Trouble With Toast

Restaurant Week review: Palette | August 17, 2006

You know the summer is coming to and end when Restaurant Week reviews start popping up on blogs across the nation. Well, this blog is no different, so here’s my take on DC RW dinner #1 (of four).

I arrived at Palette a few minutes before our 7 PM reservation to get a first impression of the location itself. It is adjacent to (and, I believe, associated with) the Madison Hotel at 15th and M, and the space is really lovely—it feels open but not sparse, and the separation of the lounge from the dining room is a really nice touch.

We were greeted by a friendly older gentleman who asked if we had dined there before (my companion had, but I had not). He gave us our choice of booths, and we took one against the back wall of the dining room, which gave us (well, me, at least) a great vantage point of the remainder of the restaurant. The server followed shortly thereafter with the wine and cocktail menus, and I decided to indulge in a glass of the Toad Hollow Chardonnay. We were presented with a plate of bread, my favorite part of which was a crunchy, herb-tinged quasi-cracker.

Unfortunately, Palette did not have their whole menu available for Restaurant Week; instead, there were three appetizer choices, three entrée choices, and two dessert choices. For the first course, I decided on tiger prawn tempura, which ended up being two HUGE prawns (heads on), lightly fried in crispy tempura batter and served with a lime-chipotle mayonette. The prawns were fine (it’s hard to screw up fried shrimp), but the accompanying sauce was out of this world. My friend opted for the yellow tomato gazpacho, which had a nice tangy flavor but was a bit off in terms of texture (it was quite watery, and I prefer a thick, chunky gazpacho).

For the main course, I chose the crispy skin-on salmon, which was served over a sauce of arugula, lentils, and grapefruit sections. The citrus added great contrast to the rest of the flavors, and I really enjoyed the crunch of the skin. My companion ordered the beef spare rib, and when she asked for it to be cooked medium-well, I started sweating (I rarely order beef cooked any more than…well, rare). Much to my surprise and delight, the meat was so tender that I didn’t need to use my knife. Unfortunately, it was a bit bland, and the accompanying saffron grits were significantly overdone (I did need a knife for that part of the meal).

For dessert, I opted for the berry cobbler and my friend chose the chocolate soufflé tart. I was SO very happy with my choice—strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries baked together under just the right amount of crunchy cobbler topping, with a small scoop of subtle cinnamon ice cream. Yum! My companion’s tart was underwhelming (it was dry and almost chalky), but it came with some refreshing Kahlua ice cream. As if we hadn’t consumed enough sweets, the server brought a bowl of cherry cotton candy to the table (my friend advised me that they did this on her previous visit as well).

I thought that the meal was paced impeccably (we were seated at 7 and departed just before 9) and that the service was coolly friendly. The dining room was nearly empty when we arrived, but filled up quickly with a fairly diverse group of patrons. A mistake on our check was corrected quickly and with apologies.

Overall, there were parts of the experience that shone, but there is definitely room for improvement in some areas. I was fine with spending $30.06 for my meal (and yes, I tipped the waiter as if I had paid full price for my meal), but I would have been very disappointed if I had been paying that amount for my entrée alone. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate Palette a 6.

Next stop: Vidalia (Friday night)!

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