Palm Restaurant has been an institution since opening its first doors in New York City back in 1926. Now with locations worldwide and celebrating its 85th year, the family-owned restaurant has refreshed its identity.
At a recent media event, I had the pleasure of enjoying a six-course tasting menu and meeting James Martin, the restaurant's longtime executive director, who came from New York to open the restaurant's Houston location in 1977. Big in stature and in nature, the Sinatra-esque man was warm and welcoming, patting backs and shaking hands around the room and exhibiting the true family-style vibe that the restaurant hopes to return to in its 85th year.
With a refreshed menu including traditional steakhouse and Italian favorites and a revamped attitude, Palm wants to bring the magic of the 1960s to a new generation while still satisfying its longtime returning client base; James explained that the same families have been eating at the Houston location since the restaurant's beginning. His pride in the restaurant was apparent as he told tales of its past (including the story of the 18-pound lobster now hanging on the restaurant's wall) and introduced us to his protégé, General Manager Reuben Rolf. The new restaurant manager hopes Palm will continue to be a place where "backslaps and hugs" are abundant.
With a warm welcome from the staff and a never-empty glass of wine, our six-course tasting menu began.
We started off with a duo of appetizers, the new to the menu Carpaccio of Beef Tenderloin and the classic Beefsteak Tomato Capri. The beef carpaccio was perfection: thin shavings of melt-in-your-mouth steak and slivers of sharp, nutty parmigiano reggiano over arugula dressed with lemon, olive oil and black pepper. The Caprese salad also impressed, with thick slices of fresh, juicy beefsteak tomato, sweet basil, and my favorite: creamy, milk bufala mozzarella. Good start.
Next, we were treated to classics: Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, one of the restaurant's revamped menu items, and Crispy Calamari Fritti. Now showcased in its full glory in a giant martini glass, the larger-than-life jumbo shrimp, plump and light, paired wonderfully with a spicy and tangy horseradish cocktail sauce. The perfectly cooked cornmeal-dusted calamari came piled high and tossed with lemon and marinated peppers. Served with a sweet marinara, they make a great appetizer for a group.
Trying not to fill up, I sipped on a glass of wine and sat back, listening to hearty laughter fill the room. This is how Palm Restaurant is meant to be enjoyed.
Before I knew it, our server had dropped our third course on the table; this time, the Iceberg Lettuce Wedge and the Nova Scotia Lobster Cobb salads, both of which were divine. The Iceberg Salad came large and crisp, crunching as the server cut it into manageable portions with a large steak knife. With the creaminess of a Danish blue cheese dressing, the saltiness of toasted walnuts and crisp bacon, the freshness of cherry tomatoes and scallions and an extra, sweet and briny crunch from fried onions, this was not the flavorless Iceberg lettuce that I grew up with.
And while I enjoyed the hell out of it, it was the Lobster Cobb that I truly fell in love with; mostly because it came filled to the brim with giant chunks of the most amazing chilled, buttery lobster. There was some other stuff in there too; green beans, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, a light vinaigrette, but it didn't matter. It was the lobster I was after. Well played, Palm. Well played.
At this point it was hard to forge on, but another three courses awaited my full dedication. Course four was a delightful Chilean Sea Bass, buttery, flaky and topped with a sweet and peppery roasted corn relish. Had I not been so greedy with the lobster salad, I would have loved this as a meal.
Next, the Bozzi "Prime" Steak Burger, a burger worthy of a spot in next year's Fancy-Pants Burger Bracket if you ask me. Twelve ounces of incredibly juicy, tender beef are topped with aged gouda, a smokey, tangy barbecue sauce and the restaurant's crispy fried onions. One bite was enough to show me the light - this is one helluva burger. Lemon brown-butter sprouts and hand-cut parmesan garlic fries accompanied the entrees; however, I could not take either down at the time because I knew Palm was about to bring out the big guns.
Course five (I was now barely breathing) was their signature 18-ounce Prime New York Strip. Marbled and aged, the corn-fed prime beef was juicy, tender, and bleeding just the way I like it. With a dollop of the Whipped Goat Cheese Potatoes, the steak makes a meal fit for a king. The succulent lobster made its second appearance. This time, it was broiled Jumbo Cold Water Nova Scotia Lobster Tails (available in three, four and five pounds) served alongside melted butter and fresh lemon. Sautéed Green Beans tossed with pancetta, crushed red pepper and pine nuts rounded out the meal.
Dear lordy, was I full. But wait - dessert! It was time for the sixth and final course; the world's largest slice of Big Iced Carrot Cake and another new menu item, the Bag of Warm Doughnuts. Disgusted with myself but determined to carry on, I took a bite of the carrot cake. And I was glad I did; the seven-layer cake filled with toasted pecans and topped with a sweet cream cheese frosting was moist, nutty, and delicious.
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I couldn't and didn't pass on the doughnuts either. Served fresh from a paper bag, the warm, fried doughnut holes are dusted with cinnamon sugar and accompanied by two delectable sauces: a warm, rich chocolate sauce and a light and sugary raspberry.
Happy to be a part of this old-time restaurant, I left with a full stomach and a warmed heart. Palm surely makes you feel like family.