i read up. i listened to. i suggested otherwise. and the response i got this morning was, "it's not your birthday! you can't pick where to eat!"
i did my homework last night. read the hounds' opinions about the place: what not to get, where else to go instead. after scaring myself in dreaded anticipation of what was to come the next evening, i quickly sent a note to my friends, asking who had picked the restaurant and if there were any other reasons why we were to eat there aside from the prix fixe special of the month deal. feeling that was a bit brash after hitting send, i even sent a second email saying, "what about a more tasty place like lulu's or houston's? i only want the birthday girl to have a good time."
"it's not your birthday! you can't pick where to eat!"
and so we ended up this evening at palomino on the embarcadero. they were 9 of us and around 6:30pm we were seated at a nice, roomy, round white marble table with a good view of the bay and bridge. i'd never been here before, nor the one in west LA when i lived in LA. i had always heard it was "ok" and "pricey". looking around, the decor does seem upscale, but in that commercial, sort-of feel. the light fixtures caught my eye the most; heavy and substantial murano glass-like flower trumpets that looked like they didn't quite make the cut at the bellagio.
water was promptly served and a pleasant waitress takes down our drink orders. a couple of guiness, mango mojitos, and a fat tire for me. a few minutes later, she returns with the drinks except for mine. they're out. grr. a new castle will have to do.
we all decided to do the "three course deal" for sake of ordering and bill-splitting ease. the special is a month long promotion offering "three courses. one price. no guessing. $25." you get to choose one of seven starters, one of four entrees, and one of three desserts. another quote taken from the promotional email my friend got reads, "remember this is Palomino, and these are our 'classic' best selling menu items, at full portions. To make sure the evening is a memorable one, add a bottle from our suggested wine pairing list for just an additional $20." now that i write this, i realize i should've taken them up on that offer...
alycia decided to do multiple orders of the dungeness crab and artichoke dip, calamari fritto, and grilled tiger prawns. an order of the chop chop salad was also placed for the birthday girl, chris. when the appetizers came up, i was greatly impressed by their size. all full portions designed to serve 2-4 people well, i would've declined the entree by the time it got there if i had been dining alone.
the first one i tried was the crab dip, creamy and tasty, with a good amount of shredded crab and a golden breadcrumb crust. flavor was good but you couldn't really taste the crab and i completely forgot there was artichoke in there until i reread the menu 5 minutes ago. the thin crisps served alongside lacked flavor and were extremely greasy, being doused in oil... and i can't really say it was olive oil...
the grilled prawns looked grilled, on one side, but were pleasantly springy in the bite. they were plated with a couple slices of toast, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil chiffonade, and olive oil drizzle. it wasn't a stand-out dish, but nothing bad either. the flavors just didn't meld together, as if there wasn't time to let it sit and combine for a bit.
now the calamari fritto was a bit of a tease and joke. we had 2 huge oval platters brimming with battered calamari with a choice of a lemon aioli or marinara. i plunged my fork into the calamari plate nearest me and came back up with a piece literally the size of a baseball. what the...? i shook it and looked closer. clinging to my fork was an entangled mass of tentacles and fried batter. it was as if the line chef grabbed a fistful of squid, plunged it into a vat of batter and plopped it into the fryer, creating one gigantic glob tentaclic goop. i'm not exaggerating. i glanced over at the other platter and noticed they got all the nicely separated rings, neatly fried and all. you can guess which side of the table i started leaning towards for the rest of the course. however, the rings ended up being mostly batter anyway, and i remember gulping down my new castle to cut the salt sitting on my tongue.
in ordering the main entree, the waitress wrote down 7 rotisserie pork chops, 1 rotisserie chicken and 1 oven-roasted tiger prawns. the only other choice available was lobster ravioli and that just didn't sound too promising to me for some reason. anyway, the plates arrived all at the same time and the hands knew exactly whose plates were whose (since 4 of us asked for substitutes for the sides). i must say i was impressed at how the staff handles large groups. we had a couple other large parties near us and they all seemed to be getting what the wanted, when they wanted too. my boss also mentioned today palomino is a good place for large parties, even though it'd been 6 or 7 years since she'd gone.
i digress. the food. so the pork chop (i'm still trying to figure out where the rotisserie part comes in) was about an inch thick, nicely browned laying on a bed of orzo pasta with a plump link of chorizo sausage and sauteed veggies on the side. glancing at the other pork diners, i noticed our chops all look relatively the same, with the rib bone curving up to the right over the plate. i also noticed all the plates (including the Palomino horse and text embedded in the plate's lip) all faced the same way... nice touch from the staff. so i dug in with my big steak knife. it cut like room temperature butter and the texture was not grainy at all. ah... it's been brined... *chew chew* ...a little too long. yes it was soft and moist, but this chop must've sat in the solution too long. the salt was almost intolerable. the accompanying orzo blandoso did nothing to cut saltiness and i wished i had gotten mashed potatoes like edmund did instead. the chorizo sausage was flavorless, but salty (!), and edmund summed that one up best, "it tastes and looks like a breakfast link." the "veggies" were over-stewed or something, retaining no texture nor color. as i speared the root end chunk of an onion from my plate, edmund blurted, "what are you doing?? you're not gonna eat that piece of fat are you??" "it's not fat." "oh."
it could've been my plate or my experience, but as i looked around, everyone remarked they were stuffed but "man, that was salty." i checked in with the oven-roasted tiger prawns diner who shrugged, "it was just ok." the chicken orderee only ate half of hers. oh but i did notice our water glasses were never left empty. good service or insider tip? hm...
for dessert we had our choice of tiramisu, vanilla creme brulee, or a peach and berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. i chose the cobbler, which came out in a 5" tart plate! talk about "full portions." the crust was flaky on the outer edges but got soft and gooey towards the middle. the peaches and berries were a little overcooked and flavors seemed a little too tart. the ice cream was nice though. i tried the brulee, which was in a word, vanilla. and the 5 tiramisu orders were only half eaten. due to being full or what, i'm not sure.
the bill for the 9 of us came out to under $370 with tax and 18% gratuity, which was about $35 + your drink. we ended up chatting for another 1/2 hr. it's always interesting conversation with this group (aka dramatic girls) but fun. i never felt pressured at all except one person when the waitress swung by to see if we needed anything else. this had been an almost 3 hour ordeal but we were all stuffed and not ready to move. i will say tonight was fun and memorable, but that's not a comment on the food for sure. as i write these last words, i've gone through 2 large glasses of water at home. maybe i should've taken up that offer on $20 wine bottles...