In the Culinary World of Coral Gables, With its Proud Tradition of Fine Dining, Palme D’Or Remains the Cerise Atop the Food Pyramid
Quite simply, when it comes to haute cuisine, nothing quite compares to Palme D’Or. A meal at this pantheon of fine dining is not just about having a meal. It’s about embarking on a culinary adventure.
Let’s start with the interior, which is decorated in rich gold, yellow and brown, and feels like you are in an elegant apartment in Paris, or a chateau in Monte Carlo. The walls are decorated with black & white photos of classic American celebrities, from Liz Taylor & Richard Burton to Sophia Loren and Robert De Niro. They somehow work, in a kind of Jean Paul Belmondo cinema-noir way, adding an edgy but subtle sophistication to the opulence.
But these trappings pale in comparison to the food. And what food! There are no ordinary menus at Palme D’Or. There are only two choices: the six-course tasting menu or the 11-course tasting menu. Neither comes cheap: The first will set you back $115, the second $155.
Most patrons choose the first, which offers several options for each course. But for those who can afford it, or who want to splurge for that very special occasion, the chef’s tasting menu of 11 courses is a culinary magic carpet ride. If you go the extra $115 for the wine couplings rather than ordering your own bottle, then, as our steward Stefan told us, “put your seat belts on.”
We started with an amuse bouche with tiny slivers of mango, avocado, hearts of palm, and amber jack. It was accompanied by a light and delightful Drappier champagne.
Next came the official first course, and the sign of things to come: An eggcup that held a layered mixture of Oscietra caviar, cauliflower puree, quail egg and smoked salmon. It came with a white Sancerre from the Loire Valley. Delicous.
Our next course consisted of a single tip of white asparagus gently resting a atop a rake of cashew paste, topped with a tiny slice of toasted brioche for crunch and enhanced by tiny squares of mango, wisps of Comté cheese, and diminuative florets of parsley. It came with a taste of La Fleur Renaissance Sauternes white wine, just a tad richer than the previous white.
And so the evening proceeded. Each course arrived with fanfare, revealed rather than served. Plates were brought to the table with sliver domes covering each, and, voilá, all were revealed at once.
Each course was a marvelous, tiny construction done with such fastidious care and imagination that it became a show itself, a revelation like having the curtain pulled back on the latest painting by a French master. In this case, each course was like a miniature diorama, created in perfect detail.
These delightful presentations were literally works of art prepared by chef Gregory Pugin, who previously worked as the executive chef of Le Cirque in Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel before joining The Biltmore. In person, he is a modest man, especially considering awards that include being recognized with a Michelin Star, and years of work with renowned master French Chef Joël Robuchon at his Paris food laboratory.
Unfortunately, there is not room here to describe each course of the meal – which Pugin describes as classic French with a twist of modernity – though some were so stunningly good they must be mentioned.
One was a succulent piece of Alaskan king crab in a buttery mussel emulsion, atop a paste of celery puree, adjacent to a slice of leek. A sort of earth-meets-sea concoction, accompanied by an Alsatian Lucien Albrecht white wine. Amazing.
Another was a slice of melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef in a tiny pool of diablo sauce – itself a bone-marrow white-wine reduction – chaperoned by a hollow bone shaft that carried a tiny cargo of mushroom cap, crispy potato nub and green asparagus tip. This came with a velvety red Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhone Valley’s Château Fargueirol. Dreamy.
And so the evening went, with each dish blending into the next, the wines evolving from white, to rosé, to deep red, the glassware changing to match the pourings. In the end, it required a ‘pre-dessert’ of raspberry sorbet to cleanse the pallet for the 11th course, La Fôret Noire (the black forest), a dessert montage of chocolate sponge, mascarpone mousse, and Illanka Valrhona dark chocolate. Exquisite.
What made our culinary journey even richer was guidance by our table captain, a superbly knowledgeable Romanian gentleman named Stefan Pauna. Our questioning of the dining choices and wine pairings became an educational experience. Where else can you discuss the tastes of French novelist George Sand and diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand with your waiter – at the same time he is describing why the salty flavor of your cheese course should be paired with a sweet Muscat from the village of Beaumes de Venise? Only at the Palme D’Or.