ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Palace Restaurant patio is a sweet downtown oasis.
The menu has changed since I’d last been here and I liked what I saw. The Palace offers selections with an international flare including gourmet-style items such as warm kale salad and a portobella mushroom steak stuffed with quinoa. But comfort food, including a green chile Smash Burger, with the cheddar cheese and chile sandwiched between two beef patties, also is well represented.
The starters include the standard calamari and spinach artichoke dip, and the unusual – at least for Santa Fe. How about a broth-based clam soup seasoned with vermouth, a chicken satay with a coconut curry sauce or polenta fries with gorgonzola cream?
We picked yellowfin tuna wontons along with the calamari. This seared tuna appetizer ($9) was exceptional, a first-rate dish that places in my top-10 appetizer category. The presentation added to the enjoyment of this dish. The calamari was a fresh, hot, lightly battered assortment of rings and tentacles served with two dipping sauces — a chile lime and fresh basil lemon aioli with plenty of garlic ($9).
My three friends and I were glad we’d ordered the apps because our lunches took awhile. And, when the four entrees arrived, one of them was wrong, a schnitzel sandwich instead of an Italian chicken sausage.
Of the three meals that arrived first, the beet salad with goat cheese ($10) and the fish and chips ($12) were exceptionally good. The salad, like the wonton appetizer, was art on a plate. The yellow beets, creamy white goat cheese, fresh greens and garnish of chopped hazelnuts tasted as good as they looked.
The fish in the fish and chips was cod which, the server explained, was cut in house and soaked in milk before it was lightly breaded and fried to crisp up the batter and leave the fish succulent and tender inside.
The third entree was one of the day’s specials, lettuce duck wraps. The flavors were good but the dish was messy to eat. The juice and sauce from the slivers of duck meat made the lettuce slippery. I ate it with a fork, enjoying the flavors of the duck and the fresh crisp jicama salad that was wrapped with it. The Italian chicken sausage, when it finally arrived, proved to be worth the wait. Juicy and packed with flavor, it came with grilled onions and tender saffron rice, and the combinations worked well together ($12).
We shared two desserts. Both of them passed the “worth the calories” standard, but the chocolate mousse was stellar. The Lavender Crème Brûlée was delightful, too. ( I was surprised the that menu states that the lavender comes from Oregon! We do grow lavender here in New Mexico.)