Finally, James and Brooke Shrader can sit back and enjoy their newly renovated Palace Café after having spent more than a year planning and shaping this stylish space.
"I learned in my facility planning class at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) that restaurants need to remodel frequently to stay up with the trends," James Shrader said. Having opened Palace Café in October, 2002, Shrader said after the first five years he made minor changes to the restaurant, such as painting, but now at 10 years he needed to have a major remodel which included a bar.
"Restaurants are very trendy these days and it is important to keep up with the trends," he said. He wanted to add a bar to Palace Café, but to do that Shrader needed more space, and after a year of negotiations with his neighbor to acquire some space from the business, he added 400 square feet for the bar.
"It was serendipitous that we have just completed our renovation," Shrader said, referring to the recently opened restaurants on Cherry Street.
A friend and I recently returned to Palace Café for dinner and only peeked into the new bar area. While the area is small, it is classy, cozy and intimate. The bar seats around 10 or so, but Shrader explained the banquettes, with little coffee tables, expand the bar somewhat so customers may have a drink and snack in the space.
"It is a nice little lounge area. It has a nice feel about it," he said. The bar is open for drinks and bar menu items (such as Bento, Truffle French Fries, Fried Cheese Curds, Lobster Corndog, Turkey Burger, Grilled Salmon BLT), Tuesday through Saturday until midnight - even though the dining area closes at 10pm.
Other renovations to Palace Café have added to the already fine dining layout. The booths are still the best way to go for more personal dining, as the tables are fairly close together.
We were seated at a two-top table with a wall to one side, so we were not sandwiched between two tables. Diners' conversations and background music elevated the noise level as evening moved into night, but the sound did allow for table conversation to be somewhat private and not shared with surrounding diners. After ordering a cocktail, we focused on the menu.
Shrader, as chef, owner and manager, teams up with his wife at Palace Cafe. "I am the creative part of the team while Brooke looks after the books since she has a finance degree," he said.
He defined his menu as American cuisine with a Pacific Rim influence. "I resided in the Seattle area where there is a lot of Asian influence. I was drawn to the lightness of that cuisine and the more delicate sauces. He has steak, chicken and pasta which he says have the American influence, but customers will also find Asian influences such as pot stickers and lighter sauces.
Right away customers see Bento at the top of the dinner menu - in the place where appetizers should be. Shrader said his cuisine type does not lend itself to hors d'oeuvres or tapas. Bento is "a good example of the Pacific Rim influence. The Japanese have 'bento boxes' which are little boxes for little bites of food, even children bring them to school. They are basically 'little bites' of food," Shrader said. "Bento bites are often seafood, such as seaweed salad and seared tuna. I took that inspiration and made my version of Bento.
My dining companion and I enjoyed his version of Bento for our appetizers. For $15 we sampled each of the six listed "little bites": Wild Mushroom Polenta, Shrimp-Shiitake Pot Sticker, Chef's Bento, Salmon Cake, Chicken Fried Chicken and Mini Filet Mignon. These six bites were in fashionable design on the plate.
The mushroom was on a little polenta round of very fine texture with grilled greens sandwiched between both; the Pot Sticker, served with a sake dipping sauce, had nicely crisp edges although the shrimp seemed absent; the Chef's Bento for the night was a slice of lamb sausage on crostini topped with caramelized onions - it had a deep earthy flavor; the Salmon Cake with braised fennel and potato was delicate and overpowered by the fennel; the Chicken was topped with a tomato chutney, yet had a spicy kick while a slim slice of basil added a fresh blend; the Mini Filet was just fabulous at medium-rare with the bourbon onions. A light cabbage salad with sesame seed oil complimented these Bento bites.
For our main meal, I had the Wood-Grilled Tenderloin ($30) and my friend had the 5 Spice Crispy Duck ($24). Other entrees include Crispy Chicken ($22), Scallop Linguini ($24), Braised Beef Short Rib ($22), Daily Catch ($29) and Lobster Ravioli ($22).
My tenderloin was positioned in the center of the plate on a bed of caramelized onions. A Rosemary demi-glace with wild mushrooms topped the beef. Sautéed red bell pepper added a pop of color juxtaposed with the grilled asparagus and sliced zucchini. A square of Bleu scallop potato was also part of this entrée. The pecan wood grilled flavor was prominent with this half-pound tenderloin - it was served to my specification, medium-rare. The beef was tender, rich, even melt-in-the-mouth buttery to taste. It was a little bit of heaven, I thought. The scallop potato was a complimentary flavor with the beef - soft and delicate with a hint of bleu cheese.
The duck was slow roasted until crispy and presented over root vegetables with spicy peach compote. My friend found the duck rich and tender, no gamey flavor, and the skin crispy. The root vegetables were cute in small cubes, with sweet potato and potato dominating.
Service was quite good; our server maintained a good pace throughout the evening without being too prominent.
Shrader also said while the fall menu is still being served, soon the winter menu will bring a change of about six different items for the season. He also mentions that Palace Café also has a private dining room upstairs which seats around 24 people. "It is a very nice dining space, as one wall is all windows which look out to downtown Tulsa," he said.
Palace Café has several menus, as Shrader said, to find something for everyone: the lunch menu, the Sunday brunch menu, the bar menu, the vegetarian dinner, and the dinner menu.
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