He swears it was the suit. My husband insists that what we now refer to as The Lucky Suit should get credit for one of the finest dining experiences we've ever had. Ever.
Where did this occur, you ask? The Palace Restaurant in the Cincinnatian Hotel Downtown.
It might cause martial strife, but I have to disagree with the suit theory. I wholeheartedly believe credit lies with Chef Romuald Jung (aka Chef Romy), the restaurant's new executive. European-born Jung has worked all over the world, doing stints from Africa to the United States, including time in New York City with Daniel Boulud and at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
"My goal is to be the best chef at The Cincinnatian," Jung says in a post-meal phone interview.
In my book, he already is.
We've all heard about the four elements that ancient Greeks used to explain patterns in nature -- earth, air, fire and water. They are mutually exclusive categories, right? Well, somebody better tell Chef Romy, 'cause there's some kind of crazy alchemy going on in his kitchen -- it causes matter to transform in the most intriguing ways in his dining room.
We quickly found this out after John McLean, the very dashing maitre d', took us to our seats and I settled onto the comfy bench seat along the wall. Diners can choose between an eight-course tasting menu for two ($180) or order from the regular menu. We started with the pheasant and chestnut soup ($14) and The Palace Field Greens with root vegetables, baby field greens and truffle lemon dressing ($14).
My husband declared it as the best salad he's ever eaten. The addition of roasted, lightly caramelized potatoes and parsnips made what can be a boring course into something you'll want to eat every day. And I love a man who's not afraid to use a saltshaker when he cooks.
The soup ... ah, the soup! Our server placed a bowl before me that was empty except for a quenelle (an oval dumpling) of poached pheasant breast and croutons made of whole wheat bread with truffle butter. Then the server poured an earthy, steaming liquid from a silver boat.
"This has got to be terrible for me," I said to my husband, noting that it's like eating liquid foie gras.
Let me be the first to admit how wrong I was. Chef Romy confides that even though the flavors are so intense that you'd assume it's full of things you shouldn't eat, it's actually very healthy -- there's no cream, and he sweats the pheasant bone and meat with chestnuts to get a nice carmelization of the bones, finishing the whole affair with a little raw cognac.
For dinner we ordered the Seared Artic Char with spaghetti squash, piquillo pepper and a carrot orange reduction ($35) and the Almond Crusted Boneless Colorado Rack of Lamb with fingerling potatoes, asparagus purée, tomato confit and lamb jus ($42).
When the servers revealed our meals under the silver domes, I couldn't stop staring at my plate. The skin of my char glistened as if it had just been plucked from the sea ,and it was surrounded by a vibrant orange pool of reduced carrot juice tinged ever so slightly with green at the edges. It was a picture from a tropical underwater universe.
Once again my taste buds were fooled -- I was positive the sauce had maple syrup in it. Turns out the flavor comes from reducing equal amounts of carrot juice and orange juice. Who knew?
My husband's lamb was no less awe-inspiring, and the roll of boneless meat was picture perfect -- the moist pink interior was surrounded by a very thin edge of a dark surface. The au jus, prepared the same way as the base of the soup, played off nicely with the asparagus puree, which tasted like -- get this -- asparagus!
Ah, the food was so wonderful that I'm forgetting to mention how exceptional the service was. It's always good form for a server to come back and check that you're enjoying your meal, and on occasion I've had a manager check in as well. I've never had both the chef and the maitre d' check. Jung says that after he has been on the line cooking he likes to go into the dining room.
"I love what I do and to be able to make people happy," he says. " I'm very personable ... I love to talk with people."
Finally, we mustn't skip dessert. We ordered the Chocolate Soufflé for two ($19), or what I like to call chocolate air. It was the perfect way to end an evening, digging out spoonfuls of chocolate manna that had been topped with a cappuccino sauce and sipping French press coffee. We even found room for the bite-size petit fours delivered with our soufflé. There was a key lime meringue tartlet, a white chocolate and lemon cream concoction and, well, I'm not even sure what the last one was; my husband popped it into his mouth so fast I didn't get a good look at it.
Chef, I think you've not only met your goal -- for these two diners you've more than exceeded it! ©
The Palace Restaurant
Go: 602 Vine St., The Cincinnatian Hotel, Downtown
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner: 6-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6-10 p.m. Friday and 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood and chicken
Accessibility: Fully accessible