The Palette at the Art Institute of San Diego

I had lunch last week at the Palette at the Art Institute of San Diego.  For those who have never been there, this is the student run restaurant for the culinary programs at AI.  First, readers should know that each quarter, a different team of students (and I presume, teachers) take on the operation of the Palette.  For the first half of a quarter, one group works the front of house and another works the kitchen.  For the second half of the quarter, they switch.  From a customer perspective, the Palette is one of the best values in San Diego for an “elevated” lunch or dinner.

This was my 4th visit to the Palette over the past 2 years and I have to say it was my best experience thus far.  The menu this quarter has a Caribbean theme.  There were so many items I wanted to try that I plan on going back another time.  For this visit I tried two entrees.

I started off with the Cubano Sandwich which is beautifully presented and which is accompanied by “avocado fries”.  The sandwich plate is garnished with a mustard and a bacon jam, but I really would have preferred if these items were put on the sandwich by the kitchen rather than having do dip or open the grilled pieces to do it myself.  The sandwich was flavorful and beautifully grilled to a crusty shell.  The avocado fries were wedges of avocado coated in panko and deep fried.  They were seasoned with salt almost to the edge of too much (without crossing over).  I would go back and order this sandwich again in a minute.

Cubano Sandwich
Cubano Sandwich

My second course was grilled Ono which is then gratinéed table-side with a lemon thyme aioli.  This is served with seabeans in a white wine vinaigrette, a plantain and roasted vegetable hash, and a salsa verde.  The fish was cooked perfectly and the table-side torching of the dish made for a great visual presentation.  I would have cleaned my plate, but the hash included chick peas which I just don’t enjoy eating.  Otherwise, the flavors were beautifully combined and showed a sophistication that you would not expect from a student run restaurant.

On my other visits, service has always been an Achilles heel for the Palette.  Most of the students have no experience working front of house and service always seems reticent and awkward.  That was not my experience for this visit.  Paul, our server, was delightful and seemed very comfortable with facing the restaurant’s diners.  He managed 4 tables with a calm urgency that one expects from professional dining experiences.  Likewise, the other servers on the floor seemed to be present and very attentive to guests.

My only regret was that I did not have enough time to order dessert.  The desserts at Palette have consistently been amazing and I plan on exploring that portion of the menu on my next visit.

The Palette is open for lunch and dinner on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Palette Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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