Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Palo Santo - Brooklyn Restaurant Week Home-Run

Palo Santo - 652 Union Street, Brooklyn NY 11215

R Train to Union Street

Three friends of mine--two of which happen to be Brooklyners--and I took advantage of Brooklyn's Restaurant Week and tried Palo Santo. We loved all aspects of it--from the rustic atmosphere to the inventive food.

I love the fact that Palo Santo is located on a residential block full of beautiful brownstones. The restaurant itself is set in one of these gorgeous stone creations and the history behind it is evident from first glance. The interior has rich wood accents that have been preserved from its original structure, but Santo's Latin origins manage to shine through as well.

Chunky tables and chairs are wooden and rustic--the tables look hand-crafted with leaves, spices and rocks embedded in them, resembling works of art rather than tools for eating. The dining room is interestingly laid out, due to the brownstone format--there are several nooks and crannies that you normally wouldn't find in traditional restaurants. We got to dine at one of these elevated nooks, located at the back of the restaurant, which gave us the perfect opportunity to talk and to be as boisterous as we wanted to be.

The cuisine felt more gourmet than at a typical Latin joint. While classic dishes such as tacos and tortillas were the menu, so were more inventive ones such as chayote salad and braised rabbit. We ordered a nice variety of things, and the best offering in my opinion were the desserts. Here are some of the meal's highlights:

Chickpea Soup - I love me a good soup and the non-traditional combination of chickpeas and butternut squash piqued my interest. The prevailing flavor was hearty and slightly sweet from the squash--it also offered nice crunch from the sprinkling of toasted pine nuts on top. The portion was more than generous and it offered a promising start to the meal.

Tortillas and Avocado - Although a simple dish of exactly what its name implied (tortillas and avocado), the beauty lay in the freshness and quality of ingredients. The tortillas were soft and homemade while the avocado was delicately cut into appetizing slivers and dressed with a citrusy vinaigrette and red onions. Julie chose this as her appetizer and I thought that it had a clean, light finish that wasn't overpowering.

Pan Roasted Red Snapper - Janel and I chose this as our entree and we couldn't be happier with it. The fish was cooked to perfection and flaked off beautifully, just like a flower if you will. Being a fan of cabbage, I thoroughly enjoyed the warm bed of red slaw that the fish rested on--it was slightly tart and although cooked, it didn't lose crunchiness.

The most impressive yet the simplest element of this dish was the plantain. Resting in its black skin, it was deliciously tender and a little sweet. Its flavors were subtle yet provided just the right pairing with the fish. I'd recommend this entree to others but note that the type of fish changes based on the day's catch.

Chicken and Dumplings
- Julie's main dish sounded and looked great. The portion was generous and I especially eyed the potato dumplings, which I'm a sucker for just by my Eastern European origins. While I didn't taste it, Julie complained that the chicken was too spicy. She seemed to enjoy the marriage of flavors but at times felt that they were overwhelming. Note - pay attention to spicy "warnings" from the staff and make sure to inquire about the degree of spiciness in dishes.

The Desserts - As mentioned, Palo Santo hit it out of the park with desserts. We each ordered a different one, enabling us to try them all. The selections included chocolate mousse with whipped cream, pomegranate sorbet with fresh apple slices, lime pie with whipped cream and coffee creme brulee. Without question, the creme brulee was the best one and we all devoured it with gusto. The coffee flavored custard was intense and luxurious, with a sugar crust that was done to perfection--I hate it when the sugar crust gets burned and this one was flawless. I could be wrong but I think that there was some cocoa flavor in the custard too--it was simply amazing.

My second favorite was the lime pie and I especially appreciated the thick crust on the bottom. I think that it was made of graham crackers and the custard on top had just the right amount of sweetness and tartness. I don't like when lime pies have an eggy aftertaste and this one didn't have a trace of that. The sorbet was my third favorite because it presented the palate with freshness and cleanness while the chocolate mousse came last. It lacked flavor a bit and needed more sweetness or even a hint of coffee perhaps.

Service and Cost:
Our waitress was friendly and very helpful. She seemed knowledgeable when we asked her questions about the cuisine, especially about preparation. It was nice that she smiled a lot and didn't make us feel rushed to make choices. We were also served by the Palo Santo's owner, who was lovely, welcoming and very laid back.

In terms of cost, we paid $23 for three-courses, which is part of the restaurant week offering. Together with sangria, tax and tip, we paid about $39 per person for an exceptional dinner. Normal prices range from $3-$13 for appetizers and $15-$25 for entrees.

3 Mmmms

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