Wally's Desert Turtle tames appetite for food, ambiance
Special to The Desert Sun
April 26, 2001
BACKGROUND: Wally's Desert Turtle is a desert institution. It's where the desert's dashing Arthur Chardon, the General manager kisses the ladies hands and knows exactly who's who. In the opinion of many of those well traveled, Wally's is surely one of the most exquisite restaurants in Southern California thanks to Steven Chase, the internationally renowned interior designer.
And then there are the awards, since Wally's opened in 1979, ranging from the Mobile Travel Five Star Award to the AAA Four Diamond Award. Twelve years of uninterrupted success is an achievement in the competitive restaurant business.
Wally's has never failed to live up to it's stellar reputation. From the moment you enter this palatial restaurant, you feel something magical in the air. The combination of exquisite hand-painted murals intermingled with velvety soft lighting, the smart looking, accommodating wait staff and a genuine, warm welcome sets the tone. Put it all together and you have an original recipe for success.
RESTAURANT: Our reservation was managed with the charm and grace you would expect at any fine restaurant, such as Alain Ducasse or Cello in New York. Once seated, we noticed the lovely serving plates resting on crisp white linens. The server was at our table within moments to welcome us and present the menus.
The faultless service and patience exhibited by the entire staff truly sets the standard in the desert. Nothing is left to chance at Wally's. If perfection is what you expect, from hors d'oeuvres to dessert, you are in good company here. Friday's are noted for the El Paseo fashion shows and exceptional menus are featured for major holidays, such as New Year's Eve, Christmas Eve and Day and Thanksgiving.
THE MENU: Upon the advice of our server we ordered the apricot soufflé in advance. Then we opened the evening with a cold appetizer, the shrimp cocktail, ($14.95) which was elegantly presented. The shrimp firm and cold, with a tangy cocktail sauce, well balanced, yet tangy. The Dungeness crab cakes ($14.95) were perfect for sharing. They were plump and seasoned just right. Our intuitive server brought two plates, each garnished. Known for their soup, we tried the traditional French Onion ($8.50) which we judged one of the best anywhere. The last onion soup we sampled at another desert restaurant was impossible to eat. Crusted with gruyere cheese we could stretch for a foot either direction, we must have looked like clowns trying to get it under control. Under this mess was a dark brown potion rife with mushy onions.
However, Wally's onion soup is a classic, and the taste is reminiscent of the way we remember it in Paris, ordered in the wee hours of the morning at the long gone marketplace, Les Halles.
Executive Chef Jean-Louis Jaloneix infuses the essence of French cooking into the roasted half duck with medjool date sauce and wild rice ($29.75) but I couldn't resist the pan broiled whitefish, served over spinach and dill sauce, garnished with a half lemon, wrapped in gauze and tied. We requested a marvelous lemon caper sauce, which enhanced the whitefish, and not overpowering as some sauces play out.
My generous piece of white fish, cooked to its absolute moment of truth was worth its weight in gold, but in this case, $28.75. My partner ordered the peppered filet of beef with the crisp potato pancake and housemade tomato corn relish ($38.75). I know many people reserve steak for one of the many specialty steak houses, but Wally's doesn't play second fiddle to those restaurants. The filet was thick, with no more than a hint of pepper (because that's how we requested it) and we looked at each other and smiled, saying "it's like butter!"
We are always swept away by the desserts, they are uncomplicated, yet surpass so many of the over-sweet, gooey desserts that are created without thought to proportion or calories. That said, we ordered the coupe of mixed seasonal berries with Tahitian bean vanilla ice cream, arranged in a goblet, with a splash of Grand Marnier ($9.95).
A lush assortment of blueberries, raspberries and sliced strawberries danced around the vanilla ice cream. The Grand Marnier tied all the flavors together, and what a heavenly result.
Our pre-ordered stupendous apricot soufflé arrived at the same time. The half portion is ample at $9. It was light to the touch and taste. We asked for fresh whipped cream which we combined with the soufflé. We noticed the next table ordered the key lime pie ($8.75) and the warm chocolate cake ($8.75) which we envied. We'll get to those next time.
FINAL THOUGHT: Wally's is perfect for a special occasion, but as one of my friends puts it, "Why delay the joy?" If you haven't visited Wally's you have missed one of the desert's classic and inimitable dining experiences.
Source: Table for Two