Restaurant Reviews

Rich Dish

If you can afford to dine at Café L'Europe (331 S. County Rd., Palm Beach, 561-655-4020) on a regular basis, it's unlikely you're sweltering through an August in SoFla. Maybe Norbert and Lidia Goldner, who own this 25-year-old goldmine, know that. To celebrate the café's silver anniversary, in a gesture that smacks of noblesse oblige, the Goldners are offering a 25 percent discount (excluding Saturday nights) on dinner checks through October 25, when presumably their regular customers start to trickle back down from the Vineyard. You can stuff your face with caviar and foie grs, peruse one of the world's best wine lists, and hobnob with whatever beautiful people happen to be left in this forsaken burg -- and I can tell you, there aren't many.

Be warned: Even with the deep discount, the prices are still stratospheric. And the beautiful people all have weird hair. But we went there a couple of nights ago and had a high time. The rooms with their tall windows and gleaming crystal and fine china are just gorgeous (request a seat in the front bar room to avoid being sent to purgatory). And the food was sometimes stellar, sometimes just marginally underwhelming.

For the best of it, sit at the bar and order appetizers and a bottle of wine. A quartet of chilled soups ($10.50) and Escargots Napoleon cooked in garlic, shallots, asparagus, and white wine butter sauce ($18.50) is fantastic. Each tiny soup cup comes with its own silver spoon, and you eat your way up the flavor scale from mild to hot: a coconut honeydew melon, an asparagus vichyssoise, heirloom tomato gazpacho, and a creamy "Senegalese" with curry. It's impossible to pick a favorite. The escargots permanently raise the bar on snails -- plump and buttery, served under a pastry of sublime lightness. L'Europe's menu offers recommended wine pairings: the Pinot Grigio la Tunella ($12.25) is a perfect match for the soups.

Entrées aren't as risky or refined: tortelloni stuffed with chunks of lobster and crab ($35.95), served in a wine butter sauce, employs beautiful ingredients, but the result lacks the frisson of contrasting flavors. A Tuscan-style tiger shrimp dish ($38.95) combines sautéed spinach, kalamata olives, tomatoes, capers, feta cheese, and lemon essence into a spicy brew that somehow fails to make a final leap into unknown territory. Do the moneyed beauties and bankers of Palm Beach need to play it so safe? Maybe the rich really aren't like you and me.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd