Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Palomino

Update Review, November 2015

As you may recall from my review last year, Palomino is the restaurant located, literally, in the same building I work in.  It doesn't get more convenient than this, right? Yet, as I said last time, I never go.  Why?  The food is just not good.  The cocktails are not good.  The service is not good.  There is no reason to ever go here.  Go ahead and read my previous review for full details.

Except I recently did, two nights in a row. Just like last year, my work group had a large event hosted there, so, I went, both nights.

I tried to give Palomino another, chance I really did. But all my comments from last time are still true. The cocktails were all awful. The staff acted like they'd never hosted a large event before, again, no serving utensils, nothing labelled, running out of plates and forks, etc. Such a mess.

A couple of the appetizers were passable, and I found one that I really did like, but that is not enough to draw me back in.
Drinks 
Palomino has a large speciality cocktail menu. Many options sounded great, but they were all totally unbalanced. Over the course of two nights, I tried a number of drinks, but could barely find any that I wanted to finish, let alone order another of.

The "Candied Apple Drop" was strangely bitter, not "candied" and sweet as expected. The Cranberry Mojito tasted like rubbing alcohol. The Pomegrante Margarita was mediocre, but not as offensive as some of the others. I don't remember all the drinks I tried, but I assure you, none were worth getting.
Supernova. $10.
"Grey Goose Vodka, Strawberry Puree, Prosecco Float."

This drink was very unbalanced. Crazy sweet, way too much strawberry puree. Not good at all. I couldn't finish it, even when I tried to water it down.
Blueberry Smash. $9.
"Stoli Blueberi Vodka, Blueberries, Fresh Sweet & Sour."

This actually wasn't a bad drink. Lots of muddled blueberries, cute swirl lemon peel garnish, almost balanced between sweetness, acidity, and alcohol. I wouldn't get it again, but I did at least finish it.

Appetizers

Food Spread.
On both visits this year, just like last year, Palomino acted like they had never hosted a large group before. No serving utensils provided for anything. I can somewhat understand thinking that people can just grab pizza, but bowls of cheesy cooked cauliflower without a spoon to serve it? Bowls of meatballs to just grab with our hands? Seriously? In the photo above, we stuck a couple forks in, as we had no other choice ...

Also, they didn't really have small plates or utensils with which to eat the food. They set out a handful of small plates and forks, but they ran out immediately (the forks almost all went into the serving dishes), and they never replenished anything. I don't understand, as they hold large events all the time. Aren't these basics? Also, nothing is ever labelled, so even simple things like figuring out what is vegetarian was impossible.

Anyway, our hosts pre-ordered an assortment of apps and pizzas, none particularly interesting. I skipped a few, like the hummus and flatbread, and the bruschetta. I tried everything else though. Like last year, the apps were indeed the highlight.
Caramelized Cauliflower.
"Fresh Herbs, EVOO, Herbed Mascarpone."

I actually really enjoyed this. The cauliflower was nicely cooked, roasted yet still soft. Underneath it all was a cauliflower puree, flavorful, tasty. I loved dredging it in the herbed mascarpone that melted into the cauliflower.

I went back for more and more of this, both nights. This was, hands down, the best thing I've ever had at Palomino, and the only thing I really would consider ordering myself.
Crisp Calamari.
"Hot Chiles, Smoked Pepper Aioli, Marinara, Fresh Squeezed Lemon."

On my previous visit, the calamari was the only decent dish. It was again just that: decent. Not rubbery, nicely fried, crispy, and I really liked the spicy jalapeƱo bits.
The marinara was incredibly lackluster, but the aioli wasn't bad.
Overall fine, but not worth going out of your way for.

Pizza

Our hosts ordered a ton of pizzas for the group. I recalled that last time I didn't like the pizza, but it looked really good, so I dug in again. Wrong move.

