Good for: traditional French fare, grab-and-go sandwiches from Café a Côté
Notable dishes: seared scallops, steak frites
At its most basic level, food is a necessity all people need to survive. On another level, however, it’s also an art. Perhaps no one appreciates this second level more than the French. In fact, the “gastronomic meal of the French” is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Bias alert: UNESCO’s headquartered in Paris.)
Food as a culturally significant art form might be a somewhat difficult concept to grasp for Americans who’ve never been to France, but it certainly might be easier after eating at Brasserie Capitale. Open since May in the spot formerly housing the Broiler, it’s a brasserie—an informal restaurant that highlights simple, hearty foods—serving traditional French food, plus a huge selection of French wine and beer.
On our first dinner visit, it took us a while to decide but our server helped talk us through the menu and brought olives, bread and our wine order first. We settled on steak frites (a flat iron steak with butter and french fries) and a plate of mussels agrave; la bourgeoise (white wine, garlic, heavy cream and a bunch of veggies)—two plates often associated with French brasseries.
Sure, steak and fries isn’t really much of a stretch for any American-raised palate. But what made Brasserie Capitale’s version remarkable was its simplicity—herbed butter atop the medium-rare steak; thin, crispy fries—which made it feel a lot lighter and healthier than what you might get at an American diner. It also paired remarkably with a Bordeaux wine. The plateful of mussels took on an interesting flavor thanks to white wine, pickled shallots and anise-flavored liqueur. This was one of those rich sauces that begs to have bread dipped repeatedly into it—so that’s what we did. We capped off dinner with a creamy and crunchy (on the top) crème brûlée with copious vanilla-flavored custard.
Next, we decided to try the other part of the restaurant, dubbed Café a Côté, which serves the same food from the same kitchen and off the same menu, but in a smaller room and with steel tables instead of white-tableclothed ones. Our lunch order consisted of a charcuterie plate and a grilled pork shoulder sitting atop a pile of beans, spinach and herbs. The charcuterie plate lacked inventiveness with its cheese selection, but did have quite a few different slices of meat. The grilled pork was tender and the beans below complemented it well, adding a flavorful heartiness to the whole dish.
On our way out, we grabbed a muffuletta sandwich—not technically French, though it’s popular in the French Quarter of New Orleans—which made for a great road-trip snack during a hike the next day. It had the flavor profile of a fancy Italian sub sandwich, with several types of meat and an olive tapenade.
Back at Brasserie Capitale on a different night, we sampled three types of tartare, a scallop dish and duck confit. The steak tartare was our favorite, though the idea of eating raw ground meat and quail egg did initially freak us out. The duck confit was on the dry side, but its accompanying sauce certainly helped. Here’s where my American-ness shows: I know it was probably one of five “mother sauces” of French cuisine, but I couldn’t tell if it was a bechamel or hollandaise-based one. Anyway, the scallops were seared perfectly and also featured a delicious butter sauce, plus a corn-and-caper compote with a balsamic reduction drizzle—a beautiful composition visually, and by taste, and probably my favorite dish of all.
Even though there’s a white tablecloth, helpful servers and classic jazz music in the background, Brasserie Capitale’s run by pretty laid-back people. In other words, it’s serving food that doubles as conceptual fine art, but without any snobbishness or ego. Also a plus: The place is still working out how late it’ll be staying open on a nightly basis, but it’s already one of the few spots in town (including Grange) to grab a late (and also relatively fancy) dinner.