Joe Palma wasn't necessarily planning a relocation back to D.C. from Charleston. But when the former Westend Bistro chef, who had recently been working at High Cotton in South Carolina, saw an opportunity to return to high-end, luxury dining (a genre much more prevalent in D.C. than it is in Charleston), he couldn't pass it up.
"I just saw the position as a great opportunity," said Palma, who is replacing John Critchley at Bourbon Steak in Georgetown. The chef is dividing his time between Charleston and D.C. until the end of June or so, when he'll be in the kitchen full-force. But he's starting to make some changes during the transition time, making sure the restaurant's fish dishes are up to standard, for example.
"Hopefully I can make things a bit lighter and fresher," said Palma. "I think people have come to expect more elegant dining at Bourbon Steak than your traditional steakhouse, which gives us leeway on what we can do with appetizers and some of the entrees." Palma thinks the aesthetic look of the food will generally remain the same under his watch. "I want to make sure everything on the plate is there for a reason," he said.
The restaurant will revamp its dessert program in July, and Palma will make sure there are options for guests who want a light and balanced three course meal. He's making changes to such dishes as the fluke crudo, and will add a scallop ceviche, a strawberry gazpacho with buttermilk sorbet, and a new halibut preparation with corn, lobster and fava beans, among other changes. He's not exactly complaining about the fact he gets to start his new gig during the summer, when ingredients are excellent.
"I'm not here to [fix] what ain't broken; I'm just here to buff a few edges here and there, and make sure the restaurant stays relevant as we move forward," Palma said.
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Joe Palma [Photo: Daniel Swartz/Four Seasons]