A few weeks ago, we were invited to wine and dine on at Palomino Restaurant and Bar in West Los Angeles. Sitting on the edge of UCLA’s lively neighborhood, Westwood, Palomino’s New American menu offers something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a great place to kick back with friends or share a romantic dinner for two, you and your taste buds will be delighted by Palomino’s many Mediterranean-inspired menu offerings. Here’s a look at a few of the dishes we sampled that evening thanks to the chef and his team.
Palomino is divided into two sections: the sit down dining room with a full dinner menu and a lounge and bar section with its own special menu offerings. It is in this bar section where they serve up an extraordinary happy hour. What makes this happy hour so uncanny, you ask? Well, it’s that here happy hour is all day, every day. The prices don’t change, and the specials are always there for you any time of the day. Any one who knows us, knows how much we value a good happy hour. We’ve come across many great ones in our day, but one that never stops was something we just needed in our lives. Although we had a fabulous dinner ahead of us, we still had plans to meet a couple of friends in the bar for a night cap.
Upon entering the restaurant we were graciously greeted and seated immediately in their dining section. In no time, our lips were met with our choices of wine, and later in the night we sampled two of their signature cocktails–an adult lemonade made with limoncello and vodka and a traditional, refreshing mojito. Neither cocktail was too sweet or overpowering, which is often a reason Chrystal avoids certain mixed sippers. On a warm day, they would be perfect for a mid-afternoon thirst quencher. As we sat and chatted, pouring over the restaurant’s new menu selections, the manager kindly stopped by to say hello. To make our lives easier, and also to allow the restaurant to showcase its best creations, we would have several rounds of dishes brought to the table. That is usually our preferred method of tasting, so it was a fitting arrangement. He enthusiastically described Palomino’s cuisine as “rustic European,” touching on traditional foods and cooking methods from all over that region of the world. He even boasted on the authenticity of one of the restaurant’s most cherished menu items, the pizza! We were looking forward to it all.
Head cook, Chef Verite Mazzola, lived in Rome for several months and finally found the perfect recipe to bring back to the States. Plus, all the stoves in the kitchen are wood burning, making Palomino, according to them, the only eatery in the city legally left with these prized relics. They were lucky to fall under the Grandfather clause once new rules changed procedures for other restaurants. If you’ve ever had a wood fired pizza, then you know it is a flavor you can taste, smell and even feel. The pizza is smokey with blackened edges along the crust and toppings and a crisp, crusty texture to the crust. The best part about Palomino’s food is that every dish that can be cooked in these ovens has that pleasant hint of smokiness. We also learned they only use almond wood in their stoves, giving their food an added level of flavor unique to Palomino.
We began the meal with a tangy tomato and feta relish and two rounds of salads–the traditional Italian chopped and a wilted mushroom and wild greens mix. All three starters were indications of what would be an outstanding meal. The menu’s Chop Chop Salad’s main twist is the addition of house smoked turkey tossed amongst the romaine, tomatoes, garbanzo beans and balsamic vinaigrette. This could have been a boring chopped salad, but the unique and satisfying aroma and taste of smoked poultry in each bite created a harmony that pulled everything together very well. The mushroom salad was a monstrosity in size–definitely more than enough for two to share. The mushrooms were meaty and hearty, and they complemented the sharp feta very well.
We hoped that this meal would include pizza, and we were had our wishes answered. No doubt, old-school wood burning stoves and direct ties to Italian cooking methods gives their pizza an edge. We tasted their most popular pizza, the classic Margherita with roma tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and sliced garlic. It was divine. The crust was was the best combination of browned, crispy crust and soft, chewy baked dough. For a pizza composed of simple ingredients, the flavors of this pizza were bold when eaten together, especially the garlic, which added an awesome, sharp bite. There really can never be too much garlic in our book, and the thin shavings were welcomed additions. Chrystal even reminisced about her recent trip to Rome. Does it get any better than that?
In addition to the pizza, we shared two main courses. The fish course included trout roasted in their wood fired ovens, and you could again smell and taste that flavor. The fish was flakey, the asparagus was tender and crisp, and the artichokes below were delicately seasoned. The pork tenderloin was a strong contender. Again, the restaurant’s ovens had done its job enhancing the lusty, meaty characteristics of the pork. The accompanying brussels sprouts were lightly sauteed, maintaining a nice bite. The creamy potatoes were just the thing you’d want to scoop up with a big spoon. Just when we thought we couldn’t lift the fork for another bite, a sampling of sweet endings arrived. Zeppole, Italian donuts, studded with tiny raisins were fried seconds before arriving at the table. The zeppole were light, yet filling. Not too sweet, they carried the sugar shock of chocolate hazelnut sauce or sweetened mascarpone to your mouth with one dunk. Our second dessert was a polenta short cake with hints of orange and a layer of thick mascarpone. The cornmeal added a lovely texture, as well as again bringing down any levels of a cloyingly sweet dessert. A perfect ending to our meal.
The whole dining experiene was superb. The ambiance, the food, and the drinks were such a treat. Quite possibly, the high of the evening was chatting with the kitchen’s sous chef Stan Kelly. He stopped by our table several times to check on our tasting progress, explain the dishes, and to answer any questions we may have had about the restaurant. Although Palomino is not new to the Los Angeles scene, they do have a revamped menu that is a must try. Even though dinner was wrapped up, we even met a couple friends at the bar section for more cocktails and good company. As we said, it’s hard to pass up happy hour no matter what hour of the day it may be.
Palomino Restaurant and Bar
10877 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90024