It was Tuesday and dinner time. I picked up a bottle of wine and walked over to my local French Bistro but it was busy. Too busy. There were no tables and there were no seats at the bar, and there weren't going to be any tables or seats at the bar anytime soon, either. So on the spur of the moment, after assessing my clothing for the correct degree of formality (adequate), I reversed direction and strode down 4th Street to the Palomar Hotel and took the elevator to the Fifth Floor.
The Palomar is quite nice. It is luxurious and comfortable with large new, and bright rooms filled with all manner of neat toys like CD and DVD players. The decor is retro-chic and is kind of european. As I walked across the art-filled lobby and into the restaurant, it really did seem like I was in the lap of luxury, and I was looking forward to being rewarded for my impetuosity.
I had managed to miss the Chef tenures of both George Morrone and Laurent Gras, but was looking forward to trying the food of Melissa Perello. Here, there was no trouble getting a seat at the bar, and I put in my order and sat down to entertain myself with the gigantic and very impressive wine list.
The wines by the glass are available both by the glass, and by the taste. I started with a 3-oz. pour (taste) of Westerly Viognier.
Dinner started with an amuse of mushroom lobster soup served cold in a delicate bone-white china demitasse cup. It was disappointing, not particularly flavorful, and with a texture that wasn't completely smooth, perhaps even hinting at a slight grittiness. It might have been okay warm, but it needed more flavor to be served cold. Gourmet Grade: C-
Next, was a second amuse, a petite lobster salad with melon and basil. The melon cut into sticks with a piece of tender lobster draped on top. It was garnished with fresh baby basil leaves. The lobster was tender because it was raw. I suppose there was nothing wrong with this, but it was surprising. This was fresh and light, but, again I wasn't impressed. Gourmet Grade: C-
Well, I mused, marveling over the 1865 and 1928 Guard Larose on the wine list, at least I didn't pay for either of the items, and they weren't in any sense bad.
Next came my appetizer, some sauteed sweetbreads with fried green tomatoes, frisee, and a banyuls vinaigrette. As befits a restaurant at this level, the vinaigrette was served from a saucier boat. This was better. The sweetbreads were tender and flavorfully caramelized, and the banyuls vinaigrette went well with the frisee. However, the secret ingredient, the fried green tomatoes, was a little too secret. It was an interesting texture and taste, but --again-- lacking in deep flavors. Gourmet Grade: B-
The Viognier was gone so I ordered a cold premium sake to go with the fish. Time passed and the pages of the wine list turned --Ah! Look at that, a 1952 DRC La Tache!-- and the sake was gone, but it was graciously refilled on the house to keep me occupied while I waited.
The entree was grilled Hamachi with house cured pancetta, manila clams, saffron rouille, and a cilantro fumet. Now we were cooking, or at least, and at last, somebody was. The pancetta and the manila were either used to make the sauce and then removed or simply missing in action, but the Hamachi was tremendous. It was cooked perfectly tender and toothsome, with deep flavors from seasoning and skillful pan searing. The saffron added deep and rich flavors and the cilantro fumet added tang and interest. This was really good food. Gourmet Grade: A
To finish up I had a cup of coffee of which I had no complaints. I was presented with a selection of well made petite fours to nibble on between coffee sips.
The check was presented along with a very nice embossed box of chocolates. I have to say that the service (remember, I sat at the bar) was excellent. Oh yes, the check. With a 20% tip it was $108. Overall, the experience was too hit and miss for the quality they are aiming at here. I don't think I'll rush back, but it is interesting enough that I think it is it worth a try.