Monday, February 09, 2009

Special Foodventure #103: Palm Terrace Restaurant (Newport Beach)

If I knew DineLA restaurant weeks were going to be extended and that Orange County Restaurant Week was rolling around the corner, I probably would've just dined at one place during Newport Beach Restaurant Week. Alas, having foresight as myopic/hyperopic/astigmatic as my actual vision - I decided to check out another restaurant; after scanning the menus, I chose Palm Terrace -- the menu looked solid and interesting at the same time (particularly the curiosity-sparking "Caesar Fondue" starter) so I wrangled my friend Khoi for dinner here on the last day of NB resto week.

Located in the Island Hotel -- next to the Fashion Island mall -- the Palm Terrace has that "hotel restaurant" look; it's hard to accurately pinpoint, but I just get the feeling that it's more a venue for business lunches, catered event affairs or for hotel guests to have an upscale meal as opposed to being a destination dinner place. The decor / ambience felt pretty standard if a tad sterile: cloth-covered tables with cushy chairs and boothes, modern-elegant china- and glasswares, with the abundant tropical touches, such as painted palm fronds, to stay in character with the restaurant and hotel theme.

The environment might have that hotel restaurant feel, the initial service and bites definitely disarmed that. The bread service was fairly impressive; we were given our choice of five different warm rolls (I had a pretzel mini-baguette first, then a cheese roll later) and surprisingly, we were served an amuse . . .
Amuse Bouche 1
. . . of seared tuna with a tomato-y juice with microgreens. Ultimately, I liked the gesture more than the bite. The tuna, with a little bright acidity from the juice, was alright, but wasn't really a nice little delight that an amuse should be.
Appetizer Trio 1
Next up is a trio of appetizers, a tortilla soup, the caesar fondue and their signature mac 'n cheese. I started with the soup, which is one of the better-made versions. It could've been spicier, but I appreciated the smokiness and that this is not oversalted (a regular occurrence with soups, particularly if they've been left simmering too long). For the "fondue", I was underwhelmed to find out it's merely long romaine leaves and an elongated parmesan crouton partly submerged in caesar dressing, but the taste was solid and it was a little bit fun to be eating a salad with my hands (and I can see it being a tasty and somewhat healthy entertaining / catering idea.) The mac and cheese was fairly well made (though I could be biased since there's truffle oil involved), but the taleggio cheese sauce could be thicker. Overall, a fairly ambitious gamut of starters and with the mild exception of the "fondue", it pretty much delivered on its promises.
Prime Beef Short Ribs 1
For my entree, I got their prime beef short ribs braised with rum & pepper for 30 hours with potatoes and Irvine Ranch vegetables. While a few slices of these were too fatty, overall I adore these ribs -- the combo of the marbling and the long braising made them fork-splittably tender and full for rich beefy flavor with little delightful peaks of peppercorn notes. The plain-mashed potatoes were decent, and I liked the variety of vegetables and that all of them were well-cooked, tender and fresh-tasting. (Khoi had nice things to say about his salmon entree too, which I snuck a bite of and agreed it was indeed pretty delicious.)
Valrhona Chocolate Obsession 1
Concluding our meal is a Valrhona Chocolate Obsession - a ganache cake with a gianduja crust, candied-pecan coated caramel ice cream with drizzles of creme anglaise and chocolate sauces. Deeply satisfying for a chocoholic like me, it's an endless wave of rich cocoa flavors, highlighting what a difference using a high-quality chocolate like Valrhona makes compared to the run-of-the-mill generic brands. The ganache was wonderfully complemented with vanilla from the anglaise and the nutty caramel from the ice cream, with a nice crisp-and-crunch factor from the crust, the artsy cookie swirl, and the bits of candied pecans. I'm tempted to come back here just to taste this again.

And I just might after finding out that for the entire February, they're doing a Dessert Buffet event -- yes... all-you-can-eat sweets, for $18/person or for free if you order two or more courses for dinner.

Another nice surprise that came with the bill, along with a mignardise of their housemade truffles, is that by bringing back the menu -- I can enjoy the Newport Beach Restaurant Week bargain again for this month at the same discounted price of $35. In my opinion, it's a decent discount from their regular menu prices and for any of you interested - let me know and I'll send along my copy of the menu so you can have an opportunity to check it out at that price too. And of course, tell me how your prix-fixe meal turn out afterwards. (Update: menu's already been claimed!)

And in my 20/20 hindsight, I'm very glad I didn't bail on trying this place out.

What Do Others Say?
Gayot considers the mac 'n cheese a standout and gave it 15/20
And more four-star love from the Yelperocracy
OC Weekly called exec. chef Bracken's menu "part Asian, part European and part American, but all innovation"

Palm Terrace Restaurant at the Island Hotel
690 Newport Center Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 760-4920
Restaurant Website

Flickr set here

Palm Terrace Restaurant and Lounge - the Island Hotel on Urbanspoon


Khoi said...

I have to agree with you on the mac n cheese! For me, it was really the best I've had. ... I could eat a salad bowl's worth of it.

Best line of this entry which made me regret not having more than a bite-sized sample from your dish:

"... the combo of the marbling and the long braising made them fork-splittably tender and full for rich beefy flavor with little delightful peaks of peppercorn notes."

Mouth. Watering.


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