CVIndependent

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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

When It Comes to Restaurant-Inspection Ratings, Please Calm Down

In the September 2015 issue, I used this space to examine the ridiculousness of public freak-outs over restaurant-inspection ratings. Now, 25 months later, I shall do so again.

Here’s why: On Friday, Sept. 1, some very bad things happened to Manhattan in the Desert, at 2665 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. First: The restaurant had refrigeration problems. Second: Inspectors from the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health showed up.

As a result of all this, according to the inspection report: “Due to (a) lack of adequate refrigeration, (the) facility … decided to voluntarily close.”

That’s bad enough. Making matters worse: This happened on a Friday … before a holiday weekend—Labor Day Weekend, to be exact. This meant the restaurant had to be closed during what would normally be a rather lucrative four days, until it could be re-inspected by the county on Tuesday the 5th—even if the refrigeration matter were fixed well before that.

Making matters much worse … the inspector, as they are mandated to do, placed a big, red “C” sign, for all the world to see, near the closed restaurant entryway.

Of course, someone took a picture and posted it on Facebook; that pic was then passed around, giving trolls and idiots a chance to have a field day.

Yes, “C” ratings are a big deal. A “C” or even a “B” means the restaurant failed its inspection, requiring that it be re-inspected again, often the next business day, until it receives an “A.”

My problem with all of this is context: My research uncovered at least nine other Coachella Valley businesses that got “C” grades during inspections over the last 12 months, with many dozens of others getting “B” grades—which, again, means failure—often with scores of 80 or 81, meaning they’re on the cusp of “C” grades. You probably heard of the mess regarding Manhattan … but did you hear about many of these other restaurant-inspection failures? Unless you’re constantly checking the county website, no, you did not.

Some restaurants that fail inspections are genuinely dirty or poorly managed; many of them are not—they just had a bad day, like all businesses have. This is why Manhattan in the Desert will not lose a dime of my business. See you there soon, I hope.


California Barbecue Company Moves to Indio's Club 5

On Aug. 15, we published a nice piece at CVIndependent.com about Reggie Martinez and his California Barbecue Company.

At the time, Martinez—who before had been at Neil’s Lounge, in Indio—was serving up smoked meats and his famous mac-and-cheese to rave reviews at the Red Barn, in Palm Desert.

However, shortly after the article was posted, the Red Barn and Martinez parted ways. When we asked Martinez what happened, he declined to share the details.

Martinez’s smoker, fortunately, did not stay in storage for long: He is now serving his delicious barbecue and sides at Club 5, located at 82971 Bliss Ave., in Indio.

For more information, call 760-863-6971, or visit www.facebook.com/thecaliforniabarbecueco.


In Brief

New: Azúcar Restaurant and Bar. The tiny restaurant at the La Serena Villas, at 339 S. Belardo Road, in Palm Springs, has been creating a buzz with its tasty fare, such as shrimp and scallop ceviche ($16), Kobe beef sliders ($23) and blackened salmon ($25). Lunch and dinner are served Wednesday through Sunday, as is breakfast on Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant offers a limited menu on Mondays and Tuesdays. Check out the menus at laserenavillas.com/azucar-restaurant-and-bar. … If you’re a fan of cigars and tequila, take note: Las Casuelas Terraza, at 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will be holding its latest cigar and tequila dinner at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 11. Rancho Mirage’s Viva Cigar Lounge is providing the cigars, and the tequila on offer is Hornitos Black Barrel and Siete Leguas Añejo. $35 will get you all that plus a carnitas bar. Call 760-325-2794 to reserve your spot. … Mark VanLaanen, a now-former co-owner of Trio Restaurant, recently announced he’ll soon be opening On the Mark just a few doors down at 777 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. The shop will sell cheese, meats and other yummy foods—along with beer and wine. Watch www.onthemarkpalmsprings.com for updates. … Coming within the next few months to 36101 Bob Hope Drive, near Gelson’s: O’Caine’s Irish Pub. Watch www.facebook.com/ranchomiragemarketplace for updates. … Good news for fans of patio seating and Sunday tea dances: Oscar’s Café and Bar, at 125 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, in downtown Palm Springs, again has a liquor license. Ownership changes there led to drama, which led to the current owner not having a liquor license, but that has been resolved now. … We’re hearing rumors that a high-end sushi and cocktails joint is coming soon to Palm Springs. Keep your fingers crossed, and watch this space.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

The whole mess started, as far as we can figure, when somebody walking by Oscar’s Café and Bar noticed the restaurant had posted its recent “C” rating from the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, as required. He or she took a photo, and then posted it on Facebook.

