CVIndependent

Sun08182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After meeting numerous famous and powerful people during almost 25 years in journalism, I’m rarely star-struck or intimidated these days.

In fact, it’s happened to me just twice since I’ve called the Coachella Valley home. The first time was when I met Joyce Bulifant—semi-regular on the classic Match Game back in the 1970s, and co-star of one of my favorite movies ever, Airplane.

The second time was when I met Barbara Keller.

For the life of me, I have no idea why I was starstruck when I met Joyce Bulifant—I love her, but I’ve been left unflummoxed by bigger stars before. But I do understand why I was intimidated by Barbara Keller, when I somehow found myself sitting next to her at an Equality California Awards host committee meeting: I knew I was in the presence of a person who was truly great.

Barbara Keller passed away at the age of 75 on Monday, April 15.

Barbara was as kind and welcoming as a person could be, but I was star-struck by her reputation, her gravitas, her works. I knew how many local nonprofits and charities she supported—with her money and a whole lot of her time. I’d heard tales about her extreme kindness from friends. And I’d known, by seeing her with my own eyes at various events (almost always with her fantastic husband, Jerry), how simply fabulous she was.

It’s common when someone well-known dies for them to be showered with exaggerated levels of praise and accolades. However, regarding Barbara Keller, there’s no exaggeration: She deserves each and every bit of the love and appreciation she’s received. She was truly a giant of the Coachella Valley. Her death is a huge loss to the community.

“This morning we lost our one and only Barbara Keller. The love she brought to the Desert AIDS Project family changed us forever,” said Desert AIDS Project CEO David Brinkman, in a statement on the day she passed away. “She had been our board’s leader, the Steve Chase’s chief and our clients and mission’s ultimate champion. Words fail to express the gratitude I have for having been the recipient of her friendship, love and mentorship. Barbara Keller equals humanitarian.”

My sincere sympathies go out to Jerry and the rest of her family, as well as her work family at Lulu California Bistro and Acqua California Bistro.

We’ll have more on the life of Barbara Keller in the Independent soon. In the meantime, I invite you to pick up the May 2019 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, hitting the streets this week. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Editor's Note

Three New Places Coming Soon From Local Restaurant Greats

In the coming months, at least three new restaurants are slated to open their doors in the Coachella Valley that are owned by veteran local restaurateurs.

In order of anticipated opening:

Acqua California Bistro—at The River, 71800 Highway 111, in Palm Desert—finally opened its doors to customers on Thursday, July 27.

A little history: Jerry and Barbara Keller got into the local restaurant business with Acqua Pazza California Bistro, located at The River, well before they opened their wildly popular Lulu California Bistro in downtown Palm Springs in August 2011. However, when the lease for Acqua Pazza expired in December 2014, the Kellers decided to walk away after 10 years, citing a desire to slow down and focus on Lulu.

BB’s at the River, owned by Jack Srebnik—who also owns The Slice and Maracas—soon opened in the space, but closed last year due to a lack of business. The owners of The River then did a very smart thing: They talked the Kellers into returning, and last September, they announced that Acqua California Bistro would open sometime in the winter.

Winter then turned to spring, which then turned to summer, without an opening date; Keller cited construction issues, in part due to the restaurant’s expansion, as one reason for the delay. However, opening time is finally here; to work out kinks, the restaurant served invited “pre-opening” guests July 22-24. (I was fortunate enough to be one of the guests, and the service and food were both top-notch—a good sign for a pre-opening meal, when the staff is still learning.)

If you know the menu at Lulu, then you know what to expect at Acqua, including the popular three-course menu for $19.99, and the all-day happy hour at the bar. As for the décor, the Kellers bumped things up a notch, including a sculpture featuring various colored forks out front, made by Karen and Tony Barone.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/AcquaRanchoMirage.

• A mile or two away in Palm Desert, crews are hard at work preparing AC3 Restaurant + Bar, at 45400 Larkspur Lane—just off El Paseo—for an anticipated fall opening.

AC3 is a joint project by some of the minds behind two of Palm Springs’ most popular restaurants: Tony Marchese of Trio Restaurant, and Andrew Copley and Juliana Copley from Copley’s Restaurant. The description on the AC3 Facebook page sums things up nicely: They’re “teaming up to pair the distinctive style of Trio’s hip local vibe with Chef Andrew’s vibrant progressive cooking.”

While no menu information has been posted yet, we know the décor will include the colorful work of young Rancho Mirage artist Nicholas Kontaxis.

Visit www.facebook.com/ac3palmdesert for more information, including pictures of some of Kontaxis’ art. Head on over to ac3palmdesert.com to sign up for emailed updates.

Evzin Mediterranean Cuisine has gained an increasing number of fans since opening early this year at 72695 Highway 111, Suite A6, in Palm Desert—and owner John Tsoutis delighted his restaurant’s west valley devotees when he announced in mid-July that a second Evzin would be opening in Palm Springs in October.

Despite serious grilling from friends and fans on Facebook, Tsoutis—as of our press deadline—had not revealed the location of the Palm Springs Evzin; he did, however, say it would be part of a hotel. Hmm.

Watch www.facebook.com/Evzinrestaurant for updates.


Details Revealed Regarding Restaurants at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs

The Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs, at 100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way—part of the huge and controversial downtown redevelopment project—will be opening sometime in the fall, and we now have information about the restaurants that will call it home.

