A taste for art
Fine culinary works abound at Palate Food & Wine
By Erica Wayne 02/01/2012
Over the past two weeks, we put our New Year’s “lose weight” resolutions on the shelf to take advantage of dineLA Restaurant Week specials and sample the prix fixe menus of several participating restaurants. One of the best ($34 apiece for a marvelous three-course dinner) was offered by Glendale’s Palate Food & Wine, a unique restaurant/wine store housed on the ground floor of a late-1920s seven-story Bekins moving depot.
The restaurant is divided into several distinct spaces, the front room quite formal, with quiet seating, tables and banquettes set in an irregular L pattern that offer a view into the kitchen at the rear. Diners and furniture are dwarfed by two monumental sculptural vases overflowing with gigantic grapes. A jazz backdrop is gentle enough to permit easy conversation, lighting is low and service is attentive.
But walk through a narrow corridor, past a small “butler’s” pantry and you’ll find yourself in a rustic library with a huge number of cookbooks placed on high shelves that reach to the ceiling. The reading room is graced with a huge handcrafted communal table. There’s an adjacent lounge and a wine cellar with floor-to-ceiling refrigerators and a temperature-controlled cheese room.
Wandering through these areas, we eventually arrived at the wine bar which takes up much of the rear of the building. This space is far busier and more industrial than the front room, with a number of small tables, lots of seating around a huge U-shaped counter and an enormous blackboard hawking available vintages. Once our tour was over, we wove our way through the fascinating maze back to the front room for dinner.
Although Palate is a self-described and obvious “wine-centric” restaurant, with an extensive and carefully chosen wine list that has received well-deserved accolades, it does have a full bar and some highly original cocktails: e.g., the “Kilted Scotsman” with scotch, rhubarb liquor, hibiscus flower and flamed orange ($12) and the “If You Like Piña Coladas” with rum, roasted pineapple and vanilla orgeat and chili cocoa bitters ($14). Needless to say, I felt somewhat apologetic about our table’s pedestrian order of Campari/sodas and imported artisan beers.
Palate’s executive chef, Octavio Becerra, changes the restaurant’s menu of appetizers, main courses and desserts every week; but certain things are constant. Among them is the “porkfolio,” an assorted plate of what could laughingly be called cold cuts: prosciutto, speck and assorted salumi (barolo, sopressata, wild boar and coppa) for $14.
And there are always Mason jars filled with various spreads. Last week, these consisted of potted beans, confit tuna, chicken with chicken liver and Berkshire pork. And four or five pickled and/or cured veggies with herbs: Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, Napa cabbage, turnips and olives. Each of these sells for $5 to $7, and it’s almost impossible not to try at least one.
We also found Palate’s “cheese palette” irresistible. Like almost everything else, the double-digit list of cheeses changes, but the price is constant — three for $14 with each additional $4. Our $18 platter included delectable Spanish cow, French sheep, French goat and Italian bufala blue cheeses, all new to us but fully annotated on the menu. The plate came with flatbread, roasted grapes, pine nuts and a smear of fig preserve. It’s easy to imagine a fabulous meal consisting completely of cheeses, Mason jar terrines and wines by the glass.
However, by the time we’d polished off our cheeses, flatbread and most of the potted pork (smoked, cooked to tenderness and blended with butter to a pâté-like consistency) and all of the rustic bread, the appetizers on the dineLA menu had arrived. In fact, they appeared before we were quite ready to give up the remnants
(our only minor complaint with the service).
The starters included a subtle broth with farro, chunks of root vegetables, black kale and bacon spiced with a salsa verde; a tangy citrus salad with arugula, shaved fennel, mahon (a Spanish cheese)and walnut oil; and a delicate and imaginative spring risotto textured with English peas, sugar snaps, pea tendrils and pecorino shavings.
Then it was onto our main courses of finger-length Monterey Bay squids grilled and placed on a bed of chickpeas, purple broccoli and a smoked tomato aioli, thick salmon steaks served with caramelized cauliflower and a preserved blood orange relish, and tender “cast iron” chicken, with a green olive and Meyer lemon sauce, paired with Jerusalem artichokes and baby bok choy.
Although our appetites were beginning to fail, we managed to demolish desserts of a diminutive pecan tart with a fan of roasted warren pear and caramel sauce, a pot of bittersweet chocolate pudding with crème fraiche and a touch of fleur de sel and a small triangle of apple pie with crème Chantilly and a dollop of bourbon-vanilla bean sauce.
There are way too few restaurants like Palate. With its ever-changing menu, multiple and diverse dining areas, carefully selected ingredients and providers, innovative and fanciful cuisine and magnificent wines, Palate is almost guaranteed to keep a grateful clientele happy, well fed and watered indefinitely.
But wait, there’s more! Palate is not only a restaurant, but also a wine merchant. From mid-day till 9 p.m. seven days a week, buyers can receive “intensely informed” help in navigating a myriad of superior vintages (handpicked by wine director Steve Goldun) to take home. They can sample wines and read about them in the library. There’s even an online shop where you can browse by country, type, price, vintage and keyword. I did and reminded myself anew how many wines I’ve never heard of, much less tried. Wow!
And now that our two weeks of dineLA splurges are over, we know it’s time for healthier and more abstemious eating and drinking for at least a few weeks. But with the memories of Palate’s marvels still fresh in our minds, it’s a helluva lot harder to stick to the straight and narrow and resist returning to the many temptations of this Glendale wonder. n