Slightly expanded w/ pics here:
It’s always upsetting to write something less than stellar about a restaurant – mainly because it’s always upsetting to have a less than stellar experience at a restaurant. Especially when you’re dropping a lot of cash and it's a place you WANT to love.
Anyway, I’m hanging out with Kimberly (recovering anorexic) at Solar de Cahuenga, and I’m totally planning on parting ways with her at about 5:30 and slipping over for an early dinner at Palate, alone at the bar, before they get mobbed. But then Kim’s friend Retta – who’s not anorexic at all -- calls and says "what are you guys doing, I’m starving, want to go to Lucques?"
Well, I always want to go to Lucques, but I get on the phone with Retta and pitch Palate to her: "new-ish restaurant opened by a long-time partner in the Patina group, Octavio Becerra. This is his first restaurant on his own, and people are loving it. It’s connected to a wine store so it’s all about wine and small plates. Todd Jasmin works there, the crazy cheese guy who used to be at Comme Ca -- I know him, he’ll hook us up a little. It’s all good." Retta says, I’ll pick you guys up, let’s go now.
We walk in to Palate and right away I see Todd Jasmin. He seems happy to see me and I introduce him to Kim and Retta. We learn the restaurant is fully booked tonight but we can sit at the bar – so far so good, that’s where I want to sit.
Now, this is exactly what happens next: Todd says to the bartender, “hey, dude, give these guys that new drink we came up with this afternoon.” The bartender prepares 3 of the drinks, one for each of us.
Punch line # 1: we are charged for all three cocktails. 12 bucks a piece.
All right, I can’t wait, punch line # 2: meal’s over, I put three quarters of the bill on my credit card, Retta puts the rest on hers and she pays the whole tip. I get my credit card bill a few days later and I’ve been charged for the entire meal!!!! I have all the paperwork from both the restaurant and the bank, as well as Retta’s paperwork, and they overcharged us (I'm sure unintentionally) by about 60 bucks.
Now, deep breath. Let's not get stuck here. I mean, fine, whatever, I'm sure it was an accident, and I will definitely parlay this error into a free meal. So it’s all good.
Backtracking: We sit down at the bar and Kim and Retta immediately have problems with the bartender. Kim’s sure he’s hitting on her; Retta’s positive he hates her. I have to agree, his demeanor is odd, aloof in a ‘trying to be cool’ way, not engaging in the way I like. Worse, the wines he pours me (his recommendations with the food we order) are mediocre. I love the small plates with wine concept, but no wine that crosses my palate is inspired tonight.
Oh, wait, I'm sorry to add fuel to the fire, but a few days after my meal here I’m getting a haircut at Floyd’s in West LA, and the guy cutting my hair starts talking restaurants. Completely unprovoked, he tells me he lives in Glendale and had a very disappointing experience at Palate. He was poured several wines to taste, thinking he was choosing which wine he wanted to order by the glass. Then he was charged for all the tastes. He was surprised, upset, and does not intend to return to Palate.
Something might be wrong here.
All right, let’s talk about the food, which had its very good moments. Corn soup was redolent of corn. It was paired with a white Bandol which was delicious and refreshing, best wine of the evening. The “porkfolio” was really good, a few types of ham, house-made, served with a few mustards. This is sort of a cliché these days but this was really good, and putting the pork on top of some bread and butter was perfect.
Next came an eggplant and ricotta cannelloni -- which was unmemorable -- and a coddled egg with summer truffles, which when slathered on some (more) bread and butter was divine -- contender for dish of the evening. Yum! Unfortunately, the bartender poured a very uninspired white burgundy with these dishes.
And then came the worst wine moment of the night. The bartender made a big deal that he had the perfect wine for me to drink with the pork belly. I said great. I then see him opening a 2001 Talenti Brunello and pouring it. The wine was closed, tight, needed a good day of air, and did NOTHING for the pork belly (which in itself was fine, with a nice crunchy skin). And the Brunello was 20 bucks.
This place is called Palate Food + Wine. To say that I expected better from the wine program would be an understatement.
The “veal rib eye” was the big positive surprise of the night, beefy and perfectly cooked medium rare, tender and lush. One of the better “steaks” I’ve had in a while.
And the oxtail was good too, but is never my favorite meat dish.
More on the plus side: The space is really cool. And the wine list itself has a lot of interesting selections at fair prices.
Here’s what I’d do if I went back: go with a friend who’s into wine, with whom I’m due for a deep conversation, sit in the “library”, order a nice bottle of wine, order the coddled egg followed by the veal, and take our time, without much interruption or interaction from the wait staff. At its best I feel like Palate could work like a cool coffee shop: you find your little nook and hang out. That could really work.