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Wednesday, December 18,2013

He ate: Reality bites

by Mark Nixon
Woody Allen famously said he hated reality, “but it’s still the best place to get a good steak.”

Alas, finding a good steak, reality-wise, can mean a long and disappointing journey. So many restaurants attempt to seal the deal one of three ways: With sheer bulk, by adding some unpronounceable glop to mask inferior meat or by concocting a menu that oozes over-promise.

To paraphrase another famous guy — Elvis — let’s have a little less conversation and a little more action.

So welcome to Capital Prime Steakhouse, where reality bites — in the best sense of the term.

While steak doesn’t top my list of favorite restaurant foods, on our first visit I ordered a rare 6-ounce filet mignon. Honestly, it’s one of the best steaks I’ve had in years, as good or better than those I’ve tasted in Las Vegas, a place known for great steaks.

There are seven different cuts of beefsteak on Capital Prime’s dinner menu, and if the filet mignon is any indication, all should be worth trying.

What I like best about Capital Prime is that, despite its name, there are some wonderful dishes that have nothing to do with beef. The Capital Shrimp appetizer arrives in an outsized martini glass. The shrimp is slightly crisped, then tossed with a spiced remoulade. Six of us tried it and all pronounced it various degrees of outstanding.

Another appetizer, Scallops Dynamite, was not as successful. The scallops were tender and not overdone, but they were covered in what was described as a spicy crab crust and basil drizzle. Those add-ons shroud the scallops’ natural, sweet flavor. High marks to presentation, however: The scallops were served in their own half-shells. It was eye candy. I’m surprised our server wasn’t humming a sea shanty when the dish docked at our table.

On to the salmon. I’m married to someone who thinks canned salmon is good.

She is married to someone who has only enjoyed salmon twice — both times in Alaska. I never order salmon in these parts, but I tasted a bite of Cedar Planked Salmon (billed as fresh caught Nova Scotia salmon) ordered by one of our dining companions. I considered it excellent — so make it three times in my life that I’ve enjoyed salmon.

On separate visits, we tried seafood chowder (not your typical New England clam chowder but a broth-based version) served piping hot. Not the best I’ve tasted — that distinction goes to a little cafe in Labrador — but still several notches above what’s found in local restaurants.

High marks also go to the calamari; tender and delicate, far removed from the rubber band texture so prevalent in restaurant calamari.

I found the best seafood to be the plump and tender Coconut Curry Mussels. Harvested off Prince Edward Island, they rank up right up there with the great mussels I’ve eaten in Belgium and Nova Scotia.

On two visits, six of us ate chicken, beef and various seafood dishes. The compliments were plentiful, the complaints minimal. For instance, my Michigan lake perch was supposed to come with pommes frites but didn’t. To be fair, I didn’t bother to ask the server since I was already getting full.

If there are downsides to Capital Prime, they are location and price. The restaurant is parked in the “backyard” of Eastwood Towne Center near an unfinished parking ramp. You have to look for the restaurant, set some distance from Eastwood’s bustling hub. As one dinner companion put it, the place has “no sense of place.”

And if you’re on a restrictive budget, be advised that dinner entrées aren’t cheap. My filet mignon was $23.50. Most appetizers are in the $10-$13 range. Dinner for two with drinks and an appetizer will run about $100, comparable to some of the very high-end restaurants in Greater Lansing.

I believe the quality of the ingredients and the care in preparation make the prices reasonable. But, let your wallet be your guide.

For those who imbibe, let me recommend a First Kiss. This cocktail is made with St. Germain, a liqueur distilled using elderflowers. It is one of the most evocative tastes to reach my lips in a long time.

I won’t elucidate precisely what the taste of St. Germain evokes. Let’s just say saintliness doesn’t come to mind.

I’m putting St. Germain on my Christmas list, but if I’m naughty and Santa isn’t nice, I’m going back to Capital Prime for a second First Kiss.

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