CVIndependent

Thu10012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

Tinto at the Saguaro Downsizes a Bit

Tinto, the Basque-style restaurant owned by Iron Chef Jose Garces that calls the Saguaro Palm Springs home, will reopen Wednesday, Dec. 3, after a lengthy closure during much of the summer and fall.

When Tinto reopens, it will be just a fraction of its former self, size-wise: The restaurant will occupy what had previously been the Tinto bar—and that’s it. The rest of the former Tinto space, including the lovely patio, has been converted into what’s called the Palmetto Room and the Santa Rosa patio. Those spaces will be available for special events like weddings and holiday parties.

The Saguaro hosted an event for VIPs and media at the old-new space on Wednesday, Nov. 19, and here’s the spin Tinto/Saguaro reps were putting on things: The Tinto downsizing will allow the restaurant to return to the small, intimate tapas-bar roots of the original Tinto in Philadelphia; meanwhile, the Palmetto Room and Santa Rosa Patio will help the Saguaro keep up with a demand for more special-events spaces.

Make what you will of that spin. All I know is that I hope the downsized Tinto can succeed; although I’ve experienced inconsistent service and food during previous visits to Tinto, I’ve also experienced some of the best bites I’ve had in the Coachella Valley.

Get more details at garcesgroup.com/restaurants/tinto.

PS Underground Takes Up a Semi-Permanent Residency With Light

Over the last two years or so, Michael Fietsam and David Horgen have wowed local foodies with PS Underground, a series of intimate, details-secret-until-the-day-of themed dinners held at a variety of valley locations.

While PS Underground lives on—in fact, the next event, called “Wanderland,” takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 10 (more details at www.psunderground.com)—Fietsam and Horgen have also set down roots, of sorts, for a new experience called Light.

Fietsam told me that like the usual PS Underground events, the details of Light’s dinners—including the menu and the dining location—remain secret to diners until the day of the event. However, unlike PS Underground events, the Light experience will be accessible throughout the season—until May 2, to be exact.

Why did the duo add Light to the PS Underground menu of offerings? Fietsam explained that he and Horgen wanted to share the PS Underground experience with a wider variety of people; it was a logical expansion of the hobby-turned-business.

“We haven’t been able to tap into the market of tourists and (out-of-town) friends of people who live in the desert” thanks to the inconsistency of the PS Underground schedule, he said.

While Light’s venue will remain the same through May 2, chef Horgen’s menu, or at least portions of it, changes on a weekly basis, Fietsam said.

Light takes place at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through the season. The experience costs $150. Make reservations and get more details at www.lightps.net.

LuLu’s Rhine Joins Forces With Photog John Paschal for Eight4Nine

Willie Rhine has become a community icon as the general manager (and one of the public faces of) Barbara and Jerry Keller’s LuLu California Bistro, in downtown Palm Springs.

He’s so strongly associated with LuLu that his mid-November announcement that he was starting his own restaurant shocked many in the restaurant world.

Rhine is joining forces with John Paschal, of Snapshot Palm Springs Studios, to open a new-American cuisine restaurant called Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge, at 849 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. The new restaurant is slated to open sometime next summer.

After the initial announcement, Rhine took to Facebook to clarify his status with LuLu.

“I have the love and support of LuLu California Bistro owners, Barbara and Jerry Keller, who are excited about my new opportunity and equally thrilled and happy that I am staying on to continue the success of LuLu, where I remain both vested and the general manager, in charge of the day-to-day operations,” Rhine wrote. “I will continue to oversee our catering events with our amazing management team, including Lucy Kent and Francisco Plascencia.”

Congrats to Willie Rhine and John Paschal!

Follow the progress at www.facebook.com/eight4ninerestaurant.

In Brief

Figue Mediterranean Restaurant—the gorgeous La Quinta spot that was a solo effort by Lee Morcus, of the Kaiser Restaurant Group—is apparently no more. While no official announcement that we know of has been made, the closed restaurant’s Facebook page and website have not been updated in many months. ... The Villa Royale Inn and Europa Restaurant will hold a masquerade-themed dinner to benefit Angel View at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 11. Europa is located at 1620 S. Indian Trail, in Palm Springs; call 760-327-2314 for reservations or more info. … The former Crave, the dessert joint and bar on the second floor at 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, is now known as Plate | Glass. Larry Abel and Raymond McCallister are the owners; they formerly owned Crave with Davy Aker, who is not part of Plate | Glass. Find more details by calling 760-322-2322, or visit plate-glass.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News