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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

FIND Food Bank Celebrates 35 Years of Feeding Coachella Valley Residents in Need

The statistics are staggering: Each month, FIND Food Bank—which supports the communities of the Coachella Valley, high desert and Salton Sea area—helps more than 85,000 people, both directly and through its partner agencies. In a year’s time, more than 10 million pounds of food will be given to those in need—more than half of that fresh fruit and vegetables.

The cynical among us right now might be thinking: “That’s great. But this is a restaurant-news column. What does this have to do with restaurant news?”

My retort: Those of us fortunate enough to eat at restaurants on occasion need to realize that a whole bunch of our neighbors need our help to get food on the table, period.

To that end, FIND is celebrating its 35 years of existence during September—which is also Hunger Action Month at FIND and all Feeding America-affiliated food banks—with an ambitious goal: FIND’s management is hoping 3,500 people will donate $35 to mark the Indio-based food bank’s 35 years of service.

Debbie Espinosa, FIND’s president and CEO, said she, her staff and volunteers are proud of what they’ve accomplished over 35 years.

“The accomplishment is amazing,” she said, “from starting with basic food rescue out of a blue Pinto, and turning it into a food bank that serves the Coachella Valley and beyond.”

Help out, if you can, with that $35 or more. Get details at www.findfoodbank.org.


In Brief

Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise, the sprawling restaurant located 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, has closed for good. File this one under “wasted opportunity”: The restaurant, owned by now-in-bankruptcy Ramla USA Inc., could not take advantage of a relative dearth of Japanese restaurants in the west valley. While Gyoro Gyoro was a gorgeous restaurant with at-times great food, it seemed mismanaged, including a notorious closure following a bad health inspection, and a lack of community involvement. However, the news is not all bad: The family that owns L’Olivo Italian Restaurant, located at 333 N. Palm Canyon Drive, has already snapped up the location. Watch this space to see how that turns out. … Toucans Tiki Lounge, the popular gay bar located at 2100 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has been purchased by managers who are part of Foundation 10 Creative, the company that owns restaurants including Birba, Cheeky’s and Mr. Lyons Steakhouse. Dave Morgan, of Reaction Marketing and Promotions, is also involved. The new owners are saying Toucans will remain a gay bar focused on entertainment. Let’s see how this goes. ... Newish to Rancho Mirage, at 42452 Bob Hope Drive: Hielo Sno, a shaved-ice/snow-cone joint. Learn more at hielosno.business.site. … Donald “Lucky” Callender has purchased Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse, located in Rancho Mirage’s The River at 71800 Highway 111, from the trust fund set up by his father, Donald W. Callender, the man who started both Babe’s and the Marie Callender’s chain. We hear changes are already taking place. … Celebrate Mexican Independence Day, if you’re so inclined, on Sunday, Sept. 16, with $16 tequila flights and live music at Las Casuelas Terraza, located at 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. Watch www.lascasuelas.com for more details. … On Saturday, Sept. 15, The Saguaro, at 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will hold its Beats and Brews Fest. For $45, sample beers and tequilas from well more than two dozen companies, and enjoy great music from bands including The Flusters, Spankshaft and Plastic Ruby. Get more details at thesaguaro.com/palm-springs. … Coming soon to Palm Desert: The Vine Wine Bar, at 74868 Country Club Drive. Watch www.thevinewinebar.com/palm-desert-ca for details. Oh, by the way, it’s right next door to a new IW Coffee location! … Bit o’ Country, the diner at 418 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has reopened. It has new owners and has been tidied up a bit, but the greasy-spoon food and vibe remain (and we mean that in a good way). … There is good news and bad news from Bootlegger Tiki, the craft-cocktail joint at 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. The good: The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation honored the bar with one of its Spirited Awards, for having one of the 10 Best Bar Teams in the western U.S. The bad: The leader of that team since the bar’s opening, Chad Austin, has departed Bootlegger and the Coachella Valley for greener pastures. Congrats to Bootlegger, and best wishes to Chad!

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Five of the Coachella Valley's top bartenders met Thursday night, Nov. 17, at the Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Hotel to battle for the first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship.

The event was one of the highlights of the Coachella Valley Independent's first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, which ends tonight (Saturday, Nov. 19). 

One week before the event, the five contestants met at the Purple Palm for a draw to determine the order in which they would compete, and which of the five sponsor liquors they would use. The sponsor—Pacific Wine and Spirits of California—is donating $500 to each of Cocktail Week's charity beneficiaries: The LGBT Community Center of the Desert's Community Food Bank, and the Desert AIDS Project's Food Pantry.

Fernando Gonzalez of Cuistot Restaurant (using Nolet's Silver Dry Gin), Kevin Helvie of Chill Bar Palm Springs and Scorpion Room (using Crown Royal Vanilla), Sherman Chan of TRIO Restaurant (using Bulleit Bourbon), Michael Phillips of FIX a Dessert House (using Ketel One Oranj) and Joey Tapia of The New York Company Restaurant (using Captain Morgan White Rum) made tastes of their drinks for all attendees, who then each turned in a ballot with their favorite cocktail circled. Then the competition began in earnest, with each bartender mixing full-size drinks for each judge live while bantering with host Shann Carr.

