Overall impression: Palme d'Or gets its name from the biggest prize given at the Cannes Film Festival. True to its name, Palme d'Or may be South Florida's biggest culinary prize. It delivers at a level of sophistication rarely seen in restaurants from Miami to Palm Beach. And it does so without a hint of arrogance. I don't know of a finer special-occasion restaurant in the region.
Ambience: An evening at Palme d'Or begins the minute you walk into the Biltmore Hotel, the 85-year-old centerpiece of Coral Gables. Designed by the same architects who built New York City's Grand Central Terminal and Miami's Freedom Tower, this Mediterranean revival masterpiece is equal parts Italy and Spain. The stroll from the porte cochere to the dining room through the lower lobby has you walking over intricately patterned travertine floors and allows you to peer into the most elegant sundries shop you'll ever see. The coffered ceilinged dining room is decorated in classic high-brow resort style. Photographs taken at the Cannes Film Festival grace the walls. We sat underneath a photo of Robert Redford and the late director Sydney Pollack. The dining room is pin-drop quiet — no piped-in music here.
Food: Chef Philippe Ruiz, trained in his native France, has been with the restaurant since it opened in 1999. He's responsible for changing the contemporary French menu with a focus on locally sourced seasonal ingredients four times every year. The current menu, available through September, has appetizers priced at $16, fish and crustaceans at $24, and meats at $24. Several items require a $7 supplement. Ruiz also offers a pre-theater menu ($40), seafood menu ($71), Mediterranean menu ($64), vegetarian menu ($64) and his own Le menu de Philippe ($96). Guests can mix and match.
Starters: The amuse-bouche is a summertime blast of cool ratatouille and mussels with crispy potatoes. Frog legs Jambonette ($16) are delicate stuffed morsels served with sweet corn and garlic cream. Le Trio ($16) is a perfect trinity of organic truffled scrambled eggs, wild mushroom ragout and potato potage. Tall grass beef carpaccio ($23) combines thin slices of beef with shaved cured foie gras, Indian curry, lemon oil vinaigrette and warm toast points. Fresh foie gras ($23) is quickly grilled and served with potato galette, duck confit and green peppercorn jus.
Entree excellence: Ruiz is a master of restraint. Maine lobster fricassee ($31) is deglazed with a sweet Sauternes and served with organic vegetables in a rosemary-infused bisque reduction. Seared slices of duck breast ($24) are served with creamy celery flan and black cherry sweet-and-sour sauce. Osso bucco ($24) is like no other version of this normally inelegant veal dish. Here, it's served with farro risotto and baby carrot and turnip confit braising sauce.
Sweet!: A classic L'opera ($14) cakes features layers of sponge cake, dark chocolate and coffee mousse with rich vanilla ice cream. Exotique mille-feuille ($13) is made exotic with coconut mousse, guava jelly and lime and pina colada ice cream. I'll take exotic over traditional pastry cream any day. I'm a huge fan of lemon souffle, but the Lemon cheesecake souffle ($15) takes souffle to an entirely new and richer level. Only the accompanying strawberry sorbet cools the richness.
Service: Outstanding, from the hostess to the captain. Like the food, service is formal, yet never stuffy. An 18 percent gratuity is added to every check. These are restaurant pros.
Dining deal: Palme d'Or's $35 three-course Miami Spice menu is not to be missed. The entree choices are slipper lobster and sweet corn ragout or grilled beef tenderloin. The menu is on the restaurant's website.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun