Palette 22 Serves Art with Your Meal
The 206-seat restaurant from Alexandria Restaurant Partners encourage guests to engage their visual senses and culinary palate. The cuisine is what corporate executive chef Graham Duncan call international “street” food – basically an assortment of tapas and small plates that includes America, Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Middle Eastern, Caribbean Vietnamese and Peruvian dishes. While the walls showcase the work of 14 rotating artists, who also take turns making their art at two workstations during lunch and dinner every day.
The interior was designed to showcase the art with an industrial feel. Unpainted plywood dividers are adorned with artwork, each priced for diners to put on their check and take home when they leave. The island bar is made of unpainted cement blocks, the floor is polished concrete and the kitchen is open, giving diners the opportunity to watch the chef in the open theater kitchen.
All the plates serve four bites – either as four individual pieces or two pieces that each are big enough for two bites, like sliders or tacos. Each plate is priced from $6-$10 with desserts priced at $5 each. Figure that each person will need to order 3.5-4 plates, which means your minimum bill will be $18-$40 per person, then add on any drinks.
Like the artwork on the walls, a guest and I found some of the food pleased our palettes while others missed the mark during a recent visit.
Two of the best dishes on the menu were the Singapore chili crab potstickers with sambal, napa cabbage and sweet soy; and the Jucy Lucy sliders with Creekstone Farms beef, American cheese, 1000 island dressing and a pickle. The only dish that was truly disappointing was the pork belly bao buns with char siu sauce and cucumber pickle. Although the bun was perfectly steamed, the pork belly was tough and served as a single piece of meat inside the bun. It was also fatty, and no one wants a mouthful of fat when you bite into a bao. It probably would have been better with pulled pork instead.
Other standout dishes included the Tacos Vampiros with skirt steak, Serrano rajas, avocado, chipotle salsa and queso cotija; the avocado hummus with smoked pepper oil and flatbread; the grilled sweet corn with citrus kewpie mayonnaise, queso cotija and chile piquin; and the Vietnamese-style sugarcane shrimp grilled in the brick over and served with lemongrass slaw, Fresno chiles and butter lettuce wraps.
While I enjoyed the bulgogi beef, purists be warned that this isn’t traditional bulgogi since it is marinated in gochujang and served with ssamjang and butter lettuce wraps with a smear of gochujang down the middle of the plate. The result is a spicier ribeye, although it is still tasty if you like the heat. Other dishes that fell somewhere in the middle included the caprese flatbread with pesto, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella that was on thin flatbread that came a little too charred for my taste, and the takoyaki, balls of Spanish octopus, ginger, bonito, nori and citrus-kewpie mayonnaise. Although it was too fishy for my liking, my friend enjoyed it.
Dessert was alright, but I would have been just as satisfied if I had passed. We really wanted to try the banana-jackfruit spring rolls with sweet plantains, jackfruit and vanilla ice cream, but the kitchen was out of it. Instead, we settled for the flan, which was decent with toasted almond on top of two pieces and orange pieces on the other two. And a bi-weekly special that was some kind of orange custard that is no longer on the menu.
The lunch menu offers two select small plates for $12 or two siders, taco or empanadas with street corn, fries or a green salad for $9-$12.
The bar has sake and white, red and rosé wines, many by the glass or bottle. It also has a selection of local craft beers on tap and 10 more in the bottle or can. Seven cocktails and red or white house-made sangria are also available.
Palette 22 serves lunch from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is served from 3 p.m.-1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch is served from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.