Sunday, March 22, 2009

Palate after Frank Bruni: A dissenting view

Rillettes are now served in a crock, instead of a Mason jar.

I usually love reading a witty and devastating takedown of a restaurant, like Leslie Brenner used to do in the L.A. Times. But visiting Palate Food & Wine after reading a review by the most influential critic in the entire country, I couldn't disagree more.
Clearly the staff had a few issues to address after Bruni's recent blog post titled The Lesser Los Angeles, and our waiter confided that there had indeed been a "big meeting" that morning. He also admitted that it was entirely possible that Bruni had suffered some of the clumsy service he encountered. "It's not a 3 star New York restaurant," he pointed out. "It's a place where the average check is $45."
He was attentive and helpful throughout the meal, actively recommending cheese selections or pickle choices for the charcuterie. Although we didn't get to talk with wine director Steve Goldun, our waiter was completely knowledgeable about the wines as well. The pacing was fine, the glassware was fine -- we were a party of eight at prime Saturday night dining hour and not only were there no service glitches, nearly everything we ordered was utterly delicious. They confirmed that the mason jars were too hard to serve the potted meats in, so they've switched to ramekins. Big deal. Duck and tuna rillettes were fine, but the La Quercia speck included with the porkfolio was amazingly smoky and complex, worth ordering as often as possible. I don't remember being too impressed by the pork belly (above) last time I ate there, but this was a different preparation, with a much crispier skin and wonderfully bitter, rich Spigarello broccoli on the side. Prawns with garlic and pistou were fresh and simple, bombarded with just the right amount of garlic. Others in our party enjoyed asparagus with sunny-side up egg and velvety celery root soup with ham and pears. With several bottles of good French wine -- my favorite was the Domaine Gauby at right -- this was no $45 meal, but it was a good and interesting one.
My only two small complaints? Like nearly every other restaurant, Palate is fairly noisy, so it's nearly impossible to converse with a larger group. And while I didn't feel anything was particularly underseasoned like Bruni said, it might be nice to put small saltcellars on the table just in case -- for the egg with the asparagus, for example.
I liked Palate when it first opened nearly a year ago, but more recently I had heard about mounting inconsistencies. Perhaps Bruni's rather scorching post was a wakeup call to remind Palate how seriously diners take their service experiences.


meg said...

On the other hand, I could have sworn that Bruni was at the table with us at the Bazaar, so closely did his experience echo our own. For that he loses no cred with me.

Pat Saperstein said...

Hi Meg, I'm not saying Bruni was completely wrong -- I think that because of Virbila's 3 star review, he was holding Palate to a higher standard than it should be held to, and that they indeed had some service issues which seem to have been addressed. As our waiter pointed out, unless you're going to the great ethnic restaurants of L.A., it's pretty hard to come from New York and be that impressed.

MyLastBite said...

Pat, Thanks for posting this. I've had two wonderful dinner experiences at Palate, and am looking forward to many more. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I went to palate last night, after reading the same review by bruni, thinking that there was no way that it could be true. What I ended up finding was uncooked risotto. And then, when we mentioned it to the waiter, he just said oh, we like to cook it al dente. He failed to apologize or even acknowledge that we might possibly be right in our evaluation of it. I will think twice before going there again.

Anonymous said...

Good rebuttal, and nice wordplay. More food should be bombarded with garlic. I had a good experience at Palate and remember the pork belly being exceptionally meaty and flavorful. Getting a slap on the wrist from Bruni might turn out to be a good thing for Palate. Sounds like it caused them to self-examine and address concerns.

Anonymous said...

Pat, I disagree. Palate was built on high expectations. I would say it cost a lot of money to build this restaurant surely with investor money. Thus the standards are high. The Chef came from a long career at Patina and no doubt expected a great review from the L A Times. The service issues should have been ironed some time ago.

Anonymous said...

Everything Bruni said has been our experience also. We've been 4 times and 3 have been really average at best, service is alway poor. One visit was above average and that's not a reason to return.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately Palate has landed on the bottom of our list of restaurants to re-visit.

I had visited the space shortly after its debut. One of the operators was kind enough to talk to us about the concept and show us around.

Wow! what a great concept!

However I agree with some of Bruni's review including his assessment of under seasoned.

But the service really took the cake. Inattentive, cold, slow, careless and disinterested are all accurate adjectives for our waiter(s).

I believe that the service shouldn't necessarily be held to a different standard, perhaps the style isn't the same but a good reviewer obviously will note that and base their critique on criteria appropriate for what it should be.

Palate is also a very high profile restaurant and that alone should be cause for efforts at delivering consistent, informed and friendly service. All of which were lacking on the night of our dinner.