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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

New: The Coachella Valley Culinary Invitational Takes Place Jan. 13

If you like really good food, want to help out some future chefs, and have at least $179 to spare, you’re going to want to be at the Stergios Building at Desert Regional Medical Center, 1150 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 13, for the first Coachella Valley Culinary Invitational.

What is this invitational, you ask? While the Invitational’s website is somewhat confusing, here’s what we’ve figured out: Top chefs from the valley and beyond will be offering various dishes—expect a dozen or so—to be enjoyed at one’s leisure, while fine local band Caxton provides the entertainment, and silent auction items are available for perusal.

And here’s something really cool: Before the event, four chefs will spend time with students at Rancho Mirage High School and La Quinta High School, and those kids will have a role in the dishes presented at the Invitational.

“The Coachella Valley Culinary Invitational … is an event designed to raise funds for a mentorship program for the youth of the valley enrolled in the culinary programs at the local high schools,” the website explains. “It will culminate with a scholarship program. Part of the proceeds will also benefit the chefs’ collaborative local group as it strives to educate the valley’s professional chefs on our responsibility to (develop) sustainable food systems.”

Participating chefs include Dish Creative Cuisine’s Joane Garcia-Colson, and Jimmy Schmidt of Morgan’s in the Desert.

Tickets are $179, or $229 for VIP admission. For more information, visit www.cvcinvitational.com.


Closed: Clementine Gourmet Marketplace and Café

One of Palm Desert’s top-rated restaurants—and one of my personal favorites—is yet another victim of the “summer closure” that turns out to be a permanent closure.

The Clementine Gourmet Marketplace and Café website, as of this writing, enthusiastically says: “Thank you to all of our customers for a great season! Stop in for one last meal with us! We’ll be closed for the summer, starting on June 20.”

Summer came and went … and the spot at 72990 El Paseo never reopened. Now the signs have been removed from the building, and the restaurant’s Facebook page has disappeared.

Efforts to track down the owners, Jennifer and Christophe Douheret, to find out what happened were unsuccessful. If we learn anything, we’ll let you know in this space.


In Brief

Bucatini Trattoria, which has been serving up tasty Italian food at 46660 Washington St. in La Quinta, just opened a Palm Desert location, at 36901 Cook St., Suite 10. Learn more at www.bucatini.biz. … Construction continues on Truss and Twine, from chef Michael Beckman and the rest of the Workshop Bar + Kitchen crew, at 800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Keep your fingers crossed for an opening sometime in the first chunk of 2017. Follow the progress on the Truss and Twine Facebook page. … The signs have been changed, and the former Matchbox Palm Springs is now Brickworks American Bistro + Pizza. Don’t expect a lot of changes beyond the name and those signs, though (and we mean that in a good way). Check things out on the second floor of 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive (overlooking the creepy Sonny Bono statue), in Palm Springs, or head to brickworksbistro.com for more information. … The Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa, at 41000 Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage, will host a wine dinner at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 13, as part of the Taste of Rancho Dinner series. For $102—that’s $80 plus tax and tip included—you’ll get five courses paired with ONEHOPE Wine, a label which “creates delightful products that inspire people to indulge and do good.” Call 760-862-4518, or visit www.omnihotels.com/hotels/palm-springs-rancho-las-palmas for reservations or more information. … We hear that Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar, at 70030 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage, in the old Crab Pot spot, will be opening very, very soon, if it’s not open already. Call 760-321-7635, or visit www.facebook.com/thefishermansranchomirage to learn more. (It has no apparent relation to the other Fisherman’s spots in the area, by the way.) … Mecca is getting its first “nationally branded” (read: chain) sit-down restaurant, in the form of a Denny’s. Ground has been broken at the Mecca Travel Center at 90470 66th Ave.; watch for a mid-2017 opening. … In other chain news: Sonic Drive-In is coming to Indio, at Jefferson Street and Avenue 42. It should be open before all those big April music festivals take place.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Pho 533 Expands, Adds a Spring Roll Bar

About a year and a half ago, Chad Gardner—known for his fantastic Dash and a Handful Catering business—purchased longtime old-school Vietnamese restaurant Pho 533, located at 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive.

What a difference 18 month makes: On Tuesday, Aug. 30, Pho 533 will emerge from a month-long closure as a completely different place.

First, Gardner has doubled Pho 533’s size while also revamping the menu. Second, he’s added a cocktail bar. Third, he’s added a 10-seat spring roll bar.

Yes, that’s right … a spring roll bar.

