(Pictures coming soon)
I had the opportunity to chat (along with Michelle) with Jose Salazar, the (relatively) new chef at The Palace at the Cincinnatian Hotel.
Chef Jose is a lot of fun– he has a pretty diverse background, having grown up in both Amish Country and Queens. He’s obviously charmed by the city, and really would love if The Palace expanded from its previous reputation as expensive, special-occasion, or only for the Blue Book set. I think he’s succeeding.
First, he’s changed the prices– lunch runs from $4 for a bowl of soup, $8-10 for a salad, and $10-17 for an entree, including a soup-salad combo ($11). Dinner runs from $8-22 for appetizers, $26-45 for the main course, and $8 for desserts.
Second, they now have a really fantastic bar menu. As a fairly frequent business traveler, I get really frustrated with bad bar menus at restaurants. If I’m traveling alone, I will generally sit at the bar, make friends with the bartender, and have dinner that way. The last trip I took, I ended up in the bar several nights in a row, and my oh-so-fabulous choices included wings, spinach and artichoke dip, and a burger. If I got there at the right time, I could get some (so-so) sushi. Abysmal! Seeing a bar menu that ranges from munchies like house made kettle chips, fries and deviled eggs, to appetizers I could make a meal out of (country pate, a Cuban quesadilla, or hummus) and substantial salads, sandwiches, and some entrees– this is great news for the business traveler.
Third, he’s added prix fixe! You get two savory courses and one sweet course for $44. Per person. Yes, folks, do the math (I’m waiting…). Done? It’s an incredible deal. Occasionally, they will also do the 2 courses + wine for 2 for $60 as well– stay tuned, and when I get that information, I’ll pass it on to you.
We started out chatting with Boz, the bartender, and each got a drink– I got a sidecar ($11) and Michelle got a Manhattan. Their cocktails are pricey, but well made.
Chef Jose brought us out some appetizers to sample. First, he brought out the country terrine, which was smooth, a little creamy, and wrapped in applewood smoked bacon. It’s a bit more rustic than a pate, but still smooth and delicious.
Next, he brought out a plate of tuna two ways: seared and tartar. It included a small portion of fennel and fennel puree and a small portion of piquillos and piquillo puree, topped with a hard-boiled quail egg. I am a huge fan of tuna, and both of these preparations. Piquillo peppers are sweet– they’re Spanish, and when roasted they’re spicy but not hot. I’m not a “hot for hot’s sake” sort of person, so I loved these. The fennel was a delicate accompaniment, which Michelle mentioned she tastes often in Cabernet Sauvignon.
And, because I had exclaimed over the foie gras, Chef Jose brought out the foie for me– pan seared, with pickled mango, pistachio, aged balsamic and herb salad. The pickled mango and the rich foie paired very well together (The tart and sweet cut the richness of the foie spectacularly), and I love a good, syrupy, aged balsamic– again, more tart and sweet. Is it wrong of me to want to go back just for the foie? It was that good.
Then, Pastry Chef Summer Genetti (who, full disclosure, is a good friend of Michelle’s) brought out some desserts. I had exclaimed over Michelle’s applewood smoked bacon creme brulee when she had gotten it the week before, and Chef Summer surprised us with a serving of it. How in the world had no one thought of this before (okay, I’m sure someone did, but how have I never had it?) ? Applewood bacon, crispy and crumbled, on top of sugar, on top of a maple-flavored creme brulee. Holy crap. It’s out of this world, like a very high-end way of dipping your bacon in maple syrup.
(And I don’t seem to have a picture? I have no idea why. I assure you, it was fantastic.)
The next dessert was the chocolate pot de creme, with a twist– salted caramel and toffee popcorn on top. This is creative and playful– not stuffy and Old Guard. It was also delicious.
The last dessert, we were guinea pigs, trying out a new confection. I’ve emailed Summer to ask her what was in it (I’d forgotten!) but I haven’t heard at the time of this writing. It involved key lime, cilantro syrup (which was not overpoweringly cilantro– just a hint of herbaceous sweetness) and custard, and a coconut tuile cookie. Michelle and I voted “winner”!
Please don’t be afraid of or intimidated by The Palace. It’s affordable ($44 for prix fixe), and everyone is very welcoming and warm– from Boz, our bartender, to Maitre d’ John Mclean (who has some fantastic stories about Cincinnati food going back nearly 40 years), to the valets out front. It’s just a fun experience that feels a little special– but could become a favorite restaurant very easily. I’m looking forward to going back soon to sample the prix fixe menu.
(That’s Michelle, with her favorite Red Velvet cupcake. With eyes. Michelle HATES it when food looks at her. Whole shrimp? Not her deal. So Summer put eyes on it… and the bacon creme brulee. Tee hee.)