According to the news release: “Juniper Table, a casual all-day Mediterranean café, and 4 Saints, an intimate hideaway on the rooftop, will serve bold, chef-driven cuisine under the direction of executive chef Stephen Wambach, along with an extensive cocktail, beer and wine program. … Prior to joining Juniper Table and 4 Saints, he led the Four Seasons Chicago as executive chef, revamping Allium to receive three stars from the Chicago Tribune, in addition to being awarded the esteemed Esquire ‘Best New Restaurant’ award for his work at Epic in Chicago.”

Juniper Table “will be a vibrant upscale-casual eatery featuring rustic, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine spotlighting seasonal and organic ingredients,” according to the release, while 4 Saints’ menu “includes sharable plates that reflect internationally inspired ingredients, such as foie gras bread and butter, paring autumn flavors with salted caramel apple, Thai long pepper and gingerbread.”

Sounds fancy!

Watch the restaurants’ respective websites—www.junipertable.com and www.4saintspalmsprings.com—for updates.


In Brief

If you somehow missed the social media freak-out surrounding the news: A Krispy Kreme is supposed to come to Rancho Mirage in a yet-to-be-built development near Dinah Shore Drive and Monterey Avenue. The opening date, however, is at least a year away. … Our friends at Dish Creative Cuisine, 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, have launched new menus both in the bar and dining room. The new creations by Joane Garcia-Colson and team include fried langoustine ravioli ($9) in the bar. Yum! Visit www.dishcreativecuisine.com for more information.

Updated July 27

Published in Restaurant & Food News

A Bad Month for The River: Acqua Pazza, Tulip Hill Winery Close Their Doors

To say December was a terrible month for food and drink at The River—the Rancho Mirage shopping center, located at 71800 Highway 111, described as “the premier destination for food, fashion and fun” on its website—is a bit of an understatement.

First came the closure of Acqua Pazza, one of The River’s anchor restaurants, on Sunday, Dec. 14. Then two weeks later, on Dec. 28, Tulip Hill—the only winery that made the Coachella Valley its home base—was slated to close its doors.

It’s been rumored for months that Jerry and Barbara Keller, the owners of Acqua Pazza, were looking to sell the decade-old restaurant to focus solely on their popular Lulu California Bistro in downtown Palm Springs. According to that same rumor mill, a sale of the restaurant fell through at the last minute, leading to the restaurant’s shuttering as the lease expired at The River, a shopping center which business owners say has been suffering from a decline in traffic in recent years.

“It’s been a great 10 years, but all good things come to an end,” said a notice posted on the Acqua Pazza website. “It is with sad feelings that we thank all our wonderful friends, customers and especially our magnificent staff who made Acqua Pazza such a lovely place to dine. We will miss everyone. We will now be able to put all our efforts into Lulu—already one of the valley’s most successful restaurants. Lulu’s continuing growth, including a substantial catering business, is an exciting full-time job for all of us!”

Over at Tulip Hill Winery, owner Kristi Brown placed blame for the closure squarely on the decline of The River. Tulip Hill had called The River home since December 2002.

“For the past several years, Tulip Hill has struggled in overcoming the declining traffic at The River in Rancho Mirage, as businesses have closed, and the tenant retail spaces have remained empty without being replaced by new businesses,” she said in a letter posted on the Tulip Hill website. “Tulip Hill has continued operating despite these head winds, but today, I am writing to let you know that … Tulip Hill Winery will be permanently closing the doors of our retail tasting room and gift shop at The River at Rancho Mirage.”

Of course, not all is bleak at The River; the shopping center remains the home of some of the valley’s most popular chain joints, including P.F. Chang’s, Yard House, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, and the mysteriously perpetually busy Cheesecake Factory. Some local joints worth noting remain at The River as well, most notably the popular-as-ever Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse. Still, it’s heartbreaking to see two much-loved local businesses close their doors—especially during the holiday season.

So long, Acqua Pazza and Tulip Hill. You’ll be missed.

In Brief

Our sincere sympathies go out to the folks at Bernie's Lounge and Supper Club. The restaurant, at 292 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, was gutted by a fire on Christmas morning. Fingers crossed for a quick rebuild. ... A new sushi joint has come to Cathedral City. Hamachi Sushi recently opened its doors at 31855 Date Palm Drive, in the shopping center anchored by Cardenas and CVS. A sign on the door—posted right above a liquor-application notice—promises “the best fusion sushi, teriyaki and tempura. Muy pronto esperalo.” … The Real Italian Deli, which has delighted customers in Palm Desert for a year or so now, has opened a second location in Palm Springs, at the intersection of Sunrise and Tahquitz Canyon ways … Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, a fast-casual barbecue chain that serves up pretty darned good ’que, will be opening at the intersection of Ramon Road and Gene Autry Trail in Palm Springs sometime this month. The folks at Dickey’s have been whetting locals’ appetites for several months now by making appearances at events, including the Desert AIDS Walk back in mid-October. Follow www.facebook.com/DickeysPalmSprings for updates and more information. ... Chill, the upscale bar going into the old Rainbow Bar and Grill space at 217 E. Arenas Road in Palm Springs, should also be opening any day now. Watch www.facebook.com/chillpalmsprings for news. … Yet another opening to talk about: Dish Creative Cuisine will soon be opening at its new location at 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive. However, a new restaurant has already set up shop in Dish’s former home, at 68525 Ramon Road, in Cathedral City: Mike’s American Bistro. Learn more at www.facebook.com/mikesamericanbistro.

Published in Restaurant & Food News