Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Le Vallauris - Palm Springs

I had a yearly business meeting with my partners on Saturday and following the meeting we met for dinner with our wives at Le Vallauris, a French restaurant in Palm Springs. It was a sunny day in the 70s as we were seated on the outdoor patio late in the afternoon. Men waiters in formal attire, portable message boards with the days menu filled in with chalk and tall trees resplendent in green leaves were some of the dominant images of the beautiful seating area. 

The menu offering, though not large, provided great variety and some difficult decisions for me. There were only a few things on the menu that would not have been of interest to me. Petrosian caviar, two types of duck fois gras (both sauteed and a cold torchon), raw oysters on the half-shell, snails, a salad with three types of beets, a salad with a whole Maine lobster, a warm lobster dish, several types of lamb, Chilean sea bass, rabbit fricassee, a hangar steak, and others. 

I had no clue what "Petrosian caviar" was, so I had to try it. It also happened to be the most expensive thing on the menu. It came on a large round silver tray. In the middle was a silver bowl filled with ice and a small jar of caviar with the lid pulled off and resting against it. The bowl was full of very tiny black sturgeon fish eggs and a small white plastic spoon was inserted, to scoop the eggs out. On the tray were four square white ceramic containers with grated white cheese, chopped Bermuda onion, sour cream (or creme fraiche?) and shredded egg yolk, each separated by a half-lemon in yellow cheese cloth tied with a green ribbon. On a separate white dish covered in white linen was a stack of 8 quarter sections of toast. It was the most fancy serving of anything I've ever had. 
It turns out that "Petrossian" is a French company that sells caviar and if I'd looked at the little lid propped up against the jar I would have been able to determine exactly what type of caviar I was getting. There are three types of sturgeon from which caviar is obtained: beluga, ossetra and sevruga. Beluga is considered the best, it has larger eggs and is mostly unavailable in the U.S. I had some when we visited Turkey and Russia.  On the Petrossian website it states: "Serve fresh, premium quality Petrossian caviar in its original perfection – do not sprinkle with lemon or serve with chopped egg, onion, or sour cream. Save these garnishes for inferior grades of caviar. For serving accompaniments, we offer blini and crème fraiche – very subtle flavors made specifically to let caviar’s full flavor shine through."  Contrary to the Petrossian instructions I got all of those things and more. I did try the little toast slices with variations of the condiments and caviar and I liked the sour cream and onion the best. I did not like the egg yolk. But Petrossian is right, the caviar was best on its own. These eggs were much smaller than beluga eggs and did not have the same wonderful pop when bursting in the mouth, or as strong of a salty, fishy taste. The presentation was great, the taste was okay. 
Judy ordered some oysters on the half shell and shared several with me. I love the salty juice of the slimy oyster as it mixes with the bite of the cocktail sauce and slips down the throat. 
I ordered the sauteed duck foie gras and for the first time got foie gras in its original form. I've had it in a pate form, and in a cool torchon form, in small quantities, but this was the entire duck liver in all its glory, barely seared - a liver sushi. As I first cut into it and put it in my mouth, I was a little surprised - it was just liver. Of course, I knew foie gras was liver, but I'd never seen or tasted it in its original form. It was like discovering a dead whole chicken after experiencing only chicken Mcnuggets and Kentucky fried chicken. The foie gras came with an unusual dark bread that distracted the taste buds and a sweetish sauce that masked the real taste. I tried these distractions, then pushed them away and went for the real thing. It was weird. I loved trying it this way, but pate is better. Another distraction on the plate was a large yellow slice of quince and what appeared to be a quince puree which was delightfully thick and sweet. It had the taste of a pear, but was stronger and thicker.
Judy ordered a lobster salad with one of the most wonderful food preparations I've ever seen. The lobster salad was in the shape of a lobster. The front claw meat, shaped like the claw, was laid on the plate where the claws of the lobster would be. The lobster head stood upright below and between them. Asparagus spears represented the front legs and avocado slices represented the hind legs. Lobster meat resting on lettuce represented the torso and the tail followed at the end. It not only looked great, but it was cooked perfectly. The meat was perfectly cool and still very moist.  
I went back and forth between rack of lamb and veal sweetbreads and opted for the sweetbreads. The sweetbreads are something that not many restaurants offer and it was an opportunity to expand my experience with brains. The sweetbreads were amazing. They were on a bed of asparagus and mixed in with many capers with several freshly fried potato crisps. The sweetbreads were beautifully seasoned and cooked, very tender but with an outer crustiness with taste-bud relishing flavor. None of the heavy thickness of the cold, lemon infused lamb brains I had in Amman, but a decidedly lighter, more flaky texture. Great, great dish.
Veal sweetbreads
Judy got a chocolate something-or-other, of course, with a side ginger snap cookie with ice cream on top. I had a taste of the cookie and always love ginger snaps.
I got an ice cream cake with crunchy meringue drops and assorted fruits on a graham cracker-type crust. I don't recall all the details. It was good.
I got to eat one of my partners lamb chops. It was glorious: tender, flavorful, perfectly medium rare. This was a great meal: great atmosphere, perfect weather, great company and a wonderful variety of challenging dishes. Caviar, foie gras and sweetbreads in one sitting, who needs dessert. Le Vallauris is the no. 1 rated restaurant in Palm Springs on Trip Advisor. I have no argument with that. 


  1. My lobster was some of the best I have had in a restaurant, although I still would have liked a little bit of clarified butter on the side. Still, it was moist and cooked to perfection. I was a little disappointed by the Chocolate Decadence dessert I ordered. The top "hat" of hard chocolate made it difficult to eat, and the mousse underneath was just okay.

  2. This looks like a fun, interesting, and tasty place to eat. What fun!