Friday, December 31, 2010

Fun Playing with Palate Pleasing Food

We've known Cleveland-area Chef Jeffrey Jarrett for almost five years and we are excited that Chef Jeff  has finally opened his own restaurant - Palate, in Strongsville.  After sous cheffing for Matthew Mathlage (The Leopard, Aurora Ohio and Light Bistro, Ohio City) and Dante Bocuse (Dante, Tremont), he most recently ran the kitchens at Lockkeepers in Valley View and  North End in Hudson. Even more important, he and his wife Tammy have five children - three by the normal methods (apologies to Harry Chapin) and two adopted from orphanages in China. Both of the adoptees are special needs children. Jasmine is vision impaired, and sweet Jewel completely blind. Jeff and Tammy (and their  three boys) are themselves very special for taking these two children into their hearts and home - it tells you something about the people behind the food at this particular restaurant. So, be aware before I even start my discussion of Palate, that I am biased in favor of Jeff.

Bob and I were excited to be invited to the Palate "Friends and Family" preview evening on Monday, December 27. My food blogging friend Tom had already made a reservation for us to dine at Palate on its "official" opening night that followed, so what follows is drawn from two nights' experience at Palate. (You can read Tom's description of our Palate dinner at Exploring Food My Way).

The tables are covered in white linen, and the front of the house does a fine job living up to those white tablecloths. Service is attentive and knowledgeable. Fresh cracked pepper was offered with each course as appropriate to the dishes ordered. The table was de-crumbed and silverware replaced as needed throughout dinner. Glasses were re-filled promptly. The dining experience is simply a delight.

Palate's menu presently contains six items each in the "small plates" and "greens/soups" categories, and 10 entree options. This presents the diner with choice, but not so much choice as to be overwhelmed. Even so, after two visits, we still haven't tasted everything that looked appealing on the menu.

Bread is made in house by Sous Chef Lauren Stephenson, and served with luxuriously soft butter.

citrus-cured hamachi, beets, horseradish cream, pickled red onion, lemon basil vinaigrette

The photo above is from our second dinner and represents two portions ($5 per portion).  I loved this dish both times I ate it - pristine fish and tender beets contrast with the pickled onions and horseradish creme. I loved every component on this plate, though I wanted more horseradish intensity in the creme. But then, we grow horseradish in our backyard.

buttermilk fried chicken livers, cheesy polenta, spiced honey, grilled scallion salad

The livers were very good - crunchy on the outside and gentle on the inside. I especially liked the creamy polenta, which paired marvelously with a bite of the liver and the spiced honey.

crab cake, corn flake, candied hot peppers, apple butter

This plate contains two pieces of the crab cake, which is served by the piece (like the hamachi, $5 per piece). I loved the candied hot peppers, which contrasted nicely with the crab meat.

soup of the moment

Tonight's soup was potato, bacon and cheese. Pure comfort food, well executed. 

fried goat cheese, roasted beets & apples, greens, cranberry honey gastrique

Bob and I shared this the first night, and Tom enjoyed it on Tuesday - it was one of my favorites. Crispy, yet creamy goat cheese patties top a salad that is bigger than it looks. Packed with texture from the beets and apples and intense flavor from the gastrique - I could eat a big plate of this for dinner and be a happy girl!

palate Caesar - romaine, dressing, brioche crouton, roasted garlic/parmesan meringue

Is Strongsville ready for a salad that has real anchovies in it? I hope so, because I adored this salad! I'm not generally a huge anchovy fan, but the combination of flavors and textures on this plate totally worked for me.  Caesar salad is traditionally started by combining raw egg, garlic, salt and anchovy filet and creaming them together - we learned about this at The Leopard, where it was prepared tableside for us (before Jeff's tenure there).  Jeff here skillfully plays with those elements and makes them tasty and approachable. The warm meringue covered the egg component, and had a touch of sweetness that played very nicely off of the subtle fish flavor from the tasted-but-not-seen anchovy. The house-made brioche croutons broke easily and provided nice crunch against the creamy garlic, and just the right amount of absorbency without getting soggy. Did I mention that I adored this salad?

