Set in a massive space at 1100 Flower Street, in downtown Los Angeles, is one of the most recent installments of the nationwide Palm family of restaurants. Opened in 2005, Palm Downtown continues to live up to the outlet's reputation for serving outstanding steak, lobster, and Italian specialties in a unique setting. The original Palm location was opened in 1926, on New York City's 2nd Avenue, by Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi. At the time, the two set out to open a neighborhood Italian restaurant with great food and good service. Steaks and chops were not part of the original menu, but guests demanded them and Bozzi and Ganzi delivered, creating the menu concept of today. The restaurant was originally meant to be called "Parma" after the city in Italy where the two partners grew up, but a mispronunciation of the word became "Palm," and the name stuck. Today, it is often referred to as "The Palm."
The Palm is widely recognized for establishing a loyal clientele who enjoy all that the restaurant has to offer. In every Palm, the walls tell a story of these loyal guests who have each earned a special place in the restaurant in the form of hand-painted caricatures. In fact, it is not uncommon for some supporters to have their likeness painted in more than one Palm location. The honor is also given to celebrities and other notable patrons who dine at The Palm. Regular guests are usually members of the "837 Club," which awards points for every dollar spent on food and drink in the establishment. The program's awards are incentive to join and range from complimentary appetizers to a three night stay in a French chateau. Once members receive a certain number of points, they get their very own caricature.
The Palm's Downtown Los Angeles location is notable as it was formerly a Packard car dealership, and is the largest of all Palm restaurants throughout the country. There are vaulted ceilings, two separate kitchens, and five private dining rooms in a space that holds up to 500 people. When the house is full of guests the energy is vibrant and noisy, and one manager likens the vibe to Times Square. While the atmosphere may be high energy, the over-sized leather and linen clad booths are cozy. If you like a seat in the middle of the action, a table on the main floor is the way to go. High-top seating and booths are also available in the sizable bar area. A semi-circular "family" area adjacent to the bar is also a perfect place to watch an event on the big screen. As for the decor, it is sleek and clean, and the lighting is dimmed just so. There is definitely an upscale feel throughout the restaurant.
Service at The Palm remains as outstanding as the food, and this location is no exception. Hostesses, bartenders, and even the valet are all very attentive. The entire wait staff is uniformed in crisp chef's whites and is extremely knowledgeable about the food and extensive wine and beverage selections. You feel as though the service is above and beyond what is expected.
The Palm's wine list offers varied selections both by the bottle and by the glass. While California varietals are heavily represented, the list also offers a nice sampling of French, Italian, Australian, Spanish, and South American wines. The Palm has received Wine Spectator's coveted "Award of Excellence" four years in a row. Palm also mixes up signature cocktails such as "Riviera Rum Punch" and "A Gentleman's Julep," as well as classic cocktails such as "The Upper East Sidecar" and the "Classic Charmer Manhattan."
Having the privilege of being hosted by the manager and executive chef, a selection of the Palm's notable signature dishes were chosen specifically for us. We began with an appetizer duo called the "Slater Special,” which was named after a former employee who claimed that tasting both items together was the best way. The duo is made up of the colossal Crab Cake made with jumbo lump crab meat, and Shrimp "Bruno.” The Crab Cake is different from most served in restaurants in that it is baked, not fried. There is little else to it other than seasonings and the hearty pieces of crab meat and the simplicity of ingredients allows the delicate flavor and texture of the crab to come through. The shrimp is prepared Françoise style in a light batter of flour and egg, and is pan fried in olive oil. The delicately crusted shrimp is then tossed in a tangy Dijon mustard sauce. The two different styles of preparation for the crab and the shrimp in this appetizer are a lovely complement to each other, and really showcase the quality of the ingredients.
Our salad course followed, accompanied by a glass of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand. Offering more than just the traditional Caesar or mixed greens, the Palm signature salads are truly unique and memorable. Most notable is the "Monday Night" chop salad made with romaine, iceberg, tomato, onion, roasted pepper, radish, scallion, and anchovy. The addition of anchovies makes the dish truly distinct. The salad is dubbed the "Monday Night" because it can be easily eaten while watching Monday night football on the big screen.
Salads led to what was perhaps the largest lobster I have ever eaten. Astoundingly, this three pounder from Nova Scotia is actually the smallest lobster the Palm offers. It is prepared by being soaked in half and half, split open, and broiled at an extremely high temperature for two-to-three minutes to give it richness. Then it is finished off in the oven. At the tableside, our server skillfully removed the lobster meat from the claws, which is not an easy task for a lobster of that size. The flavor of the lobster was fresh and succulent, and the texture was tender. Dipped in clarified butter, it was absolutely luscious. Our server recommended all of our wines and paired the lobster with Coppola's Director's Cut Pinot Noir, from Sonoma, which pleasantly complemented it. I will definitely gravitate toward a pinot noir when ordering lobster in the future.
For our steak, Chef Lee prepared for us the Bone-In Rib Eye served his favorite way: blackened and medium rare. Size-wise, the 24 oz steak carried out the impressive theme of the above mentioned lobster. The flavorful crispy crust of the steak gave way to the delicate juicy meat. There was so much flavor that no sauce was necessary. Although the Palm offers several sauces with all its steaks and chops, these sauces are more commonly served with filet mignon: sauce complements filet gracefully, whereas the rib eye stands alone nicely.
Palm's a la carte menu lists many side dishes to accompany entrées, and every side is served family style. We chose the Creamed Spinach and Asparagus Fritti, but the choice was difficult among so many tempting options like the Three Cheese Potatoes, Wild Mushrooms, and the "Half & Half" of Cottage Fries and Fried Onions. The spinach was sautéed and seasoned, then dressed in plenty of cheese. It was very decadent, and a great match to the blackened steak. The asparagus was lightly breaded and fried, rendering the spears tender and juicy.
For the finishing touch to our pleasing meal, we opted for the New York style cheesecake, another Palm signature. With a sweet and crunchy crust and a creamy filling, the cheesecake was a great way to end a wonderful dinner at The Palm. Based on this dining experience it is obvious why Palm has such a loyal following of customers throughout its many restaurants. The food and service are exactly what Bozzi and Ganzi promised all those years ago: outstanding.