This week, Eater NY staffers are writing about restaurants we love — ones that might not be hot and might not be cool but have special places in our hearts for one reason or another. They’re love letters of sorts, odes to the places that give us faith in restaurants, and New York, too. Here now is senior editor Stefanie Tuder with an account on how she fell in love with a steakhouse chain.
For probably 15 years, I’ve had three lofty, very personal goals: write a book, judge Iron Chef, and get my caricature on the wall of the Palm. Any Palm.
My first experience at the 92-year-old steakhouse chain is how I imagine many’s are. My uncle, introduced by a regular at the original location in the ’80s, went about once a week to the very see-and-be-seen Los Angeles location for various entertainment-world meetings. Once his regular status was established, he took my family when we were visiting him in LA in the ’90s. On our very first visit, we had the spectacular luck to encounter the late Gigi Delmaestro. He was the famed LA maitre d’, a man who once said, “I make everyone who comes in feel like a star.”
It might sound like a cheesy line, but it’s true. We went to the Palm once, and we were hooked. That’s the magic of the place — everyone leaves feeling like a regular. And in turn, some lust after having their face on the wall like all esteemed regulars do. The Palm has upheld the tradition of drawing celebrity and regular faces on the walls since its early days.
Since then, we’ve been eating at the upscale steakhouse for meals ranging from birthdays and graduations to pre-theater dinners to just a normal night out. We’ve been countless times in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, D.C., and Atlanta. No matter which Palm we go to, we feel right at home and know we’re in for a consistently delicious and hospitable experience.
I already know exactly what I’m going to get when I walk in the door. I’ll start with a caesar salad, or maybe some lobster bisque, while my brother and dad each have a Gigi salad, which is named after Delmaestro. We’ll then split a porterhouse — medium-rare, duh! — and let my mom waste her time on a filet mignon while we dig into fat-filled slices of strip. The steak, aged for a minimum of 35 days, is always perfect, with tender, ruby-red insides and a crackly, charred crust. There’s no butter here; this steak doesn’t need it. Our table is rounded out by various sides, from half and half (cottage fries and onion rings) and hash browns to grilled asparagus and creamed spinach, depending on how healthy we’re pretending to be that day.
No one will ever be able to dissuade me from the certainty that it’s the platonic ideal of a steakhouse. The Palm, founded in 1926 in Midtown East and now with 24 locations in North America, consummates the old-school steakhouse genre. The martinis and manhattans are stiff and pristine. The steak has no frills, letting the meat shine. The servers are appropriately equal parts hospitable and gruff. The decor is filled with endless entertainment through the caricatures.
I’ve been going and surrounded by those faces for so long that I’ve come to associate success with them. If your face is on the Palm’s wall, you’re somebody. My face in a Palm, any Palm, would symbolize that I “made it,” too.
Hence my long desire to earn a spot among them. I’ve always harbored secret hopes that I’d become a famous novelist and journalist — can’t you tell by my goals? — and would thus eventually get my very own portrait. My brother, ever the more practical sibling, went about it another way. He joined the Palm’s 837 club, which offers various perks through a points system, earned through dollars spent at the restaurants. Fifteen-thousand points gets you a caricature, along with a private party to show it off to your friends.
On April 12, 2014, after many meals, my brother was forever memorialized at the Tribeca location. My dad’s face followed on September 9, 2016. I’m incredibly proud, and also insanely jealous, but I feel fairly confident my time will come. We’ll just have to keep eating at the Palm — any Palm, every Palm — to make it happen, which will truly be my pleasure.