In fact, all of the salads we tasted both nights were fabulous - not a bad note among them. 

mache pit - goat cheese, pistachio, honey, pomegranate, lemon vinaigrette

Order this salad and you'll fully understand why it is served in a clear bowl. It is fun to play with (the name describes how it is put together) and fun to eat! Bob had this Monday, our friend Edsel ordered it on Tuesday - it is a true "mache pit," built from the bottom up.

braised beef short rib, parsnip polenta, garden vegetables, pan sauce

Bob's Tuesday entree was a Jeff Jarrett signature - short rib. Cooked nicely, with a hint of chocolate in the sauce - this plate was so good that Bob even ate his broccoli!

scallops, celery root puree, apple slaw, gremolata, salsa verde

Both of our dining companions ordered this entree and reported their enjoyment. The scallop I tasted was cooked perfectly, and Edsel did let me also steal a swipe of the creamy celery puree. Yum.

The great consistency Bob and I noted in both meals was the veritable perfection in the purees, vegetables and sauces (in almost infinite variation of styles) on the plates. Jeff is truly gifted at creating unique plate elements that work on all levels -  visual, smell, taste, texture and with some, playfulness. Our only complaint was that some plates needed a larger quantity of some of these accouterments, but I expect that this will work itself out as the kitchen becomes more accustomed to plating Jeff's creations. Of course, Jeff also excels at good old fashioned comfort foods - hold the gastrique, candied fruits, vinaigrettes, meringues, confits, and gremolatas, and you get my Tuesday entree:

flat iron steak, mac n’ cheese, braised green beans

The. Best. Mac N Cheese. Ever. Nothing fancy or cutting edge; no pork or seafood. Just a perfect custard-like texture, rich cheesy flavor and crispy topping. 

The green beans were braised with bacon, and tasted so good that I had to share them with my tablemates. I mean, who gets that excited about winter green beans?

The steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and had nice crusting accented by cracked black pepper and other seasonings. Oh, and what do you know - there was a small pool of sauce on that plate after all. Shhhh - this was still an amazing plate of completely approachable, familiar, and satisfying food.

Lauren's desserts are a veritable bargain at $5 each:

deconstructed s’more: marshmallow meringue, graham cracker sablĂ©, chocolate ganache

I loved the meringue, and any dish that invites play prior to ingestion works in my book. The warm topping nicely melted the chocolate onto the cookie.

beet parfait: pomegranate molasses, spicy chocolate cookie, chocolate curl

Beet desserts seem to be the fashion in Cleveland this year, and this one does not disappoint. If you like beets at all, you should love this dish. I loved the combination of the beet sorbet with the chocolate curl.

dark chocolate mousse, devils food cake, dried cherries, parmesan tuille

Bob and I shared this dessert the first night and Tom got it the second - and all who tasted it pronounced it "plate licking" good. Though we all agreed that the cheese in the tuille clashed a little with the chocolate - the dessert as a whole tasted so good that a little clash didn't matter. The two types of chocolate paired with cherry combined deliciously.

I need to note that, as is customary, the Friends and Family night meal was comped. The next night, the four of us enjoyed dinner expecting to pay for our meals, but at the end, we were again comped (thank you Jeff!).

As with any restaurant open for less than a week, Palate still has a few kinks to work out. But I am confident that Chef Jeff, General Manager Christopher Von Alt, and their staff will do their utmost to provide a completely enjoyable dining experience should you venture to Strongsville and visit with them. And with price points between $4-8 for small plates and $13-20 for entrees, I am already looking forward to a return!

A few months before opening Palate, Jeff joined with Cleveland chefs Brian Okin and Ellis Cooley (AMP 150) to start Dinner in the Dark. Each month, a group of chefs prepare a multi-course wine dinner for an audience willing to dine without advance notice of who is cooking or what is being cooked. All proceeds from each dinner are donated to a different charity. The next event is January 17, at Palate, and will benefit the Cleveland Sight Center. Please call Palate at (440) 238-8500 to make your 6:30pm reservation ($65). We'll be there, and we hope that you will be too!

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1 comment:

  1. An absolutely delicious review, Nancy.
    Can't wait to journey from Chagrin Falls to visit and support this restaurant.