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Enveloped in the rich aroma of a simmering demi-glace of red wine and veal bones, a reporter got a tour of the kitchen at Capi's by third-generation restaurateur Capi Peck. She described it as small, but it looked big to the reporter — or maybe it was just the rich alchemy going on within.
Just moments before, executive sous chef Ryan Landry had presented Peck with a concoction he's working on for Valentine's Day: a savory disc of pesto and custard, glistening with olive oil, for two. Peck took a couple of forkfuls and shook her head in happy agreement. She might add a few finely chopped nuts. She's thinking about it.
The salad the reporter had just knocked back used a miso vinaigrette, which didn't sound tempting at first, but which in fact turned out to be delicious. Diners have been trusting Peck's culinary instincts for 28 years, since she opened Trio's in September 1986. Trio's, this year's winner of the Best Overall title in our Readers Choice contest, has been many things — from deli to full-service restaurant — and gotten the full attention of the third generation restaurateur and her business partner (and amicably-ex-husband) Brent Peterson. Capi's, in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center on Cantrell, is her first reach outside Trio's kitchen in Pavilion in the Park (the couple did franchise Trio's in the 1980s, but the first and only taker didn't make it). Partners in the Capi's enterprise are Stephanie Caruthers and McCreight, long-time employees at Trio's.
Fortunately, she said, Trio's and Capi's are only minutes apart on the same thoroughfare, so she can zip from one to the other. “If I learned anything from my grandfather,” hotelier Sam Peck, “it was the owner has to be there,” she said. (She also works from her home, located in between, off — what else — Sam Peck Road.)
Peck said, quite seriously, that it was leasing agent for the space Capi's occupies who “talked us into” opening the new restaurant. The restaurant Imagine was located there previously. John Magee, a fan of Trio's, was so determined to persuade Peck and Peterson to open a new restaurant in the space that he personally knocked down the interior walls, brought in a player piano and invited them in for martinis. It was Magee's idea, Peck said, to use the giant debarked post oak (named “Stella” for its Latin name, Quercus stellata) in the center of the restaurant to add character (and hide a support structure). He also made the chandeliers. How many leasing agents go that far?
Capi's is what Peck calls a “snackatorium,” a tapas restaurant featuring a little of this and a little of that so people can try a number of various dishes. (The reporter's salad, however, was the size of a tea tray; Peck breaks the tapas rule at lunch.) From the After Five menu you can order a four-ounce tenderloin filet ($12) and combine it with sea scallops ($11) or maybe the truffled pot pie ($10) and your tab will come in at $22 or $23. There are cheaper tapas — the mac and cheese for 2 is $4, the wild mushroom risotto and the fried green tomatoes are $4.50 and the Catalan spinach (with golden raisins and toasted pine nuts) is $3, etc. Peck has 700 recipes up her sleeve, both old (like the famous bing cherry jello mold from the Sam Peck) and new (she's developing a sweet potato tamale and short rib entree right now), and she's a firm believer in good desserts. Brother Tony makes them, and if you're eating tapas-style, you could just have a little bit of entrée or salad and then dive right in to the ginger cake, as this reporter did.
Capi's has enjoyed “a lot of buzz from the get-go,” Peck said. She said the lunch business could be better, but that the restaurant business as a whole, thanks to the current economic stew, is more challenging than it's been in two decades. But amazingly energetic and surrounded by employees who have been with her for 15 years or more, Peck exudes confidence. “There couldn't be a better job than feeding people,” she said.
11525 Cantrell Road
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., bar open until 11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.