LUCK of the draw italian: Luke Palladino

RER 6.11.13
Being in Atlantic City, home of hotel resorts and casinos, we decided to try our luck at Luke Palladino at Harrah’s Resort, and indulged in the tasting menu. There were no specifications other than it entailed five courses and there must be at least two people at the table participating, as at this Italian restaurant, the tasting meal was served family style. We were warned that there was no shortage of food, but for us it was a gamble, and we were hoping Lady Luck was on our side…

RER 6.11.13
These aborrio rice balls were crunchy on the outside, golden, crispy, crusty, and soft, hot and cheesy on the inside. The texture of the Italian rice, most well known for its use in risotto, vanished in the soft and rich sottocenere cheese, melting into smoothness. The flavor was not overwhelmingly earthy from the truffle, but the cheese assuaged and complemented nicely. The playful mix of textures along with the soft essence of truffle oil resulted in comfort and delicious memories.

RER 6.11.13

Mushroom & Tallegio Crespelle
This was the restaurant’s interpretation of the french delicacy of crepes. The thin and crispy pancake was filled with sautéed mushrooms and salty tallegio cheese. Below the cut crepe was a small pool of creamy melted cheese and a heavy drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. The sauces added sweetness to the salty and meaty filling of the appetizer. It was a savory play on crepes that bring to memory lemon, butter and sugar on the beach in Cannes, or after the dive club in Bologna with mascarpone and sweets.

RER 6.11.13
The crunchy, glorified breadsticks are made in house we were told, brushed with indulgent truffle butter, rolled in grated parmesean and then wrapped in chewy prosciutto. The cressini were stiff and difficult, almost too much at one time; a sensible pair of prosciutto and parmesean ended up being to forceful especially with the intense texture of the dry bread stick. There was nothing particularly enchanting about one of the patrons’ favorites, just the loud crunch momentarily silencing the white noise of the restaurant.

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Octopus salad
This tasting dish was beautiful and lively with the riotous green colors of the fresh peas, pea sprouts, and lightly dressed spring greens. The dark purple and creamy pink of the perfectly cooked tender octopus pieces, contrasted with the vibrant greens, emanating a spring palette. Even the bright flavor of the fresh foliage matched the color scheme, but it was dragged down by the drab tonnato, tuna sauce. Somehow the earthiness of the greens did not line up with the heavy tuna almost hollandaise, and made the octopus lost and obsolete.

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Lobster ravioli
The four plump lobster ravioli were served with a dark seafood red sauce, spotted with the same bright green peas of the octopus salad. The paper-thin pasta was filled with a hearty amount of chunky lobster, speaking volumes of freshness. Even the pasta on the outside was not too overcooked, but just enough to hold its innards together. Each pea was a green distraction, almost detracting from the flavorful sauce and surprisingly succulent ravioli. The dish on a whole had nice kick, though it was difficult to distinguish if the heat came from the sauce or the lobster filling. These pouches were the things of cravings and long seafood desires.

RER 6.11.13
Gnocchi with Asparagus Cream Sauce
The pillow-like tiny potato dumplings, were overcooked and near extinction; they were soggy, limp, and lost. The sauce had no life or flavor, just a bland sea of creams sauce, dotted with miniscule slices of crisp asparagus. There was hardly any variation of flavor, just a kind of pulsing monotony of mush and congealed cold cream.

RER 6.11.13
Cobia  Special
The meaty white fish, cobia, was paired with a sunchoke puree and a green diablo sauce, which lacked the spice that its name implies. Plated beautifully, with a delicate array of muted colors, from the crusty cobia, to the course dark green sauce, the pale sunchoke, and the thin rounds of radish. All the elements combined were delicious, textured with an amusingly varied flavor profile, indulging in the range of sweet and salty. The fish was crisp and salty on the inside but white and substantial, while the sunchoke puree was super sweet and alarmingly smooth, and the diablo sauce, a tickle of pesto was bright and tangy, uniting each part.

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Standing Rib
This giant meat dish involved a chestnut basted standing rib enclosing a sausage stuffing, resting on a shallow pool of creamy polenta and sautéed escarole. There were a ton of different flavors; sweet pork meat, spicy fennel from the sausage, the cooling polenta and the mildly bitter escarole, but in the end everything tasted the same. It was nearly impossible to internalize each component without overload and a mute. Each element on its own was sufficient, but the raucous combination stretched the limit of comfort food and refinement.

RER 6.11.13
Vanilla gelato and Valrhona chocolate cake
The two desserts seemed to come as a pair, one balancing out the other; the cold creamy vanilla gelato evening out the intensely moist and chocolaty cake. The gelato was nothing special, cold and sweet, topped with a heavy shell of less than sweet whipped cream. The cake however, was not the typical chocolate cake. It was small and in the shape of the ever popular and hackneyed chocolate molten cake, but the inside was dense, moist but almost crumbly dark chocolate cake. On the outside was a slick layer of chocolate, that was like a cooled and set sauce, creating a texture play and a fortified chocolate on chocolate experience. The tiny round of cake was accompanied by a few Gran Marnier soaked blueberries and strawberries, which intensified the decadence of the chocolate, while cutting the bitterness with some tart and sweet accents.

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Alla fine…
They were right about it being a ton of food, but the variety was truly stellar, ranging from the fried to the basted, cold and sauced, to the sweet sweet and decadent. It was fun not knowing what was going to come next, and listening to each description as the food came out, removing the mystery.  Themes transpired, like truffle and mushroom flavors in the first few antipasti and the bright green peas that appeared and reappeared. But the dishes spoke to the season, putting spring and summer favorites on our plates. Many of the tastes were delicious, predictable, but steady and reliable, while others fell short of expectations, and lacked true quality. Despite it all, it was a nice experience at Luke Palladino, but I can't say we broke even.
RER 6.11.13

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