The pizza always looks much, much better than it is. The best was the Prosciutto Crudo, with a decently flavorful basil pesto, fresh housemade mozzarella, and a soft egg in the center. But still not good pizza, by any stretch of the imagination.
Pepperoni Pizza.
The pizza just tastes like nothing. Thin crust, boring sauce, boring cheese.

Dessert

You know me, I'm not complete with dessert, and the crazy sweet drinks didn't count.  So we got permission to order dessert, even though not normally part of the large group experience.  At the urging one of the servers, we ordered tons of the donuts for the group.
Sicilian Donuts with Mascarpone.
The donuts are normally served with 7 donuts and a small bowl of mascarpone and whipped Nutella on a plate, but they just made massive portions for us. Ours came on two platters, one with the mascarpone, one with Nutella.

The donuts were fried balls, sorta like donut holes, but crispier. Hot and fresh. They do seem to do a decent job of frying things here (donuts, calamari). Not too oily. But not particularly exciting either.

The donuts were rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and plenty of it. I liked that aspect.

I did enjoy the mascarpone, but, I love mascarpone in general (see cauliflower above).

Overall these were fine, but not really worth ordering again. I didn't even go for a second one.
Sicilian Donuts with Nutella.
Everyone else went nuts over the Nutella, but, really, it was just Nutella, no different from any other.

Original Review, July 2014

Palomino is the restaurant and bar located in the same building as my office, which just happens to be across the street from my house.  You'd think that in the years of living and/or working here, that I would have actually gone there.  There really is not a more convenient place to get food, or even a drink.  They are even open on Sundays, a rarity in this neighborhood.  And they serve brunch.  Yet .. the place has somehow never struck me as worth setting foot inside of.

Palomino is actually part of a small chain, and the restaurants are described as "Urban Italian", "famous" for their hardwood fired Mediterranean cooking.  I think that means pizza.

I still haven't been for a normal meal, but I did attend an event hosted there.  It was obviously picked for the location, since we were coming from a conference right upstairs.  We had the back area reserved to be somewhat private.  The tables were all removed, so the area was open, save a few tables that were set up for buffet style food, as the host arranged for assorted appetizers and pizzas, along with a few specific cocktails that we could choose from.

I can't comment on the regular restaurant, and I usually don't like to review a place just based on catering or special event experience, but I doubt I'll be returning.  So, take this all with the knowledge that it was large, special event, and may not be indicative of their standard offerings.

The appetizers were actually fine, but the pizzas were not very good, nor were the cocktails.  But where everything really fell apart was with the way they handled the large group catering.  They laid food out randomly, without any signs or labels of what anything was.  Some items came out as only one batch, consisting of say 10 pieces, for our group of 160+.  All the food came right as the event started, and was never replenished, even though we had the space for several hours.  Maybe this was the fault of the organizer on our end, who just made a strange order?

There were also no serving utensils provided for many of the dishes, even though it was buffet style.  And, no forks for us to eat with.  The placement of the dishes seemed totally random, with dips on one table, without anything to dip in them, and the bread that was supposed to be used with them just off on another table.

It was really just a mess.  I certainly would not recommend hosting an event there.

Drinks

Candied Apple Drop.  $5 HH.
I started with the very tasty sounding Candied Apple Drop.  Unfortunately, there wasn't anything remotely candied, nor apple, about it.  It had no distinguishable flavor and was highly unremarkable.  The only thing I liked was the cherry in the bottom.  $5 for a cocktail at Happy Hour is a fine price, but I certainly wouldn't it this again.
Whiskey Sour.  $5 HH.
I moved on to a more classic drink, a Whiskey Sour, hoping they would do it justice.  It was very unbalanced, acidic, and way too bitter.  Again, price was fine, but the drink was worse than the previous, and I didn't even bother finishing it.
Cranberry Mojito.  $5 HH.
I actually ordered a pomegranate martini, but received a cranberry mojito instead.  Turns out, I was quite happy with the error.

This was the best drink of the night, by far.  It was refreshing, yet fruity, minty, very balanced.  I really enjoyed this, and would get another.  $5 price was again great.

