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Sep 10, 2008 11:49 AM


Slightly expanded w/ pics here:

It’s always upsetting to write something less than stellar about a restaurant – mainly because it’s always upsetting to have a less than stellar experience at a restaurant. Especially when you’re dropping a lot of cash and it's a place you WANT to love.

Anyway, I’m hanging out with Kimberly (recovering anorexic) at Solar de Cahuenga, and I’m totally planning on parting ways with her at about 5:30 and slipping over for an early dinner at Palate, alone at the bar, before they get mobbed. But then Kim’s friend Retta – who’s not anorexic at all -- calls and says "what are you guys doing, I’m starving, want to go to Lucques?"

Well, I always want to go to Lucques, but I get on the phone with Retta and pitch Palate to her: "new-ish restaurant opened by a long-time partner in the Patina group, Octavio Becerra. This is his first restaurant on his own, and people are loving it. It’s connected to a wine store so it’s all about wine and small plates. Todd Jasmin works there, the crazy cheese guy who used to be at Comme Ca -- I know him, he’ll hook us up a little. It’s all good." Retta says, I’ll pick you guys up, let’s go now.

We walk in to Palate and right away I see Todd Jasmin. He seems happy to see me and I introduce him to Kim and Retta. We learn the restaurant is fully booked tonight but we can sit at the bar – so far so good, that’s where I want to sit.

Now, this is exactly what happens next: Todd says to the bartender, “hey, dude, give these guys that new drink we came up with this afternoon.” The bartender prepares 3 of the drinks, one for each of us.

Punch line # 1: we are charged for all three cocktails. 12 bucks a piece.

All right, I can’t wait, punch line # 2: meal’s over, I put three quarters of the bill on my credit card, Retta puts the rest on hers and she pays the whole tip. I get my credit card bill a few days later and I’ve been charged for the entire meal!!!! I have all the paperwork from both the restaurant and the bank, as well as Retta’s paperwork, and they overcharged us (I'm sure unintentionally) by about 60 bucks.

Now, deep breath. Let's not get stuck here. I mean, fine, whatever, I'm sure it was an accident, and I will definitely parlay this error into a free meal. So it’s all good.

Backtracking: We sit down at the bar and Kim and Retta immediately have problems with the bartender. Kim’s sure he’s hitting on her; Retta’s positive he hates her. I have to agree, his demeanor is odd, aloof in a ‘trying to be cool’ way, not engaging in the way I like. Worse, the wines he pours me (his recommendations with the food we order) are mediocre. I love the small plates with wine concept, but no wine that crosses my palate is inspired tonight.

Oh, wait, I'm sorry to add fuel to the fire, but a few days after my meal here I’m getting a haircut at Floyd’s in West LA, and the guy cutting my hair starts talking restaurants. Completely unprovoked, he tells me he lives in Glendale and had a very disappointing experience at Palate. He was poured several wines to taste, thinking he was choosing which wine he wanted to order by the glass. Then he was charged for all the tastes. He was surprised, upset, and does not intend to return to Palate.

Something might be wrong here.

All right, let’s talk about the food, which had its very good moments. Corn soup was redolent of corn. It was paired with a white Bandol which was delicious and refreshing, best wine of the evening. The “porkfolio” was really good, a few types of ham, house-made, served with a few mustards. This is sort of a cliché these days but this was really good, and putting the pork on top of some bread and butter was perfect.

Next came an eggplant and ricotta cannelloni -- which was unmemorable -- and a coddled egg with summer truffles, which when slathered on some (more) bread and butter was divine -- contender for dish of the evening. Yum! Unfortunately, the bartender poured a very uninspired white burgundy with these dishes.

And then came the worst wine moment of the night. The bartender made a big deal that he had the perfect wine for me to drink with the pork belly. I said great. I then see him opening a 2001 Talenti Brunello and pouring it. The wine was closed, tight, needed a good day of air, and did NOTHING for the pork belly (which in itself was fine, with a nice crunchy skin). And the Brunello was 20 bucks.

This place is called Palate Food + Wine. To say that I expected better from the wine program would be an understatement.

The “veal rib eye” was the big positive surprise of the night, beefy and perfectly cooked medium rare, tender and lush. One of the better “steaks” I’ve had in a while.

And the oxtail was good too, but is never my favorite meat dish.

