Special to MyDesert
PALM SPRINGS — Some of the best things in life are NOT free, but well worth the expense. Le Vallauris is one of them.
The back story
Longtime “grande dame” of dining establishments, this upscale restaurant has occupied the historic former home of George B. Roberson, son of Palm Springs pioneer Nellie Coffman, since savvy restaurateur Paul Bruggemans opened it in 1973.
At the time, Bruggemans owned and operated the renowned St. Germaine restaurant in Hollywood when he established Le Vallauris, which is named for a celebrity-studded seaside resort in the south of France.
The name, of course, suggests both the level of clientele as well as the haute cuisine to those “in the know.”
With then-Executive Chef Jean Dumond and a well-trained service staff, Le Vallauris quickly became THE restaurant for Palm Springs’ society crowd, local power-brokers and every celebrity who happened to live in or visit Palm Springs.
Bruggemans’ brother Tony, who joined Le Vallauris as general manger 13 years ago after a storied career managing international private hotels, regaled us with fascinating stories one evening at dinner.
He recalled Jolie Gabor, mama of the famous Gabor girls, Zsa Zsa, Magda and Eva, practically held court at Le Vallauris weekly.
“Whenever anyone wanted to honor Jolie with a luncheon, if they were cheap and suggested somewhere else, Jolie would say, ‘Sorry, dahling, only at Le Vallauris will I do a party!” said Bruggemans.
Bruggemans and Executive Chef Jean Paul Lair, who has been with Le Vallauris for the past 25 years, enjoyed remembering some of the celebrities who regularly dine or have visited the restaurant, including the Kirk Douglas family, actress Suzanne Somers, singer Bon Jovi, actor Robert Di Niro, entertainer Liza Minnelli and the late pop star Michael Jackson, who Lair recalled “hid under a blanket in the dining room.”
“We are very discreet and do not take photographs or ask for autographs,” said Tony Bruggemans.
Built in a Spanish style in the 1920s, Le Vallauris is U-shaped around a magnificent outdoor patio that is shaded by giant fiscus trees. At night the trees are spotlighted above the house’s roofline to accentuate their sculptural forms as well as light the patio.
“Some 90 percent of guests dine on the patio, said Tony Bruggemans. “For people coming from New York and Chicago in the winter, it is a pleasure to sit outside with weather that is like summer to them.”
On an early balmy October evening, not a leaf stirring, dining outdoors at white linen-clad tables with candlelight, wine glasses, polished silver, and even more polished wait staff, the experience is truly Palm Springs at its best. Put this one on your bucket list!
Chef Jean Paul’s masterful French-California cuisine is the corollary to these elegant surroundings.
White boards on easels, handwritten with the day’s a la carte menu, are carried to each table for perusal. However, get out your reading glasses, as the board, looking like morass of Chinese characters, is crammed with dozens of appetizers, salads and first courses, with as many entrées.
There is also a weekly changing prix fixe three course menu in a cover on the table.
We started off with an heirloom tomato carpaccio with avocado, watermelon in a vanilla lemon olive oil. This colorful plate featured four different colored heirloom tomatoes, squares of sweet red watermelon and buttery avocado. Scallops with a blend of potatoes and tomato was another appetizer we tried.
Sautéed Dover sole was prepared with almond cream and orange beurre blanc over a quinoa risotto, and the Lake Superior white fish topped fresh sautéed spinach and shiitake mushrooms in a mustard beurre blanc.
An amazingly light Grand Marnier soufflé, slit and filled with crème Anglaise and warmed chocolate, was the sweet finish.
The weekly prix fixe menu at $58 per person is comparatively a great value starting with a mise en bouche (a little mouthful) — ahi tuna, prosciutto and fig or vichyssoise; choice of three appetizers, three entrées and three desserts.
The week we visited, Dover sole was one of the choices along with a grilled lamb loin with black olive tapenade or roasted organic chicken with chanterelles.
The restaurant is also now open for lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and offers a three-course prix fixe Sunday Brunch that includes eggs Benedict, Maine lobster ravioli and grilled duck breast with Cabernet figs and soft polenta.
During season, learn some of Chef Jean Paul’s and Pastry Chef Laurent Dellac’s secrets at Le Vallauris’ lunchtime cooking demonstrations held the second Monday of every month. Cost is $55 and the restaurant provides the recipes, writing materials and the three-course meal. Next demonstration is Nov. 12 and following is Dec. 10. Check the website for more dates and reservations.