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Palettie Gourmet

January 04, 2009

By OMNI VORE

Palettie is located on Alternate U.S. 40 in downtown Boonsboro in an old two-story brick building.

The word that came to mind after dining at Palettie was sincere. We felt like we had entered a friend's dining room. The food was real, the waitresses were energetic and the setting was attractive. The cook, Lettie Gordon, "is just a mom who likes to cook" explained our waitress. And so we were presented with an uncomplicated menu by a gregarious woman in a room filled with local art by Laura Renee Davis.

The menu was divided into Boonsboro beef, local poultry, fish and vegetarian selections. The winter daily specials were chili on Sundays and spaghetti on Wednesdays. We chose Three Course Thursday. The special was a fixed-price menu that included a soup or salad, an entree with the house starch and a dessert for $19. With this price, choice was simplified.

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For our starters, we selected mushroom soup and salad with a balsamic fig dressing. Main course options were beef, chicken, tilapia or a vegetarian meatloaf made from cottage cheese. I opted for chicken with fruit compote and my companion chose beef with horseradish sauce. Dessert was cheesecake.

We took no bread to spoil our appetites and our requested water came with a slice of lemon. The menu informed us we might have to wait a half an hour for our meal, and so we were surprised when we immediately received the soup and salad.

The mushroom soup was made fresh that day. There were chunks of button mushrooms and slices of mushrooms in a rich creamy base. The bisque was finished with a few homemade croutons, some parsley and paprika. It was delicious. The salad was fresh and crispy, featuring dandelion greens and other greens with a base of romaine lettuce and the same homemade croutons. The dressing was excellent, sweet and piquant.

But before we had finished either the salad or the soup, our main course arrived and I felt as if I had been put on a speed course. Casting aside the soup and salad, we ate the main course, but I felt rushed. The portion of rib eye beef was excellent. This exquisite meat was organic, local and grain fed. The beef was cooked as requested, medium rare. The chicken was plump goodness, grilled to a point of moist tenderness. The fruit compote added a needed dimension but could have been eliminated if so desired.

"The rice is the weakest point," said my usual critical companion.

"Weak rice?" I questioned.

"Barely warm," he said.

The menu said the house starch was usually a house-seasoned jasmine rice. This rice was a pilaf of a smooth rice like minute rice with some onion, carrot, green beans and a hint of some exotic flavoring. The large white plates on which our meals were served were decorated with scatterings of carrot shavings and parsley, an orange and green confetti.

"Take your time, take your time," our waitress now urged as she stopped to chat. The waitress knelt by our table as she told us about Palettie. She told us that Palettie was open only in the evenings for dinner. They were waiting to see how the opening of the new hotel next door would affect business. The chef came from Olney, Md., and her father was a chef. This was her first restaurant.

The cheesecake dessert was substantial. "Not New York cheesecake," said my New Yorker companion, "but still good." The quintessential creamy cheesecake was served on a white plate with confectioner's sugar sprinkled over all. The contrast of one sprig of fresh red currents against the white, lifted this confection to a level of austere visual beauty.

The restaurant was filled this wintry Thursday night and there were five waitresses working. The wait staff knew their menu, were proud of the establishment and were extremely efficient. Dressed in black pants with a white shirt, they moved with grace through the dining room. Upon closer observation, it became clear that two were in training, as they shadowed their mentors.

The designer of this restaurant was aware of the effect of light on the dining experience. Each table had candlelight. There was track lighting as well as overhead lamps. Candles gleamed in the windows. The lights were dimmed at a certain point during the evening. A TV screen portrayed the image of a glowing hearth. And so when I daydreamed, I saw either the glowing logs on the screen or, if I looked outside, I saw vintage lamps in the square that were reminiscent of an earlier time.

Lighting is far more subtle and important to the mood of a restaurant than table settings. Yet I was surprised at the flowered table cloths, the light-weight silverware and the paper napkins. The table setting seemed to be a forgotten element in an otherwise pristine dining experience where every detail had been considered.

The music was sentimental oldies but goodies -- Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Judy Garland with some jazz and some holiday music for contrast. Most of the instrumental music was based on songs and I hummed the refrains to myself.

There was a bar where beer and wine were served -- four white wines and three reds were available. Beers hailed from micro breweries and included local favorites like Yuengling Lager. Specialty teas and coffees were available. The written descriptions of the wines, beers, and coffees were like poetry.

Words from songs, words of cheer for beer and wine, words themselves decorated the mirror over the bar. "Believe," one exhorted. "Relax," read the other. So we sat back, relaxed at Palettie and believed that we would be pampered in this intimate bistro. I sing its praises.

Restaurant review

Palettie Gourmet

1/2 (out of 5)

Food: 5 stars

Service: 4 stars

Ambiance: 4 stars

Value: 5 stars

Address: 1 S. Main Street, Boonsboro.

Hours: 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are strongly suggested.

Phone: 301-432-0500

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