On Sunday, Aug. 28, Pho 533 offered a sneak preview to the Palm Springs Eating and Living Facebook group—and the new digs are gorgeous.

The food’s pretty amazing, too. The new spring roll menu includes 10 different types of rolls, featuring everything from mango to chicken to lobster to mushrooms. The samples of the spring rolls being created—“hand rolled to order,” thank you very much—at that aforementioned spring roll bar were delicious. I got a bite or two of the spicy tuna roll ($16), which comes with sashimi-grade tuna mixed with pickled ginger, shirataki noodles, cilantro, lettuce, cucumber, sesame seeds and the house sriracha mayo. Let’s just say I am looking forward to enjoying my own spicy tuna roll, and don’t expect me to be in a sharing mood.

As for the drinks coming out of the new bar: The event featured the tequila “buoi”—Pho 533’s version of the paloma—which includes Arette blanco tequila, Bundaberg grapefruit soda, lime and salt. Tasty, indeed.

For more information, visit Pho 533’s Facebook page or website for more information.


Coming Soon: Umami Seoul Korean BBQ and Japanese Cuisine

We have a good-news, bad-news situation here.

First, the bad news: Thai Kitchen 1, which was located at 67555 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City, has closed. Thai Kitchen 1 was one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the valley, and I learned the restaurant had closed the hard way: When I called the restaurant to get some takeout, I got that dreaded message: “Beep beep BEEP! We’re sorry. You have reached a number has been disconnected or is no longer in service.”

Now, the good news: The folks who owned downtown Palm Springs’ Wasabi for many years are opening Umami Seoul Korean BBQ and Japanese Cuisine in that spot.

“How did we come up with the name Umami Seoul?” the restaurant’s website asks. “We wanted to combine both our Japanese and Korean influences into one. Umami means savory in Japanese, using and challenging all of your senses to create a truly ‘umami’ experience. Seoul is our hometown city in Korea and the place that has inspired all of our Korean cuisine.”

The online menu promises various appetizers, sushi rolls and Korean specialties. Yum!

The restaurant should be open any day now; heck, it may be open by the time you read this. Stop by, or visit www.umamiseoul.com and www.facebook.com/umamiseoulps for updates and more information.


In Brief

Fans of the Augustine Casino’s restaurants—Café 54 and the Menyikish Bar and Grill—take note: The entire casino will be closed from Monday, Sept. 19, through Sunday, Oct. 16. The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians is taking that time to do a full-scale remodel of the 14-year-old facility, located at 84001 Avenue 54, in Coachella. Visit www.augustinecasino.com for details and updates. … Coming soon: The Big Rock Pub, to 79940 Westward Ho Drive, in Indio. Expect “a blend of classic rock and classic cuisine.” Visit www.thebigrockpub.com for more info, including details on Big Rock’s job fair, taking place Sept. 6-9. … Congrats to the good folks at Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill, at 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, who on Aug. 28 celebrated the one-year anniversary of the restaurant’s popular Sunday Desert Divas Drag Brunch! For just $14.95, it’s an amazing deal. (Be sure to bring dollars to tip the divas, too!) Visit rioazulpalmsprings.com for more info. … Get ready to enjoy German beers and eats—and support a great cause while doing so! From 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 2, Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge, at 849 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will be holding an Oktoberfest celebration—and 30 percent of all Oktoberfest proceeds will go to the March to Equality, billed as “the most expansive virtual march in history supporting full LGBT equality.” Visit marchtoequality.org for more details. … Please extend a hearty Coachella Valley welcome to Andrew Cooper, the new executive chef at the La Quinta Resort and Club, at 49499 Eisenhower Drive, in La Quinta. He’ll oversee the food and beverage program at all of the resort’s bars and restaurants, including Morgan’s in the Desert. Cooper’s 15-year career includes a lot of time at various Four Seasons resorts, most recently the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe, N.M. More info at www.laquintaresort.com. … Popular build-your-own-pizza joint Pieology Pizzeria has opened its first valley location, at 42500 Bob Hope Drive, Suite D, in Rancho Mirage. Head to www.pieology.com for details. … Coming soon to the old Sam’s Sushi location at The River, 71800 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage: Fox and Fiddle, a British-style pub. There are a bunch of Canadian locations of Fox and Fiddle; visit www.foxandfiddlecalifornia.com for more info. … Keep your eye open for changes at Matchbox, on the second floor at 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. It’s under new ownership; a new name and menu should soon follow. … We’ve been hearing nothing but raves about Cie Sichuan Cuisine, which opened a couple of months ago at 45682 Towne St., in Indio. We’ll give a more detailed report after we’ve had a chance to check it out; in the meantime, find menus and more info at www.facebook.com/ciesichuancuisineofficial.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Lisa Tussing, a Southern California native, got her start in wine while attending college in Arizona. She started out like many of us do—drinking wine from Trader Joe’s, where she worked during college. From there, she moved on to fine dining, at places like John Howie Steak in Bellevue, Wash., and the historic Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. In 2014, Tussing was the youngest woman in Arizona to hold a Level 2 sommelier certification. A chance meeting with La Quinta Resort and Club general manager John Healy at the Biltmore (which is owned by the same company as the La Quinta Resort) brought Tussing to the desert last year.

