inside the Park Hyatt
at the Bellevue
Broad and Walnut streets
Credit cards accepted
Open for lunch and dinner
Reservations an absolute must
My friend Ilene has simple tastes in food. She doesn’t care for Chinese, Mexican, Indian or any other ethnic cuisine that borders on the exotic. She enjoys Italian fare but always plays it safe when ordering in an Italian restaurant. Salad, chicken and a straightforward pasta dish are her usual choices.
The American steakhouse is the perfect place for people who prefer no-frills tasty food. And fortunately for these folks, there has been a rebirth of steakhouses throughout the country. Each establishment has its own unique style and atmosphere.
The Prime Rib recalls the heyday of New York supper clubs, while the Capital Grille reminds me of dining in London’s Savoy Grille. (Must be all the rich wood trim and hunting prints that adorn the walls.) Morton’s has a more casual atmosphere where staff roll around a trolley of raw ingredients to show you exactly what you are about to eat. Ruth’s Chris has a slightly clubby feel, but I always found it odd that the cooks don’t sear their steaks.
Several years ago, Delmonico’s opened on City Line Avenue. Just about a month or two ago, a new steakhouse called Chops opened on the site of Marabella’s on City Line Avenue as well. I’ve made a note to review them in the new year because one thing is certain: Steakhouses have been doing brisk business even in the shadow of Sept. 11, 2001.
Which brings me to The Palm, a hustle-and-bustle kind of place filled with regulars, tourists and conventioneers. The restaurant, housed in the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, is a national chain with a loyal following.
"I like The Palm because portions are good-sized and we can share," said Ilene as we slid into a roomy booth. "Do you see anyone you know?"
Politicians, celebrities, lawyers, judges and many of the city’s movers and shakers are regulars at The Palm. Colorful hand-drawn caricatures of these folk adorn the walls of the dining room and bar. I don’t think there is a dress code, here but it was nice to see gentlemen wearing suits and ties. At 5:30 p.m., the place was already packed.
The lighting here was perfect, so we could easily read the large-print menu. The noise level is always high-decibel because it’s what makes The Palm The Place To Be and Be Seen. You don’t come here for a quiet dinner for two. Still, we had little trouble hearing each other during dinner.
We began with large martinis — expensive at $11.25 each. An assistant waiter brought us a basket of bread and pats of salted butter. Ilene and I shared a long fresh onion roll, a favorite from our childhood. Our server rattled off the specials and failed to give the price of each. No matter. We wanted to order from the menu.
Portions are really large. We shared the hearts of lettuce ($5.50), which was thoughtfully split in the kitchen. Ilene and I each received half of one jumbo head of truly fresh iceberg lettuce and a thick slice of ripe tomato. The blue-cheese dressing was homemade and rich with chunks of slightly salty cheese. It had an olive oil and vinegar base and was akin to the dressing I make at home.
We wanted to share an appetizer or pasta and, since Ilene likes simple sauces, we selected classic linguine with olive oil and garlic ($15). The linguine was cooked al dente and not a bit oversauced. The chefs at The Palm roast whole garlic cloves until they are slightly golden brown, slightly sweet and creamy inside. The only adornment was a scattering of freshly chopped Italian parsley. This was an example of how good a simple dish can be.
The wine list is a large leather-bound tome with many vintages from around the world. I expected wines by the glass to be pricey, but a Rothschild Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were just $6.50 each. Both glasses were filled to the top.
Chicken Marsala ($20) consisted of several large slices of boneless chicken breasts that had been pounded into thin scallopine. They were quickly saut�ed and retained a natural juiciness. The sauce was carefully reduced to a perfect texture and never congealed on the plate. Heady mushrooms were added to the sauce for a quick saut�, imparting a slight richness to the dish. Half of the entr�e was packed to go.
I ordered my petite filet ($26) very rare, and very rare it arrived. It was seared on the outside and very tender, as top-quality filet mignon must be. Bearnaise sauce is traditional with filet, and I always know when it’s made from a mix. I received a small sauceboat of homemade creamy Bearnaise, studded with heady tarragon. Although tasty, I found it a little salty. My steak had to be at least 8 ounces; half of it was packed to go.
Since we enjoyed the pasta, we nixed baked potatoes or hash browns and went for creamed spinach ($6), a classic steakhouse side dish. The portion easily would have served three. Tender leaves of fresh baby spinach were chopped, saut�ed in a bit of butter and finished in a cream sauce. The texture was divine, sort of like a liquid souffl�.
Service was attentive if a bit brisk. The Palm is a fast-paced place, so if you’re headed to the theater, a concert or the ballet, you’ll never be late for curtain time.
Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to The Palm.