August 18, 2008

Palomino Interprets Mediterranean Cuisine

By Kellie B Gormly

At Palomino, diners can get a shot of energy along with their fine food and cocktails, executive chef Brian Thurston says.

The restaurant's prime location in Gateway Center, Downtown, makes it a great part of an evening with the fine arts, a destination to celebrate an anniversary, a meeting place for Downtown professionals to enjoy lunch, or a spot to kick back and enjoy food and cocktails at the end of a work day. The upscale, urban chic environment -- along with the big menu of delicious food - - makes patrons want to come back again and again, he says.

"I think it's the atmosphere. The modern decor and feel is just so pleasant," says Thurston, 34, of Greensburg. "It makes you want to go and do something. It's a destination spot. This is just a great place to go and have fun."

Palomino's cuisine, the chef says, is "our American interpretation of Mediterranean-style cooking," with French, Italian and Moroccan influences. "Anything that can be pulled from the Mediterranean."

Palomino's menu includes plentiful fresh seafood, which is flown in six days a week. Wild Alaskan salmon, the key ingredient in this week's Cooking Class recipe, is flown in from Anchorage every day when it's in season. The menu also includes thin-crust pizzas, which are baked in a brick oven; filet mignon; pastas; salads; duck; and several chicken dishes. For the more casual diners, Palomino -- which has locations in several other cities, including Dallas, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Los Angeles -- also offers simple items like burgers.

"You can pretty much get anything you want here," says Thurston, who is from the Orlando, Fla. area.

Signature dishes include the blue crab and artichoke dip, which is served with cracked pizza crust, Parmesan cheese and sliced onions. Palomino's paella -- made with prawns, clams, mussels, seasonal fresh fish, chicken, chorizo and Spanish saffron rice -- also has many fans. And don't forget to save room for dessert: The menu of homemade treats includes the signature tiramisu.

Thurston, who came to Palomino when it opened eight years ago and has been executive chef for about five years, started in the restaurant business just trying to make a little extra money as a teenager. After high school, he got a job as a cook and worked his way up through several restaurants, eventually earning the chef's honor. Thurston manages a kitchen staff of about 20.

"I've always enjoyed food, but what really drew me into the business was the people, and the sense of accomplishment you got," he says. "There is instant gratification when you make someone happy."

Thurston's philosophy on cooking is to "use fresh, seasonal ingredients, and buy locally whenever you can."

Grilled Wild Salmon with Blueberry Butter

The blueberry butter brings out the freshness and richness of wild Alaskan salmon. You can make the blueberry butter as long as one day in advance, but be sure it is at room temperature before grilling the fish. This is a great time to make this recipe, because the fish is in season from the end of May through the end of August. Chef Brian Thurston recommends pairing this dish with a chilled bottle of crisp pinot grigio.


2 bunches of asparagus, trimmed

2 to 3 pounds fingerling potatoes (found in specialty produce markets) or small Yukon Gold potatoes, split in half

Ice water

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Fresh thyme leaves, picked from the stems

Vegetable oil, for coating grill

6 (7-ounce) fillets fresh wild Alaskan salmon, king or sockeye, skinless and boneless

Blueberry butter (recipe follows)

Lemon wedges

Fresh sprigs of thyme

Boil water, and blanch the asparagus and potatoes to al dente. Chill the asparagus and potatoes in an ice bath. Place them in a flat-bottom casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper (see Photo 1) and fresh thyme leaves. Gently toss the vegetables to coat, and reserve for grilling.

Prepare a grill on medium-high heat, about 450 degrees, after cleaning it well and brushing with a little vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Baste the flesh side of the salmon with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper (Photo 2). Place the salmon, seasoned side down and skin side up, onto the barbecue grates, and place the potatoes on the grill. Baste the top side of the salmon with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Leave the salmon in place for about 3 minutes, until it lifts easily from the grates with a spatula.

Rotate the salmon 90 degrees to promote even cooking. Continue grilling for 1 minute, then flip the salmon over. Using a basting brush, baste the salmon liberally with the blueberry butter (Photo 3). Place the asparagus on the grill, and flip the potatoes over. Rotate the salmon 90 degrees, baste again with the blueberry butter, and continue grilling until the desired doneness is achieved. If you're using a grill thermometer, medium rare will be 130 degrees, and medium well will be 150 degrees. Gently roll the asparagus to grill the opposite side.

Remove the salmon from the grill onto a serving plate, and baste one final time with blueberry butter, allowing it to pool on and around the salmon. Remove the vegetables from the grill, and add to the plate. Garnish each piece of salmon with a lemon wedge and a sprig of fresh thyme.

Makes 6 servings.

Blueberry Butter

2 sticks salted butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and air-dried

2 teaspoons lemon zest, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, picked from the stem

1 tablespoon clover honey

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients into a food processor or stand mixer. Pulse until well blended.

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