Appetizers

Crisp Calamari with Smoked Pepper Aioli and Marinara Sauce. $9.95 HH, $13 regular.
Tomato Basil Bruschetta. $5.95 HH, $9 regular.
The first appetizer set out was tomato basil bruschetta, with "herb oil, roma tomatoes, pesto, fresh basil".  I did not try it in the first few minutes since I wanted to see what else was coming, and when I looped back to get a slice, it was long gone.  They never brought out more of it.

Soon after the bruschetta arrived, a couple platters of calamari were set out.  There were no serving utensils provided, but we were able to find a few forks.  Most people still just grabbed them with their fingers, touching numerous other pieces, and would then dip them in the sauces, usually getting their grubby fingers in the sauce.  I was fairly grossed out by this.  But anyway.

The calamari was described as coming with "hot chiles, smoked pepper aioli, marinara, fresh squeezed lemon".  It was decent calamari, delivered fresh out of the fryer, nice and crispy.  It had just the right amount of batter, not too heavy, but enough for crunch.  The calamari were mostly rings, not chewy.  There were also some battered pepper rings, that I wouldn't have known were supposed to be "hot chiles" if I didn't read the description.  Served with two dipping sauces, neither of which were remarkable.  The marinara tasted like it was from a jar.  The aioli wasn't really creamy, and certainly didn't taste of smoked pepper.  Besides the sauces, this was better than I expected.  I would have had more, but like the bruschetta, after this initial offering, no more was ever brought out, and I'd only taken a few pieces so I could sample everything else first.

Both dishes were $3.05 cheaper at Happy Hour than on the normal menu, which doesn't really make sense to me, since one dish was $13 normally, and the other $9, so it was a totally different percentage of the original costs.  Prices were about what I'd expect.
Curried Chickpea Fritters, Onion Jam Gastrique,  $5.95 HH, $6 regular.
Next they brought out a single order of the chickpea fritters.  A party for 160 people, and only 10 fritters?  That was really strange.

Anyway, since nothing was labelled, I had no idea what these were.  I could tell they were fried balls, and they had some parmesan cheese on top, and had what looked like an onion jam beside them, so I thought they might be filled with cheese or something.  It turned out that they were "chickpea fritters", which I'm still not really sure how they are different from falafel.  They were fried balls of chickpea.  The crust was nice on them, but I don't really like chickpeas, so I didn't really enjoy them.  Cheese sprinkled on falafel is also a bit strange.  The onion jam was flavorful, but again, there were no serving utensils, and it was thick and these weren't really dipable.

Amusingly, the regular and Happy Hour prices on these were only $0.05 different.  What?
French Onion Dip.  $5.95 HH, $6.50 regular.
Next came some dips.  Again, none were labelled, so it was a bit interesting trying to guess what they all were.  At least this one came with a spoon (although, subsequent batches would not).  They also did bring several batches of this out throughout the night.

This was apparently the "French Onion Dip", although it did not resemble any onion dip I've ever had before.  Rather than sour cream, it used cream cheese for the base.  And had pancetta bits in it (sorry vegetarians, I'm guessing you thought the onion dip was safe?)  For the onion components, there were caramelized onions in the dip, and fried onion strings on top.  Served with "brick-oven flatbread crisps" on the side, which, more often then not, were set out on different tables than the dip.

I wish I had photos of the flatbreads, as they were ridiculous.  They were slathered in butter, just dripping.  Yes, the idea is to coat super buttery bread with sour cream, pancetta, and fried onion rings? Yikes.  No worry, as they didn't actually put the bread out anywhere near the dips anyway, so people ended up just dipping their pizza crusts in it, or eating it by the spoonful.  But back to the flatbreads. They were completely burnt.  At one point, someone asked me, not jokingly, where I found dessert.  I was confused, and he said, "aren't you eating a brownie?"  Yes, the flatbread was sooo charred that it looked like a brownie.  And the dip looked liked cream cheese frosting.

