Washington DC is the home of Government in the USA. As a result it has a number of restaurants where the Presidential staff, the congressional staff, the senior lobbyists and all the congressmen get wined and dined – at great expense. So when I visited Washington, a friend of mine insisted on taking me to one.
When it comes to feeding congressmen, there are a couple of places that fit the bill. We tried to book the Caucus Room, but it was closed for refurbishment. So we decided to go to the Capital Grille. This is part of a chain of restaurants – but a particularly plush one. When you eventually stagger out, filled with good food and drink, you get a great view up Capitol hill to the Capitol building: the big place with the dome that you’ve seen on all the postcards.
If you are a lobbyist, trying to get a congressman to see things in your way, this is the place to go. It is all oak panelling and very plush. And yet it is also very American: there is a large head of a bison behind the bar.
The place absolutely shouts money – but in a restrained way. It is designed to look like an exclusive gentlemen’s club. The carpets are very thick, the flooring around the bar is marble. When you sit down you are given huge steak knifes which must cost around $30 each and the table napkins are of the finest linen.
As in some private members clubs, where members have their own bottles of whiskey in a locker, this one also has lockers for the private supply. But this is obviously done in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. One of the lockers had the name of Frank Sinatra (the singer who died 18 years ago) and another had a brass plate with the name Strom Thurmond. Thurmond was probably the best known Senator in Washington: he lived to 100 and served in the senate for 48 years. But as he died in 2003, his name plate was probably an in-joke for the Washington crowd.
So what do you eat? Well naturally you eat steaks – and the very finest steaks that money can buy. But as we were splashing out, I decided to start my meal with half a dozen oysters. They were lovely little things – very fresh, juicy with a choice of toppings. I dressed mine with shallots and vinegar. I thought the horseraddish, which I was offered, would have killed the taste of the oysters. My wife had asparagus dripping with butter.
Oh, the bread was very good – crispy and incredibly fresh and yielding. It was quite perfect. In fact it was so good that we asked the waitress to take it away, lest it should ruin our dinner.
So how should I describe the steaks. They were wonderful. I ordered a ribeye with porcini mushrooms and balsamic vinegar. It had that lovely crust that you get when you fry a well aged steak in butter. And the meat was wonderfully – marbled with just a tiny bit of fat. And the meat hadn’t been trimmed, so I got to eat a slice of that full, rich fat, which is probably dreadful for cholesterol levels, but which tastes so good.
We ordered two bottles of Dutton Chardonnay – at $70 a bottle. We had brought two bottles of our own red wine. Normally we’d have expected to be charged for corkage – opening the wines – but when we looked at the bill we hadn’t been charged. And for dessert, I shared a superb creme brulee with my wife.
The meal costs $550 for four, which I have to admit is the most I have ever paid for a meal. If we had had four starters and four desserts (rather than sharing them), and bought all the wine at the restaurant and a rounded off with a decent brandy, the bill could easily have been $1000.