More on the plus side: The space is really cool. And the wine list itself has a lot of interesting selections at fair prices.

Here’s what I’d do if I went back: go with a friend who’s into wine, with whom I’m due for a deep conversation, sit in the “library”, order a nice bottle of wine, order the coddled egg followed by the veal, and take our time, without much interruption or interaction from the wait staff. At its best I feel like Palate could work like a cool coffee shop: you find your little nook and hang out. That could really work.

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  1. I've had a similar odd experience at Palate, one good, one pretty terrible. It's long though:

    3 Replies
    1. re: acidspit

      i wonder if you had the same waiter i had when i was there a few months back... in the middle of ordering a cheese plate for dessert the waiter dissapears when he realizes we have finished our wine. he takes the empty bottle and leaves us mid sentence. never to return... after about 15 mintues i flag him down and he looks at me like, 'i am sooooo sorry'. he then is not to be seen for another 5 minutes and i wave at him again and he slaps his head - letting me know he'd forgotten us again- and he brings us our cheese plate. we told him one cheese in particular we wanted before he vanished- and that was not on there! he just gave us a random cheese plate. can't complain, it was great. it did take us about another 2 years to get a glass of wine for it... that waiter REALLY sucked and didn't seem to know anything about the food or wine.

      1. re: Clyde

        Not sure if it was the same waiter-- this one seemed to at least know what foods/cheeses he was talking about, and it wasn't that he was inattentive (he was VERY attentive the first time I was there). I'm generally not a fan of waiters being wildly inconsistent, especially if I'm sitting in almost the same table with the same waiter within a span of 8 days.

        If I go again, I'll be sure to clear away from the same waiter. Blech. He did a perfect job of ruining my night out .

        1. re: acidspit

          Was your bad waiter a lanky Frenchman? I had him the last time I was there and the service was SO over-solicitous to the point where my companion and I became really annoyed!

    2. I've eaten at the restaurant once and several times at the wine bar. All great experiences, and the wines were definitely to my liking.

      I have to say that I'm not a big fan of the younger bar tender (hard to describe, but "odd" would be the best way i could describe him), but I try to talk to Steve (wine director) when getting wine recommendations.

      3 Replies
      1. re: spoggly

        interesting, I think I used the word "odd" as well. Yeah, at a place like this I think you just expect the wine recs and pairings to be relatively spot on. Also, I think it's not too much to expect for the bartender especially, even waiters, to be willing and WANTING to pour you tastes for free until you hit what you want. Places that pour you lots of tastes, and bartenders that do the same, make me love them and I end up spending a lot more money over time, believe me.

          1. re: la tache burger

            ltb - Steve is not only the sommelier, but is also a wine maker in his own right. He has two of his own wines on the list. He really knows his wines. Sometimes it is difficult to keep his attention as he has the entire place to placate wine-wise, although both servers I had the times I've eaten there were quite knowledgable. But they defer to him if they have any questions, yet it make take some time to get that answer. That is the problem of being too successful in the early days of any restaurant - service suffers. Witness the problems people comment on regarding Comme Ca as an example.

        1. Hi everyone. I've been reading all of you for a while and am finally adding my proverbial two cents. I am saddened to read this news about Palate. We had reservations there aprx a month ago (before the Virbila review!) and had to cancel them. I've been meaning to reschedule, but am now not so sure. As an aside, is Palate in the old Cinnabar space? (I used to like that place, many moons ago...)

          It's hard when you get your expectations up! I felt slightly let down by Bashan last year (I went after its LA Times review) and haven't been interested in returning -- but I really think that too was an expectations issue! Had a really fun dinner at Foxfire, though -- but only because the "top chef" Antonia was so nice to us (fun to hear some behind-the-scenes stories! Nothing out of school, but lots of fun.) Sometimes you have the best meals at places where you've heard absolutely nothing! (We enjoyed Taylors, for example!)

          Thanks again to all of you!

          2 Replies
          1. re: susiequeue

            i think you should give palate a try. i recently had a great experience. we had amazing service, ordered all wines from the sommelier and even had a visit from the chef. we all enjoyed the food immensely and felt it was totally reasonable. $130 per couple with 2 bottles of wine (for 4 people) and more than enough to eat. the menu changes quite often we are told, so there will probably be new and interesting things to try. here is a link to my review...


