When I paid a visit to The Capital Grille (4740 Jefferson Street), which officially opens next week, I encountered a crew of somber, manicured men in dark suits who looked as though they'd just stepped out of The West Wing. Having known the restaurant's general manager, Mary Simpson, for years, I had cheerily called and asked whether I could stop by and look at the place, which I had heard was going to be the most luxurious steakhouse in the city.
It is. I did manage to see all the dining rooms and learn a few things before I was oh-so-graciously escorted back out to the street by Jake Hickton, the Chicago-based regional director of operations for RARE Hospitality, the Atlanta company that owns the Capital Grille chain. Hickton was quite pleasant, even as he firmly guided me to the door: "All media questions must be fielded by Rob Crews in our corporate office. I'm sure you understand that."
I didn't, but I pasted on a phony smile as wide and thick as a raw porterhouse: "As you wish, Mr. Hickton." And now that I feel like the Spy Who Came in From the Cold, I can say that the restaurant, which took over the space vacated by the Bristol Bar & Grill, looks like the kind of tony, exclusive gentleman's club that you'd find in Washington, D.C. It's a power spot.
Just past the marble-tiled entrance is the big curvy bar, with a black marble counter and oversized banquettes in dark cordovan. Private wooden wine lockers line one wall, though not all of them are rented ("We're giving one to Mayor Barnes," assistant general manager Doug Gwiazdon told me before Hickton got ahold of me), and a "display" refrigerator case is packed with thick cuts of red beef.
Elaborately framed oil paintings are everywhere, including oversized portraits of Kansas City's most recognizable historic names: Count Basie, Joyce Hall, J.C. Nichols and Clara (Mrs. Russell) Stover (and tucked in a dark back corridor, rather forlornly -- and inexplicably -- Napoleon).
Clara Stover's portrait has a bird's-eye view of the main dining room (the Bristol's old "dome room"), where clocks depicting the current time in Tokyo, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and London frame an open kitchen. A glass-enclosed private dining room is named for Joe Gilbert, founder of Kansas City's once-mighty Gilbert-Robinson restaurant empire. His portrait shares the room with J.C. Nichols -- and it's the only place on the Country Club Plaza where a Nichols gets second billing to anyone.
Mary Simpson called me later to apologize. "They didn't understand that you just wanted to see what the restaurant looked like," she said. "You were there asking about paintings, not restaurant management."
I don't know what secrets I wasn't supposed to uncover when I stopped in for a look, but I do know one: The co-owner of another Kansas City restaurant empire is furious with the Capital Grille. He says the company mailed employment packets to some of his best employees. And even worse, he growls, RARE Hospitality even flew "some of them to Chicago to see how their operation works."
But in this competitive economy, all is fair in love and steak.