The judges were Jonathan Heath of F10 Creative, Darrell Tucci of the Desert AIDS Project, Mike Thompson of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, and Brad Fuhr of Gay Desert Guide.

After all of the drinks were made and tasted, and the results tabulated, Shann Carr announced the winners: Joey Tapia of the New York Company Restaurant won the Audience Choice Award, while Trio's Sherman Chan won the Championship.

Below is a gallery of photos by Independent photographer Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

Café Europa Moving to Former Plate | Glass Space, Adding a Tapas Concept

The gorgeous second-story spot at 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs has gained a reputation as being jinxed, because the list of recent restaurants that have unsuccessfully made a go of it there is rather lengthy.

Plate | Glass. Crave. The Kickstand. All are gone.

However, this dubious record does not scare Michael Stoltz, the owner of Café Europa: Stoltz has temporarily closed his popular breakfast and lunch joint, which was at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, to move down the street into that gorgeous second-story spot. The target reopening date is Oct. 1.

“We outgrew the space,” Stoltz said about the old Café Europa digs. “People were also asking when we were going to open up an evening place.”

The space at 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive addresses both of those dilemmas: It has twice the amount of seating as the old spot, and a kitchen that’s about three times the size. Beyond that growth, fans of Café Europa have nothing to worry about: Stoltz promised that he “is not touching” the menu of Café Europa.

As for that evening place: Stoltz said Café Europa will share the space with a new concept, Jus’ Tapas, which will offer tasty small plates and a full bar during the evening hours.

It’ll work like this, Stoltz said: Café Europa’s tasty fare and relaxed vibe will rule the daytime hours, until 2 p.m. or so. After a brief closure, Jus’ Tapas will take over. Linens will then be placed on the tables—and the artwork may even be changed, he said.

Jus’ Tapas menu will feature items in the $6 to $19 range, Stoltz said. He mentioned that one of his favorites on the in-development menu is a Brussels sprouts dish; the sprouts will be paired with twice-baked hazelnuts and topped with crème fraiche and a Dijon mustard sauce.

Then there’s the “Man Candy”—strips of bacon coated with cayenne pepper and molasses. Wow.

Stoltz is especially excited about the bar concept: He said Jus’ Tapas will emphasize skinny, low-calorie cocktails, as well as a large number of wines offered by the glass.

Sounds pretty amazing to me! Watch www.cafeeuropapalmsprings.com for updates as Oct. 1 approaches.


When It Comes to Rumors, Don’t Necessarily Believe ’Em

Facebook brings both good and bad: The good: People can share information with friends, followers and fellow group members with just several clicks on a keyboard.

However, not all of this information is necessarily accurate. That’s the bad part.

So much misinformation regarding the restaurant world has been spread via Facebook and word of mouth recently that a local TV station had to come out and do a story to debunk an out-of-control rumor: On July 13, KMIR ran a piece emphasizing the fact that The Tropicale—one of the most popular restaurants in the valley, located at 330 E. Amado Road—is NOT closing, despite rumors that the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians was kicking them off the land.

Turns out the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians doesn’t even own that land, according to the KMIR piece.

Rumors have also been running amok about the fate of Wang’s in the Desert and Bit of Country, located at 424 and 418 S. Indian Canyon Drive, respectively: Once the nearby Burger King closed, speculation that those two restaurants were doomed ran amok. Turns out there’s no evidence, at least that we could find, that this is the case.

That’s not to say rumors sometimes aren’t true; Woody’s Burgers, for example, recently had to move due to a land sale. But the point remains: Make sure your information is correct before blathering online, folks.


In Brief

Well, that didn’t take long: BB’s at The River, which opened in March of 2015 at the Rancho Mirage shopping center that made up part of the restaurant name, closed earlier in July, due to an apparent lack of business. The restaurant opened with a boast by Jack Srebnik that the old Acqua Pazza spot was one of the best restaurant locations in the valley. Hmm. … The approach of the month of August means that you should probably check to make sure your restaurant of choice is open before heading there: A lot of popular local joints close for several weeks, or more, during these dog days of summer. For example, all of the F10 Creative stand-alone joints—Cheeky’s, Mr. Lyons and Birba—are taking the month off, and reopening on either Aug. 31 (Mr. Lyons, Birba) or Sept. 1 (Cheeky’s). … While the approach of August brings numerous closures, this year, it also brought a most-welcome opening: Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace, at 276 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, is now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with a number of yummy to-go options; peruse all the menus at tippersgourmetmarketplace.com. … Also new in downtown Palm Springs—right next door to Tipper’s—is Gré Coffeehouse and Art Gallery, at 278 N. Palm Canyon Drive. The Beatnik-inspired joint mixes coffee, art and live performance; get more details at www.grecoffeehouse.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Kristin Olszewski is one of the Coachella Valley’s newest sommelier/wine directors. At 28, she’s also one of the youngest.

