Charlie Palmer Offers Upscale Dining with Lone Star Designing

Texas is the top producer of wind energy in the U.S., so when Charlie Palmer decided to open Charlie Palmer at The Joule in downtown, he and the designers called upon this clean energy source for inspiration. (The design itself isn't sustainable--they still rely on good old-fashioned fossil fuel).

As soon as guests enter the space, they'll notice six large propellers circulating slowly above the dining room. A self-professed "design guy," Palmer wanted this feature to make this upscale environment feel more relaxed. Browns and yellows occupy the color scheme, and the eye-catching limestone floor is both organic and modern. On the wall hangs a photograph of an interpretation of Pecos Bill, the Texas-born cowboy who one day wrastled himself a cyclone. "It isn't all gold and silver with gilding," Palmer said. "You don't feel like you have to behave in the restaurant ... you can have fun."

Even with the nods to the Lone Star state, none of it looks, well--garishly Texan. But each piece can be recognized separately, and appreciated in totality--not a far cry from the food itself. The ricotta and mascarpone agnolotti features a velvety shitake sauce, but is served with large slices of the mushroom right atop the dish. Veggies and starches are served family-style and the thick, hard-edged silver serving platters are a throwback to when a can of beans was cooked over an open fire.

Beef is another bragging right of Texas, and Executive Chef Scott Romano gives steak the regional attention it deserves. Why not order the blue cheese-crusted filet as bloody as the Alamo, or try the dry-aged NY strip steak with bone marrow flan--a dish that would make Slue Foot Sue proud.

Only one component of the design doesn't fit in with the rustic allure. Guests select wine from a gadget called eWinebooks, certainly a traditionalist's nemeses. Instead of leafing through pages of vintages between thick leather covers, users select his or her preference by sorting through the collection electronically. While there's nothing wrong with innovation--Charlie Palmer does, after all, pay tribute to wind energy--some things are just better left untouched.

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Nicole M. Holland