"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
We kept thinking of all these sports analogies after trying to digest our recent experience at Capriccio Italian Steakhouse in the Peabody Hotel.
We could almost hear Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy crying to Rod Steiger, “I coulda been a contender …”
Oh, this meal had all the potential to be truly great, then just went to all heck at the most important time: the entrees.
We started thinking of it in terms of sports because one of our three dining companions was a one-time football star, and he saw this night out at a ritzy-looking restaurant as playing a really outstanding game for three quarters, only to see it fall apart in the fourth quarter and, ultimately, go down as a loss. It’s like the Razorback homer analyst who once described a Hog blowout basketball defeat by saying that if the other team “hadn’t had that 21-2 run, Arkansas would have been in the game.”
Well, if we could have gotten up from our salads and taken a spin around town and returned for dessert, Capriccio would have been an all-star performance. We’d have been raving to friends for days, because everything about the setup was just right: a comfortable pre-meal stop at the Peabody’s cozy, cool bar across the lobby from Capriccio, a superlative soup, splendid salads. Service was fairly attentive — not top-quality for the surroundings, but we weren’t deserted either.
But if the kitchen boss was a coach, he’d have made the person in charge of the entrees that night do up-downs for hours, followed by wind sprints, then traded him.
Capriccio doesn’t have to be this way, and that’s why we offer this criticism in a most constructive way. We’ll certainly try it again, especially at lunch when they offer a filling create-your-own pasta special and other dishes we’ve enjoyed in the past. When you can get three-fourths of the meal out at the level to which you aspire, there’s no reason for the main courses to be so far out of line. Not at these prices.
Our tab for four ran $277 before tip. That included one of the more reasonably priced wines on the list, a Rodney Strong zinfandel as subtle as an Oregon pinot noir and suited our table’s wide-ranging tastes in food. It included one appetizer, a soup and three salads, four entrees ranging from $25 to $40, and five of those $2.95 “shooter” desserts that the Peabody introduced a couple of years back and really are a good bargain. Driven to drink at entree time, though, we added two more glasses of wine to our mounting tab, including a $12 Sterling cabernet sauvignon, which suited a Capriccio steak splendidly.
So, here are the gory details:
Our waiter all but screamed “Only order the steaks,” but we just didn’t follow his lead. No, we wanted to give the seafood a look, and some of the pasta a taste as well. And truth be told, had we ordered steaks all around, things might have been OK.
But we didn’t. Still, should a restaurant that advertises itself offering such quality, and in the Peabody, no less, not excel across the board?
The menu says the steaks are hand-cut and shipped fresh from Chicago. So, we chose the hefty bone-in ribeye, the first steak on the list, Capriccio’s signature offering. It was fine. It could have been served sizzling, perhaps on a hot metal plate, but it came out only warm, though cooked exactly as ordered (medium rare), and fell far short of say, Chicago’s Gene and Georgetti’s Italian Steakhouse, where we just dined a month ago. We’ve had better bone-in ribeyes in town, as well.
The biggest thing we noticed was that our plate wasn’t the least bit warm, nor were the others. The fish, a snapper, would suffer the most from this. It arrived lukewarm, dry, seemingly without any seasoning and virtually tasteless. Our seafood expert pushed it aside after a few bites. He enjoyed a portion of our steak, though.
The lobster ravioli was very good, however, and might have been excellent had it arrived warmer.
The osso buco was an utter failure, though. What should have been moist and falling off the shank was difficult to even cut away from the bone, was not warm enough, and had little taste, and the sauce accompanying it wasn’t any help.
It was only the arrival of the dessert shooters that made us smile again. The pastry/dessert chef goes to great lengths to fill the shooter glasses with pies and to layer them so each bite tastes like a real slice of homemade pie. The Key lime excels, the coconut cream will blow you away, the tiramisu is like tiramisu should be, and a black forest “cake” is heavenly sweet. We had two of the latter.
Before the entrees, the salads all stood out, most especially the spinach variety, maybe as good as any we’ve had in these parts, with a light vinaigrette coating. The Caesar and the wedge with bleu cheese also were well received. An appetizer trio of bruschetta was OK. We expected an order that might be big enough to share; it was not, but of the three we liked the olive relish the best.
The leek soup was rich and creamy, served at just the right temperature, and a hit.
If only there had been enough key hits in the deciding frame. Go strictly the meat route, we conclude, and your night at Capriccio might be closer to a winner.
Capriccio Italian Steakhouse
two and half stars
3 Statehouse Plaza
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t miss the dessert “shooters,” where you get plenty of sweet taste and a well-made dessert for fewer calories and money.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to close daily.
Expensive. Credit cards accepted. Full bar, extensive wine list. Reservations accepted.
$1 for tacos that are actually fabulous? $1.99 margaritas (bet they're good, too) and $5…