She joined F10 Creative (Mr. Lyons, Cheeky’s, Birba and Chi Chi at the Avalon) in December, moving to the valley from Massachusetts, where she was born and raised. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she worked in restaurants in Boston and then San Francisco, including Saison and Sweet Woodruff; in fact, she helped open Sweet Woodruff and was the restaurant’s general manager.

After her stint in San Francisco, she decided to make a drastic career change: She moved back to Boston to enter the post-baccalaureate premedical program at Harvard. She then applied to medical school and was accepted. At the time, she was working at Spoke, a popular wine bar in Somerville, Mass. Her love of wine took hold, and instead of medical school, she is now pursuing a career as a sommelier. Before her move to Palm Springs, she was working at Straight Wharf in Nantucket, to which she’ll return in May.

On Thursday, March 10 and 24, Olszewski will be holding special wine dinners at Mr. Lyons; call the restaurant 760-327-1551 for more information.

Over a casual brunch and bottle of Hild Elbling Sekt at Kristin’s apartment, we talked wine.

When did you first start getting into wine?

I didn’t like wine for a really long time, but I was working in restaurants in San Francisco and tasting a lot. My ex-boyfriend was really into wine and had a great palate; we would drink a lot of wine together. One of my friends was the sommelier at Sons and Daughters, and she was the one who really exposed me to wine. I hadn’t thought about wine in the way she thought about it. That was the start. I was really lucky; I worked with great people in San Francisco who knew a lot about wine and were always willing to share.

What was your first wine love?

Cremant du Jura Rosé. I just remember being so amazed that wine could be that bright and mineral-driven. And then I was obsessed with the Jura, and I wanted to try everything I could.

What brought you to Palm Springs?

F10 was looking for a wine director for the season, and my boss in Nantucket mentioned me to Greg Rowan (the general manager at Mr. Lyons)—they used to work together in San Francisco. I needed something to do in the winter: either travel through Europe learning and wine-tasting, or work as a sommelier. So I met with Greg and Tara (Lazar, F10’s owner) one Nantucket morning over black coffee and bacon, casually talking about wine and everything, and it just worked out.

What surprised you most about Southern California?

How much people drink French wine here. (Laughs.)

You had the impression we only drink California wine?

Well, that is what everyone told me. I was thinking Palm Springs, resort town, steakhouse …

What are you loving on your list at Mr. Lyons right now?

I’m loving the 2013 Domaine de la Meuliere 1er Cru Chablis. I’m also really loving the 2012 Cultivar St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon. I cannot believe that I like this fruity California wine so much, but it’s so amazing; I really love it. I like fruit … who would have thought? I get so snobby sometimes that I forget how great fruit is. 

What’s the best part of your job?

I really love my job because I work for people who allow me so much freedom, and trust. And I get to be very playful with my wine lists. I’m really lucky that I got this opportunity. I’ve learned so much more than I even thought I would. When I was re-doing the wine list at Birba, (I was) kind of conceptualizing: What slots do I want to fill? Do I want light-bodied, mineral-driven and acidic? Light-bodied with fruit? What am I filling? I hadn’t really thought about wine in that way, so that was really great.

What’s your sommelier strategy?

I’m basically a hawk, circling the room for people looking at the wine list. I try to find people while they’re looking. The most important thing is listening: I listen to people, first and foremost. A lot of sommeliers get caught up in the ego. I think that’s a benefit of me not having a ton of experience: I really put the time in to listen to what people want, and I try to guide them. I know most people don’t have the vocabulary to describe what they like, even though they know what they like, so I try to help them suss it out. Also, price point is very important. I try to give people three options at different price points so they can choose what they want to spend. I have aggressively priced the wine on my list. I want to sell the wine.

What are you drinking now?

Everything from the Loire Valley (in France). Domaine Philippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny. It’s so good. Always Burgundy. (Laughs.) I wish I didn’t love Burgundy so much, but I do. And I’m getting really into Rhône right now—a lot of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

That more people are drinking good wine, and so many people our age (late 20s) are really into wine and have developed wine palates and want a great bottle of wine when they go out to eat. It’s not just people in the industry who drink great wine.

What made wine more approachable?

I think it’s this whole foodie culture. It’s the next step: People got really into food, and now they’re into wine, cocktails and beer. There are so many affordably priced wines on the market right now; you don’t have to spend a lot to drink great wine.

Your desert island wine?

The 2008 Maison Alex Gambal Puligny-Montrachet.

Favorite food pairing?

Riesling and cheese. (Laughs.) Délice de Bourgogne and riesling.

Favorite wine book?

The Wine Bible, for the organization and cleanliness of the information, but most especially because Karen MacNeil describes syrah as a cowboy in a tuxedo.

Favorite thing to do in the desert?

Go hiking! Hiking here is the best, and you can’t really get that lost. Hiking and thrifting, too. I’m really in love with (Palm Canyon Drive vintage store) Iconic Atomic at the moment.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine