“Restaurant Week” promotions are becoming increasingly popular throughout the Philadelphia and surrounding regions as a way to draw dining customers in to sample different restaurants at discounted prices. I’ve written in the past about my mixed feelings for Philadelphia’s Restaurant Week, so I haven’t made it a point in the past to try the South Jersey Hot Chefs or Collingswood versions. But yesterday I had the chance to sample some of the menu items for Cherry Hill Mall’s first-ever Restaurant Week at one of their participating restaurants: The Capital Grille. All in all it was a lovely experience and I enjoyed just about everything I tasted.
All nine of the full service restaurants at the Cherry Hill Mall will be participating in this Restaurant Week event, to take place July 14-20. What I like about their format versus some other RWs is that each restaurant is offering a different deal, at a different price point to suit its menu and general theme. For instance, Bahama Breeze is offering a 3-course menu for $20 at both lunch and dinner; Bobby’s Burger Palace is doing any burger, fries and fountain drink for $12; Maggiano’s Little Italy has “Marco’s Meal for Two” for $39.95. At The Capital Grille, they’re presenting a three-course menu that’s $18 per guest at lunchtime and $35 at dinner. These were some of the menu items we had the chance to sample and also watch being prepared as Executive Chef Kevin Kramer offered cooking demonstrations during the tasting event.
The atmosphere at The Capital Grille is classic old school steakhouse: dark wood, leather seats, white tablecloths, oil paintings and jacketed waitservice all combine to make you feel like a corporate bigwig. An open kitchen is the centerpiece in the main dining room where the chefs prepare steaks dry-aged on the premises (we were able to take a glimpse into their aging room and it’s an drool-worthy sight indeed for any meat-lover!)
Our tasting began with several of the Restaurant Week lunch items, and starters offered both for lunch and dinner: Clam Chowder, Field Green Salad with Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs, Seared Sea Scallops with Sweet and Sour Tomatoes and Lobster Roll with Parmesan Truffle Fries. The Clam Chowder was thick, rich and creamy with plenty of chunks of clam meat to be found; I would likely choose that for my starter if I was dining here for Restaurant Week over the salad, which was fine but not especially noteworthy.
The Lobster Roll with Parmesan Truffle Fries would definitely be my lunch entree of choice – it’s pure decadence on a plate. Sweet lobster meat on a buttered, toasted roll, not too heavy on the mayo and with a lovely crunch from the celery and greens. Oh, and those fries! Crunchy, salty, perfectly cut to be still soft on the inside…I think I was dreaming of that dish last night.
If you insist on eating lighter and more “healthy”, the Sea Scallops would be a fine choice. It’s a beautiful summery plate served over large pearl couscous. I’m not always a fan of cherry tomatoes but enjoyed the sweet and sour vinaigrette that gave the dish a tart and refreshing note; my dining companion found it maybe a touch vinegary for his tastes but I like things more sour than sweet in general.
Chef Kevin Kramer gave us a demonstration at this point on how to get the best sear on your scallops at home – something that can be no small challenge for home or restaurant chefs (just watch any episode of “Hell’s Kitchen”!) Some of the pointers he mentioned were to make sure the scallops were thoroughly dried before searing, and NOT seasoning them until after cooking (salting them first would draw out their moisture). Having a very hot pan is critical as well, and not overcooking them, as you might be tempted to do.
After a brief break to digest (and maybe grab an extra tasting plate or two of anything we wanted a second bite of), it was time to sample one of The Capital Grille’s most popular and signature dishes, which is on their dinner menu for Restaurant Week: the Kona Crusted Dry Aged Sirloin with Shallot Butter. This is a fine steak, indeed – the aging really impacts the texture of the steak in a way you just can’t experience otherwise. Whether the Kona crusting and shallot butter works for you or not may be a matter of preference; my companion adored it (and made sure to reiterate that he’d love for me to try making some of that roasted shallot butter at home). I enjoyed the shallot butter myself and my only complaint was the first taste of the Kona crust to me had a slight “burnt”-note to it that was a little strong. But I also like my steak a bit more on the rare side than was served to us for the tasting so that might have been my issue more than anything else.
My sweetie certainly had no complaints.
We lingered over our taste of the house-made ice cream and Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake (yum) and had the chance to talk with some of the other Jersey-area bloggers and media in attendance. All in all I felt the atmosphere was very positive, and many of us were really encouraged to see this kind of event – and this level of food – in Cherry Hill (and at a mall, no less, which for many years has suffered from a bit of an image crisis.) While my preference generally goes toward independent restaurants over chains, the ones at the Cherry Hill Mall are certainly some of the better quality American chains out there, ones which have expanded slowly and offer food that doesn’t taste manufactured, pre-made and churned out in a factory instead of a kitchen. (I’ve previously written about my good experiences at Seasons 52 in the Mall.) I’m hoping to go back to The Capital Grille at some point this summer for their Generous Pour promotion and to try more of their menu offerings now that I’ve had the chance to taste what they offer.
Cherry Hill Mall Restaurant Week will take place July 14-20, 2013. You can find more information including participating restaurants and menus on the Cherry Hill Mall website.