The Dish: Palmer’s Touch

adds new flare to his modern American steakhouse.

Japanese A5 Wagyu on a Himalayan salt block. 

With over 15 restaurant concepts, celebrity chef Charlie Palmer has built his dining empire upon a simple promise – ingredients of the highest quality that celebrate the American food story. He recalls beginning his career learning classically French techniques because the rest of the world did not take American cuisine seriously. Being relatively newer to the world’s cooking stage, Palmer thinks there is an advantage U.S. chefs have: “We’re not bound by a lot of tradition,” he says. “The world is our palette and we pull inspiration from everywhere.” It was this “the world is my oyster” attitude that influenced his future cooking progressive American fare.

It’s those same core beliefs that translate into Charlie Palmer Steakhouse in Washington, which got both interior and menu refreshes last month. Palmer is careful not to use the word “change,” because that was not the goal. In fact, the updates were so slight that the restaurant never closed; all work was completed during off-hours. Custom furniture, textural fabrics and fresh carpeting by Barbara Gisel of BGD Interior Design all helped add to the “sexy atmosphere” Palmer hoped to achieve.

Since its opening in 2003, the 200- seat dining room has been a mainstay for the politico/lobbyist set, but Palmer doesn’t want to be trapped by typical steakhouse stereotypes of dark wood, cigars and massive cuts of meat. He recognizes that females are a huge part of his business, noting that 70 percent of restaurant reservations are made by women.

For the menu part of the revamp, he buddied up with executive chef Mike Ellis to test ideas. Ellis, who helped launch the steakhouse over a decade ago and came back last year after a stint at one of Palmer’s other concepts, jokes that he had experienced déjà vu after having to move furniture again. Notables on the roster are Japanese A5 Wagyu that is served on a block of Himalayan rock salt, as well as incredibly tender truffle roasted Poulet Rouge (also known as naked neck chickens) sourced from Joyce Farms in North Carolina.

Chef’s daily crudo.

Perhaps the most exciting addition to food line-up is a handsome mahogany cheese cart that will be rolled out for guests to ponder post-dinner if their savory tooth trumps the sweet one. Ten small-batch American cheeses will be offered with wine pairings.

Bi-coastal cheese cart with small artisanal varieties.

Sommelier Nadine Brown, coming off a RAMMY win for best wine program of the year, showcases over 3,500 exclusively American bottles. On the cocktail front, Lamar Lusk helped create a menu using a variety of local spirits including, Rye Street Whiskey from Baltimore – sourcing that Palmer is passionate about: “If we can help in any way to promote them as makers, distillers, brewers and winemakers,” he says. “That’s a part of the equation.”

Palmer’s commitment to quality ingredients ring true with every bite of food and every sip of wine. “We’re not masking flavors, we’re enhancing flavors and bringing out flavors of a natural product,” he says. “That’s our goal.”

This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of Washington Life Magazine.

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