A new menu gets shaken up and stirred

During the opening sequence of Alan Rudolph’s film Choose Me, the camera pans down on a pink neon sign that reads, “Eve’s Lounge.” The bar anchors one corner of a dreamy urban landscape that can only exist in Hollywood movies. Set in a steamy, technicolor, neo-noir Los Angeles, people on the street mingle and sway around the bar’s entrance. On her way into work, Eve (Lesley Anne Warren) herself joins the loosely choreographed movements of the crowd. One couple dances past her. They join hands while Teddy Pendergrass croons a seductive song over the credits. Eve’s Lounge is a temple dedicated to arousing desire in the bodies and souls of its patrons.

Drinking and dining out at Uptown Oakland’s Palmetto conjures that same elusive feeling of lushness, amorous longing and tarnished glamor. Many years ago, in its previous incarnation as Flora, someone took me out to dinner there so we could be subsumed by the restaurant’s art deco allure. Since then, the interior has been updated—carnation pink is a prominent wall color—but the sensation of being transported elsewhere, to another era, actively remains intact.   

Sitting at the opposite end of our turquoise banquette, one couple enacted that first scene in Choose Me, a fantasy made real. Dressed to the nines in bold concordant colors, they stepped outside mid-meal to smoke and dance with each other in front of one of the picture windows. Inside, indistinct music played in the background for the voyeuristic diners who decided to simply eat and stay in their seats.

The owner, sporting one of his signature Hawaiian shirts, briefly appeared tableside. He chatted amiably, if distractedly, about recent changes to the menu before returning to the bar, his drink and a handful of companions. As the late summer light began to darken, people drifted in and sat near him at the bar with an easy sense of familiarity before drifting back out into the night. And, although busy tending to customers, traipsing back and forth across the dining room, the waitstaff, too, appeared at home in their attentive roles.

When Palmetto opened mid-pandemic, its menu echoed upscale steakhouse meals. This year Chef Manuel Bonilla decided to change course. The revised dishes now include influences from his Filipino and Salvadoran heritage. A brown rice caldo ($10) turned out to be the creamy equivalent of a risotto. A comforting dish, made with onions and chives, it needed a vegetable or protein to interact with. When the roasted halibut arrived ($35), the caldo complemented the fish and its summer squash garnish.

Bonilla’s menu of smaller plates also includes hamachi crudo, miso refried beans, tempura corn on the cob and chicharones, among other dishes. But the restaurant’s origin as a 21st-century steakhouse hasn’t entirely disappeared from view. Palmetto serves a prime rib dinner special ($65) on Wednesdays. It starts with a splendid little gem salad, perfectly drenched in a miso ranch dressing. There isn’t a more aptly named lettuce on the planet than the delectable leaves of the little gem.

The prime rib slab comes with a mountain of chicken-fat french fries, which slowly soaks up the drippings. The center of our cut was just the other side of rare, pink and fleshy, with nicely browned edges. While not unseasoned, the jus all but washed away the chili rub. The meat needed another kick of horseradish or a spicy salsa verde to become an unmistakable house signature dish.

For dessert, the carrot cake ($13) was the obvious choice. Slivers of fresh coconut and a pineapple compote covered the top of the cake. The coconut was toasted to a fine, golden-brown crunch. In its caramelized state, the paired pineapple sweetened up every bite. 

The restaurant faces Telegraph Avenue and the Fox Theater’s bright red marquee. After sipping one drink from the list of classic cocktails, Palmetto will feel, as per “Eve’s Lounge,” like a portal for anyone who wants to abandon sobriety and step away from the routines of every ordinary day. 

Palmetto, open Mon to Thurs 5:30pm–10pm, Fri to Sat 5:30pm–11pm, Sun 5:30pm–9pm. 1900 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 510.817.4002. palmetto-oakland.com


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