The Trusted Palate
Serving: Dinner (Closed Mon.)
563 King St. Downtown
Upper King Street certainly never lacks for posh new bistros and ultra-hip suede lounges. Amid the hubbub of beautiful people and college drunks, one can find all the latest New York trends and a few relatively calm places like The Trusted Palate, quietly promising that you won't have to worry about your date ordering a $15 martini or the frat boy next to you soiling your shoes with his overindulgences. Trusted Palate welcomes an eclectic mix of humanity with a superb wine offering and ups the hip quotient with an extensive collection of artistic nudes along the walls.
The Trusted Palate is first and foremost a wine bar. Proprietor Ian Johnson is a candidate in a prestigious Master of Wine program and boasts on his website that he "has become acquainted with most of the 'movers and shakers' in the trade and will use these relationships to give the highest quality service possible." He promises to hook you up with his knowledge of "how wines are priced and how deals can be made." So we can "trust" that whatever these guys put on the wine list is pretty good juice at a splendid price — and it generally is. You won't find this varied assortment down at your local Piggly Wiggly.
Although it's primarily a wine bar, the Trusted Palate serves food, and those aspects could use some work. The food isn't all bad, but service can be uneven, and the menu needs an overhaul. With a few tweaks, the place could be a premier stop on any tour of the Upper King bar scene.
For a bar, the Trusted Palate serves a decent selection of informal sandwiches, a smattering of appetizers, and all sorts of overpriced meats and cheeses. For a restaurant, the entrée selection features three paltry choices, and the vegetarian crowd will have a tough go of it beyond the three salads offered. The place seems somewhat confused, oscillating between a formal meal and a rudimentary snack, and leaves the diner in the same predicament.
Johnson says he's a "passionate crusader against wine snobbery," but serving slaw dogs with fine wine in what appears to be a full-fledged art gallery may not be the best approach. If I wanted to pay $3.50 for a hotdog to go with my white burgundy, I'd sneak a bottle into The Joe and grab a foot-long "Homewrecker" from the Dog Pound (I like mine with pickled okra and mustard).
Juxtapose the slaw dog against Italian fare such as the shrimp puttanesca ($16) or caprese salad ($7), or a Middle Eastern hummus ($7) and it's easy to see how the menu leaves the impression of a somewhat listless ship. They also serve panini ($8) — if you can call a Cuban sandwich served in an American port by that Italian name. Other grilled sandwiches include a turkey reuben, and a very American grinder topped with sopressata and Swiss cheese; all are decent, none extraordinary — not bad for a quick bite.
The entrées leave more to be desired. The duck breast, which despite a bit of flabby, fatty skin, comes out looking pretty good, surrounded by some mediocre mushrooms (mine were salty as hell), polenta that could be mistaken for crunchy couscous, and a drowning sea of truffle jus, which would probably work well if it wasn't more potent than a shopping mall perfume counter.
Pork tenderloin medallions ($16) fare better, perfectly cooked to a rosy pink inside, they are neither dry, nor tasteless and watery — a common flaw in these days of mass-produced swine — and the green beans and lemon sauce complement them well. They pair nicely with the beet salad ($7), a big plateful of arugula that's good, but I'd rather have my beets showcased in a large dice or whole, rather than grated into a cashmere carpet of pink, goat cheese-infused fluff.
If you can trust anything at the Trusted Palate, it's that there will be good wine waiting and a decent selection of accoutrements to nibble. I'm not sure charging $3 for a bowl of cornichons or salt-packed capers is ethically sound, but they've made it this far and if I was stuck on Upper King I'd certainly drop in for a drink and a bite to eat. Unfortunately, if the menu compares to a glass of wine, it lilts toward an internationalized fruit-bomb, devoid of the defining terroir and nuance that can make intimate urban places intriguing spaces in which to dine. "Truth in wine" the slogan reads, and it's correct — just don't come very hungry.