There are a few restaurants left in Los Angeles that are icons. And in fickle Los Angeles it’s not easy to keep a restaurant profitable for more than three or four years.
But some become part of the local legend. One of these is the Palm, one of the great steak and lobster destinations in Los Angeles since its opening in 1975. The restaurant chain has 85 years of tradition since the first one opened in New York City. Now they seem to be everywhere.
One of the reasons that the Palm is successful is the ambiance. It’s not overly fancy. And it’s not like the new modern restaurants with tables in an open room so close together you feel like you are having dinner with the people at the next table. The Palm is crowded most of the time, and fairly noisy, but there are booths and wide aisles, so youre neither closed in nor seated with strangers.
There are cartoons on the walls. One story is that like some of the great restaurants in Paris, some of the early customers in New York couldn’t pay their bills in cash, so they paid by drawing cartoons of famous people on the walls, and the idea stuck.
Another story is how the name was selected. The original owners were from Parma, Italy and wanted to name their new restaurant Parma. But the city clerk issuing the license misheard the name because of the thick Italian accent, and gave them a license under the name Palm instead.
To go with the informal atmosphere, the food is straightforward and uncomplicated. And that’s its charm. The pictures on the wall can be quite funny, and one shows a customer holding a big lobster in two hands eating it like we used to eat watermelon when we were kids.
Without a doubt the specialty of the house, and the dish that it is known for, is the tender, succulent, premium lobsters from Nova Scotia. And these babies grow big. There are some very good lobsters available around town, but I don’t know any others this big.
The second big hit here are the steaks. Just about every well known cut is available, but for me the star is the prime, double cut New York strip sliced tableside. It’s advertised as serving two or three persons but those persons must have one big appetite because I think it’s enough for 4 to 6 persons especially with the brandied peppercorn sauce. These steaks are aged and especially flavorful.
There’s a much more complete menu, but the reason to come to the Palm is for those dishes and the crispy fried onions that come on the side.
There is a typical wine list, with anything you would want to drink, but just as the food is basic and uncomplicated, so is the wine list. There are no fancy French wines worth buying, and I’m told that the Italian wines don’t sell very fast. It’s the basic California chardonnays and cabernets that sell. As with the dinners, the wine prices are toward the top of the scale.
I belong to a men’s group of old timers from the media industry that has lunch at the Palm once a month. We ended up there, in the back room, because of the service. The servers are cheerful and competent. The food comes out quickly and hot. There’s a good burger, always a delicious fish, and the chopped chicken Caesar I had there this month was one of the best I’ve ever had. And of course there are big plates of crispy onions passed around the table. We pay a fixed price of $35 including tax and tip and private room, which we think is a bargain.
And last month I was invited to a media dinner in the same room. It reminded me of a Roman orgy. There were about 50 people there. Waiters continuously brought out huge trays filled with plates of crab salads, huge lobster tails, pounds of sliced N.Y. steaks, hamburgers, and a lot more that I passed up. There was a good California cabernet. And the classic cheesecake and a huge carrot cake showed up at the end.
It gave us a chance to try all the signature dishes. And it drove home the restaurant’s philosophy: no one leaves here hungry.
If you go
9001 Santa Monica Blvd.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at email@example.com