Palette 22 in Shirlington Village wants to cultivate artwork.
This goal is present on the walls, with every available inch covered with paintings or a mural. There’s an easel and painting station set to a corner by the entrance; the host, as she walks us to our table, teases that the one of the resident artists may come by tonight to work. As we sit, the table is mostly bare, except for the napkin and the table settings off to the side. The colors of the paint on our palette are the small plates we’ll be sharing, the courses how we’ll mix the colors together to cultivate our dining evening.
I may be a little heavy-handed with the metaphor, but Palette 22 is nothing but on-point with their curating of their street-food inspired cuisine. There’s a little bit of everything with the express purpose to share and, perhaps, mix into new flavors: bite-sized tacos or brick-oven pizza, Asian or North African influences, risky or comfort food, you pick.
Indeed, the watermelon and haloumi dish plays out this dichotomy beyond the sweet and savory expectations: The light, harissa-seasoned fruit paired with the deep-fried slices of cheese are a good highlight of the rest of their menu: playful and colorful. At the same time, a classic avocado hummus dish showcases that they can also nail the staple dishes.
A flash-fried Brussels sprouts dish, prepared honey sweet, comes with the advisory that the spiciness may vary based on the preparer. Later on, with their grilled octopus dish (which received some acclaim from reviewers when Palette opened in 2016), I receive a similar encouragement, that the chef behind the conception of the dish is working on the line.
Both were delicious, and expertly prepared. The braised and grilled 9-inch octopus tentacle was prepared sweet and tender, a show of the chef’s expertise in mastering a wildly difficult seafood dish, and perfectly seasoned over a bed of colorful purple potato hash.
“The octopus is his dish; he makes sure it’s done right,” the server mentions. There’s a sense of timeliness and individual creativity happening here, from what’s hanging on the walls to what’s happening behind the swinging doors into the kitchen. Change and inspiration is welcomed here. All of the paintings on the wall are for sale, new work is often rotated into this restaurant that moonlights as a gallery.
Which seems perfect for Signature Theatre’s neighbor. The night we dined, there were multiple sets of guests finishing up a post-matinee dinner, enjoying one or two of the generously-sized small plates. For guests looking to enjoy a longer set of courses, Palette also offers a $34.22 “Bottomless Dining” where diners can order as many individual items from the menu as they’d like.
It’s okay if you need to reread that last sentence.
Because of the generous portions, you can likely find yourself satisfied with two or three dishes per person, but the offer is still a wonderful deal to sample the collection of items. Dishes like their Cedar plank salmon, with a peach drizzle and mushroom accompaniment, make for a sizable snack on its own. The Spanish-inspired Patatas Fritas, perfectly roasted as bite-sized chunks, were delicious and plentiful. These items are all attentively prepared with expertise and precision.
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And they are quick with their service: in the hour and a half of our dining (four courses), our neighboring tables looking for a quick dinner were in and out less than an hour. There was never the sense that guests risked missing curtain calls at Signature here.
If you do stay for dessert, their churros are crispy coated, soft, inner dough, gently flash-fried to perfection. “Best I’ve had in the District,” my dining partner comments, as we decide whether to dip our pieces in the dulce the leche or the sweet chocolate sauces.
Their traditionally-prepared flan is the comforting light and gentle finale after such a variety of courses.
Palette 22 understands the individual creative diner, the kind of person who wants to sample everything and explore some familiar risks. They succeed at cultivating a dining experience that is all everything a dining guest’s could choose to discover.
And you can expect an update when we’ve checked them out for brunch. They currently have a waffle bar and a “Build-Your-Own” Bloody Mary menu.
Palette 22, a block from Signature Theater in Shirlington, Va, is part of the Alexandria Restaurant Group, who also own Theisman’s and The Majestic. Lunch, brunch, and dinner is available.
4053 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA 22206
Call: (703) 746-9007