A bright neighborhood bar, Palette 22 offers a unique ambiance and some surprisingly good cocktails.
Overall Rating: 4
As a frequent stroller through the little village of Shirlington, it’s been sad to see the big corner space on South Randolph remain vacant for so long. So I’ve been closely tracking the progress of Palette 22, an art-themed restaurant that opened this week. Now, there’s nothing worse than forced gimmicks at restaurants, but the artistic theme as applied at Palette is attractive and seamless. I have to say, it was kind of cool to glance over and see an artist painting a stunning mural 15 feet away while you are dining. Ascetically, I found Palette 22 welcoming and comfortable, with a huge and broad bar with outlets and foot rests (important for those of us under six feet tall!), tons of sunlight, and massive amounts of space. Bar service on the fourth day of operations was good, even when the happy hour rush descended.
Oh, the drinks – I have to admit, having visited so many sophisticated cocktail bars lately, there’s a bit of arrogance creeping into my tastes. That’s why it was such a joy sipping the simple but great drinks at Palette 22; all 7 of the mixes worked so well including 4 standouts. Sure, they didn’t use a half-dozen esoteric ingredients from four different continents, but they worked, and they worked well. And that’s the most important part, even for a budding fancy-pants like me 🙂
We started the tour with a standout, the “Pina al Parilla” with Jim Beam, smoked pineapple syrup, and habanero water. This starting act was emblematic of Palette 22’s solid cocktail list: three ingredients, one unique input, with a clean and intriguing taste. Here, the pineapple syrup is perfect, lending that nice fruity bite but not overwhelming the rye with sweetness. The habanero water adds just the right amount of spice, subtly jazzing up this great and simple sipper. Next up was my favorite of the evening, the “Jamaican Daquiri” with Appleton rum, coconut, hibiscus-all spice syrup, and lime juice. I loved this drink especially the coconut and all-spice combination, which is just everything. It’s a cool, milky, cinnamon-y accent that hits right in the middle of the drink, a wonderful tropical rush that I haven’t experienced before. The overall drink is different and fresh, and it ranks high on my list of recent favorite cocktails.
On to the “Impressionism” with Tanqueray vodka, prosecco, lemon juice, asian pear, sake, and clove. This is refreshing with the pear and sake adding a tantalizing twist. The overall combination didn’t click perfectly for me and I thought the lightness clashed a bit with the heavier, more stringent ingredients, but it was still a positive experience. Clever puns and good flavor came with standout “The Man Gogh” made of tequila, mango syrup, orange and lime juices, cumin, and white pepper. A complimentary and electrifying mix of mango and tequila, this was fire on ice, with a wonderfully spicy kick at the end off the pepper and cumin. Again, simple, upfront, and delicious. When summer comes around and I walk in on a 90 degree day, this will be the first thing I order.
Nice and light with the “Kiwi Ginger Collins” with Citadelle gin, kiwi and ginger syrups, and lime juice. Parlaying the usual Collins lightness and lime, this throws a kiwi kiss into the mix to make it more interesting. It does what a Collins is supposed to do, refresh and relax. Things got a bit bitter with the “Peruvian Negroni” with Macchu pisco, Campari, vermouth, and orange bitters. I’m not a huge Negroni fan but this was fine, the pisco heat dovetailing well with the Campari for a savory, bitter flavor. Also sensed a touch of that orange bitter on the tail end of the sip. Fine.
The last drink was a standout, the “What the Fuzz?” with Tanqueray vodka, creme de peche, ginger syrup, and lemon juice. The creme de peche is the star here giving it a soft, sugary, fruit echo that clicks so well with the ginger. God, I lick my lips just thinking of that foamy and spicy combination. This is the perfect relaxing drink but with enough spice to make it different, hardy, memorable. I’m hard pressed to think of a better way to end my fun evening at Palette 22 and I look forward to a return visit!