I generally make it my practice not to review newly opened or recently opened restaurants. Even with a seasoned chef, line cooks, and wait staff, every restaurant needs about a month or so to fine tune the experience so that it is more or less consistent for every guest. Unfortunately, by sticking to this rule, it doesn't give me the freedom to talk about new and promising restaurants that I think my readers might want to hear about and try for themselves.
Since rules are meant to be broken occasionally, today I decided to make an exception and attend a meal on the opening night of Palate Restaurant and Lounge. Headed by Chef Jeff Jarrett, formerly of North End Restaurant in Hudson, Ohio, I have been suitably impressed with his cuisine at other venues (such as Taste of Hudson 2010 and the first Dinner In The Dark) and I was eager to see what he and his team would put together with their very own place. Originally slated to open towards the beginning of December 2010, various permit delays pushed the actual opening date to the end of December instead.
Palate Restaurant and Lounge was located at 12214 Pearl Road, Strongsville, OH 44136 and can be reached at 440-238-8500. The restaurant was located in a small strip mall just off of Pearl Road and the easiest way to find them when driving down Pearl Road was to look for the cross street, Fall Water Road. Turn into the plaza at that intersection and follow the drive towards the back of the building. Parking was somewhat limited along the side of building, but there was a large lot behind the entire building which should supply ample parking.
Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:
Tonight I decided to share my meal with three other friends, fellow food blogger Nancy, her husband Bob, and Flickr devotee Edsel. I want to reiterate that today's visit and subsequent write-up is a preview and not a typical review. While I went to the restaurant with the intent of paying for my food tonight (more on that at the end of the review), it would be unfair to any newly opened restaurant as well as to the reader to become too critical of the food and experience as it will ultimately get better and more consistent given a few more weeks. I plan on returning in several months for a more critical sampling of their menu.
[Ed. Note: The following pictures will look a little dark because the location of our table was in a VERY dark spot in the restaurant and I didn't use the flash on my camera (on purpose). I've actually lightened them slightly just to make them pop a little. I didn't want to over-lighten them because I wanted to give you a sense of what to expect when you go for a visit yourself.]
After being seated, we were handed Palate's brand new menu:
What I really liked about this menu (besides the fact that I could fit the entire thing into one photograph) was its elegant simplicity. I've seen so many restaurants who want to offer everything under the sun to their diners and the result is a menu that has no focus and no sense of identity. The other thing that surprised me was the sense of value the menu provided. All appetizers were between $5 and $8, salads between $4 and $7, and entrees between $13 and $20.
While we were honing in on our dining strategy tonight, fresh bread arrived at our table:
The bread was made in-house by the Sous Chef/Pastry Chef Lauren Stephenson. In addition to the fresh bread, softened butter was presented in two small ramekins:
The bread was warmed slightly, enough to allow the butter to gently melt right into the crumb. The bread also came in handy for getting that last bit of sauce or dressing off of the empty plates of food we would consume in the courses to come.
Since there were four of us dining tonight, we decided to split three of the appetizers. First off, we started with two of the Corn Flake Encrusted Crab Cakes:
These were priced per cake and we each ended up with half of a cake. The crab cakes came on a pool of apple butter and nestled on top of the cakes were small strands of candied hot pepper rings. I didn't manage to get any of the candied hot peppers until my very last bite, but when I did, wow was that ever good! One would think that hot peppers would overpower the delicate crab, but given Chef Jarrett's treatment, it remained as an accent flavor.
Our second appetizer was the Citrus-Cured Hamachi, Beets, Horseradish Cream, Pickled Red Onion dressed in a Lemon Basil Vinaigrette:
As with the crab cakes, the hamachi was ordered on a per piece basis and we decided to stick with two pieces here as well. The incredibly delicate flavor of hamachi (aka yellowtail) often has a slightly lemony and buttery flavor and even with all of the other ingredients on the plate, I never lost the taste of the hamachi. One of the hallmarks of Jeff's food is a profound sense of balance and this dish exemplified that fact.
Our final appetizer of the evening was the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Livers over Cheesy Polenta, Spiced Honey and Grilled Scallion Salad:
Ever since I discovered the fried chicken livers at Lolita many moons ago, I have been a complete sucker for a properly fried chicken liver. Tonight's version was crispy on the outside, creamy and tender on the inside and the cheesy polenta added a second layer of softness to each forkful I put into my mouth. While the plate pictured in the photograph above represented a single order, I could've greedily snarfed down the entire lot and not felt guilty at all.
