Taste of Belgium present in desert

By Maureen Daly Special to The Desert Sun October 31, 2002

November 29, 2016

28305440595_811643f0e2_b“If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium.”

“People remember that old joke and it also helps them remember that since we’re a Belgian restaurant, we are probably closed on Tuesday, and we are,” explains owner/entrepreneur Jean Claude Constant of Pomme Frite, a small gem of a dining spot (it seats only 50, including a few choice terrace tables), on Palm Canyon in the heart of Palm Springs.

Open four years ago, with considerable buffing and upgrading, the compact dining room has a distinct cafe feeling, with traditional heavy lace half-curtains, bright cloth napkins, white tablecloths covered with butcher paper and a partially open kitchen.

Restaurant walls decorated with framed prints of European spas. Good wine and beers list with the latter to include well-chilled Belgian imports range in price from $3.50 to $6.

The average dinner check, without bar service, is about $25, usually to cover two courses prepared by Chef Chip Romig.

Top-quality foods are always used and dishes are well-prepared and in Belgian-sized portions.

Choices are well-covered, from a dozen appetizers to elegantly lusty desserts, made on the premises.

As starters, customers’ favorites are the decidedly deluxe endive and radicchio salad with candied walnuts, $7.95, generous, well-chilled and topped with a pungent homemade vinaigrette; oven-baked French onion soup and escargots.

Boxed in the middle of the menu are the featured Belgian specialties — ethnic items mostly offbeat to us — that have made little Pomme Frite such a standout.

The most popular dish here is prime beef stew, “Flemish style,” as originated in Brussels, it’s a darkly rich beef stew, satin-smooth gravy with beef cubes tender-simmered in Belgian beer, served with pommes frites, french-fry style potatoes.

The potatoes are deep fried in a variety of oils, not all vegetable, and lightly seasoned with salt.

A second delicious entree specialty, at the same price, is meatballs “Ardennes style,” as served in sophisticated, big-city Liege, oven-roasted with bacon and mushroom sauce, served with signature frites.

For us, the treat of the Pomme Frite menu stems from the Belgian passion for steamed mussels, imported to that country from the cold waters around Holland.

Here the choice is a black mussel variety, farm-raised and shipped in from Maine. Two pounds per person are served as an entree so that full season dining means hundreds of pounds of mussels weekly.

Presentation is in a two-part mussel steamer, also imported from Belgium, with the removable top used to hold empty shells at table. Total entree charge for this flavorful delicacy is $15.95. It’s served with pommes frites. A choice of nine intriguing steamer broths are available.

Besides a nightly special, there are always a dozen widely varied entree choices, such as a memorable coq au vin, $16.95, prepared with chicken, bacon, white mushrooms and pearl onions; New Zealand lamb shank, $17.95, braised in garlic and rosemary; and a great California bouillabaisse, $19.95, with fresh fish and seafood in a light saffron broth.

Available every day but Saturday are a pair of mix-and-match three-course dinner menus with intriguing possibilities.

For $19.95, diners can get the soup of the day or a petite salad, an entree of roasted half chicken, Flemish beef stew; or a pot of steamed black mussels, with crème brûlée du jour. The restaurant serves wonderfully experimental flavors, including chocolate.

Diners can also choose a three course dinner at $25.95. It offers diner’s choice of an appetizer, an entree and a dessert.

One favorite entree is the 8-ounce baseball cut sirloin steak, $18.95 on the regular menu, served with a sharp pink (Belgian import) and black peppercorn sauce. In Belgium, this cut of sirloin is called “a cobblestone” and may be butterflied before cooking.

Our choice for dessert is the deliciously decadent “Cafe Liegeois or “coffee of Leige,” $5.95, on the regular menu. It’s well-chilled and served in a stout dessert goblet. The scoop of coffee ice cream has a shot of strong espresso coffee poured over it. It’s topped with swirls of whipped cream.

Starting Nov. 1, Pomme Frite will offer luncheon service.

Maureen Daly is a novelist and freelance writer based in Palm Desert. She can be reached at P.O. Box 3875, Palm Desert, CA 92261