514 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach
Diamond solitaires and pearls glimmer in the dim. A woman laughs loudly, sharing a private joke with the bartender as she orders another $20 glass of wine. A table of attorneys from L.A., fresh from another victory, request a bottle of Screaming Eagle from the sommelier. The waiters have a kind word for all the regulars. The chef walks the dining room, shaking hands and patting shoulders, complimenting guests on their choice of wine.
It’s not even racing season. It’s just another night at Pamplemousse Grille, a restaurant built for those who don’t fear the formidable wine list.
Pete Wells recently shredded Per Se, the NYC Thomas Keller restaurant, in a NY Times review. Now the big question of “Are expensive restaurants worth it?” lingers in the air, a Chanel-scented fart staining decades of contemporary gastronomy.
A particular set of social movers and shakers seem to think that Pamplemousse is worth it. At a restaurant where the check can easily stretch into four-digit territory, that speaks volumes. Grille fans seek the familiarity of a stable menu and the consistency of day-in, day-out excellence — nay, perfection — of cuisine that’s neither cutting edge (because it doesn’t need to be) nor old hat (because greatness never goes out of style).
When so many expensive restaurants act like a TV star with a clever hairstyle and signature catchphrase, Pamplemousse has happily remained the fat old butcher who makes better tartare out of the chain than most people can chop from the tenderloin. If you’re lucky, he’ll share some with you.