The Artistry of Fine Dining
In a region saturated with good restaurants, the Palme d’Or stands out as a true shrine to fine dining. Few restaurants can hope to surpass its exacting standards of nouvelle French cuisine.
What strikes you immediately about Palme d’Or is the understated sophistication. Yes, the walls are golden yellow, the wood trim is rich, the chairs are leather, and the chandeliers and sconces are arrayed with teacup lampshades. But, like the music, all fades into the background, elegant yet restrained, designed not to diminish the flamboyance of the dishes presented.
Presented is the correct word. The menus are prix fixe only, set for five courses ($105 per person) or seven courses ($135). While there are options for each course, the menu – which changes with each season – is deliberately limited so that chef Gregory Pugin can concentrate on making each course a work of visual and gustatory art.
Prior to our first tasting, the chef treated us to an amuse-bouche (literally a mouth amusement), a tiny serving of English pea puree with corn ice cream, one kernel (just one) of popped corn and a piece of Iberian ham. It set the stage for our five courses, and indicated what was to come: small servings of complex, rich flavors, playing against each other in a balanced, focused intensity.
The bread selections were another indication of the quality to come, including a superb brioche made not with butter and eggs but with olive oil (though brushed with butter).
The first course was the cold appetizer. We tried the marinated pompano on green ginger foam, with tiny bits of ginger and lime citrus on the plate to tweak the taste; it was ceviche re-invented, taken to a new place. Next came the hot appetizer, a sweetbread fricassee with morels, accompanied by a single, fat stalk of white asparagus crusted with comte cheese that was perfectly browned. The smooth, almost creamy asparagus nicely balanced the robust sweetbread.
Third in our romp through the Palme d’Or menu was La Mer (the Sea) entrée – a piece of cod marinated black with squid ink, accompanied by a white bean purée, dots of crustacean sauce, and a small tower of crisp potato itself capped by a tiny poached quail egg. Exquisite. Fourth was La Terre (the Land) entrée: Several slices of seared duck breast with a section of hibiscus rhubarb, joined on the plate by green pea parfait over duck leg confit, with pistachio, pepper corns, a slices of tart pear to add crunch and layers of flavor. As with other dishes, the morsels were separated on the plate, to be tasted individually or in unison; few things taste as good together as rhubarb and roast duck, it turns out.
Each entrée arrived under silver cover, and all the diners were served at the same time, with a simultaneous “voila” as dishes were revealed. Each plate was also a work of art, painted with small food preparations and sauces, each with its own bouquet of flavors. As the meal unfolded, the tastes became richer, part of a well-orchestrated symphony reaching crescendo with the fourth entrée.
For the final act came dessert, though chef slipped in another amuse-bouche – a dollop of apricot marmalade atop a bite of vanilla-burgamot ice cream – to first clear the palate. For the main dessert we tried both the cheese selection (impossible to go wrong in a French restaurant) and the “deconstructed” key lime pie. Both superb.
Palme d’Or is all about the quality and presentation of complex flavors, textures and color combinations. Each bit of food is prepared with fanatical care – and deftly paired with glasses of wine, should you put yourself in the hands of the sommelier. We recommend you do.