"So, to what do I owe the privilege?"
That's what rolled off my tongue earlier today when I picked up the phone and heard the booming voice of star chef and restaurateur Charlie Palmer on the other end, calling from New York with an update on what's transpiring at District Meats, the restaurant he opened in November of last year at 1631 Wazee Street.
Turns out that Palmer was calling to let me know that District Meats is changing its name and re-conceptualizing its menu: "After six months, I'm renaming the restaurant, because there's been some confusion about whether or not it's a steakhouse, and while I've said from the beginning that it's not a steakhouse, from a consumer, client and even press point of view, the consensus has been that we are a steakhouse."
It's true, he admits, that the restaurant -- which will become Charlie Palmer's District Tavern as of next Tuesday -- has served, from day one, secondary cuts of beef, but the repositioning of the name is more indicative of what he wanted to do in the first place: modern American tavern cuisine. "The perception is that we're a steakhouse, and that's not what I set out to do. I set out to be a modern American tavern," stresses Palmer.
And the menu will also reflect the new name. "We'll still have secondary cuts of meat, but we'll have fewer meat options and instead offer lighter dishes that have more of a regional and seasonal emphasis," he explains, adding that his cooking philosophy has always embraced locality. "We've always been very focused on local produce, and we already use local lamb and poultry producers, and we'll continue to do that even more now that we've re-branded the menu."
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A menu, he emphasizes, that will provide a balanced approach between secondary cuts of meat and the whims of the seasons. "Seasonal produce will take the spotlight," he says, citing new dishes like the Haystack Mountain ricotta-filled tortelloni with fennel, watercress and navel oranges; lemongrass-steamed Rocky Mountain trout with roasted maitake mushrooms and carrot-ginger emulsion; and tavern-style, bone-in Tender Belly pork chops with chorizo, apricots and roasted asparagus.
In addition, notes Palmer, the Tavern will discontinue its lunch service in order to concentrate solely on dinner. "We're doing a five-night dinner schedule, and we have a team that's really engaged and passionate," he says, noting that he's hired Stefan Geson, a veteran of Restaurant Kevin Taylor, to oversee the dining room. "He's a really great guy who's the kind of person who people will recognize at the front door."
The new hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m; Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10:30 p.m. And happy hour will continue to run from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday with $4 select draft beers, $5 well drinks, $6 select house wines and martinis and complimentary pizza from Wazee Wood Fire Pizza, which is Palmer's pizza emporium next door.