            1. re: susiequeue

              Yes, check it out, it's such a cool space and the potential to have a great evening is definitely there. However, the potential for the opposite it also clearly there. Beware and try to sit in the right place with the right help -- if you can figure that out. If I were to go again I'd make sure I was getting "Steve" to give me wine recs -- as per Spoggly's post -- and not leave that very key issue, and potentially very pricey one, in the hands of a random server or bartender!!! (Even to have to make this caveat is a bit of problem, at the very least. Sorry, but it's Palate Food + Wine!)

            2. This is soo bizarre to me...As of last Friday, I have been to Palate about 8x. 5x for dinner. 5x with a reservation. All AMAZINGLY EXCELLENT service, table service, bar service. One night, when I sat at the front of house bar, it was a bit of a pain in the ass...the review had just come out and they were swamped with only 1 bar bread and butter before my wine came so I had that freshly brushed toothpaste taste in my mouth-yuk. waited forever for my bread which didn't come until after my scallops...kind of a bummer but what can you expect with no res on a crazy-packed night.
              As for people who think friends can "hook them up", uh, think again...unless you are the general manager, owner, or someone who holds the bank card to the place, a new restaurant cannot be giving out freebies willy-nilly unless they want to lose everything in the first few months. Cut your friend some slack, sure, "I know this guy" type of people only hold so much power.
              The other strange thing is that I have gotten beyond-excellent service here, every time, even while dining solo, yet have had some horrid service at some of the best places (Providence broke my heart on my solo-birthday dinner, in June) in LA.
              I also love the fact that many people who dine at Palate are curious, passionate, social people. We have always wound up getting to know the people dining next to us..Friday was a hoot!
              Oh, as for the wine on Friday, geepers, great stuff, have 'em written down at home...they did bring us a little pour of something special to go with our coddled egg truffle treat...mmm.
              Oooh, the chocolate pudding was soooo good. Wish we could have gotten a chance to try the veal tongue/scallop thingie but we got there so late that we couldn't bring ourselves to make them keep the kitchen open any longer.
              We have enjoed all of our servers and I especially enjoy the knowledge and unpretentious vibe from the young gent at the wine merchant bar.
              I guess I've just been lucky at Palate and at Bashan.
              These are my 2 favorite places in LA (special mention to Hatfields and Grace).
              Please go to Palate again, with a reservation and a relaxed schedule, and enjoy.

              4 Replies
              1. re: tatertotsrock

                I'm glad you've had good experiences at Palate but I definitely have to quibble with your characterization of my expectation of being "hooked up". When an employee tells another employee to "give those guys that drink we came up with today" and then we're served those drinks, that should not be charged! No way! Never! We didn't order it! And it puts us in a very uncomfortable position when the bill comes.

                  1. re: tatertotsrock

                    and i will go again. Like I said, I'm not damning the restaurant, it was one experience, but usually those have at least some resonance. And yeah, next time I'll make triple sure I'm connecting with the right people.

                  2. Frankly, despite all the hype I find Bashan in nearby Montrose to be a far superior restaurant. Food, service, wine, atmosphere are all tops.

                    If you want a nice night out, I suggest checking it out.

                    Bashan Restaurant
                    3459 North Verdugo Road
                    Glendale, CA 91208
                    818 541 1532
                    818 541 1538

                    My review is here:

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: SecretAsianMan

                      Not that I'm doubting your assessment, but just by looking at the differing menus I can tell you that Palate uses superior ingredients. Just sayin...Maple Leaf Duck and Rougie foie aren't exactly top tier ingredients. But cooking technique is another thing...

                      1. re: fooddude37

                        Never judge a menu by...

                        Frankly, the meals we had at each place were incomparable. The summer herb soup at Palate tasted like boiled lawn clippings, while the other dishes were so small that they were hardly satisfying. Agreed with others below that the vibes are different, but dollar for dollar Bashan is the better meal and more intimate experience. Service was top drawer all around, while at Palate, I felt our presence was a bit of an annoyance.

                      2. re: SecretAsianMan

                        My 2 cents for what they are worth....Bashan has a much more intimate feel, familiar and comfortable. Palate has a much more professional feel. The space is more industrial and bits of the old Bekins business remain. Both have terrific food! For eating good food and chillin with friends-Palate. For an intimate/romantic night out Bashan.