Dine like a 1920s socialite at Le Vallauris restaurantWritten by Pamela Bieri 4:47 PM, May. 19, 2011
For more than 35 years, Le Vallauris has reigned as the grande dame of fine restaurants in Palm Springs.
Nestled at the bottom of Mt. San Jacinto, almost the very end of Tahquitz Canyon Way, and shaded by a thick grove of fichus trees, the award-wining Le Vallauris has occupied the historic 1924 Spanish/Mediterranean-style George Roberson house since 1974.
Paul Bruggemans and Camille Bardet, who then owned Le St. Germain in Los Angeles, fell in love with the historic house and kept its original layout in planning the restaurant. The house wraps around the expansive shaded patio where most of the seating is outdoors, under the trees. Huge masses of beehive lights cluster in the trees to provide ambient lighting at night, as do candles on the tables, and light from within the restaurant.
Indoors, the Spanish adobe walls are a soft green color with rich red upholstered chairs and banquette seating throughout the dining areas and bar.
Roberson was a son of Nellie Coffman, an early Palm Springs pioneer, who launched the famous Desert Inn hotel in 1909, attracting the rich and famous from the movie industry as well as politicians, socialites and industry moguls in the early 1920s and 30s. Roberson and his brother, Earl Coffman, managed the hotel with their mother for more than 40 years.
Bruggemans capitalized on the history and glamour that this property instinctively drew, and Le Vallauris continued the tradition of catering to discerning, upscale clients.
Longtime server Willy Vanderkolk remembers the Gabors — Jolie and her daughters Zsa Zsa, Magda and Eva — who always brought their entourage to the restaurant.
“The Gabors, Janet Rockefeller, Rosalee Hearst — I used to wait on those people,” he said. “When you have a restaurant like this, you don’t need to advertise. There is a level of consistency, 99.9 percent.”
Le Vallauris’ menu is hand-written on white boards set on easels that are taken to each table while the servers describe each dish. The restaurant has regular lunch and dinner menus as well as weekly changing prix fixe menus and a degustation or tasting menu.
A daily lunch prix fixe menu ($35) includes an appetizer, main course and dessert. The degustation menu ($89) is best enjoyed at a relaxed pace while chef Jean Paul Lair orchestrates layers of tastings.
Celebrating the end of season with a special prix fixe menu from June 1 to July 4 ($46), choices include a trio of chilled soups — red beet, vichyssoise and carrot curry — or soufflé of Swiss and Conte cheese on Boston lettuce, for example.
Main courses range from a grilled pepper-crusted ahi tuna to a grilled lamb loin with Dijon mustard crust to a medley of vegetarian raviolis with olive oil, herbs and mozzarella. Dessert offerings are an apple and crème brulee, fresh strawberry meringue or limoncello soufflé with crème Anglaise.