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25 Sep 2017

Elevating a Classic: Jennifer Town, the New Executive Chef at Melvyn's, Says She's Keeping the Restaurant Old-School—but Better

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Chef Jennifer Town: “I am making tweaks and adding extra flavors. My goal is for customers to notice that the food is better, but they can’t pinpoint the changes.” Chef Jennifer Town: “I am making tweaks and adding extra flavors. My goal is for customers to notice that the food is better, but they can’t pinpoint the changes.”

When I heard that the San Francisco-based PlumpJack Group had purchased the legendary Ingleside Inn and its Melvyn’s restaurant following the death last year of longtime owner Mel Haber, my feelings were decidedly mixed.

On one hand, Melvyn’s is an institution. The old-school recipes, the tableside prep, the … uh, past-normal-retirement-age maître d’s—these things make Melvyn’s a Palm Springs classic, unlike any other restaurant in the valley.

On the other hand … Melvyn’s, located at 200 W. Ramon Road, has a lot of room to improve. Both the food and service in recent years have been wildly inconsistent, and it seemed management was doing little to reach new customers.

Turns out that Melvyn’s new executive chef, Jennifer Town, shares a lot of the same opinions.

Town, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, has an impressive resume, to say the least. She was the head chef for the Italian Olympic Team (!) and worked at The Ritz Carlton, St. Thomas, before coming to the desert to help open the Ace Hotel and Swim Club. Before starting at Melvyn’s, she spent the last several years wowing customers at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room.

As the PlumpJack Group works on a property-wide renovation, Town has spent the last couple of months working on Melvyn’s menu—not renovating it, but making little changes here and there. She said she’s very cognizant of how beloved Melvyn’s is in certain circles.

“My first month or so here, I did not change the menus at all,” she said. “I looked at the recipes of all of the old favorites, and worked on making sure they’re made consistently.”

While she didn’t change the menus, she did start making little improvements. Examples: She updated the mushrooms in the steak Diane. She removed the sherry from the veal Ingleside. She bumped up the quality of the blue cheese used in salad dressings. She started ordering higher-quality beef, from Creekstone Farms.

“I am making tweaks and adding extra flavors,” she said. “My goal is for customers to notice that the food is better, but they can’t pinpoint the changes.”

She said customers should also not expect any wholesale changes to the items on the main menu; about 90 to 95 percent of it will remain the same. She does plan on adding a few things that weren’t offered before at Melvyn’s, such as a scallop dish, a Chilean sea bass and perhaps a halibut entrée.

Fans of Melvyn’s tableside prep have nothing to worry about, either: It’s not going anywhere.

“It’s such a spectacular show,” Town said.

Having said that, she did say she’s working on making sure the food cooked tableside, like the food made in the kitchen, is more consistent.

“No matter who you order from, you should get the same product,” she said.

The one area in which she’s making big changes, she said, is the bar. Don’t worry; the martinis and the old-school piano vibe will still be present, and the full menu will still be offered. However, sometime in October, she’s planning on introducing a brand-new bar menu, featuring a dozen or so appetizers and lighter dishes, including deviled eggs ($7), a grilled flatbread ($12), crab cakes ($15), a burger ($15) and steak and pom frites ($20). Yum.

Town said the staff has so far been very welcoming to her and her vision for Melvyn’s.

“Generally speaking, most are excited,” she said. “Change is hard, but they can see where they needed to make little changes for the better.”

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