Tyson's Corner Palm Restaurant

1750 Tyson's Blvd.
Vienna Va.
(703) 917-0200

It's not even 8 o'clock on a weekday night and the Palm Restaurant at Tyson's Corner, Va., is already as crowded as a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the latest telecom deregulation bill.

There are 58 people, by actual count, jammed into the bar area, including one man in a wheelchair, and they're all talking at broadband volume. You elbow your way to the bar, and Carl Young, the savvy twenty-something bartender, remembers your name and drink of choice from a month ago, and reaches for the Makers Mark.

HOURS: Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.- 3 p.m.; Mon.-Fri. , dinner menu available 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat., 5-11 p.m.; Sun., 5-10:30 p.m.

PRICES: Expensive: Lunch, $35-$45 per person; dinner, $60-$70 (with appetizer, entree, dessert, coffee, one glass of wine, and tax and tip). Excellent wine list.

The 180-seat dining room is filled to capacity, and you don't have a reservation, and there's at least a half-hour wait. But the co-manager, Mark Harris, just up from the Palm in Charlotte, N.C., says he'll do his best, and sure enough, there's a cancellation and you and your guest are seated within five minutes.
  Your waiter appears promptly, greets you and inquires after your health, and suddenly, you realize: This isn't the Palm in downtown D.C., where the old politics crowd hangs out and General Manager Tommy Jacomo decides if you're important enough to get one of the booths in the back, and the in-your-face waiters tell you what you shouldn't order.

No sir, this is the Palm at Tyson's Corner, where you're treated like one of the Dulles corridor's newly minted cybergeek billionaires like Steve Case of America Online, or Michael Saylor of Microstrategy, or Raul Fernandez of Proxicom, because you just might be. In fact, they may be sitting at the next table, and, if not, you can see their caricatures on the wall, along with other local celebrities like Larry King, Diane Rehm and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.).

It's the Washington area's second Palm - and 19th overall - and it fairly reeks of new money derived from the exponential growth of Northern Virginia's booming Internet-fueled economy.

Opened three months ago in a gleaming new office building next to the ritzy Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Tyson's II mall, it's the latest of a rash of high-end steakhouses seeking to capitalize on the East Coast's new Internet Alley, including Morton's of Chicago, Sam and Harry's and, soon, The Capital Grille.

It has the same masculine style as the New York original, the same noisy, bustling atmosphere, and the same red meat and cottage fries menu as its 19th Street Northwest counterpart. But the clientele seems younger, more stylish and more diverse - witness the young man in a leather jacket and punk hair with pink ponytail who entered as we were leaving.

And the famously brusque waiters that contribute to the perverse charm of the D.C. Palm, and others I've visited in New York, Boston, Chicago and Denver, have been replaced with young men and women waiters who are eager to please.

But the food, thankfully, is every bit as good as the other Palms. We each had a glass of the house wine, a perfectly adequate, but not memorable, Kenwood cabernet and merlot ($9.50), and dug into the sweetish dark raisin bread, black pumpernickel and crusty French bread that are standard fare at the Palm.

My guest, recently retired Fairfax County patent lawyer and tennis partner Jerry Ferguson, hadn't eaten at a Palm before, and was duly impressed. His mixed green salad ($5.50) was first rate, and his salmon fillet ($21) was broiled to perfection, crispy on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth tender inside.

My jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail ($10.50) featured tender chunks of fresh snowy white crabmeat that didn't have a lot of taste until I doused them with horseradish sauce and Tabasco, and then I couldn't taste them at all.

Constantine, our waiter, was pushing the Cowboy rib-eye special ($29), which I succumbed to, and then wished I hadn't. Not because it wasn't good, but because it was too good. The huge bone-in steak was cooked to order, medium rare and nicely charred, well-marbled with fat and bursting with flavor - but definitely not heart healthy.

As a recovering heart surgery patient, I should have ordered the salmon or the swordfish steak ($23), which was superb when I had it on a previous visit. But I figured my cardiologist wouldn't read this, and anyway, how can you judge the Palm by ordering fish?

We finished with some excellent decaf coffee, but passed on the dessert tray, which features the standard New York cheesecake, creme brulee, strawberries-and-blueberries, and other rather unimaginative offerings.

A word about the wine list: It's extensive with a wide range of wines in all categories and origins and, unlike many such lists, offers a good choice of moderately priced bottles as well as some expensive impress-your-clients and shock-your-accountant selections.

In perusing the wine list, I was stunned to discover that one such wine - in fact, the highest priced wine on the list - was not some famous Bordeaux chateau but a hard-to-get California Napa Valley wine that bears my name. It's the 1996 Araujo Estate Eisele Cabernet, priced at $350, which is $100 more than the next most expensive wine, a 1983 Chateau Haut Brion from Bordeaux.

I'm not a wine snob, but I know something about wines, especially ones that have my name on the label. The Eisele Cabernet comes from a 48-acre vineyard near Calistoga, Calif., founded by the late Milton Eisele, a retired San Francisco business executive and distant relative.

Bottled by Joseph Phelps until 1993, the wine is now made by Bart and Daphne Araujo - who bought the vineyard several years ago - and is almost impossible to get, even at the astronomical price it commands. I've had it and it's very, very good, but I'd rather stick with the Kenwood and buy six shares of AOL stock.

That way, I can come back next year and afford a bottle of the Eisele Cabernet.