Speaking of the dip though, it was tasty enough.  It came out very hot, and held temperature well.  It also tasted good cold later on.  By far my favorite of the dishes, although I'm still not sure I'd actually order it myself.  It was very, very creamy, and really had way too much cream cheese and too little anything else, but ... the onion flavor was good, and I really did enjoy the crispy onion strings on top.  The little pancetta bits added additional smokiness and salt.

Again, an amusing Happy Hour vs regular price difference, this time of $0.55.  This seemed like a really good price for a dish this size.
Crab and Artichoke Dip. $9.95 HH, $15 regular.
Along with the onion dip, another hot dip was set out.  I'm glad I'm not vegetarian, as I could have easily thought this was just a cheesy artichoke dip at first glance.  But, it was crab and artichoke, which I realized the moment I took a bite.  Well, I didn't realize it was crab, but it tasted really fishy.  In a not good way.  Like, in a very bad old seafood way.  It was topped with breadcrumbs.

Like the onion dip, it came out hot, and several more were brought out throughout the night.  And like the onion dip, the flatbreads it was supposed to come with were no where to be found.  And, this was the only batch that came with a spoon.  I didn't care, as I stayed far away from it the rest of the night after that initial very bad bite.

My least favorite of all of the dishes, which is sad, since I do love crab.  And hey, look at that, Happy Hour vs regular price difference of $5.05, both of which seemed overpriced compared to everything else.  I guess you pay a lot for smelly, fishy crab ...

[ No Photo ]
Moroccan Hummus & Tzatziki with Grilled Pita $5.

The final dips were a cold duo: hummus and tzatziki.  We were given a single order of this.  No spoons.  And the pita?  On a different table.  Seriously, what did they expect people to do with it?

The pita was much better than the flatbread that came with the hot dips.  It was nicely grilled, not burnt.  It wasn't drenched in butter.  But neither dip had any real flavor to it.  I wonder if they would have been good with the falafel, er, chickpea fritters.

Pizzas

And finally, pizza.  Palomino has a large pizza menu, and I think is their biggest seller.  Described as "featuring our hand-pulled fresh mozzarella and the freshest ingredients on a crisp brick-oven charred crust".

We received tons of pizzas.  While I was grumpy about mostly just getting a single batch of most of the apps, the pizzas did keep replenishing.  We received all 3 of the Happy Hour special pizzas.
Fresh Roma & Mozzarella Pizza.  $7.95.
I started with the simple roma and mozzarella.  As promised, it was indeed served on a "brick-oven charred crust".  The crust was super thin, super crispy.  I think a bit too charred, but no where near as bad as the flatbreads.  Plus, I know that is trendy these days.

The red sauce was totally unremarkable, just like the marinara for the calamari.  It could have been any generic canned brand, and it was spread too heavy for my taste.  The cheese was equally unremarkable, certainly didn't seem "hand-pulled" or fresh, but I'll take their word for it.  I thought there was too much of that too.  The tomato slices were soggy and didn't seem properly ripe.  I appreciated the large torn chunks of basil.  In fact, the pizza LOOKED really good, it just didn't really taste like much of anything.

Only offered on the Happy Hour menu, $7.95 price seemed fine.
Hot Italian Sausage & Mushroom Pizza.  $8.95.
I moved on to the next pizza, one that is far my more style anyway, sausage and mushroom.

The crust was about the same, thin and crispy, and this one was less charred.  The sauce and cheese were again unremarkable.  The sausage was ground, and the mushrooms were cut into tiny chunks.  There was a good amount of toppings, and I love the mushroom and sausage combo, but again, this pizza just didn't taste like anything.  $1 more than the basic pizza, seemed fine for the generous toppings.

I didn't get a photo since my phono battery died, but they also had a pepperoni, with large slices of pepperoni.  I didn't try it, but it was Ojan's favorite of the dishes.
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