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Looking Back and Looking Ahead at the Local Restaurant Scene

As we turn the calendar from 2015 to 2016, it’s worth examining the year gone by in the local food scene—and speculate about what’s coming up.

What did we learn about the local restaurant scene in 2015? A few top-of-the-mind thoughts:

• Intriguing restaurants can still create a buzz. Think for a moment: What was the last local restaurant that opened and created a buzz like Eight4Nine did? Unless I am forgetting something (which is entirely possible), it’s been years since a new place created such a fervor.

In some ways, Eight4Nine represents a perfect restaurant-buzz storm: It has an excellent pedigree, thanks to the team of co-owner Willie Rhine, the longtime general manager at Lulu California Bistro; renowned photographer John Paschal; and veteran executive chef Chuck Courtney. It has an exciting location, in the burgeoning uptown design district of Palm Springs. Finally, previews of the look and menu of the restaurant helped build excitement long before the doors finally opened.

I also think part of the buzz surrounding Eight4Nine can be attributed to a less-than-pleasant fact about the local dining scene: People are starving for great dining experiences here. There are a lot of good restaurants in the Coachella Valley. Tons of ’em. But there are just a few great ones.

• Having said that, there are nuggets of greatness to be found in the Coachella Valley food scene. Roman Blas is doing amazing things at Over the Rainbow, and just got a little love on Top Chef. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhousewas named the 2015 Brewery of the Year at the California State Fair, and the two newer breweries in the valley are picking up medals at various beer competitions.

The stupid runs deep when it comes to some protesters. I totally understand why someone would be opposed to the concept of foie gras, or want to be vegetarian. There are some serious, serious problems with the corporatized food industry in this country regarding food safety and humane practices.

However, I don’t understand why local food protesters set their sights on Mindy Reed and Zin American Bistro.

In January, a California law banning foie gras—fatty duck or goose liver—was overturned, and Reed added several foie gras dishes back to the menu at Zin, located in downtown Palm Springs. Soon after, she was besieged with hate mail and protesters.

If the protesters had done their research, they would know that Reed is one of the area’s biggest proponents of local, free-range and humanely raised ingredients. That goes for foie gras, too.

“I serve foie gras that’s humanely raised,” she told the Independent earlier this year. “The geese are not caged. There’s no tube. There are no machines. The goose is hand-fed. There are a few farms doing this. Geese will gorge themselves naturally. People who like foie gras appreciate the fact that I buy humanely raised foie gras.”

Reed also had a question for her protesters.

“Why aren’t they picketing McDonald’s or other restaurants in town (that don’t seek out meat from humanely raised animals)?” she asked. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

She’s right. If you’re going to protest, think things out first, OK?

• Restaurants come and go. We lost a lot of great restaurants this year, including The Falls Steakhouse, Margarita’s, Twin Palms Bistro and Lounge, Michael’s Pizzeria, Wasabi, 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro, Dickie O’Neal’s Irish Pub and the Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club.

So what should we expect from the local restaurant scene in 2016? Whether you love what’s going on in downtown Palm Springs, or you hate it, restaurants will be part of the scene when all these new developments begin opening late this year. Here’s hoping they are good ones.

I also think (and hope) that the craft-cocktails trend continues to develop in the valley. While you’ll find more craft cocktails here now than you would have two or three years ago, the cocktails scene is still lacking.

Whatever 2016 may bring in the food and restaurants world, we’ll be reporting on it. Keep watching this space.

In Brief

Congratulations to the fine folks at Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill. The much-loved Mexican restaurant, located at 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, celebrated its fifth birthday in December. Get more details at rioazulpalmsprings.com. … Coming soon to downtown Palm Springs: Chicken Ranch, which is going into the old Jiao spot at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive. Dave Morgan and Mike Smith are opening the place, which according to its Facebook page will offer free-range, farm-fresh, locally grown fare including rotisserie chicken, sides and salads. There’s a full bar as well. Keep your fingers crossed for a January opening date; watch www.facebook.com/EatChickenRanch for updates.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Zin American Bistro Finds Itself in the Midst of a Foie Gras Uproar

In early January, U.S. District Judge Court Stephen V. Wilson overturned California’s ban on foie gras—a 2004 voter-approved law that went into effect in 2012.

