Friday, November 14, 2008

Palate Food and Wine in Glendale

It's easy to drive past Palate because the restaurant is neatly packed into a building that must be the only non-auto dealership on Brand Blvd. in Glendale. What made the place findable was the valet line, which was 5 cars deep when we arrived at 7:30. (Street parking was readily available though…welcome to LA…I guess.)

Inside the restaurant you are treated to a fancy, modern mix of black and purple. The bar is silver and tall - snaking from a doorway leading to the back rooms to the entrance where we stood. Manning the bar was Antoine, an amicable Frenchman who's been in LA for 9 years and has cultivated a first-rate knowledge of all things alcohol (he makes a stellar Drambuie and soda too). The bar was full from waist to ceiling with bottles of wine and there were two small wine refrigerators with vacuum re-corking systems - ensuring that ordering wine by the glass is always a full-bodied experience.

To the left of the bar you find a dining room that seats upwards of 100 people, bordering that is a teeny-tiny exhibition kitchen. We said hello to Octavio - the Chef/Owner who was expediting at the pass - and watched as cooks bumped and jockeyed for position on the line or at the stove. Immediately noticeable in that little dungeon of flavor were truffles, an immersion circulator and...well...I don't know. In such a small space it was easy for 4 cooks to completely obscure the view.

Walking through the doorway at the far end of the bar, you find another dining area of equal size, the cheese cave, charcuterie, and their wine and cheese retail area. It looked very well stocked...but I was more interested in dining-in than carry-out.

The meal started with the "Porkfolio" - Ha! - A platter with two pieces each of speck, prosciutto, salami, salami cotto, pepperoni and a couple others whose names I am unable to recollect. Rest assured that they were all delicious, especially in combination with any of the three varieties of mustard that served as an accompaniment. One mustard was a standout. It could be described as a mustard/Worcestershire sauce mixture and I couldn't identify it - nor could Josh, another glutton whose birthday was the cause for this particular celebration. (If happen you know what this concoction is please tell me 'cause I haven't a clue.)

Other appetizers included Potted Duck - confited and shredded, mixed with its own fat and served in a little white jar. The flavor simple and the texture was stunning - the flesh had a subtle chew like ultra-tender jerky and the unctuousness of the fat provided just the right viscosity and mouthfeel - perfect chewing conditions!! When I die, I would like to be packed in the stuff, mummy-style. An interesting counterpoint to the savory potted duck were pickled sweet onions, one of four pickled veggies on the menu that night. The onions delivered an excellent flash of freshness and vinegared tang, making them ideal for shaking your taste buds out of their duck induced hypnosis.

As we moved on to entrees I felt that the portions were little (all small-appetizer size excepting the pork belly, konpachi, and steak), but no less flavorful than the preceding dishes. None of my dining companions seemed to mind so I let the argument go, though I think that the number of entrée dishes we ordered will indicate that I was of the correct opinion.
Our entrees, all shared, included:
  • Baby Cuttlefish with beans and stewed peppers. Flash sautéed and soft-as-could-be, the meat had a light ocean flavor that matched well with the earthy beaniness of the sauce…so well, in fact, that I was forced (FORCED!) to lift the plate off the table and pour the unforkable portion directly into my face.

  • Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi with Oxtail - Soft and succulent! Two or three sauces combined to make for an astonishing flavor combination.

  • Fried Veal Sweetbreads – Easily as good as those served at the much more expensive Craft, these sweetbreads were prepared perfectly and the sweet demi-glace sauce was a perfect compliment. Josh went so far as to thank God for the baby cow that lent his supple neck glands to this fabulous dish.

  • Wagu Rib Eye – This one knocked my socks off! Perfectly cooked to medium rare and sliced appropriately, the steak was served with a small portion of rich, creamy scalloped potatoes and two leaves of romaine lettuce. I hadn’t tried the combination of lettuce and steak like that ever before and, please, let me tell you, it was revelatory. The fresh greenness of the lettuce was a perfect foil to the deep and savory flavor of the beef. It is certainly something I will try to attempt to replicate at home…with little success I imagine.

  • Konpachi – Yellowtail, delicately cooked in butter, the fish was soft and sweet while a quick sear to doneness added a delightfully crisp aspect. The vegetables accompanying it were snappish and fresh. My dining companions found this to be one of their favorites.

  • Trotters – It was my first time eating pig’s feet. They were more gelatinous than I expect, but no less delicious! They were stuffed with chestnuts and cooked with just a bit of caramelized crispness. I encourage everyone to give trotters a try…especially if you have the distinct pleasure of eating them here.

  • Pork Belly – This generous portion of stunningly supple pork had an ideal ratio of fat to flesh. The fatty portion was so soft it could be spread on toast, and the full-bodied pork flavor rang out loud and clear. So loud and so clear in fact, that I have zero recollection of anything else that was on the plate with it.
Desert was the one confusing part of the meal. What was described to us as a Persimmon Pudding had the flavor and texture of a carrot or pumpkin cake – nuts and all. It was delicious, but none of us could find any sign of persimmons. Oh well.

All in all, it was an extraordinary experience. The technique was truly skillful, which was to be expected, considering that the aforementioned Octavio co-founded the inimitable Patina Group. Each ingredient was fresh and treated with the utmost respect – preserving and amplifying the natural flavors.

The 4 of us ate for $164.55 before tip and we all believed that it was a bargain. Though portions were small, the bold flavors, exciting, inspiring textures, and a thoughtful, creative, wide-ranging menu provided more than enough sustenance to keep us running, ranting and raving.

Do try Palate Food and Wine in Glendale.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hot Wings Cafe - Melrose and La Brea

I love me a hot wing! It is one of the foods that i think about for days before engaging in it's consumption. If you too get a hankerin' for Buffalo's favorite finger food check out Hot Wings Cafe on Melrose, just east of La Brea. The price is fair and the wings are prepared perfectly.

Their wings are un-breaded, which is how i prefer them. They are fried crisp and tossed in your choice of sauce; hot, super hot, BBQ, etc. Their "mild" version was garlicky and delicious. The hot variety are nothing to sweat over, but I imagine that their spicier varieties get very hot, very fast.

I checked this place out on a Friday with a few friends from work. We engaged in a wing eating contest during lunch and, I'm proud to say, took home the crown with 29.5 wings...yes, i count "halfsies." There was some conjecture regarding the rules of the contest, the time frame and the true meaning of an "eaten wing." To me, if there is anything left on the bone, you are doing it wrong.

I have a special wing eating technique, taught to me by my mother. It works only on the "wing" not the drumette - which is fine, because the drumette is - to me - the inferior chicken part. here's how the technique works: You take the wing with two hands, thumb and forefinger grasping the top end of each bone. Tear the two bones apart and choose whichever of the two peices excites you more. Dip it in the sauce of your choice - bleu cheese, ranch, vinagar, or dry if you please. Then, grasping one end of the half-wing, put the whole deal in your mouth and use your front teeth to cleave flesh from bone. Repeat with the other half, and smile...with your mouth full...of course.

When done correctly, you will remove all edible parts in one fell swoop. It creeps out a lot of people because you'll be eating the crispy cartilage and occasionally some bone too. To me, if it comes off the's for eating. If it stays on the bone, its for making stock.

It's been two days since gorging at Hot Wings Cafe, and I'm already excited to go back.