Tussing and I chatted in the dining room of Morgan’s over a bottle of Los Bermejos Malvasia Seco.

When did you first start getting into wine?

When I worked at Trader Joe’s. I got a job there when I was 22, and worked there for three years while I was going to Arizona State. I’m the biggest Trader Joe’s cheerleader: I had a great work experience. Everyone loves being there; they pay well; they feed you; they encourage you; they let you take ownership and make you feel empowered with your guests. I started working in the wine department a little bit, and my friends and I started to taste our way through the wine selection. By 23, I had drank my way through the wine program! From there, I kind of started taking it over. I started making the orders and became the go-to wine person. People would laugh at me and say, “You’re not even old enough to drink, are you?” After Trader Joe’s I got back into fine dining at luxury hotels.

What’s the best part of your job?

At Morgan’s, we do these “festivals” menus. Every two weeks, depending on what is in season and what’s local, we do a different three-course menu. We do this all summer. … We do wine pairings with the menus, too! It is really fun to work with my chef (Jimmy Schmidt); he gives me an idea of where to start, then we’ll sit down together and bring new wines in and make the perfect little pairing.

I also love it when guests bring in wine and share some with me. Some of the best wines I’ve ever had are wines guests bring in.

What are you loving on your list right now?

The Bonny Doon “(I Am Not Drinking Any) $%&*#!” Merlot is a fun, inexpensive wine. I love the name, and it has a really fun story behind it. Another of my favorites on the list is Trefethen Dragon’s Tooth. The Dragon’s Tooth is a malbec blend out of Napa Valley which Janet Trefethen makes that is a winery- and wine-club-only wine, but I managed to convince them to let me put it on the list. … I also like the Tamarack Cellars rosé that I pour by the glass. Last summer, I went wine-tasting in Walla Walla, and after a week of tasting syrahs and merlots and these giant cabs and Washington reds, my palate was blown, but we went to Tamarack last-minute because my chef’s friends said how amazing it was. I drank this rosé there, and it was like the wine gods were shining a light on me.

What’s your sommelier strategy?

It’s all about your guest and knowing what they’re looking for. My strategy is to approach a table and get a feel for them and what they’re trying to accomplish with their meal. I ask what they’re having for dinner, what they normally like to drink, and how much they want to spend. I also ask if they want to go more traditional or do something fun. With all that info, I can pick out the perfect bottle on my list for their occasion. My strategy is not limited to wine: I have no ego once service starts. I’ll bus your table; I’ll run food and seat people. Once service starts, it’s all about the guest and what they need to have the best experience possible.

How often do people want fun versus traditional?

A lot more than you’d think, actually! A lot of guests will come in here with their minds made up. They might say, “I really like The Prisoner,” and I’ll ask why, and they’ll say, “I really like the fruit and texture, and it is really mellow.” I’ll say, “If you really like that wine, definitely get it! But if you want to try something a little different tonight, go with this B Cellars Sangiovese out of Napa Valley.” It’s all about reading the table.

What are you drinking right now?

Vodka. (Laughs.) When I go out, I drink cosmos and beer, like hefeweizen and lager. When I’m at home, I drink bubbles. I also love any white that doesn’t touch oak: torrontés, vinho verde, albariño and New Zealand sauv blanc.

Your desert island wine?

Just one wine?

I’m not a monster. (Laughs.)

Well, I’d do a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner wine: Bollinger (Champagne) for breakfast, torrontés for lunch, and Jones Family Vineyards Cabernet for dinner. I remember the first time I had that wine. A guest brought it in, and I thought, “Why don’t all red wines taste like this?”

Favorite food pairing?

I love a good oyster/champagne combo, or oyster/rosé. I love our oysters here; they are one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever tasted—a raw oyster topped with tangerine and Eroica Riesling granita; poached ginger; and tangerine salsa. It’s one of the chef’s signature dishes.

