THE PALACE

ADDRESS: 601 Vine St., downtown.

HOURS: Breakfast daily, lunch weekdays, dinner Monday through Saturday.

CUISINE: Contemporary European.

PRICE RANGE: $33 to $58.

CREDIT CARDS: Most cards accepted.

RESERVATIONS: Highly recommended.

CONTACT: 513/381-3000,  800/942-9000  or www.palacecincinnati.com.

 

Any number of tourism books and travel magazines have repeatedly called The Palace restaurant the most elegant culinary experience in Cincinnati.

"With all due apologies to The Maisonette, The Palace is the finest restaurant in Cincinnati," says one reference in the Insider's Guide to Cincinnati (written before The Maisonette closed). "Even Maisonette owner Nat Comisar has publicly conceded the two restaurants run neck-in-neck for the honor."

 

Such praise is deserved. It's hard to imagine a more perfect dining experience, for business or pleasure, than a meal at The Palace, located in the Mobil four-star Cincinnatian Hotel. Everything"”the menu, the service, the ambience, even the live music"”come together to form an extravagant synergy.

 

We decided to test the chef and staff on one of their busiest nights, a Saturday. As waiters and waitresses swirled about, no one was left languishing for their meal or devoted attention. Nothing, even a packed crowd, seems to detour the troops, led by the unflappable maitre d' John McLean, who has been lured away from his longtime posting at The Celestial.

 

The ambience inside The Palace is lush, as you might expect, and includes mahogany paneling and colorful impressionist watercolors hanging from the walls.

And the cuisine? Let's just point out that the brand-new executive chef, Romuald Jung, hails from Alsace-Lorraine, a region with deep culinary traditions in Europe. After earning his Certificate d'Aptitude from the Academie de Rennes in Rennes, France, "Chef Romy" moved around Europe before landing at New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the Rhapsody Restaurant at Chicag'™s Symphony Hall and finally at The Bellagio Hotel Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. You have every right to expect great things.

 

We begin with the lobster bisque ($14) with calamari, shrimp, scallops, tarragon and anisette, a creamy concoction designed to please. Other first-course selections include the pheasant and chesnut soup ($14), Waldorf salad ($14), pan-seared sea scallops ($18) and foie gras ($22). Salad selections include the Palace field greens with truffle lemon dressing ($14) and Caesar salad ($13).

 

Our entrees then arrive with a flourish, presented under silver domes. The stand-out of the evening is the almond-crusted Colorado rack of lamb ($42), a tender and delicious dish that's accompanied by fingerling potatoes, asparagus puree and tomato confit. Other appealing selections include Moullard duck ($45) with braised Belgium endive, crispy foie gras and spice sauce; organic free-range chicken ($33) with chive mashed potato and baby carrots; grilled tenderloin of beef in cabernet sauce ($40) with red cabbage and an innovative stack of corn flake polenta fries; and the 16-ounce Angus New York steak ($58) with asparagus wrapped in bacon, potato pont-neuf and black peppercorn sauce.

 

The striped bass is our pick from the seafood selections ($39), a savory dish served with leeks, shiitake mushrooms and red wine beurre rouge. Some of the other oceanic options included seared Artic char ($35) with spaghetti squash and carrot orange reduction; monkfish wrapped in prosciutto ($36) with fingerling potatoes; and Dover sole ($48) in lemon butter sauce with parsley potatoes.

 

Don't leave without considering the efforts of pastry chef Noreen Nagao (who most recently worked at the Sunset Beach Resort in Al Khobar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where membership was exclusive to the royal family of Saudi Arabia).

 

Fair warning: You need to order the fantasic dessert of the house, the "Dessert Souffle for Tw' ($19) ) at  least a half-hour in advance. Choose either chocolate or Grand Marnier. Of course, the dessert menu includes standards such as creme brulee and a selection of kitchen-crafted sorbets in flavors such as mint and chocolate as well as the standard lemon.

 

Nearby is the Cricket lounge, where such Cincinnatian guests as Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks have been known to take a turn with the piano. It's always worth a stop for a nightcap.

 

A visit to The Palace makes for a memorable evening"”perhaps the most memorable in the city.