The restaurant's steak tartare stacks capers, onions, diced egg, and chopped filet mignon.
I was 18 years old when I first ate steak tartare, sitting with my sisters on a park bench in Paris. We frequently ate impromptu picnics that summer (they were cheaper than restaurants), but the steak tartare on crusty bread still tasted deliciously grown up, even when eaten over a brown paper wrapping.
Granted, I was no stranger to raw egg or raw beef. My father often cracked open an egg in a glass of milk, and when he swallowed, I could watch the egg slip over his Adam’s apple. While I was never brave enough to try his raw-egg drink, I relished hamburger night and a taste of raw chopped beef, salted and rolled into a bite-sized ball.
So why did steak tartare, a workhorse of mid-century menus, fall from grace with modern day foodies? And, even more curious to me, why did I wait four decades to eat steak tartare again?
I’m sure the explanations are myriad (fusion cuisine, food safety paranoia, lightened-up veggie fare), but no matter. The Capital Grille, which opened a location in East Memphis earlier this month, serves a signature interpretation that earned a place on my annual top-10 list after the very first bite.
Hearty enough to serve as an entrée, the tartare at the Capital Grille is a three-tier stack of minced onions and capers, diced hard-boiled egg, and a patty of chopped filet mignon. A truffle deviled egg and pickled red onion join the party, along with four slices of grilled sourdough and a stem of fresh cilantro.
A first-time visitor to the upscale chain, I was also impressed with the skill and knowledge of our server, Joya Roy. “Try a Stoli Doli,” she suggested, explaining the house martini made with pineapple-infused vodka. We complied and liked the drink’s cheerful sunshine taste.
We spent two more hours at the Capital Grille, working our way through pan-fried calamari tossed with cherry peppers and house garlic butter, seared sesame tuna with three different dipping sauces and gingered rice, a bone-in Kona sirloin, a side of potatoes au gratin, and a delicious coconut cream tart made with a shortbread cookie crust.
The food at Capital Grille is expensive, but for special occasions, why not eat with abandon? I did just that, carrying home portions of everything I ordered, except for the steak tartare. For that dish, I cleaned my plate.
The Capital Grille, 6065 Poplar Ave. (901-683-9291)