** take your friends
*** take your date
**** take your time -- you won't want this meal to end
JASON: This place caused quite a sensation when it opened a couple years back. This style of upscale dining -- classy but casual -- is pretty rare anywhere in Pittsburgh, but at Gateway Center, it was a surprising move, to say the least.
ANGELIQUE: Palomino is a Seattle-based chain that styles itself as an "upbeat city restaurant." Its décor, in which you'll find no straight line where a curve could be used instead, perfectly communicates this self-conscious urbanity.
JASON: Self-conscious perhaps, but at least not pretentious. Although claiming that their signature "herbaceous cocktails" -- such as gin with sage leaves -- are the "quintessential cocktail of the new millennium!" is a bit much.
ANGELIQUE: The night we were there, the musical selection certainly undermined the new-millennial strivings. George Michael, Olivia Newton-John, Paul Young & it was the soundtrack to my early adolescence. I couldn't decide whether to eat or pass Jason a note.
JASON: As Angelique reeled in the years, I marveled at the yawning chasm our three-year age gap can sometimes be. She had owned albums by bands I'd never even heard of.
ANGELIQUE: Yes, well, my point being that the music seemed like another corporate strategy to appeal to a certain clientele. I felt so demographically profiled, so marketed-to.
JASON: Ambience aside, the food needed no gimmicks to please this client. Yes, the menu touts their Tuscan-style rotisserie and Pompeii-style brick oven --
ANGELIQUE: Guaranteed to bury the food in ash?
JASON: -- but the proof is in the pudding & or rather, the succulent clams, nicely grilled meats, and luscious desserts. Every aspect of every course satisfied, and more often on the basis of solid ingredients and preparation than on trendy garnishes or showy technique.
ANGELIQUE: He may be too young to remember the Human League, but he's right about this. Much as I wanted to stick to my anti-corporate guns, when the appetizers arrived, my resolve began to weaken.
JASON: Our roasted clams were served hot from the brick oven in a bath of rosemary butter and numbered a healthy 14.
ANGELIQUE: The blue crab-artichoke dip came with "cracked pizza crust" for dipping. It sounded weird, but the crust was actually a wafer-thin round, toasted lightly in oil, and sprinkled with Parmesan. It was almost too good to load up with dip & almost.
JASON: And what dip. Forget about that spinach-artichoke slop they foist on you at some chains -- this stuff is delicious, with a nice balance between the sweet crab, tart artichoke, and rich, creamy base.
ANGELIQUE: In fact "rich" is a key word in describing a lot of the food here. The kitchen is not afraid to pour on the dairy, and that's all right by me.
JASON: But the butter and cream aren't the only things they've gotten right. On the rotisserie platter I ordered, my pork chop, salmon and chicken were all cooked perfectly, crusty on the outside and moist on the inside. Each member of the accompanying vegetable medley was roasted enough to deepen the flavors, but not so much to detract from the freshness.
ANGELIQUE: In fact, when Jason exclaimed in ecstasy over the first bite of his entrée, I was sure it was the pork, or perhaps the salmon.
JASON: But it turned out that the carrots -- sweet young carrots with the green tip still on, roasted in butter until tender but not soft -- were the best I'd ever had.
ANGELIQUE: My cannelloni stuffed with rotisserie-roasted chicken and artichoke satisfied my craving for a rich pasta dish smothered in an even richer sauce roasted-garlic cream. I think the chicken was supposed to be the star of the filling, but the flavor of the artichokes was what came through the most.
JASON: The most important course was dessert. Why? Because my cheesecake -- with seasonal berry coulis (whatever that is) -- was among the best I've had the pleasure of tasting.
ANGELIQUE: And he was born in New York, and weaned on cheesecake.
JASON: It was creamy, light yet substantial, and, of course, rich.
ANGELIQUE: I had my heart set on a decadent confection known as the Molten Chocolate Tower, but when it wasn't available, our friendly waitress sold me on a seasonal special -- frozen lemon mousse -- instead. Nicely balanced between sweet and tart, it was a lighter, more fitting finish to my somewhat heavy meal.
JASON: So it wasn't rich, but it was still good.
ANGELIQUE: I like a place where dessert is served on a dinner plate. I indulged like it was 1999.