“New” Palisade a Contender for Seattle’s Best Business Lunch
Palisade Restaurant, at the southern tip of Magnolia, opened in 1992 and immediately earned a reputation as a “celebration” restaurant, a place to dine out for a birthday, anniversary, prom, or any other days that marketers refer to as “life moments.” Seattle doesn’t have that many restaurants that can live up to the weight of expectations that Palisade took on during its first years. Mess up someone’s 25th wedding anniversary dinner and you won’t often get a second chance.
More often than not, they did it well. And there was always that view of boats rocking in the marina and the weather over Elliott Bay.
For many years after opening, the restaurant featured a then-trendy Asian fusion cuisine – and probably stuck with that trend longer than it should have. It’s no secret that fine-dining restaurants can coast on breathtaking views and pleasant familiarity for quite a while in Seattle.
At 20 (mid-life in restaurant years), Palisade has brought in a new chef (imported from Portland City Grill), $200,000 worth of updated décor, and a revamped menu, but it’s also paring away everything that detracts from an uncomplicated, classic appeal. Manager Doug Zellers invited us out to try their refreshed menu, created by Executive Chef Ryan O’Brien, so we drove to Magnolia to taste their $16, 3-course Magnolia Lunch (Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
Zellers told us that Palisade is done only with the first part of a two-phase redo: New furniture, new rugs and a lighter, fresher color palette catch your eye, but the bridge over a coy pond is still there and so is the piano bar, featuring a player piano above the bar. And so is that view that no other restaurant in town can offer.
We settled in and examined the new menu. New chef Ryan O’Brien has ripped out any 90210-era trappings and replaced it with a solid line-up of favorites like salmon and steak with sometimes-whimsical, inventive side-pairings. (In a nod to the Northwest’s perennial Asian influence, there’s tuna and sushi on the menu still.) The menu foregrounds proteins, skipping heavy sauces for the most part, and aims to surprise the palate by employing a variety of techniques. O’Brien rattled off an idea for an upcoming salmon dinner entrée that sounded worth a second trip.
The Magnolia Lunch menu features three appetizers, five entrées, and four desserts to choose from. I lunged for the smoked salmon chowder to start, albacore Niçoise salad and bread pudding to finish up. The meal got better with every course. The chowder was loaded with house-smoked salmon and fresh, still crisp veggies–a great bowl on the first day of November.
The Niçoise was a revelation, thanks to seared albacore carrying a spicy, woodsy flavor which O’Brien told us was from blow-torching the seasonings, highlighted by thyme, instead of simply pan-searing them. It’s a good, not-too-large lunch portion stacked with deviled egg, green beans, fresh greens, and nice salty olives to finish it off. O’Brien told us he wants all the ingredients to stand out in every bite and with these two dishes he hit the mark. The bread pudding at the end was the best I’ve had in town since the long-lamented closing of Rippe’s five years ago.
Editor MvB chose the beet salad, beef dip, and chocolat trifle, impressed by the red and gold beets’ consistency and piquant flavors, pre-sliced-for-easy-eating frisée, the rich, rich bone jus, and the brittle smuggled into the crumbled, brownie-like Devil’s Food cake. You can order a la carte for lunch as well and diners close to us were raving about the sushi rolls. (Playing against type, another table turned out to be half-composed of Parrotheads, one of them providing a fair but dining-room friendly rendition of the first verse of “A Pirate Looks at 40.”)
Location is a challenge for secluded Palisade–even Seattleites might have to refresh their memory with a glance at a map, or switch on GPS. Zellers knows this and that’s why he’s running a free town-car service to downtown hotels. But for a business lunch, having your client for a little extra time actually helps. And O’Brien’s 3-course lunches taste like expense account luxe without having to email the CFO afterward. (Or, impress a frugal client with your nose for deals.) The trip also allows for conversation in amiable, out-of-the-way surroundings where you won’t be interrupted.
That said, want to splurge? Seattle Magazine recommends the eye-popping “family-style seafood spread called the Ocean Tower that includes lobster, oysters on the half shell, jumbo prawn cocktail, ahi poke and King Crab ($59 without the crab, $83 with) and a divine Filet Mignon Oscar whose flesh was even softer and meltier than the potato gratin that accompanied it.”
Zellers has remade the wine list for lunch and dinner with an eye towards great offerings up and down the price meter. In a nice touch, he hasn’t yielded to charging more for older vintages in a winery’s run. So feel free to try an older vintage to accentuate the meal. He and O’Brien have made common cause over the importance of service and hospitality, and the wait staff is highly competent (warning shellfish-allergic MvB off the salmon chowder because they knew chef sometimes used clam broth). Our entrées were just slightly delayed because O’Brien wanted my tuna prepared precisely as I’d specified–it says something when a chef makes that call.
Seattle has a good deal of business lunch venues to choose from, but few downtown options could deliver that potent Palisade charm and gravitas–with O’Brien firing up the kitchen, the “celebration” restaurant can offer you “celebration” business lunches, too.
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