Our appetizers out of the way, we next moved to the salad/soup course. I decided to order the Fried Goat Cheese Salad:
Two rounds of fresh chevre had been coated in bread crumbs and deep fried to a golden brown. I first came upon this sublime flavor at Moe's Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls many, many years ago and there is just something about the crispy exterior combined with the soft, warm interior that makes this a perennial hit. Paired with the goat cheese rounds were roasted beets, apple, greens and a cranberry honey gastrique. Combining said ingredients on my fork and taking a subsequent bite resulted in a very happy foodie. This was one of the dishes that I used the aforementioned bread to make sure I sopped up every last bit of vinaigrette from the bottom of the dish.
Bob ended up ordering the Soup of the Moment:
I've included a shot of it here because Bob generously asked our server for four soup spoons so that we each could have a taste. Tonight's soup was Potato, Bacon, and Cheddar Cheese and besides being delicious, it was hearty and perfect for a cold winter's day like today.
Our second course now complete, it wasn't long before our entrees made their way to the table:
Tonight I decided to go with the Seared Scallops over Celery Root Puree, Apple Slaw, Gremolata, and Salsa Verde. The puree was super smooth and from the mouth feel, I deduced that it had been finished with either butter and/or cream. The scallops were seared to a golden brown crust on the outside and yet were still tender and translucent on the inside. The apple slaw added a nice textural contrast to the soft scallops and the gremolata and salsa verde brought a bright herbaceous sensibility to the dish. Before I knew it, I was staring down at a completely empty plate and found myself using more of the bread to sop up every last bit.
After clearing our table of finished plates and silverware, our server dropped off the dessert menu. The front of the menu had the desserts:
And the reverse had after dinner drinks:
Eager to try some of Lauren's $5 sweet treats, when I saw the Dark Chocolate Mousse, I knew I couldn't resist it's siren song:
A layer of Devil's Food cake was topped with two spheres of the velvety smooth dark chocolate mousse. Dried cherries were sprinkled on top and in a move that gave the dessert a somewhat "rabbit ears" quality to it, two Parmesan tuilles were inserted into the top. I tried each of the components of the dessert separately and then got down to the business of combining various flavors. Joining the umami and salty qualities of the Parmesan cheese with the sweetness and slight bitterness from the dark chocolate was an interesting idea. While pairing chocolate with cheese is a home run for some people, for me it didn't do much to elevate the dish. Of course, given that I nearly licked the bowl clean after reaching the bottom, clearly I had no complaints about the flavors.
At various points in our meal, Jeff, Lauren, and General Manager Chrisopher Von Alt stopped over to see how our meal was. In what came as a complete shock to all of us, when at last our table was completely cleared of plates and dishes, our server approached us to tell us that the meal had been comp'd by Chef Jarrett. We earnestly put up a protest, but she stood firm in her resolve. We at least insisted that we would need to know the check total so that we could tip her properly. Alcohol excluded, tonight's check for the four of us, with tax, came to $37.50 per person.
I was at first concerned that having the meal comp'd would compromise my ability to write about tonight's experience, but I quickly realized that a) this was a preview of the menu and b) my opinions had already been formed before finding out about Chef Jarrett's more-than-generous gift to us. Once the restaurant has had time to settle into itself, I will return for what hopefully amounts to a more anonymous critical analysis of the food (as much as is possible since much of the staff now knows what I look like).
In the meantime, I highly encourage you to check out this new addition to the Strongsville culinary scene. The food was innovative without being too "out there," the prices were completely in-line with the level of cuisine and the staff seemed knowledgeable and eager to make sure our dining experience was top notch. As the restaurant is brand new, I would recommend that you call for reservations just to make sure they have a table waiting for you when you go. With plans in early 2011 to add lunch service and a Sunday brunch, I look forward to many more good meals at Palate. Considering that they are only a thirty (30) minute drive from the Montrose area via the Turkpike, I definitely think it's a worthwhile trip. If you decide to try them out for yourself, shoot me an email or leave a comment and tell me about your experience.
Finally, I would encourage you to check out Nancy's blog post about her experience at Palate. In addition to joining Edsel and I for dinner tonight, she and Bob also attended a "Family and Friends" dinner the night before and has some added perspective that is definitely valuable.