Favorite wine book?

All the study books are good, like Windows on the World and The World Atlas of Wine, but I read a book one time that really inspired me: Cheryl Ladd’s Token Chick: A Woman's Guide to Golfing With the Boys. It’s about golf, but (I) kind of tied wine into it. She was the first woman on the celebrity pro-am. It’s not technically about wine, but it’s about being a woman in a man’s world, so I relate to her. 

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

I stay in La Quinta a lot. There is a restaurant up the street called Casa Mendoza; I try to stop in there on my days off. (The restaurant has) killer margaritas, and the owner is always there; he’s really friendly. The food and service are great. I send a lot of people there.

Your favorite thing to do in the desert?

Golf at the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West. Right now, the bighorn (sheep) are out on the course! It’s a sight to see. During the summer, I can golf about once a week. During the season, I don’t get to play at all. I don’t mind the heat. I don’t drink on the course—just water and Gatorade, so I sweat it out. It’s cleansing.

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

Hey, Locals: Give Thai House Another Shot

Nisa Hennecke, the new owner of the Thai House in downtown Palm Springs, doesn’t think her personal story is all that special—but she thinks her food is.

Well, I’ve got some news for Hennecke: Both her food and her personal story are pretty gosh-darned special.

Hennecke, a native of Thailand, had worked for years at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, as a poker dealer. But last year, she decided to make a huge change: In June, she purchased Thai House, at 246 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

Why?

“My whole family owned a restaurant, everybody, in Thailand,” she told me.

Indeed, Thai House is a family affair: Hennecke’s sister and brother-in-law moved to the Coachella Valley from Thailand to cook at the restaurant, and her children help out as well.

Hennecke said she and her family completely revamped Thai House’s menu, and that they cook food the way people cook at home back in Thailand.

“My sister is the best cook you will see,” she said.

Hennecke emphasizes freshness, and that was apparent when she treated me to lunch: The tom yum soup was some of the best I’ve ever had.

While Thai House is doing well with tourists, Hennecke said, she’s had a difficult time attracting locals, perhaps because they are unaware that the food has changed. So, Thai-food-loving locals, take it from me: Give Hennecke and Thai House another shot.

For more information, call 760-778-1728, or visit www.thaihousepalmsprings.com.

Viceroy Introduces a New Handcrafted Cocktail Menu

David Nepove knows his cocktails—and residents of the Coachella Valley should be elated that he’s sharing his knowledge with local bartenders.

Nepove is the president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, as well as the director of mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits in California. He was recently in town for a couple of days to help the good folks at the Viceroy Palm Springs’ Citron Restaurant revamp their cocktail menu for the season.

The goal of the Viceroy’s new menu: To use fresh ingredients that are locally sourced, if possible—and to include something for everyone. The results are refreshing and delicious.

I spoke to Nepove as I sipped on a rosemary gimlet, made with 209 gin, fresh lime and rosemary syrup—made from rosemary grown on-site at the Viceroy. Nepove said it’s his goal to make sure all of the bartenders he works with get inspired to take their craft to the next level, and to think of new ways to present lovely ingredients to their customers.

“My job is to steal information from friends and peers, and show that to the people I work with,” Nepove said. “… The staff here at the Viceroy was extra-receptive to this training. They walked in here as bartenders; now they’re craft bartenders.”

The drinks aren’t cheap—the specialty drinks at Citron cost $14—but they’re also a lot more complex and better-thought-out than the drinks you’ll find almost anywhere else.

Citron is located at the Viceroy, 415 S. Belardo Road, in Palm Springs. For more information, call 760-320-4117, or visit www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/palmsprings.

Now Open: Shabu-Shabu Zen

I was first introduced to shabu shabu in Tucson, Ariz.—and I was instantly smitten.

It was at a restaurant (which, alas, has since closed) called Shabu Shabu Takaka, and if memory serves, here’s how shabu shabu works: Diners are brought a soup broth, along with sauces and a variety of raw veggies and meats. The broth is brought to a boil at the table—think fondue, sort of—and the diners cook the raw meats and veggies themselves in that broth. The cooked veggies and meats can be dipped into the sauces and eaten; when they’re all gone, noodles can be added to the broth, and the concoction can be eaten as soup.

It was, in a word, delicious.

Anyway, flash-forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I was driving down Highway 111 through Rancho Mirage. I spotted a sign for a new restaurant, called Shabu-Shabu Zen, with the description “Japanese hot pot, tapas and sake bar.”

Ooh.

