Thursday, June 19, 2008

Palate Food + Wine - A Splendid Mediterranean Tasting Bar in Glendale!

While new restaurant openings seem to happen every day in L.A., the last few months have seen the opening of some serious heavyweights. One of the most exciting new restaurants to open up is Palate Food + Wine, a combination of a restaurant, wine bar, and lounge, as well as home to an interesting "eno-gastronomic library" (free to browse at your leisure). Initially, the biggest buzz about Palate was that it was headed up by former Patina Group Executive Chef Octavio Becerra, and that it was going to open up in Glendale(!) of all places.

Then the excitement got amplified by the early reviews from CH'ers that confirmed that the food was actually very good and the atmosphere even better. Excited, I enlisted my closest Wine Hound for a Thursday evening reservation at Palate Food + Wine, and we were so impressed that a return visit was in order, the following Tuesday. :)

Palate Food + Wine is in a (thankfully) quiet stretch of Glendale, past the Glendale Galleria and the new Americana shopping district. Upon entering, you can tell that Palate is something special: It's energetic, lively, and colorful in an understated sort of way, and without any of the pretentiousness one might expect at a hot, new wine bar in L.A.

Perusing the menu, and it's clear that Palate is serious about its wine: The Food Menu is literally 1 page (and 1 page for Cheeses), with 11 pages devoted to Wine and other drinks! But those worried that the food might become tired after a few visits need not worry: According to General Manager Laura O'Hare, Palate's Food Menu changes frequently, with small changes happening every few days to every two weeks, depending on seasonal availability of items!

The Seasonal Menu is the creation of Principal and Founder Octavio Becerra, along with Palate's Executive Chef Gary Menes, formerly of French Laundry and Aubergine. With talent like this, we were even more excited to dig in and try out their Seasonal Menu.

The first item to try was their wonderfully named (and highly recommended) Porkfolio. It's an assorted plate of Prosciutto Di Parma, Speck Di Alto Adige, Salumi: Toscano, Genoa Salame Cotto, and Peperone. It was served with three types of mustards: A regular, smooth Dijon; a whole grain Dijon; and a Violet Mustard that gets its color from Grapes being combined in the process. The Salumi Toscano was excellent, as was the Genoa Salame Cotto. The Peperone was nice and spicy, but so fragrant and porky at the same time. The Prosciutto was good, but nothing amazing. But the highlight would have to be the Speck, which was so wonderful and rich, and I enjoyed it paired with all three types of mustards.

Next up was another specialty of Palate's: Mason Jar of Potted Berkshire Pork. They have a whole section of the menu devoted to "Mason Jar" type dishes, so we had to try something from there. :) The Potted Berkshire Pork arrived and was already very intriguing. It was literally a jar of Pork, but the taste was something very unique and delicious: Chef Becerra and Menes have slowly cooked and shredded the Berkshire Pork to such a fine consistency that it tasted almost like a delicate Pate de Foie Gras. Each bite of this Potted Berkshire Pork exuded a wonderful, slightly smoky, burst of porky goodness! It paired well with the wines we had (which I unfortunately forgot to write down the names of).

They also brought out some fresh bread and a homemade Butter, topped with finely chopped Radish slices, Fennel and Sea Salt. It was seriously some of the best Butter I've had with complementary bread in recent memory: Wonderfully creamy, smooth and so fresh! The Fennel and Radish slices nicely augmented each bite.

Next up was their Scallops, Cauliflower, Apple & Caramel. The Scallops were seared just right, with a nice golden-brown crust, and they exuded a sweetness and freshness only found with truly fresh scallops. The Cauliflower florets had a nice curry spice added to them, and paired nicely.

Their Fava Beans, Torpedo Onions, Market Greens + Mint Anchovy Vinaigrette proved to be an excellent, extremely flavorful salad! I'm not too fond of salads, but the combination of the super-fresh vegetables, along with the unique, refreshing Mint Anchovy Vinaigrette made this a salad I would order every time! The Fava Beans were cooked perfectly as well, and added a nice alternate flavor layer to what salads normally are.

Next came the much-anticipated Pork Belly, Georgia Grits, Pluots & Arugula. The Pork Belly was cooked to a gorgeous golden-brown, nice and crisped! Taking a bite, and a wave of happiness swept over me: Rich, sumptuous, and most of the fat was rendered away, so it was Pork meat with a crispy Pork exterior, like a super-decadent Bacon, but so much better! (^_~) It was a tad salty by itself, but when paired with the Georgia Grits and/or the Pluots or the Bread and it became perfect.

The Chicken Breast, Forbidden Rice + Kumquat Relish was simply wonderful! Normally Chicken Breast means something really dried out or boring, but it was amazing! The Chicken Breast was cooked sous-vide - slow, gently cooked in a vacuum bag - and as reported on CH, it was truly *the* most tender and moist Chicken Breast I've had in recent memory! Combined with the Forbidden Rice and Kumquat Relish, and it was really just a wonderful, wonderful dish! Excellent.

We tried out an assortment of Cheeses: Blu Cosi Sheep's Milk Cheese (Piedmont, Italy), Brunet Goat's Milk Cheese (Piedmont, Italy), and the Fleure Verte Goat's Milk Cheese (Perigord, France). The Blu Cosi was a bit too strong for me, but still enjoyable. Both the Brunet and Fleure Verte were wonderful, slightly pungent but nothing overpowering, and the creamy texture was great.

The interestingly named Gnocchi - Pea Duo; English + Tendrils was a delicious dish of homemade Gnocchi, and two types of Peas, fresh English Peas and Pea Tendrils sauteed together in a light butter sauce. This is where (like the newly opened Anisette), fresh market ingredients really make a difference: The English Peas and Tendrils were very fresh and tasted of it. The only problem was that the portion on this dish felt really sparse compared to the other dishes.

Another interesting dish they had was the Salmon Rillete, which was a new menu item appearing within 4 days of our first visit there! Like the Potted Berkshire Pork, the Salmon Rillete was served in a Mason Jar, and was also of the same, light, Pate consistency of the Berkshire Pork. With the inherent lightness of the Salmon (compared to Pork), this was even better than the Potted Pork in many ways.

The Squash Blossoms & Garlic Aioli were simple and fresh: Squash Blossoms deep-fried and perfectly complemented by the freshly-made Garlic Aioli sauce. It was nice and crispy and hot; just out of the kitchen.

The only misstep for the two visits we had was their Financier Dessert, with Peaches, Strawberry Puree and Creme Fraiche. Highly recommended by our server, it turned out to be really disappointing: The Financier was really dry and crumbly, and the Peaches were tart and didn't gel at all with the Strawberry Puree. When combined together with the Creme Fraiche, the whole dessert just tasted of disparate parts and was really unappetizing.

For the first visit, our server Ryan, was charming, energetic and made sure everything was going well. The second visit (with a different server) was a bit more hit-or-miss, but with multiple servers and busboys running around, we were never left wanting. We averaged about ~$40 per person, which included drinks, tax and tip. Palate also offers up a large selection of Wines by the Glass and plenty of excellent wines under $50 and plenty in the triple digits.

Palate Food + Wine is an excellent new addition to the L.A. food and wine landscape: With an ever-changing Seasonal Menu that can change as often as every few days, the extensive Wine Menu, and with Chef Becerra and Menes' creativity and excellence in the kitchen driving everything, Palate is already a resounding success. Palate Food + Wine is a down-to-earth, yet sophisticated, fun, and energetic Mediterranean Food & Wine Bar experience that's highly recommended.

Rating: 8.9 (out of 10.0)

Palate Food + Wine
933 South Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91204
Tel: (818) 662-9463

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