Forget Subtlety 

The Copper Grill is flashy and pricey, but damn tasty.

The waiters pass out personalized business cards, presumably for calling them by name, and two-sided coasters that allow you to signal whether you want service or solitude. Turn up the green or “yes” side and you’re overwhelmed by passing hostesses, captains, busers or other servers; on red and “no thank you,” you’re ignored by everyone. The coasters make for impersonal service and are a poor substitute for an experienced, properly trained server. And solitude is impossible anyway because the recorded music —classic ’40s and ’50s with Sinatra, Dean Martin, Satchmo and Belafonte — is so loud that conversation is difficult and may be the reason the captains and cooks communicate via headsets.

Food is prepared in two kitchens, one out of view where monster-sized lobsters are broiled, and a showplace in the center of the room, where thick, prime steaks are grilled beneath a huge copper vent. Sitting next to the open pit, leaning against a brass rail, I felt like a line of high-kicking showgirls would appear at any moment, but alas, the only heat came from the flaming grills.

You can spend a fortune. A couple next to us ordered the smallest lobster available, and it cost $168 (that’s six pounds at $28 per). Or you can enjoy an all-inclusive dinner for as little as $20. The average tab is $80 per person, including drinks, tax and tip. There’s even a private dining room in the wine cellar reserved for diners spending at least $150 each.

Our waiter steered us away from half a dozen of the inclusive meals ($18 to $26), which he knocked as “our poorest quality,” and the a la carte filets ($22 to $30), which he said were tender but not very flavorful. Instead, he recommended we start with smaller portions of two appetizers for $16, the all-meat Maryland crab cakes (regular portion $11) and Oriental baby lobster trails ($13). That turned out to be a dollar-wise, pound-foolish idea.

The crab cakes may have not contained stuffing, but they contained precious little lump crabmeat. The lobster tails resembled a couple of large fried shrimp perched atop a Hawaiian salad. Both the crab and lobster were mushy.

The entrees were much better. On our first visit, we chose a whole Dover sole ($30) and the “best in the house” cowboy steak ($33). Although the filleted sole had a firm consistency and a mild flavor, it inexplicably came with two starches, rice and mashed potatoes. The steak was a beautifully marbled, 22-ounce rib, grilled on the bone, matching the quality of Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris, the high-end steak houses that the Copper Grill sees as its main competition.

On a subsequent visit, the lower-priced meals proved to be real deals, with the quality barely diminished. A mixed grill ($22) of an 8-ounce sirloin, a plump Australian lamb chop and a mild Italian beef sausage, included a one-pound baked potato and a small house salad. One-half of a rotisserie-grilled chicken ($20) came with exceptional french fries, hand-cut and twice grilled; onion straws; a stack of asparagus; and pasta sprinkled with pesto.

Only two of the desserts are made in-house, but that is not a criticism. The made-on-premises desserts are a Grand Mariner-laced crŠme br–leé that’s torched table-side — be patient, it takes a while to get that wonderful crust—and a Napoleon, a puff pastry filled with white chocolate mousse and caramel sauce topped with strawberries.

The others are flown in from a bakery in Milan, Italy, that supposedly invented tiramisu. What it didn’t invent, but surely has perfected, is sorbet in which the fruit (pineapple, coconut, orange, peach, etc.) is puréed, stuffed in its natural covering and then frozen, a process called ripieni. The pineapple version, garnished with a strawberry and surrounded by coconut sprinkles, provided as refreshing a finale to a meal as I can remember.

The Copper Grill, which has two other locations, in touristy Destin, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., has great potential. Except for those appetizers, the food was good to excellent, but the restaurant trades on style over substance, teetering between the sophistication of Manhattan and the tackiness of Vegas. S

The Copper Grill Lobster & Steak House ($$$$)
Short Pump Town Center
Dinner: 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.


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