The restaurant opened in late January, at 71860 Highway 111, and has been getting rave reviews on the citizen-review websites ever since. My schedule has not allowed me to visit Shabu-Shabu Zen for a meal yet; after I stop in, I’ll share the details here.

As of this writing, there’s no info other than a logo at the restaurant’s website, www.shabu-shabu-zen.com; presumably, more details will show up there eventually. Watch this space for details, too.

In Brief

Tonga Hut, at long last, is open. The tiki bar and restaurant, located at 254 N. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, celebrated its grand opening on Valentine’s Day. … Smoothie fans, take note: Juice It Up! has opened at 79775 Highway 111, No. 102, in La Quinta. It’s the second valley location of the Irvine-based chain, joining the store at 72877 Dinah Shore Drive, No. 101, in Rancho Mirage. … Morgan’s in the Desert, located at the La Quinta Resort and Club at 49499 Eisenhower Drive in La Quinta, is kicking off its Spring Peak Harvest Festival. Expect a series of three-course prix-fixe meals highlighting seasonal ingredients—from blue mussels from Puget Sound, Wash., to morel mushrooms from Mesik, Mich.—between now and early June. Get details at www.morgansinthedesert.com. … Congrats to the folks at Las Casuelas Terraza, the humongous restaurant at 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. The restaurant celebrated its 35th anniversary in February. … Appetito, a “Cal-Italian Deli” restaurant featuring the food of chef Chad Shaner, is expected to open any day now next at 1700 S. Camino Real, No. 2, in Palm Springs. That’s the spot right next to the Koffi across from the Ace Hotel and Swim Club.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

CPK’s Palm Springs Location to Make Way for Construction

Every time we walk by the California Pizza Kitchen at 123 N. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, we wonder: Given that it’s part of a mall that is now mostly demolished, what will be the restaurant’s fate?

We asked the CPK folks that very question. Spokesman Jeffrey Dorman responded via email: “According to Clint Coleman (CPK’s chief development officer), CPK will be closing the Palm Springs restaurant in late October/early November as the development gets to the phase where they need to demo the building.”

As for the future, Dorman said that the company is in “negotiations” for a space in the mall that will replace the Desert Fashion Plaza, and hopes to re-open in downtown Palm Springs sometime in the third quarter of next year.

In other words, for about a year, local CPK fans will have to make the trek to the chain’s other Coachella Valley location—on El Paseo in Palm Desert—to get their fix.

More info can be found at www.cpk.com.

Coming Soon: The New York Company Restaurant

A sign has gone up at 1260 S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs—most recently the home of Brushfire Grille and 911 Saloon—announcing that the New York Company Restaurant is coming soon.

A spelling-challenged Craigslist help-wanted ad offers a few more details: The “fine dining restaurant with a full bar” is slated to open in September.

We’ll share more details as we get ’em.

Local Restaurants Nab ‘Wine Spectator’ Accolades

A number of valley restaurants have been honored by Wine Spectator magazine as having top-notch wine selections.

According to the Wine Spectator website, the awards “recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.”

No valley restaurants were among the 73 “Grand Award” winners. (These restaurants generally offer 1,500 wines or more—wow.) However, two were among the 850 to earn the Best of Award of Excellence: Cuistot in Palm Desert, and Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs. “These lists typically offer 400 or more selections, along with superior presentation, and display either vintage depth, with several vertical offerings of top wines, or excellent breadth across several wine regions,” the magazine’s website notes.

Quite a few area restaurants were among the almost 2,900 honored with the Award of Excellence (meaning that they offer at least 100 well-chosen wines): Circa 59 at the Riviera, Europa Restaurant at the Villa Royale, Zin American Bistro and The Steakhouse at Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs; Desert Sage Restaurant and Piano Bar, Morgan’s in the Desert, and Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill in La Quinta; Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, and The Steakhouse at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage; Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Pacifica Seafood Restaurant, Ristorante Mamma Gina, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, and Mitch’s on El Paseo Prime Seafood in Palm Desert; and Sirocco at the Renaissance Esmeralda in Indian Wells.

Get more info at www.winespectator.com.

Get Some Learnin’ on French Wines

Speaking of wine: Total Wine and More, which recently opened at 72338 Highway 111 in Palm Desert, is offering some schooling on French wines.

At 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 8, the store will hold its “Romancing the Rhône” class and tasting. A news release promises “a journey through Avignon, Orange and Nimes to experience some of France’s most legendary wines, such as Côte-Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

The class is $25, and it will go for about two hours. Seating is limited, as they say; call 760-346-2029 for reservations.

Published in Restaurant & Food News