At the annual CEDIA Expo recently held in Indianapolis, our large group had dinner at Palomino in downtown Indy (see map). Palomino is part of a group of restaurants run by the Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited group that includes Kincaid's, Stanford's, Newport Seafood Grill and a number of single location restaurants primarily in Northern California, Oregon and Washington state. The Indianapolis Palomino is one of the seven including two in the Seattle area, one in L.A. (Westwood), and locations in Dallas, Cincinnati and San Francisco. Interestingly enough, Restaurants Unlimited founder Richard Komen came up with the concept the highly popular Cinnabon shops that are found at malls and airports across the nation. Restaurants Unlimited sold Cinnabon in 1998.
Established in 1988, Palomino could be described best as having upscale Mediterranean-Americana, taking foods from Southern Europe and giving them an American twist to their taste. In fact, the first Palomino, which opened in Seattle, was called Palomino Euro-Bistro. Wood-fired ovens and grills were used to make a number of Italian, Greek and Spanish-influenced foods. Over the years, Palomino tweaked their menu to more of an American signature adding sandwiches, salads and appetizers.
Amanda Boucher-Fegley is the executive chef at the Palomino location in Indianapolis. She started at the Indy location as the sous-chef, then became the executive chef in 2008. In addition to her executive chef duties, Boucher-Fegley is also the training chef for the Palomino restaurants.
I had eaten at the Indianapolis Palomino once before, years ago when I was working for a previous company and we were invited out to dinner by a manufacturer during a CEDIA Expo over 10 years ago. I remember it being good, not great, but good enough that I remembered it. This time, I was pretty apprehensive given that the place was packed with conventioneers and that we were a large group.
Our group was so large - 17 - that we had to sit at two separate tables toward the back of the restaurant. We had a waitress come over and greet us as we looked through the menus. She said that she and another person would be looking after us that night. The only problem was that we saw the other person once the rest of the night. In other words, the waitress assigned to us had to try and take care of 17 hungry and thirsty guys. And thirsty was the key word - I wanted a beer and I wanted it right now!
The dining room featured contemporary lighting with brass railings and earth-toned walls with large windows that let in what late day natural light Palomino could get with the tall buildings all around it. The bar area up front was heavy with the dark wood lighting, contemporary lighting and large windows, as well. The bar area at Palomino is famous for their "happy hour" drink and food specials.
Service was painfully slow that evening. Our waitress was doing her best to keep up, but that didn't matter to me. I'd had a long day, I was tired, hungry, thirsty and didn't want to talk any longer. My boss is big on dinner conversation, but I didn't want to talk with anyone. I wanted to have a couple three beers, something to eat - and quickly - and get back to the hotel to rest up for the next day. However, it was quickly evident that was not going to happen.
We had gone out to Fogo de Chao in Indianapolis the night before - it's basically the same Fogo de Chao that I've ate at in Denver, Chicago and Atlanta (although the Fogo de Chao in Chicago is still the best of all the Fogo's that I've eaten at) - and I wasn't certain I wanted that large of a meal two nights in a row. I thought about the pan-seared scallops as well as the Sicilian ravioli with a spicy meat filling and a ground veal marinara sauce. Even the Italian sausage and fresh mushroom flat bread pizza sounded pretty good. But remembering how much I ate the night before, I opted for the petite wedge salad and then went the greens route even further by getting the Steakhouse Salad - slices of sirloin, cooked rare (to my liking), beefsteak tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese on a bed of lettuce and topped with a Worcestershire dressing. We also got a number of appetizers before the meal including Palomino's wonderful calamari and a couple orders of their very good crab/artichoke dip.
The term "petite" certainly came into play when it came to my wedge salad. This was the weirdest looking wedge salad I ever had. It looked like the bibb lettuce was haphazardly strewn around the plate with small chopped up tomatoes and some gorgonzola chunks scattered about. Seriously - I had not even put a fork to this salad before I took the picture. It seriously looked like someone had dropped it, picked it up and served it to me. It was definitely not worth the $9.00 they charged.
The Steakhouse Salad came out not long after I finished my wedge salad and this was the look before I dug in. This thing cost $19.95. That's right, that's not a type - $19.95. I got five or six small sirloin slices off to the side, some greens with gorgonzola and beefsteak tomato wedges and what appeared to be some pickled onions on top. There was a hard-boiled egg in there, too, but I'm not big on hard-boiled eggs. The Worcestershire dressing was negligible, at best. The steak was OK, but like the wedge salad I had earlier, it wasn't worth the price.
One of my newer Canadian colleagues to my left got the flat bread pepperoni pizza. Actually, it looked very good with large slices of pepperoni on a thin flat bread with caramelized cheese on top. He told me that it was very good in taste and offered me a slice. I didn't really know him that well and I declined. But, believe me, I was tempted.
The talk of the table, however, was regarding the pan-seared scallops that two of my colleagues got, and I'm glad I didn't get. They were wrapped in a thin slice of prosciutto and then laid in a sweet balsamic and fig glaze. My colleague, Simon, was to my immediate right and from the first bite he declared the food inedible. "This sweet balsamic sucks! This is horrible!"
My other colleague, John, was across the table and he had the same thing. He took a bite and shook his head. "I don't know what the chef's trying to accomplish with this, but it didn't work." He, too, said it was too sweet too go along with A) balsamic vinegar and B) seafood, especially scallops.
I took a little dip of the balsamic vinegar from Simon's plate on my fork and put it on my tongue. I had to immediately take a drink of water to get rid of the taste. My colleague, Todd, had a bite of John's scallops and he made a face. He said, "You know what this reminds me off? That really sweet sauce that they put on the steaks at Rosemary's in Las Vegas!"
The waitress came over and asked how everything was and both John and Simon piped up. "This isn't working," John said. Simon said that he couldn't eat his. She offered to get them something else, but they declined saying that it would take too long for them to get their order when most of us were done with our meals.
With just one waitress waiting on all of us, I think I only had two beers all night long. When she came back to see if we wanted dessert or an after dinner drink, I immediately declined and I got up to leave. We had beer and wine in one of the rooms back at the hotel and I just wanted to get the hell out of there. We were all ready to go until we found out a couple three of my colleagues ordered dessert. With groans of dispair, we sat back down while we waited for another fifteen minutes until the desserts came to the table and then watched as they ate them. I can't tell you the last time I was so happy to get out of a restaurant.
My salads weren't bad - they were just an incredibly bad value for what we were charged for them. The service was painfully slow, although the young lady did a good job trying to keep up. But it wasn't good enough. She needed help, but didn't get it from the rest of the staff. I remember Palomino to be good in the past, but this trip a perfect storm of tiredness, thirstiness and slow service gave me a bad taste in my mouth for the place. CEDIA will be back in Indianapolis next year, but hopefully we won't be sentenced to another night like this one at Palomino.