Lunch with the boys of the Palm

Lunch with the boys at The Palm is no ordinary affair. Especially these days, with the atmosphere lighter and airier thanks to renovations that give the restaurant an entirely new feel.

What remains of the old Palm is its hard-edged humor.

Tommy Jacomo, the wise-cracking executive director and maitre d’, insisted he’s now drinking Chardonnay on account of all that glass and the new salads on the menu.

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Jacomo hits a small, silver bell whenever he makes a good joke. One has to be careful, though, not to overuse the cymbal-alternative, lest the drum roll grow dull. “You don’t want to overdo it,” general manager Ted Swigert said. “It’s borderline annoying.”

Chuck, a waiter who sometimes tends bar, approached our round table, “I’m a man of many talents,” he said, explaining that he has worked at the restaurant for 27 years.

With the looks of Jackie Gleason and the posture of an old cop, Chuck makes everyone feel at ease. “I’ve waited on five different presidents, Hollywood personalities and Michelle Pfeiffer, who floored me,” he said.

Swigert swears that The Palm’s makeover hasn’t emasculated the joint despite Jacomo’s professed newfound affinity for Chardonnay. “It’s not that it adds a feminine side, but it definitely adds a lighter feel,” he said.

In typical Jacomo fashion, Jacomo shrugged off the restaurant’s extreme makeover, instead calling it a facelift. “Someone said it’s Botox — it’s still the same, but it looks better,” he said. “It has been hugely successful. Everyone wants to sit up here.”

Perhaps most of the fat-cat clientele. But oh, not everyone.

Most recently, actor Cheech Marin dined here. He chose a round table in the back. James Carville, a notable regular, always chooses a table in the back of the still-cavernous restaurant — “He hates change,” Jacomo reasoned.  Other regulars: MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, former adviser to President Clinton Vernon Jordan and lawyers Bob Strauss and William Bennett. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recently dined here and left a 20 percent tip.

Ted Swigert, who joined the crew last year, said the six-week summer renovation project was hard. “It was painful for the customers,” he said.

Jacomo interjected: “You’re killing me! They were like a fish out of water! They didn’t know what the hell to do with themselves!” he said of the regulars.

Swigert explained it was important for the restaurant to change, but also to keep the integrity of the darker, steakhouse ambience. Along with the glass-enclosed dining room came an expansion of the bar and an entirely new kitchen. “This is one of those projects that exceeded everyone’s expectation,” he said.

The new “Dressed for Success” summer salads introduced post-makeover include a top-selling lobster salad with mixed greens in a raspberry vinaigrette and a skirt-steak chopped salad with crumbled blue cheese, hard-boiled eggs and hearts of palm, topped with fried onions.

The chef, Hos Fuentes, who has been with The Palm for just over a year, has prepared a feast for us fit not only for a king, but his queen, too, and the whole damn royal court. The table is filled with the above salads; the famous half & half (French fries and onion rings); veal scaloppini cooked in wine, garlic butter and veal stock; three-cheese potatoes au gratin (parmesan, gouda and white cheddar); Ahi tuna with seaweed and mango salsa, fresh lobster tail; and a mouthwatering 16 oz. New York strip steak.

“Nothing compares to a piece of prime aged meat,” said Fuentes, who used to work at Clyde’s and was trained by one of The Palm’s corporate chefs. The Honduran said he tries to express his Hispanic background, but at The Palm chefs cook in a uniform style.
“We’ve Anglicized him!” Jacomo cracks, slapping him on the back. 

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“They don’t allow me to play around with the food,” Fuentes said. “Everything has to be done by the book.”

The boys at The Palm are creatures of habit when it comes to their food. On most days Jacomo eats the lamb chops and the linguini marinara. “They’re to die for,” he said of the chops. Swigert is more of a tuna guy. Chuck also sticks with the lamb chops, medium-rare.

In the evening, the windows of the new glass-enclosed veranda flip out, allowing a cool breeze to waft through. “I’m sure we’ll be attracting some people we didn’t attract before,” said Swigert when talk turned to other steakhouses in town.

Sun streamed in as Chuck arrived with a platter of desserts that could send you to the hospital just for looking — an enormous slab of the most divine six-layer chocolate cake you’ve ever tasted, strawberry cheesecake and a piece of the “devastating” chocolate peanut-butter pie.

“It’s devastating and manageable,” Chuck said.

The boys have finished and so have we. “It’s a wrap,” Jacomo said.

Ding! Ding!