Restaurant Review Roulette: Chef’s Palette

You know how many restaurants’ menus just list a few ingredients to describe a dish?  Like Alinea, with these examples: Short Rib, Guiness, peanut, fried broccoli.  Or Sardine, black olive, tomato, arugula (and note their use of the Oxford comma).  Yes, this gives you some idea of what might be in the dish, but it gives you no clue of what the dish actually is.

This week’s contestant in our game of Restaurant Review Roulette doesn’t have this exact problem, as the menu thoroughly describes each dish (more on that later).  However, Cary’s Chef’s Palette uses a different approach to confuse the diner: they make up names for dishes that leave you guessing as to what they are.  Let’s have a quiz.  I’m going to list five menu items, and you try to tell me what they are:

  • Tidal Pool Rendezvous
  • The Mad Hatter
  • Earth and Sky
  • Vesuvius
  • The Howling Wolf

Have at it.  Now you might be able to figure out that the Tidal Pool Rendezvous is seafood-based, and probably some form of crustacean or bivalve.  The Earth and Sky involve some meat (the Earth) and some bird (the Sky).  But really, do you have a clue what these dishes really represent?  Did you even come close to establishing that The Howling Wolf is “Jumbo shrimp dredged in a spicy apple butter barbeque sauce, served over a crawfish and sweet basil infused potato cake and drizzled with a white remoulade nestled in a pool of corn soubise.”

The other thing that sticks out about this menu is how detailed the actual descriptions are.  Here’s your answer for the Tidal Pool Rendezvous: ” Colossal Scallops wrapped in rosemary-peppered bacon and lightly seared.  Served with creamy stone ground gouda grits and grilled asparagus.”  OK, that sounds pretty good, except for the damn bacon around the scallops.  Folks, contrary to popular belief, bacon does NOT make everything better.  A rosemary-peppered bacon would overwhelm a decent scallop, so keep it away.  Here’s the description of Vesuvius: “House made marinara ladled over a nest of angel hair pasta, crowned with char grilled shrimp and finished with aged parmesan reggiano.”  OK, they must stack this baby up like a big-ass cone, and hope it shoots the marinara out of the middle.  Now THAT would be cool.  But I suspect it’s just a marinara pasta with shrimp.

So what about the food?  Beats me.  I never heard of this place until this morning.  Like most places, some people appear to love it, and it’s just “meh” for others.  To me, this place looks like an acceptable option for a strip mall.  They look like they’re trying to be all things to all people, and that’s a very tough task.  In the end, I suspect Greg Cox liked it just fine, but he didn’t love it.  And so (drumroll, please), I’m guessing this is a 3 star review.

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 20 to 1

4.5 stars – 8 to 1

4 stars —  3 to 1

3.5 stars — 3 to 2

3 stars — 1 to 1

2.5 stars — 2 to 1

2 stars — 4 to 1

1.5 stars — 7 to 1

1 star — 35 to 1

And by the way, these folks do know the difference between “palette” and “palate.”  So what do you think will be the outcome of Greg Cox’s review of Chef’s Palette?  And why?

*********************************

Edit, November 12, 2010 — Greg Cox gives Chef’s Palette a 3-star review.  If you bet anything other than 3 stars, I’m going to use that money on something a bit less artsy.

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5 Responses to Restaurant Review Roulette: Chef’s Palette

  1. Dave says:

    3 (or 2-2 1/2) sounds right.
    It fails the “cute names for dishes” test, and fails the “too many ingredients/too detailed description” test (the old Rathskeller on Hillborough did the same thing, where the description sounded really good, but the actual dish was “eh”. (really, rather than spending the time making a dish sound good, why not spend the time making it taste good?).

    Although, I have to disagree with the bacon comment you make. Scallops + bacon is a pretty traditional combination, so they’re not really following the “bacon makes everything better” mantra. (but I’ve never had a “rosemary-peppered bacon”, so I can’t say whether it would overwhelm or not)

  2. Tom from Raleigh says:

    This place doesn’t appeal to me. I’ll bet that it won’t to Greg either 2 1/2 stars

  3. Tim says:

    If I have one criticism of Chef’s Palette, it is they try too hard.

    For example, the LED backlit menus (really?) just stop short of playing Ravel when opened.

    The service is solid, but the waitstaff is inexperienced. On the other hand, service is sincere, and this is a rare quality. I believe the hostess is the owner, and our waitress is her daughter – and they both care about your experience.

    The dishes are well-prepared but the menu is not inspired. The cutesy names are unnecessary. The dishes are fine for what they actually are, but the descriptions oversell the menu. When you promise the Earth and the Sky, it’s easy to come up short. The bar menu is more of the same.

    Overall, Chef’s Palette is an awesome neighborhood dining option in an area that has very few options. The decor and staff give the place a comfortable feel which is a great quality. The bar area is a comfy place to sip a drink with your spouse.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t consider Chef’s Palette a destination – not yet, anyway.

    If I had one piece of advice for the Chef’s Palette, it would be one word – “simplify.”

  4. Varmint says:

    That’s a great assessment, Tim.

  5. James says:

    Docked half a point for adding to the palate/palette/pallet confusion. Yes, I’m sure they know the difference, but given how frequently I’ve seen plenty of people who should know better NOT know the difference, this doesn’t help.

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