A colorful map on the wall of Palm & Pine depicts the restaurant’s culinary territory: the American South, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and chefs and proprietors Amarys and Jordan Herndon approach the task with creativity and enthusiasm.
Prior to opening Palm & Pine in July, both chefs had worked in local kitchens including Arnaud’s, Bayona and Ralph’s on the Park. The Herndons also honed their style through The Old Portage pop-up, where they experimented with dishes that more closely resembled the semi-tropical fare at Palm & Pine.
Their restaurant spans the length of a deep, narrow room, with two bars running along one side, the first for cocktails and the second overlooking an open kitchen. Diners can hear chefs calling out orders, bringing a lively intimacy to a meal.
My first visit to Palm & Pine was intriguing, if imperfect. The kitchen’s promise was evident in dishes like plump and flavorful drunk shrimp in mezcal chile butter and a crudo of yellowfin tuna with pineapple Big Shot nuoc cham and crunchy shrimp chips. The menu’s two desserts also shone. Chocolate flan over banana puree was complemented beautifully by caramelized bananas and crunchy sesame bark, and Steen’s cane syrup pie was topped with a scoop of preserved lemon ice cream.
Grilling food requires a certain amount of attention, and may not be the preference for all diners. A table too caught up in conversation (or sake) easily can end up with burnt ends.
Some dishes were overwhelmed by their ingredients, however, such as chanterelles served with figs, jalapeno, crunchy corn and an assertive amarillo mole. On that visit, service was haphazard.
Another Palm & Pine dinner was phenomenal, including attentive and professional service. Even dishes with wild blends of flavors and textures hit all the right notes. Braised clams swam with avocado and fried chicken skins in a delectable aji Amarillo broth that we sopped up with grilled French bread. A dish of tender butter beans and lima bean cavatelli with dried tomatoes is the best pasta or bean dish I’ve had in recent memory. An outstanding spicy Jamaican-style goat curry combined meltingly tender meat and crunchy fideo noodles.
As the squawking over fast-food sandwiches subsides, many of us are left with a craving for good fried chicken. Gus’s World Famous Fried Chick…
Entrees were equally remarkable. A paneed pork chop coated in Bellegarde Bakery breadcrumbs was perfectly accompanied by a summery green tomato chow chow. Luscious slices of cocoa- and chile- crusted duck breast shared a plate with a deeply flavored Oaxacan mole, braised duck tamale and sweet plantains. Generous dollops of chimichurri transformed what could have been an overly rich dish into a series of delicious bites. (Small plates average around $12, entrees around $23.)
The cocktail, beer and wine lists reflect the restaurant’s regional focus. The 2 of Cups cocktail combines Cimarron tequila, jalapeno, guanabana and sparkling wine. The wine list draws heavily from Argentina and Chile.
The restaurant caters to night owls, serving dinner until 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. A service industry happy hour runs from 11 p.m. until closing.
Palm & Pine’s willingness to take risks shows flashes of brilliance and brings exciting new tastes to New Orleans diners. Its creative cuisine draws upon a range of culinary traditions, tying them together in delightfully unexpected ways.
308 N. Rampart St., (504) 814-6200; www.palmandpinenola.com
dinner and late-night Wednesday through Monday
spicy Jamaican goat curry, butter beans with lima bean cavatelli, duck with Oaxacan mole
an exciting mix of Southern, Caribbean and Latin flavors in the French Quarter