Eatery - The Palace Grill (CA)
8 E Cota St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Cajun/Creole
We needed to do it. We saw that there was a Cajun/Creole restaurant in Santa Barbara, and my friends and I decided it was necessary to visit. Not only that but there were rave reviews about how friendly Palace Grill was. That sounds like reason enough to drop by. Located right off of State St, the restaurant is easy enough to find and its loud, welcoming atmosphere welcomes everyone in right away. The decor inside is definitively inspired by New Orleans and the culture, making it a good time to be had by all. We went through the extensive menu and decided that we needed to not only get some of their most popular items but also to encourage the jokey and friendly staff to share with us their favorites.
To start off the evening, every table gets a basket of miniature muffins in a variety of flavors. Because they seemed so small, we each quickly devoured our pieces of each to get the full array of each type. Then we opted to order something they are known for - their Cajun Crawfish Popcorn ($MP - dipped in cornmeal buttermilk batter, flash-fried, and served with a creamy sherry wine sauce). These morsels were not as crispy as I had imagine that they'd be but their seasoning gave a true Cajun profile to each. There were also quite a lot of these little hefty tails which were only enhanced by the creamy sauce. After having a few, I worried that they would start getting too salty but was glad that they were being shared. That way, you can enjoy them without inhaling too much salt (and fry oil at that!).
But of course, my trying to watch my intake went out the window when the three of us decided the best way to experience a lot of Palace Grill's offerings was to order the "All the Best" Platter ($75 for 2 - blackened salmon pontchartrain topped with crawfish tails, spicy crawfish etouffee, soft shell crabs, Caribbean coconut shrimp, and Louisiana bread pudding souffle with whiskey cream sauce). Composed of a variety of Palace Grill favorites, this impressively large platter came out with much aplomb and satisfied us thoroughly. If you're curious, the descriptions for each of the savory pieces follow: Blackened Fresh Scottish Salmon ($25 - served with jalapeno Beurre-Blanc), Crawfish Etouffee ($22 - tender Louisiana crawfish tails prepared in classic etouffee style, smothered in bell peppers and onions in traditional shrimp stock with dark roux and plentifully garnished with green onions), Louisiana Soft Shell Crabs ($30 - soft shell crabs stuffed with Bienville crabmeat dressing, lightly dusted with cornmeal flour, flash-fried, and served with jalapeno Beurre-Blanc), and Caribbean Coconut Shrimp ($11 - jumbo prawns dipped in housemade beer batter, rolled in fresh coconut, flash-fried, and served with marmalade horseradish dipping sauce).
The salmon was a generous portion considering this was a sampler-style platter. It was simple yet flavorful and smothered in a sauce that managed to not be overwhelming in flavor. The etouffee was not as spicy as expected but still had a zip and represented the namesake well. As for the soft-shell crabs, there were slightly different from a typical presentation of soft-shell crab because of the cornmeal flour. I'm accustomed to it in a flour-based batter but the cornmeal gave an interesting texture to each piece. These and the coconut shrimp were my favorite of the platter because the fry was done well and the balance of flavors between savory and slightly spicy and/or zesty finished each bite off deliciously.
At this point, we were quite stuffed like the soft-shell crabs but the other much-raved about part of Palace Grill from others is their dessert. Specifically, the Louisiana Bread Pudding Souffle ($8.50 - blend of souffle and bread pudding laced with Grand Marnier and raisins, served with whiskey cream sauce) gets everyone talking. Once ours came out, it was apparently why. The waiter had remembered that we noted it was our first visit there so took the liberty of decorating our dessert plate in chocolate writing as a welcome. Bonus? We could use the chocolate to swish our souffle through. The whiskey cream was just heavenly that went with this interesting hybrid of bread pudding and souffle. It was certainly a heavy dessert but one that ended the experience well. We also happened to be in the restaurant at the time of an impromptu sing-along with the rest of the diners there. What a jovial atmosphere! It's a definite must-visit if you go to Santa Barbara, if not for the food, for the people.
Photography by Minerva Thai.