Pomme Frite not ready to give up the ‘bistro’ label yet

Henry Fenwick The Desert Sun

November 29, 2016

It’s still a bistro!

Jean-Claude Constant, the owner of Pomme Frite, has a bible in his kitchen – a bible of recipes that are the signature dishes of his Palm Springs bistro. For seven years now he has allowed no divergence from these classic preparations, but this season he has slackened his hold a little bit. New touches are creeping in to some of the dishes, and new dishes are making their way from the specials menu to the regular menu.

The cause of this apparent heresy is Steve Brown, the new chef, who most recently worked under Chef Jeffrey Russell at the lamented Desert Sage in La Quinta. Desert Sage, of course, was not a bistro – it was the finest of fine dining. But the changes that have been happening haven’t altered the character of Pomme Frite, they are small and subtle and fit perfectly within the bistro format. Pomme Frite is definitely still a bistro, Constant emphasized when I asked him about it. “It’s not fine dining,” he said firmly. “It’s an upgrading!”

He knew, when he met Brown, that with this new chef heading up the kitchen he could allow himself to relax a little bit. Even so, it was a gradual thing. The line was carefully drawn – the regular menu, and its daily specials, remained the same. The Belgian dishes like the mussels or the beef carbonnade would be a constant and regular customers had to know what night to come for their favorite dish: if it’s Osso Buco it must be Friday. Brown got to play with the Chef’s specials list, the prix fixe tasting menu, which changes twice a month, and the monthly wine dinners. But as the two have worked together little modulations have crept in. Some of those classic dishes are now being presented with a twist: it may be the same black dress but there’s a chic new scarf, or at least the scarf is knotted in a different way. The escargots, for example, now show up nestled in portions of baguette, the jumbo sea scallops rest on a sweet pea risotto and are accompanied by a carrot beurre blanc, the veal liver comes with apple brulee.

“That’s Steve!” Constant confirmed happily. “He added a new thing the other night: the duck confit. There’s always duck confit but he does it en croute with a duck confit ravioli, and each one has its own beurre blanc – a chipotle beurre blanc and a tarragon beurre blanc. I see the people look at the dishes and they’re thinking ‘Is that really what I ordered?’ Then they taste it! They say: ‘That’s pork tenderloin?’ because it’s wrapped in prosciutto. And the apple sauce that goes with it – they love it! I went into the kitchen the other night and said ‘What are you doing with that champagne glass?’ and he said ‘They want the apple sauce for dessert! How much are you going to charge?'”

Now the two confer to discuss what can be done to improve an established staple.

“You have to have a roast chicken,” Constant said, “but how to make it better? My last name is Constant and I believe in tradition but you can always do better. Constant improvement.”