The Palm Restaurant ....A Gluttony of Delish Food, Fun & Celebrity!
Being that I’ve lived in Los Angeles for a few years, I would have to say I’ve become somewhat impervious to all things Hollywood trendy. But recently, I found myself fascinated by a particular restaurant that serendipitously kept popping into my world again and again. Maybe it was the many times I’ve caught Regis Philbin over the years relaying his succulent night out at this premier steak house while chit-chatting with Kelly Ripa on Live With Regis and Kelly. Maybe it was an episode of Entourage I caught where the boys were out on the town only to stop off for a party of all parties at this intriguing little spot. Or, maybe it was my foodie friends who raved about the night they had at the same restaurant. Either which way I was meant to hear about it, The Palm Restaurant was a piece of Hollywood I couldn’t put off experiencing any longer, and finding out for myself what this celebrity-studded, destination restaurant was all about and whether the food, drink and service stood up to the Hollywood hype.
I decided to make my reservation at the older of the two Palm Restaurant locations in Los Angeles. I figured that if I was going to break my rule of avoiding Hollywood glammed shenanigans, I would go big. So I went to the Palm located in the heart of Hollywood and the one you may recognize in TMZ pictures of stars going in and out for power-lunches on any given day, and may have noticed in the Adam Sandler movie, Funny People. In doing research, I found out that this Palm was opened in 1975 and was indeed known for its celebrity encounters many years over, as well as for maintaining a certain bravado for what dining out is all about. And as I walked through the door with my best girlfriend and foodie-in-crime, I immediately knew why people kept coming back for more.
Just from walking in the door I felt like I was already having a memorable experience and I hadn’t even gotten to the table yet. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but when we were first greeted by the manager at the front, I got this enveloping Italian-esque welcome as if I were family walking in and I had been there a million times before. A far cry from what I was expecting knowing I was in Hollywood, where arrogance and snubbing the commoners is a blissful sporting event. But that certainly wasn’t the case. I literally felt like I was a celebrity, prancing in for a quick bite and romp. From the ceilings and walls covered in caricatures of stars and regulars alike that have dine there, to the hardwood floors and cozy, high-backed booths that make for a V.I.P. table no matter who you were, the night started off perfectly. My girlfriend and I were then guided through the menu by a spirited server, who knew the food backwards and forwards and did it with a spunk that made for good entertainment the whole night. He even filled me in on that thing I couldn’t put my finger on earlier. That Italiano verve you automatically feel upon entering The Palm is because it is actually an Italian restaurant, owned by the same two Italian families, the Ganzis and the Bozzis, since 1926, the original being in New York and still open today in the very same spot. So there is of course a deep-rooted east coast, old school Italian credence the restaurant imbues without fail, even down to the people they hire. The fact they have become the highly regarded steak and lobster house that it is today, is par for the course for this restaurant that kept up with the Joneses for the past 85 years, with 25 stores nationwide to show for it.
As for the food? Well, I always get a little nervous when anything starts off too good. More to the point, here in Los Angeles, places can get away with crapped out food, if you have the right celebrity sighting or ocean view. So as my friend and I ordered what the waiter suggested, I had my doubts the food would match the ambience. But…with the first bite of the infamous Gigi salad (pronounced gee-gee), I knew all was well with my night out. Not only did the dish come out looking like it was ready to be photographed, the blend of shrimp, bacon, avocado and the whole salad combination hit the spot for a starter salad, though I may want to try it without the onions next time around--and there would most certainly be a next time. Things continued to stay top-notch when our entrees came. I got the lamb chops medium rare and just to die for. The light mint sauce was fresh and a great accent to the lamb, though they really were perfect aú natural. At the suggestion of the waiter, whom we were becoming fast friends, I got one of the chops lightly blackened for a touch of Cajun flavor, and I would have to say it is a new way to have lamb. My friend decided to go with the generous portion of Chilean Sea Bass, beautifully light and flakey, and topped with a citrus butter. Our family style sides then sealed the deal for the evening with an order of the crispy homemade fried onions and potato chips they call the “Half and Half,” and an order of the green beans with pancetta and pine-nuts that had a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes to percolate the palette.
