Palette 22 Mixes Food and Art in Shirlington
At Palette 22, 4053 Campbell Ave., Arlingtion, diners and bar-goers will have a chance to watch artists work on canvasses and walls a few feet from where they are eating.
The new restaurant from Alexandria Restaurant Partners opens today in the former Extra Virgin space across from the newly refurbished AMC Theatre in Shirlington. It seats 170 including 34 at the bar, 48 in the surrounding area and 88 in the dining room that wraps around the open kitchen and brick oven. A 36-seat patio will be available in warmer weather.
The restaurant looks unfinished – polished concrete floors, a cement block bar with a dark wood top, unfinished plywood walls, metal pipes, and a black open ceiling. It’s supposed to remind diners of an industrial artist’s studio. “We didn’t want diners to be distracted by the finishes,” explained Cara Leepson, the restaurant’s art director who has a degree in art history and museum studies from Georgetown University.
“Everything is for sale.” The art is priced from $15-$600 with most pieces averaging between $150-$200, Leepson said. “Diners can add their purchase to their bill and walk out with it that night.” The artist gets 80 percent of the sale price.
There are two “studio” spaces in the restaurant, one by the bar and the one in the main dining room, where most of the artwork will be displayed. Fourteen artists-in-residence were chosen from an initial pool of about 50 located within a 90 minute drive of the restaurant. The artists – painters, photographers, printmakers and collagists – will work two 2-hour shifts a week during the main meal times. “Guests are encouraged to get up, walk around and talk to the artists,” Leepson said.
Lizzy Lundy, a portrait artist from Reston with a studio in Falls Church, is a recent University of Miami graduate and one of the 14 initial artists-in- residence. “It’s such a cool thing to be a part of and to meet other artists,” she said last week. But, she says, it will take some getting used to as she usually works alone and paints large 3 foot-by-4 foot portraits. She had to scale back for Palette 22. “There’s been a lot of questions as people get used to (having a painter working in a restaurant). And, I’ve had to paint smaller, but it’s given me all new ideas (for subjects).” Many of her portraits are of people eating and many of the people don’t have pupils, just blank eyes.
Four large murals have been painted on the wall beside the brick oven, in both bathrooms and on back wall of the bar, which will remain a year. The bar mural is unfinished and the artists will be working on it as the first customers come in this week.
The concept is based on ARP’s Café Tu Tu Tango in Orlando. ARP also operates Lena’s Wood-Fire Pizza and Pub and The Majestic Café in Alexandria.
Palette 22’s menu is “globally-influenced street food and small plates,” explained corporate executive chef Graham Duncan. “All the food is sharable. It’s a globally-inspired food truck. Our thought is four bites or four pieces.” A typical dinner will be two to three plates per person.
Dishes include pan-fried watermelon and halloumi cheese with harissa spice, pomegranate, molasses and mint; a vegan ceviche with cauliflower, avocado, lime, onion and root chips; grilled street corn with citrus kewuip mayo, queso cotija and chile pequin; Singapore chili-crab potstickers with sambal, nappa cabbage and sweet soy; Peruvian-style fried octopus with olive oil, garlic lemon, paprika, thyme, gold potoates and aji Amarillo vinaigrette on tostones. Pallatte 22 also have a new brick oven from Marri Forni in Beltsville where they will prepare mussels; Moroccan spice lamb spare ribs with mint-lemon yogurt sauce; and various flatbreads. The By 2’s (two pierces, four bites) include jucy Lucy sliders with American cheese stuffed inside Creekstone Farms beef and topped with 1000 Island dressing and pickles; Cuban sliders; Baja fish tacos; tacos vampiros with skirt steak, serrano rajas, chipotle salsa and queso cotija; tacos al pastor, and pork belly bao buns with char siu sauce and cucumber pickles. Desserts include churros with Mexican hot chocolate and strawberries; sweet banana spring rolls with jack fruit and vanilla ice cream; flan; apple empanadas; and sweet tamales. Prices range from $5-$10 per plate.
Brunch will be served Saturday and Sunday with the brick oven flat breads and By 2’s on the menu along with some signature brunch dishes like æbleskiver, Danish pancake puffs with spice maple syrup; a garden frittata; Vietnamese rice paper crepes with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs and herbs; arepas benedict with pork belly, poached eggs, avocado and chipotle hollandaise; French toast sticks made with brioche dipped in frosted corn flake with Nutella fudge sauce; congee, Chinese rice porridge with fried shallots, a poached eggs, bacon and scallions; and Basque-style baked egg with grilled chorizo, sweet peppers, spicy tomato sauce and onions.
“We pulled from everywhere for the menu,” Duncan said. “It’s not real fusion. There’s a mixture of influences, but no mixture in the plates.”
Lunch won’t be as sharable with diners picking two plates from nine of the regular menu items for $12 or one By 2 with street corn, fries for a green salad from $9-$12. The brick oven flat breads and desserts will also be available. Duncan said people aren’t as comfortable sharing at lunch, since they are often at a business lunch or with work colleagues rather than friends and relatives.
The bar menu includes a house red and white sangria on tap, sake, 30 wines by the glass or bottle with another 19 just by the bottle, 12 beers on draft, 10 beers by the can or bottle and seven cocktails, many based on artists or art terms.
Palette 22 is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday; for dinner from 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and fro brunch from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Happy hour is all day Monday and from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.