Tommy Jacomo marvels at the speed with which the Palm (1225 19th St. NW; 202-293-9091) was made over during the summer. In just six weeks, the downtown steakhouse got a new kitchen, ceiling and floors and added three "power" booths and an airy, glass-wrapped veranda.
"It took me three months to get one bathroom done in my house!" cracks the executive director of the soon-to-be 35-year-old restaurant, who has been with the place since the beginning.
When the Palm reopened for business late last month, a stream of regulars -- James Carville, Vernon Jordan and Bob Bennett, among other movers and shakers -- dropped by to check out the changes, which include fewer of the 1,000 or so sketches for which the meat market is famous: As part of the renovation, Jacomo says, some of the walls, and about 300 drawings of customers, had to come down. (Apprised that their mugs would be among the temporary losses -- those that fell victim to demolition will be replaced -- a couple of regulars showed up the night the place closed and chiseled their likenesses off the sheet rock.)
We stopped in for a peek of our own and found a crowded bar, a juicy New York strip steak and a juicier, rosier, thicker slab of prime rib. The Palm's raw oysters -- bummer, only Blue Points -- are no match for Kinkead's, and the best part of the Half & Half are the cottage fries (the onion rings need more salt and less grease). But the creamed spinach is as tasty as ever, and the key lime pie sports a nice tang. New to the menu: shrimp, steak, chicken, fruit and lobster salads, offered to support the women's empowerment charity Dressed for Success. Through the end of October, 10 percent of the sales of the salads will go to the organization. Bestsellers will remain on the permanent menu, Jacomo says.
Insider tip: For those who want to see and be seen, the numbers of those VIP booths adjacent to the bar are 20, 21 and 22. And if you want to see your mug on the wall, it helps to be a regular or a celebrity. "We lobby some" people, Jacomo says, "and some lobby us."
--Tom Sietsema (October 3, 2007)