The Palace Family Steakhouse has always been a low-rent Mission celebrity to me, a place where, for $10 or so, I could get a plate of terrible beef with a foil wrapped baked potato, some cruddy veggies, wet, floppy, garlic bread, and a cheap bottle of wine. If I was really feeling insane, I could order a pizza, or a Mediterranean rice and kebab dish, because for some odd reason, they served both. Things never quite reached that level, but given the right mixture of booze, drugs, sleepless, PMS and/or inexplicable mania, they certainly could have. The lighting was neon, the décor, all vinyl and laminate, with exposed pipes and wires (not in a cheeky hipster way). In short, I loved it.
A year or so ago, an article surfaced in the food section of the chronicle; a positive write-up about some guy named Manny Gutierrez Torres who had taken over the spot and was doing some pretty amazing things inside, of the tasting menu variety. It was all a little confusing, because the signage didn’t change; in fact, it still reads “burgers, pizza, steak” on one side, but, true to Bauer’s word, Manny is in there, flexing his culinary chops.
Heavy curtains hang behind the bodega style doors. Inside, things have not changed all that much. The exposed wires and pipes have been covered, the old server station that inexplicably stood almost in the center of the restaurant is gone, the tables are covered in white cloth, the lighting is less harsh, and the long, open kitchen has been given a tile backsplash. By all means though, you can still the bones of the old Palace Family Steak House.
I’m a little confused by the service situation at the Palace. I know Manny’s wife used to run the front of the house solo; I’m not sure whether or not that is still the case. She was sick the night we went; we were told her friend was standing in for the evening, a man who doesn’t actually work there. Yet an hour later, some girl showed up for dinner with a group of friends, helping herself to things behind the kitchen counter, intimating that she too, may work there. If that were the case though, why would a friend be the substitute server as opposed to an actual employee?
At any rate, both chef’s were serving tables in addition to Manny’s wife’s friend; they seemed harried and short-handed, but when asked, they said it was typical for them to personally deliver/discuss dishes, which, of course, slows the pace of the operation.
The Palace is a one trick pony, serving only a fifty dollar per person, five course menu, which is a pretty spectacular deal. Corkage is a reasonable $15/bottle, something we took advantage of with some special occasion reds we’d been saving. Another little service oddity; wanting white wine to start, we were given one recommendation, not a wine list; a Pouilly Fuisse, not cheap at $55, but most certainly delicious.
We damn near made it through the entire bottle before our first course arrived, the two chefs plating and delivering courses for other tables in the meantime. None of us had an issue with the pace of service; we were enjoying our wine and our conversation, but I definitely know some server abusers out there who would have gone absolutely mental.
I believe they meant to serve an amuse. I read that they serve one, and as the night progressed, we saw them bringing trays full of tiny lidded dishes to other tables; I overheard that it was escargot. I’m fairly certain everyone else got one but us, which makes me sad because I am pretty freaking nuts for escargot.
In preparation for the arrival of our first dish, our server brought us each a shot glass with a little rolled hand towel inside, over which he poured what looked like red wine vinegar. That’s always nice, a little pre-meal cleanse.
A lovely piece of line caught Steelhead Trout appeared, beautifully plated with shaved asparagus, fried capers, roe, and Japanese tangerine.
This dish worked so well on so many levels. For starters, the crisp, salty skin; something I always long for when I eat a skin edible piece of fish. The flavor and texture combination of the briny, crunchy, fried capers, with juicy, tangy, tangerine and the fresh green taste of the asparagus was both perfect and unique. The fish itself tasted as though it were pulled out of the water mere hours before it was served to us. It was a truly spectacular plate of food.
Our second course was a porcini mushroom soup with seared scallop and arugula.
I found it to be underseasoned and a little muddy tasting, but with the help of a little salt the more subtle flavors came through. Manny’s side kick in the kitchen (cute as button, that one) stopped by our table to ask if we knew that Manny’s mother in-law had shipped the mushrooms from Lithuania. I love that he cared to tell us that; that it mattered to him that we knew.
Third course; rotisserie chicken with baby potatoes and kale rabe, a vegetable I didn’t even knew existed until that meal. I’ve done a little research on the subject, not that there is much information to be found, but the consensus seems to be that kale rabe is “simply” an overwintered plant. My very limited understanding of overwintering is that it refers to a plant survival mechanism, a reaction to extreme winter conditions; something about an alternative species taking over the host crop, which fills me with an odd feeling of dread. At any rate, this alien life form was more than welcome on my plate, as I could eat my weight in both rabe and kale on the daily.
The breast pieces were served to us girls, while the guys were given wings. I get it, there are only so many pieces of a chicken to be had, and, ladies generically tend to prefer breast meat, but, I would never be accused of being a lady and I was a little sad that I that I got white meat. I mean, not THAT sad, but just a little bummed. My breast was juicy but also a little underseasoned to my taste; that beautiful rabe and kale love child? It really was the best of both worlds; a little bitter, with crisp, fibrous stalks and delicate, fried leaves, dressed with a bright vinegar which could not have been a better compliment.
Course four, pork two ways; a roast slice and a sausage ball, served with red and gold beets, pureed and diced, along with hunks of avocado. The thick cut of roast meat was quite tasty and juicy, if not a little pedestrian, but like all of the other dishes we had, I really appreciated the seasonal accoutrements.
The sausage was a real stand out, seasoned with a distinctly Asian flavor that none of us could quite put our finger on…allspice, perhaps? Whatever it was, it was intense, interesting, and surprising, provoking a round of raised eyebrows at our table.
The beef course, for me, is invariably the most boring part of any tasting menu. I just, it’s beef. Everything leading up to it is always far more intriguing, leaving the red meat to seem like an obligation and an afterthought.
This beef course, however, was a total knockout; it was stunning. The crust tasted of the grill and the meat was completely buttery soft, a description that makes me roll my eyes when people say it about a filet, because that typically means the exterior is buttery soft as well, which I can’t stand. Here, they achieved both butter and crust. Furthermore, and of the utmost importance, it was perfectly seasoned, resulting in a rich, peppery flavor.
We received visits from both chefs during our meal. Things may move at a slow pace at the Palace, but the passion those two guys have is super apparent, which made the whole experience a little more special. I’m pretty sure that one or both of them visited every table, interacting with every patron. Tasting menu’s are filling, and rather than going home bilious, we left feeling sated, because we took our time. It was pretty refreshing to be in a restaurant where turn and burn wasn’t the name of the game.
We ordered dessert, (not part of the tasting menu) which was definitely the biggest fail of the night; a little chocolate soufflé, ice cream, and apples drizzled with fudge.
My takeaway, from The Palace? If you can appreciate their passion, and the craft, and conserve your calm if/when service isn’t perfect, it’s a win.
The Palace http://www.thepalacesf.com/#!contact/c24vq
3047 Mission st.
San Francisco, CA 94110