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New Bar Menu at The Capital Grille

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With more than forty locations across the country, The Capital Grille is a fine-dining locale catering predominantly to a well dressed, well mannered business crowd. Houston's Galleria location fills up nightly with pretty people stopping by after work for a drink or a salad or a steak. Lest its reputation precede it, The Capital Grille is not at all ready to be pigeonholed by the expense account mentality. So the logical thing to do is update the menu and price list. And update they did.

Last week I stopped by The Capital Grille for a media dinner as they introduced their new bar menu -- a lower key, more reasonably priced list of quick service items. And while no one should mistake the new menu for "cheap," the portions are large and the quality high; they are small plates ideal for sharing. The list of nine is served every day, but you can only enjoy it in the actual bar area. And while the bar is a little too dark for my taste, the creative cocktail list, new bar menu, and outgoing waitstaff make it an enjoyable spot for a small group venture after work.

And now onto the food. The bar menu offers updated versions of classic preparations. The shrimp dish, for example, is served chilled and tossed in a light ginger and mustard vinaigrette. It is neither the standard chilled shrimp cocktail, nor the standard grilled shrimp, but a next-generation alternative. Lamb chop lollipops sing with flavor, but not quite as much as the outstanding grilled prosciutto and mozzarella mini sandwiches. Better still, the mini lobster and crab burgers, which come three to an order, are a welcome variation of the ubiquitous slider. The patties are basically crab-cake-plus-lobster, lightly grilled to spotlight the flavor of the shellfish -- delicious. But the menu's clear highlight is the mini beef tenderloin sandwich. The thick slice of tenderloin, cooked to order, arrives with a stash of grilled mushrooms on a lightly toasted egg bun. While this one also comes three to an order, you and a partner might come to blows over who gets the extra sammich.

Really, the only things not entirely worth the effort are the pan-fried calamari and seared ahi tuna. While both are prepared fine enough -- cooked in the lightest fashion -- they are tired menu items past their primes. And they're the only two items on the list without some kind of twist. Otherwise, the new bar menu makes The Capital Grill plenty worthy of a visit, no expense account needed.

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