It’s pretty hard to summon the energy to write a review of a place when the only thoughts that spring to mind are “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
Before we get to specifics, though, a little history is order.
When we first moved to Las Vegas in 1981, Pamplemousse was flying high as one of Las Vegas’s best restaurants. It opened in 1976* and was apparently a big hit with certain Strip entertainers, the names of which will mean little to nothing to anyone under 50. But if running into Shecky Greene, a McGuire sister or Englebert Humperdinck was your bag, this was the place to be. The plaster walls were pink, the lighting subdued (and quite flattering to entertainers of a certain age):
….and the menu full of classic French and “Continental” dishes (veal Oscar, tournedos Rossini, et al) that were all the rage in post WWII America.
We celebrated a birthday there in early 1982, and were ripped off by an unscrupulous maitre ‘d (who pocketed $200 in cash that was meant to contribute to – and offset – the total bill that was being put on one person’s credit card), and resolved never to go again.
Fifteen years later, we went back — this time with a new wife — and let bygones be bygones, at least as far as the staff was concerned…because the sleazy maitre ‘d was long gone by this time. Three things hadn’t changed though: the pink walls and the lighting were as cool and cozy as we remembered:
……and the menu continued to look like a relic of the Sixties. The duck a l’orange we had could’ve been in the freezer for that long as well.
So, after we chewed our way through some duck jerky and rubber chicken, we wrote off Pamplemousse -Le Restaurant for the second time.
Fast forward ten years to 2007 and once again, we heard the siren song of antiquated French food — this time courtesy of a real chef who was hoping to buy the place and turn this cozy corner into something a bit more modern with much more charming food.
Jean-David Groff-Daudet was the chef, and he had been brought in by the owner (Georges La Forge) to upgrade the menu and possibly purchase the whole operation. For a few months the place was even open for lunch. So jazzed were we by Groff-Daudet’s new menu (pot au feu, tarragon chicken, house-made pates, etc.) that we took half a dozen lunches and a couple of dinners here in a very short span.
We even went so far as to help Groff-Daudet find an attorney to represent him in the negotiations for buying the business.
But unrealistic owners and cash-strapped chefs do not make for done real estate deals.
Alas, La Forge (like Andre Rochat a mile away and a few years before) had a vastly inflated idea of what the business/property was worth — so much so that he was as likely to find a buyer for $2 million as ELV was to take up bull riding.
None of this mattered to us as long as the cooking was good, so we continued to frequent the place for lunch even after the deal fell through….until we were joined at our table one summer day by a couple of cucarachas. We pointed them out to our waiter, who promptly found a can of bug spray and proceeded to douse wall beside us (and our table) with Black Flag.
And with that, we wrote off Pamplemousse – Le Restaurant, for the third time.
Heaven knows what compelled our visit last week. Maybe it was driving by the place for maybe the 500th time wondering “What in the world is keeping that place open?” Maybe it was a hankerin’ for some crudités:
…or maybe we were hoping against hope that this place would somehow charm us into believing that old-fashioned French food still has a place in Vegas.
It may yet, but once you enter the little world of the place, you might as well resign yourself to a bubble of down-at-the-heels vibe, barely-together service, and culinary anachronisms galore.
It took over twenty minutes to get a menu. “I’m a little short staffed tonight, but help is on the way,” said our rather high-strung waitron/maitre ‘d. By the time we got one it was almost 7 pm and we’d been at our seat for a almost half hour….on a Thursday night. Help did arrive in the form of a second waitron, but the two of them alternated between brusque efficiency and condescending obsequiousness…seasoned with the occasional hissy fit.
Everything on the menu — except the coffee — comes with either a de-glazed wine or cream sauce, circa 1971.
That being said, these scallops weren’t that bad:
…and this osso buco Georges La Forge was mighty darn tasty:
…it being probably not the thing to order on a 106 degree Vegas summer day, but then again, neither is most of the menu.
And they might not win any awards for plating, but someone in the kitchen knows how to braise and roast meat, witness the osso buco above or this breast and confit of duck with cranberry sauce:
…as our table had every piece of meat on the menu — everything from a lamb shank to the pork chop — with nary a complaint about the degree of doneness.
The patés and the desserts, however, seemed rudimentary and store bought:
…and the wine list is just bizarre:
…it being three pages of about forty selections of obscure bottles at odd (but fair) prices. Those pages are each backed with thick cardboard — giving the list/book an impression of weightiness and depth (and a lot of wines) — until you open it and find out it’s only three pages long with barely a handful of selections.
Looking around the room at the fossils and tourists who keep this place alive, we doubted anyone noticed this incongruity. Most of them were drinking ice tea, and many had the baffled look of folks who were there because that’s where the cabbie dumped them.
But we were there on purpose. And our purpose has always been to try to love Pamplemousse – Le Restaurant, going all the way back to January 21, 1982. There’s no denying there is a certain charm to the place, and even the dated food and the by-the-numbers presentation would have some appeal if you got the idea that someone in the joint gave a shit.
But nobody really does anymore (if they ever did), so wethinks we may finally be parting ways with the Grapefruit, for the fourth time, and probably forever.
ELV’s meal for one — splitting the cost with three of his foodie/fresser friends — including his portion of three bottles of wine for the table, came to $125, including tip.
PAMPLEMOUSSE – LE RESTAURANT
400 East Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
* Making it Las Vegas’s third oldest restaurant, after Bob Taylor’s Ranch House (1955) and Golden Steer Steakhouse (1958).