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Upscale comfort food at Palms

During the recent fire evacuations, my husband and I felt a need for comfort food. The Palms Grill in Petaluma turned out to be the perfect choice.

We invited some friends, who had friends staying with them from Santa Rosa who had been displaced from the fire.

The Palms Grill dining room is quite large with many booths and alcoves, so it felt cozy. With high ceilings, dark wood and modern décor, it is clean and welcoming. The entire experience feels upscale, but the prices are set for everyday dining, whether for breakfast, lunch, happy hour or dinner.

We ordered several items, some of us ordering two-course meals and some ordering just single entrées from the regular menu, yet our waitress handled things perfectly, bringing out the three starters first, and then all the main courses when we were done with the starters.

This sounds only logical, but I think most people who dine out have had experiences with servers who do not understand coursed dining, and simply bring everything out at once. Clearly the staff here have been well trained.

The Caesar salad was made in a very classic style and presented in perfect simplicity. The house garden salad was simple but nicely prepared. The star of the first courses, though, was the house-made soup of the day, which was chicken tortilla soup. It was very hot, with a lovely rich and deep flavor, topped with thin and crispy tortilla shoestrings. I would happily make a whole meal of this delicious soup.

Chef-owner Mike Shatnawi said that they make everything from scratch, and he is very proud of his soups.

Mike has another Palms Grill in Sonoma, and he assured me it fine during the fires. In their very low-key way, he and his wife Lisa had been busy helping out the local communities during the fire disaster.

For main courses, we sampled a wide variety. I ordered the $13.99 two-course dinner special, and the entrée I chose was the baby back pork ribs. It has been a long time since I have had such perfectly cooked ribs. They were meaty, tender and coated with a perfect amount of barbecue glaze, adding just the right counterpoint to the delicious pork. Served on a mound of expertly cooked French fries, it was a delicious comfort food meal for me.

My husband absolutely loves two particular “coffee shop” sandwiches, and they were both on the menu here, so he had a difficult time choosing. The Reuben he ordered was expertly prepared with just the right amount of tender corned beef, melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and 1000 Island dressing on perfectly grilled rye bread.

The key is to get the rye bread crisp, without it being greasy, and to have the corned beef tender enough to eat as a sandwich without pulling the meat out of the bread. This version had it all, and I know we will be returning so he can have it again.

Based on the recommendation of our server, one of our guests ordered the petite chicken Piccata, and she was very happy with it. The chicken was nicely cooked, with exactly the right piquant taste balancing out the creamy sauce. The vegetables were expertly cooked, and that classic of comfort food menus, mashed potatoes, rounded out this excellent small entrée.

Our other guests tried the California veggie burger, the Baja chicken tacos from the special two-course menu, and the rib eye steak sandwich. Each item was properly cooked, attractively presented, and served at the right temperature.

In order to give the breakfast menu a try, we went back on a different day, and this time there were three of us. We tried the eggs Benedict, which is served until 3 p.m. daily. The eggs were nicely poached, still runny yolks surrounded by firmly cooked whites, sitting on Canadian bacon, all on a grilled English muffin, and coated with a scratch-made and tasty Hollandaise sauce. It was served with a raft of crispy but not greasy hash browned potatoes — an exemplary breakfast/brunch item that can only be categorized as “just right.”

When we were having dinner, we could not miss the table tent advertising the Palms Trio breakfast special that is offered Monday through Friday from 7 to 11 a.m. Two of us tried it on our breakfast visit, and we were both very happy. The deal includes three items from the following list: One pancake; toast; one French toast; two pieces of bacon; two sausages; two eggs; half a Belgian waffle; fruit cup; hash browns; one biscuit with gravy.

I chose to have the bacon, eggs and half waffle, and each component was perfectly cooked, and very tasty. My friend was so happy to be able to have just two pancakes and a fruit cup.

The overall experience was a happy one given the very good service and excellent food.