Almost immediately, Mindy Reed, the owner of downtown Palm Springs’ Zin American Bistro and Alicante restaurants, announced she was returning fatty goose liver to Zin’s menu—and she attracted serious local media attention in the process.

Ever since, Reed and her staff members have been the targets of opposition, protests—and even threats.

“I’ve gotten hate mail,” Reed said. “I’ve been called a murderer. I’ve been sent pictures of me personally being bound and force-fed though a tube. My staff has been harassed.”

Reed said she understands why some individuals may be vegetarian or vegan; in fact, she said she herself was a vegan for decades. However, she said it’s unfair and hypocritical for people to focus on the delicacy that is foie gras.

“People need to remember there are two ways to do everything in life,” she said: the right way, and the wrong way. Reed insisted that she goes out of her way to use as many ingredients as possible that are produced in the right way—local, free-range, humanely raised, etc. That goes for foie gras, too.

“I serve foie gras that’s humanely raised,” she said. “The geese are not caged. There’s no tube. There are no machines. The goose is hand-fed. There are a few farms doing this. Geese will gorge themselves naturally. People who like foie gras appreciate the fact that I buy humanely raised foie gras.”

Reed gets visibly irritated when she discusses her detractors.

“Why aren’t they picketing McDonald’s or other restaurants in town (that don’t seek out meat from humanely raised animals)?” she asked. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Meanwhile, foie gras remains on the menu at Zin; for example, a Belgian waffle dessert features brûléed pineapple, foie gras and sauternes. At least that’s the case for now: California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced in February she was appealing the ruling against the foie gras ban.

Zin American Bistro is located at 198 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. For more information, call 760-322-6300, or visit pszin.com.

Plate | Glass’ Goal: To Be a Place to ‘Chill Out’

“Leisure” is the key word at Plate | Glass, which last fall took over the second-story spot at 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, that had been home to Crave.

Owners Raymond McCallister and Larry Abel—best known as the men behind the Raymond | Lawrence retail shops—had previously been part-owners of Crave. When they took control of the dessert-and-coffee spot last year, they decided it was time to make some changes.

“We think Plate | Glass fulfills a need by creating a place for people to chill out,” Abel told me recently. “We have a great view. People will linger and hang out.”

Plate | Glass still offers desserts, of course—but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Also on offer: Fantastic craft cocktails, breakfast/brunch items, salads, large-sized “melt” sandwiches and appetizer style-plates. I was fortunate enough to attend a recent media lunch there, and the fare was delicious. My favorite: The Sweet Hog melt, with pan-fried ham and blueberry goat cheese. It was amazing.

When Abel said he wants people to “chill out” at Plate | Glass, he meant it: The space even includes a cell-phone charging station and a variety of board games.

Plate | Glass is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Call 760-322-2322, or visit plate-glass.com for more information.

In Brief

The space formerly occupied by Café Scandia, which closed recently at 356 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will soon be the home of Rooster and the Pig. We’ll pass along details when we get ’em. … Keep your eye on Bart Lounge, the bar/music venue/art gallery at 67555 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City, in the second-story space that recently housed Level 2 bar. It’s slated to open sometime in March. Follow www.bartlounge.com and Bart’s Facebook page for updates. … The Food+Wine Festival Palm Desert, a Palm Springs Life joint, will take place Friday, March 27, through Sunday, March 29. Watch www.palmdesertfoodandwine.com. … BB’s at the River is taking over the former Acqua Pazza space at The River, located at 71800 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Jack Srebnik, who owns the two local Maracas restaurants, is the brains behind the place. Get info—including hiring details—at www.facebook.com/BBsRiverRanchoMirage. ... The Westin Mission Hills, at 71333 Dinah Shore Drive in Rancho Mirage, has launched a series of wine dinners at the Pinzimini Restaurant. The four-course meals with wine pairings are taking place the last Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. through April; the first dinner, in February, cost $85 plus tax and tip. Get more info at www.pinziminipalmsprings.com/WineDinnerSeries.

Published in Restaurant & Food News