After that, things got really stupid, really fast.

The picture on Facebook went locally viral, and became the talk of area foodies. It was even posted on a prominent local blog or two.

Then, in a move that would cause any decent journalism-school professor to weep in despair, KMIR News showed up, did a story on the Oscar’s rating, and inexplicably led off a newscast with it.

As a result, Oscar’s—located at 125 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, in Palm Springs—was unfairly maligned. This is not to say that Oscar’s didn’t deserve the “C” rating, or that Oscar’s customers didn’t have a right to know about it. This is also not to say that the Oscar’s manager didn’t make matters worse when, on the three-minute-long KMIR news story, he complained that the county inspectors should have “given us notice that they were coming.”

The problem here is that this stupid, stupid story lacked context—and, as a result, Oscar’s was unfairly singled out.

During the KMIR piece, reporter Julie Buehler mentioned that Oscar’s had “the only C rating in the Coachella Valley.” This statement was both false and contextually bonkers. It was false because Sam’s Sushi, in Rancho Mirage, also had a “C” rating hanging over its figurative head at the time, a fact that was added to the online version of the KMIR story three days later.

Here’s how it was contextually bonkers: According to an analysis of Riverside County Department of Health records by the Independent, at least 13 restaurants in the Coachella Valley received “C” ratings between August 2014 and July 2015. Of course, KMIR didn’t do a story on any of those other “C” ratings—at least not that we could find on the KMIR website.

To show how unfair this kerfuffle was to Oscar’s, know this: Oscar’s was inspected on July 30. Gyoro Gyoro Isakaya Japonaise (a place I adore, by the way), located a very short block away from Oscar’s, at 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, was inspected on July 9, just three weeks before Oscar’s was.

Not only did Gyoro Gyoro receive a “C” rating during that inspection; health inspectors closed the restaurant, due to violations including “rodents, insects, birds or animals,” “sewage improperly disposed,” “hot and cold water not adequately available” and “food contact surfaces not cleaned and sanitized.” Gyoro Gyoro would not re-open until a re-inspection five days later, on July 14. Yet this closure received no coverage anywhere that I could find.

According to Health Department records, the other Coachella Valley places that received “C” ratings over the last year are Woody’s Burgers and Beer (June 30), the Cathedral Canyon Golf Club (May 29), Pho Lan (May 27), Two Bunch Palms Bliss (May 19), El Taco Asado (April 3), Aqua Soleil Hotel and Mineral Water Spa (March 12), Four Seasons at Palm Springs (March 20), Las Flores (in Coachella, Jan. 16), Fandango Tacos and Beer (Nov. 25) and O’Leary’s Pub and Grill (Nov. 13).

It’s also worth noting that many dozens of area restaurants, some with very prominent names, received “B” ratings—with a surprising number receiving on-the-cusp-of-C scores of 80.

Any restaurants that get “B” or “C” grades are re-inspected within several days, and eventually given an “A” grade. That means unless you’re doing some pretty serious digging on the Riverside County Department of Health website, or you just happen to be at a restaurant at the right time, it’s hard to know which places initially received less than an “A” grade.

But that doesn’t excuse the unfair treatment Oscar’s received.


In Brief

SO.PA has opened at the new L’Horizon Resort and Spa Palm Springs, at 1050 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Chef Giacomo Pettinari, who has a Michelin star to his credit, is at the helm. Info at lhorizonpalmsprings.com/sopa-restaurant. ... Starting Aug. 30, Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill, at 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will be offering a drag-queen show during Sunday brunch. Reservations are recommended; rioazulpalmsprings.com. … Summer closures are starting to come to an end! For starters, Vicky’s of Santa Fe, at 45100 Club Drive, in Indian Wells, will reopen Thursday, Sept. 10; www.vickysofsantafe.com. … Asian-fusion joint Kitchen 88 is slated to open in September at Spotlight 29, at 46200 Harrison Place, in Coachella; www.spotlight29.com. … Congrats to Bill’s Pizza, at 119 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs: TripAdvisor recently placed Bill’s on its list of Top 10 pizza joints in the country. Wow!

Published in Restaurant & Food News