Thursday, March 26, 2009

In The Kingdom Of Gourmandia: Part IV

Tuesday heralded the "second half" of my Restaurant Week adventure. That is, the selection of restaurants to which I'd already been that seemed to require another -- cheaper -- visit.

The first of those was The Palm Boston, part of The Palm restaurant chain. I was first introduced to The Palm for my twentieth birthday by my aunt and uncle, and I was thoroughly impressed. I returned with "the boys" for New Year's Eve that year, where, again, my 16 oz. filet mignon was everything I hoped it would be.

I hadn't been since, enduring lengthy periods of time during which I could barely afford ramen noodles, let alone New York sirloin cuts. And The Palm hadn't previously opted to participate in Restaurant Week, positing itself with such previous untouchables as L'Espalier and Top of the Hub, immune to discounting their dinner services for new business and limiting the offer strictly to lunch. This year, however, as was the case with even the most uppity of establishments, they elected to participate fully. Having noted this development, and still holding very favorable memories of previous visits, I could not pass it up.

And so, on Tuesday, Erika and I made our way to The Palm Boston, situated in the Westin Hotel in the Back Bay area of town. Rather lost on what to drink -- torn between cocktails or wine -- we went with what seemed like a compromise. The girly-sounding "strawberry sparkling mojitos" we ordered were, it turned out, a compromise of unexpected context. I found the drink absurdly strong, even unnecessarily so. Mind you, this is coming from someone who will view the "rocks" portions of "vodka rocks" as a mixer if the vodka is smooth enough. The drink was just awful, a steely sort of rum with strawberry seeds and some very ill-looking mint sludged at the bottom. Unpleasant.

The appetizer choices were thin; lobster bisque, salad, or a different salad. Since I don't believe in eating salad when the salad in question is not a sexual euphemism, I went with the bisque. There was a distinct flavor of lobster in what I was served. This is more than I could say for the lobster bisque I was once served at the Daily Grill where, upon inquiring why my lobster bisque had been made without any hint of lobster, the server raised his hands in surrender and asserted his vegetarian status as though he was some how thereby Switzerland in the war on what amounts to false advertising, not my yet-to-be-commissioned liaison to the kitchen. But the actual flavor of lobster is the only thing The Palm's bisque had over the Daily Grill's; though I am certain any representative of The Palm would purport their food to be of higher quality than the products of the Campbell's Soup Company, I am here to report that on practically infinite occasions I have cracked open a can of Campbell's chicken noodle soup to encounter visible amounts -- if modest -- of chicken, and noodles, no less, but in a thorough search through The Palm's lobster bisque, I was completely unable to locate a even a suggestive shred of langoustine or prawn masquerading as their more prestigious cousin throughout the bowl.

Restrauant Week or not, Old Bay and sea salt do not a lobster bisque make, and to preface the dish on the menu with the words "our famous" seems almost humorous if one simply measures it by the relatively easy standard of containing some fucking lobster.

For the entree, I was torn. There was something called a "veal martini," with sun-dried tomatoes and such. And a salmon dish with lobster mashed potatoes, which I did not order. The meaning of "lobster mashed potatoes" is called into question, post-bisque-debacle. Perhaps the potatoes are mashed in the kitchen by the lamenting claws of a doomed lobster in his final moments of anguish. But the steak dish seemed too perfect. New York sirloin, butter-poached lump lobster meat, and wild mushroom risotto.

At the server's recommendation, I ordered the steak.

Having defeated my mojito, I wanted something different, specifically something unlike the cocktail I'd just had. When I asked for their cocktail menu, I was provided with a small list, along with the assertion that "the bar is very extensive." So I said "All right, let's put the bar to the test," and before I could begin to make my request, the server cut me off with a scoff, as though it was pathetic to suggest I would request anything they didn't have in stock. His confidence was encouraging, but upon listing my first ingredient of choice, he cringed. "I'd like pear vodka shaken with..."

"Oooh, um, pear vodka? Yeah, um, sometimes we have it. Let me check with the bar really quickly..."

Alas, no pear vodka. How now, brown cow. So I went with a listed cocktail entitled "Tease Like A Tart." It tasted of key lime pie soaked in rubbing alcohol, and was a substantial improvement over its predecessor in the beverage department. Perhaps I should've gone with wine?

The entree was not quite what I expected. The steak was rare, as ordered, and visible lobster meat made its first formal appearance of the night, but the wild mushroom risotto was served as an arancini, which was unheralded in its description on the menu and unwelcome. I was hoping for a slow-cooked, creamy risotto and instead was greeted with a fried arancini ball which I sampled but rejected.

For dessert, I went with the trio of sorbets, and this turned out to be the only meal with which I was fully pleased or even pleasantly surprised. Three generous scoops, one each of passion fruit, raspberry, and mango sorbet, presented by themselves. The sorbets needed nothing else; they were very good.

But, all in all, had this been my only experience with The Palm, I'd have wondered how they established themselves as a name at the steak and lobster table. However, knowing what they are capable of from prior visits, I maintain that there is potential for a very good meal there, but whether my Restaurant Week visit was universal half-assing on account of the discounted event -- unadvisable, considering the other recent mailing list promotions I've received from the chain imply that the recession is hitting them solidly in the books -- or if this was simply an isolated blip on their track record, I can say that, given much more positive experiences at every other restaurant I've visited thus far for Restaurant Week, my enthusiasm for a return visit is considerably diminished.

Would not do again anytime soon.

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