Many restaurants in the area advertise fine dining, yet deliver a thoroughly middlebrow experience.
While that might make for a great way to bring in folks whose conception of "fine dining" begins and ends at a plate of lobster or a French-sounding cut of beef, it’s not the best way to impress those actually looking for a true fine dining experience.
A higher grade experience does exist, though, and you’ll find it at The Knight Cap, on East Michigan Avenue, across from the Lansing Center. Reservations are recommended, and not just for securing a table; when you arrive, your table is set, complete with recently poured glasses of water.
The interior is lush and intimate with floral print table cloth and cushy booth and table seating, and softly lit with strings of white lights along the ceiling and tabletop electric candles.
When observing a space that insists on fancying itself as upscale, details matter — even the most trivial. At the Knight Cap, the ceiling fans are a good indicator of attention to detail: The blades were not only dustless, they shined so brightly they might serve as a mirror for adjusting a tie.
One expects the dress to be a tad formal at a place where meals with drinks for a party of four could run into the hundreds of dollars, but jeans are certainly not out of place. A small bar sits at one end of the restaurant, adding to the relaxed environment; thankfully, no television can be found. Fine dining is a hard sell with "Sports Center" flashing on a big screen.
Upon arriving, we were seated and greeted by an experienced server, tall with gray-speckled hair and an impish smile. There was friendliness and elegance in each deliberate gesture. He took our order for tea and, with a smile, promised it would arrive within the hour.
So it was disappointing when a new server arrived to discuss the menu. While our new, young server was perfectly friendly, the juxtaposition against her refined colleague, whose efforts at service were natural, fluid and personable — what oneexpects when dining fine — was stark.
She seemed nervous, awkwardly and halfheartedly placing napkins on our laps, opening the menu for us and placing it on our table setting, forgetting things here and there, like the size of my steak order or that we had already declined drinks.
In truth, I don’t blame the server. Our guess was that she was new to serving at Knight Cap, and when a casually dressed couple walked in and didn’t immediately order a bottle of wine, someone marked it as a good opportunity for a new hire to get some training. The problem, though, is that when I pay close to $100 for an evening out, I don’t want a server who’s learning on the job.
The menu recently changed at The Knight Cap, so we asked (twice) about those changes and discovered that prices had been reduced in many cases, and salads, if desired, are now ordered separately.
We started with a traditional Caesar salad for two ($15). The dressing had a strong punch of acidity, but the greens were nice, and when the vinegar wasn’t overpowering, the anchovies and fresh ground pepper made for a tasty beginning.
I went with the Knight Cap’s self-proclaimed famous sizzler, a rustic cut of beef, prepared medium rare and rested before served. The steak comes with two enormous, crispy onion rings that could very well have been an appetizer in their own right. A fluffy rice pilaf made for a pleasant light side.
I garnished my steak with sautéed button mushrooms and looked forward to a soft, earthy accompaniment. Those poor mushrooms, however, as my companion noted, were drunk out of their minds. It’s a good thing we didn’t order drinks because the mushrooms soaked up enough of the alcohol they were cooked in to trigger a breathalyzer.
My companion went with the petite filet mignon, cooked medium rare and, like my own, served after it had rested. With a delicate béarnaise sauce, each bite is an experience to savor and remember; compliments to the chef were in order.
My companion chose the mashed potatoes, which were heavy on the garlic and parsley. While I enjoyed the strong flavors, she was disappointed in the potatoes-as-garlic-vehicle approach, and I could understand how the combination might not have been ideal. Perhaps a well-seasoned server might have offered such insight.
While the after-dinner coffee was mediocre, it certainly didn’t spoil the delightful cheesecake with strawberry sauce. The strawberries had a tart burst on first bite, followed quickly by a wave of gentle sweetness. The cake itself was dense and creamy with a mild flavor, deferring to the smile-inducing zest of the berries.
I’ll go back to The Knight Cap for the food and the atmosphere, but when I do, I’ll have a request that must not be refused: I’d like that tall, handsome server, the one who walks between tables as if he’s skating on ice, the one with enough humor and charm to make an evening truly fine.
320 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Friday;
5 p.m.-midnight Saturday
FB, TO, OM, RES, P, $$$$