Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dinner out. Palace Kitchen.

An old friend of my mother's comes to visit, driving up from Portland with her two sons. I have not seen them in many years, a decade or so. She has not changed much, at least to my eye, the way my parents will always look the same to me no matter what, but her sons have grown from seven or eight and ten or eleven to seventeen and twenty-one. The boy who came up to my shoulder the last time I saw him now towers over me by a good twelve inches or so. So here they are in my living room, and I have two seconds to propose something besides a Chinatown seafood restaurant. Because if I am going to eat dinner with people I don't know well, and make awkward small talk all night (I am very bad at making small talk), I damn well better be eating something I will enjoy. So Palace Kitchen it is. They have a table available, an unheard-of occurrence last-minute on a Saturday night.

I have never seen this restaurant so quiet (which is not to say that it is empty; many tables are occupied, but there are several still open, the noise level is moderate rather than deafening, and no waiting patrons block the door). I am early, and occupy myself with the menu while waiting for the others to arrive. As always, I want to order one of everything. I know I will order the chicken wings, but I am madly torn between the pasta with summer vegetables and the pasta cake with goat cheese. Then my mother and her guests arrive, and all is chaos as I order the first round of appetizers and everyone else looks over the menu.

Like last time we have the grilled chicken wings, the pork belly, the plin, a sort of triangular ravioli. The chicken wings and plin have been a constant on the ever-changing menu since the restaurant opened, as far as I can recall. So is the Caesar salad, improperly made with whole romaine leaves and a giant house-made crouton. I also order a salad of heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella. They are all good, and we pass the plates around as the ordering of our main courses spins entirely out of control and ends up, happily, with the decision to share everything.

We order five main courses for the six of us, steak and roast chicken (much like the ones we ate here recently) and sliced duck breast and black-pepper linguine, tossed with those tiny chanterelles like those we'd had at Sitka & Spruce, olives and tomatoes and goodness knows what else. Wide noodles are mixed with goat cheese and tomatoes and other good things and fried into a gooey cake; it is all extremely good, and I am glad that I did not have to make a choice. This is a fun way to eat, tasting a little of everything, eating until you are satisfied. There is just enough room for something sweet, and I have the "Whoopie Pie," two soft chocolate cookies filled with a mascarpone cream, a saucer of raspberries on the side. I reflect that I have not gotten any better at talking to seventeen-year-old boys since I was a seventeen-year-old girl. But the food was good.

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