Food Republic - February 2012

A Pescatarian Takes His Wife To The Palm

By Tom Roston

After celebrating its 85th year and completing a brand “refresh” campaign, the PR team at The Palm invited me to come on down for a tasting to confirm that it’s not some stodgy, old steakhouse. Part of that means that the food they now serve is not just meat and potatoes: they’ve got a menu that can appeal to unconventional-eating under-50-year-olds, such as myself.

The Tribeca Palm in Lower Manhattan is a thriving place, doing the best that it can in a recession, buttressed on all sides by finance industry clientele with still-existent expense accounts. The room is spacious without being cavernous, and the famous caricatures on the wall smack of both tradition and downtown nightlife. (I had Darren Aronofsky and Rachel Weisz staring down at me. Note to Palm: separate those two before Daniel Craig comes to town.)

The Palm’s general manger, Scott Young, and executive chef, Luis Nieto, who hails from Colombia, were our hosts for the evening, and they treated us extremely well. They didn’t flinch when I made my dietary restrictions clear. Although, it’s true, they appeared to enjoy speaking with my wife a little bit more.

You see, I don't eat red meat. And she does—with relish. I eat seafood, and an occasional piece of chicken, but killing sentient creatures for my enjoyment is something I have problems with. Our different eating habits (she loves tripe, bone marrow, and the list goes on) have been an evolution of compromise and difference, but, ultimately, a source of shared joy. Which is to say, despite our differences, we have much more in common, and we love to eat and cook and talk about eating and cooking together.

Alas, even though we mostly go to fish-heavy restaurants, the occasional times we’ve been to steakhouses or a meat-lovers restaurant like Momofuku (where I took the $12 bread-and-butter “appetizer” as a personal fuk-u from David Chang), I’ve resented being treated like a second-class citizen.

So, bringing her out to the Palm may seem like a bit of a challenge. And yet, I have to admit, it was not: The Tribeca Palm has managed to create a balanced eating environment and menu that could bridge the dietary gap between Bambi and a bear.

“Do you like steak?” Young asked my wife, with a sparkle in his eye.

“Yes!” she answered.

She was prepared to order something boring but safe like a filet mignon, and was puzzled by Young’s off-the-menu suggestion: smoked rib eye.

Like I said, my wife knows meat, and smoked steak sounded to her like a cover-up, some tourist trap trick to hide a bad cut. But Young was emphatic, and we got the sense we could trust these guys. Nieto was direct in telling us that the rib eye hadn’t been selling when the restaurant first opened a few years back, so he tapped his experience smoking salmon while working at La Reserve. As an off-the-menu item at the Palm, it’s become a regulars’ favorite.

They put together a sampling of the seafood menu for me, that included dishes that were OK (lobster bisque, shrimp cocktail), good (Ahi tuna steak and all of the salads), and great (Chilean sea bass with corn relish, baked clams casino). And then there was the excellent: the shrimp Bruno, a fantastically fresh giant shrimp, butterflied, cooked with Dijon, butter and white wine. It was all the depth I needed. It was delicious, and I’d recommend it to anyone (yes, my wife loved it as well).

When I looked around the room, I saw that I wasn’t alone in my seafood diet. Young tells me that there’s about a 70 to 30 steak to seafood breakdown at the restaurant. And, of the seafood eaters, it’s about 50-50 between men and women.

And my wife’s steak?    

She loved it. She was in awe of the cut, the way it melted in her mouth, and the way the smokiness perfectly enhanced the flavor of the steak. It was a revelation for her, and she was more than happy.

So, yes, maybe the shrimp Bruno and sea bass were the supporting characters to the star on her plate. But my wife’s greater happiness didn’t take away from mine. It just added to it. The differences between our meals enhanced each of our experiences.

Click here to view article on the Food Republic website.