A Pinnacle of Haute Cuisine Becomes Accessible
By Andrew Gayle
For many years, the mark of ultra-high cuisine in the Gables has been Palme d’Or at the Biltmore. Its master chef presented two dining options: A nine-course tasting menu or an 11-course tasting menu, for $90 or $120, respectively. Throw in the 11-vintage wine coupling for the 11-course meal and the tab for your party of four was a cool $1,000.
The food was, naturally enough, notoriously magnificent, with each course a tiny sculpture of delicacies, each plate revealed by the “voilà” lifting of a silver dome. It was the place for special events, celebrations, anniversaries, proposals, etc., but not a place you visited regularly.
Now the grand dame of South Florida dining has been reinvented and made more accessible. Instead of two tasting menu options, they now present a regular menu. Yes, it is still pricey – appetizers range from tomato bisque ($16) to caviar with crème fraîche ($28), and entrées go from a branzino ($38) to Jackman Ranch wagyu filet mignon ($56). Fortunately, there is a lovely chef ’s tasting menu for $49, which includes three choices each of appetizer, entrée and dessert, two from the regular menu and one special of the day.
There are a number of things we like about this new Palme d’Or. While the food is French, it is modern rather than classic. There is no beef bourguignon, coq au vin, escargot, or duck à l’orange. Yes, there is beef, lamb, fish, duck, etc., but all cooked with a contemporary French sensibility and a subtle spin from Chef Rogelio Fiallo, who was trained at Le Cordon Bleu and had been the Palme d’Or pastry chef until last year. His roast breast of duck, for example, is cut as sideways pieces rather than lengthwise, and accompanied by two plate sauces (a port reduction and a sweet potato reduction) with inventive side bites of spinach topped by sliced fresh fig. Delicious.
Likewise, Chef Fiallo’s lamb chops are inventively coupled with fava beans, prunes, red peppers and pearl onions, and slightly smoked. Also, the oh-so delicate branzino is paired with bits of bacon, pineapple and a sweet chili sauce. The result is not so much the purity of a single flavor, but rather Chef Fiallo’s original juxtapositions of tastes.
Among the dishes we sampled, all were well prepared and ample. The octopus entrée is like a meal for two, poached and tasty with a wine/olive sauce. The winter salad is a clever assembly of crunchy greens – string beans, snow peas, daikon radishes, and mache, with pea purée. And nothing beats their wagyu strip steak ($52), with sautéed shiitake mushrooms, cipollini onions, charred baby zucchini and truffle mashed potatoes. Each bite of beef is an explosion of flavor.
On the dessert side, the apple spice cake and peach melba were both tasty, but a bit too like futuristic sculptures for our taste. The chocolate cake was superb, more a chocolate cream pie disguised as a cake. A pleasant surprise was the dessert cheese option, a choice of four cheeses from a tray of 16, wheeled to your table – among them a goat blue cheese that was exceptional and an époisses cheese washed in brandy and aged for three years. Mind blowing.
Part of what makes the dishes so appetizing is the quality of ingredients. Every restaurant brags about their ingredients as the freshest, highest quality; here you can taste it. The tomato bisque is redolent of young, fresh tomatoes.
Another thing we liked is that the elegant interior of Palme d’Or has not changed. It still has its candelabra chandeliers, its mirrored columns,
its large framed vintage photos of celebrities (Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Sean Connery, Marilyn Monroe), its excellent seating of leather-backed armchairs and wall couches. While every other French restaurant in or near the Gables is basically a bistro, this is a real restaurant, with a generous seating area, large tables and warm lighting. The service, as well, remains impeccable. What has changed is the clientele – a younger generation has arrived – and a presentation that is less a theater of high cuisine than a fine meal of contemporary French cooking.