Silver Oak’s constitution was almost a given before I’d sat down to enjoy the meal.
Having successfully, if not without a little bit of regret, put the finishing touches on cleaning my plate (and that of my guest), Capital Grille was kind enough to delight us with small samplings of the flourless chocolate espresso cake—topped with powdered chocolate, and served alongside drizzled raspberry and mint sprig—and what could only be described as a crème brûlée cheesecake dipping its toes in a small pool of strawberry sauce. The perfect finish to a perfect meal.
Due to overwhelming positive guest feedback received from the introduction of ‘Wagyu and Wine’ last year, The Capital Grille has decided this year to bring the experience back. The ‘Wagyu and Wine’ program is an opportunity for the Capital Grille to showcase one of their most popular menu items, the Wagyu burger, with two of the most reputable wines in the world, Silver Oak Cabernet and Belle Glos “Dairyman” Pinot Noir, at the exceptional price of $25 until November 17th.
Routinely recognized by Wine Spectator magazine and receiving other top accolades, The Capital Grille has received the American Culinary Federation’s “Achievement of Excellence Award” and was voted a guest favorite on OpenTable’s “Best American Cuisine Winners – Top 50 Restaurant List,” with 10 locations filling out the list’s coveted 50 spots.
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