As I looked over our bountiful table, I couldn’t help but be beyond satisfied by the amazing classic food, outstanding service that doubled as entertainment, and a chill yet elite atmosphere. In fact, as the night went on and the managers, Cedric and Johnny, would stop over to check in on us, I kept thinking that it was finally nice to find a place where you can have a fine-dining experience, but still feel at ease. I did dress up a bit since I wasn’t for sure on what was appropriate, however, I could’ve gone cool and kitsch in my attire and still have felt comfortable dining there. And as we paid the check, leaving a hefty tip that was totally earned, I thought I should most definitely check out the other Palm just to see if it was a complete fluke our evening went so well--which is also a common occurrence in LA. So, with my very willing foodie accomplice in tow, we ventured off to the Downtown Palm the following week in order to see if I had found a restaurant I could count on for a great time no matter where I was.
Cleverly located a block away from the Staples Center sports arena and Microsoft Theater venue (formally Nokia Theater LA Live), the downtown Palm Restaurant is a like a little getaway from the harried masses of sporting fans and concertgoers. As we walked in, I once again felt like I was starting in on another great ride of a night, and I was ready to sit down, buckle up and enjoy the ride. As in the other Palm, we were greeted with the same Italiano-esque welcome by the manager at the front, however there was a definite distinction between this Palm and the other. This Palm was massive in size, including high ceilings and even larger cartoons and caricatures everywhere. There was a real since of grandeur, and an energetic exuberance that was befitting for a place next to a sports venue. It was explained to me later by the general manager, Bryan, who checks in on us, that this was the largest of all the Palms and the building itself was one of the oldest in Los Angeles—which I have to admit is always a bonus to visit a place with great architectural history, as it adds to your whole dining experience.
We decided to hit the bar first to get the night rolling. While sipping on our brimming martinis, my friend and I were charmed by the bartenders and even the loyal regulars sitting around us, as if it were Cheers reincarnated. It was almost a dilemma to go to an actual table or stay at the bar, but being that it was our duty to experience every inch of the Palm, we did finally find our way to a table in the main dining room. And once again, we had another spirited waiter ready to give us tips of what to eat, and the gluttony began all over again. We started with the Shrimp Bruno appetizer that hit the spot, with its large and lightly battered shrimp sautéed in a white wine and Dijon mustard sauce, which also doubled for a tasty dipping for the bread. And for our entrée, we decided to go all out for the classic surf-n-turf that the Palm is known for, and order their Nova Scotian 5 lb lobster and prime ribeye steak. I couldn’t tell what they did to make the lobster the best lobster I’ve ever had, but they did it (--and I lived in Boston and have had many Maine lobsters enough to know these were above and beyond.) And then there was the ribeye…Let’s just say it melted in my mouth like butter, and was paired to perfection with a wine picked with the help of their onsite sommelier, Peter Pan, another of the Palm staff full of character. Oh, and let’s not forget what have to be my favorite sides to date: Asparagus Fritti and the Layonaise Potatoes. The lightly fried asparagus adorned with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese were like candy, and the sliced potatoes and onions, crispy from the skillet were delish!
As I sat back, with a food coma nearing, I was just plain impressed with food and the service again. Our server, Betty, was fun and informative, filling me in on even more Palm history. She let me in on why the cartoons and caricatures were everywhere, and how back in the day, in New York, the cartoonists would come in starving and would barter a picture for pasta, which then evolved into the regulars being immortalized in the place in which they felt at home, The Palm. So every Palm you go to, you will see replications of the first cartoons that are in the original Palm in New York, as well as caricatures of regulars for that city’s Palm. Regulars who truly are apart of the Palm family, lovingly placed on the walls. Suffice it to say, any Palm Restaurant you find yourself near is one you have to go to. It seems to be that every Palm has its own personality, but keeps an old school, Italian quality of service that makes you feel right at home, like you were part of the Rat Pack yourself, and seals the deal with amazing food. And after 85 years, there is such a mystique and history to the Palm, I would go so far as to say The Palm Restaurant itself is the real celebrity and one you have to “meet.”
Originally published in DStripped Magazine
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