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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Out of the Ashes: Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club Begins Rebuilding Process

At Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club, it was supposed to be a Christmas day to celebrate. The year-old restaurant, located at 292 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, had dinner reservations for 170 people on the books.

However, on the morning of Dec. 25, while a couple of employees began preparing in the kitchen for the busy night, something went terribly wrong: An electrical fire began in the ceiling over the dining room.

Within a couple hours, the restaurant had burned to the ground. Bernie’s owners Rand Howell and Geoff McIntosh, while in shock, scrambled to find new reservations for their customers, and new jobs for their employees.

The only saving grace: The two employees made it out of the building unharmed.

“Initially, it was very devastating,” McIntosh said.

One month later, the feelings of devastation have largely faded, McIntosh said, and the owners are now working on the rebuilding process. There’s also another silver lining in the dark cloud.

“Everybody who wanted a job was able to find one within two to three weeks,” McIntosh said, praising his fellow local restaurateurs who stepped in to help his staffers.

At first, McIntosh and Howell looked into reopening Bernie’s in an existing building at another location. However, those plans fell through.

“We just couldn’t put it together,” he said.

McIntosh and Howell are now planning on rebuilding Bernie’s in the same location, which they own, he said. There’s another, smaller building on their property that they may demolish to build a new Bernie’s that’s bigger and better than ever.

“We had outgrown our space by the second month we were open,” McIntosh laughed.

McIntosh said the current plan is to expand both the lounge and dining areas just a bit. The biggest changes, though, will involve improving the traffic flow by widening aisles and fixing the fact that in the old building, there was only one, hard-to-access door in and out of the kitchen—which led to constant traffic jams.

When can customers expect the new Bernie’s to rise from the ashes? McIntosh said that optimistic estimates say the new building’s doors could open within seven or eight months, but he thinks a year is more realistic.

“All the layers of government approval we’ll need will take two to three months, probably, by themselves,” he said.

McIntosh praised the restaurant’s insurance company, Farmers Insurance, for moving quickly thus far. In fact, the business-interruption insurance is paying key management employees to stay on while the restaurant is rebuilt, McIntosh said.

Keep your fingers crossed for the good people at Bernie’s. Follow the rebuilding progress, and get updates on former Bernie’s employees, at www.facebook.com/Berniesfans.

In Brief

Bontá Restaurant and Bar is now open and serving modern European and Latin fare at 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City, in the spot formerly occupied by Picanha Churrascaria. More info at bontarestaurant.com. … Loco Charlie’s Mexican Grill opened in January at 1751 N. Sunrise Way, near World Gym in Palm Springs. The restaurant’s website promises “one of a kind, authentic Mexican cuisine” that is “made with the freshest ingredients possible.” Visit that website, mylococharlies.com, for more info. … King’s Highway, the diner at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, at 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, launched all-new, expanded menus in mid-January. The restaurant is following in the footsteps of the Ace Hotel L.A., which recently revamped its restaurant with the help of the folks behind Five Leaves in Brooklyn, N.Y.—meaning Five Leaves influences can be found on the Palm Springs menus, too. Highlights include the avocado toast for breakfast, and the Five Leaves burger (including grilled pineapple, pickled beets and a sunny-side-up egg) for lunch and dinner. … Want to get out of the house to enjoy the Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 22? Trio Restaurant, at 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, is hosting its annual “Hollywood’s Biggest Night” party, to benefit the AIDS Assistance Program. Get tickets, starting at $125, at aidsassistance.org. If you’re closer to Indian Wells, consider the Red Carpet Oscar Party at Vicky’s of Santa Fe, at 45100 Club Drive. Tickets are $85, and the event benefits Variety—The Children's Charity of the Desert. Call 760-345-9770 to reserve. … Congrats to Shanghai Reds, the popular back-area bar and restaurant at Palm Springs’ Fisherman’s Market and Grill, located at 235 S. Indian Canyon Drive, for completing an expansion of the patio. There’s now more seating and a better music stage. ... If you haven’t heard already: The Asian-cuisine scene of the Coachella Valley is now worse off due to the apparent closing of Jiao, the Foundation 10-owned restaurant that was located at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

What: The Crab Enchiladas

Where: Ruben and Ozzy’s Oyster Bar and Grill, 241 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs

How much: $14.95; $13.95 after 9 p.m.

Contact: 760-325-8800; www.rubenandozzysoysterbar.com

Why: It’s a delicious dish made with love.

On most nights, you’ll find either Ruben or Ozzy Lopez, if not both of them, hard at work behind the counter at the brothers’ eponymous Tahquitz Canyon Way restaurant.

It’s nothing new for the brothers to be hard at work behind a restaurant counter; they started out working together at the late, lamented Beach House before moving to Palm Springs' Shanghai Reds—the back-bar part of Fisherman’s Market and Grill—for a nine-year stint. In 2012, the two left Shanghai Reds and ventured out on their own, opening Ruben and Ozzy’s Oyster Bar and Grill.

The menu at Ruben and Ozzy’s is rather reminiscent of the menu at Shanghai Reds (as is, in some ways, the décor—they both have a large bar area, nice patio area, TVs tuned to sports, etc.). But most important: The food on that menu at Ruben and Ozzy’s is pretty gosh-darned spectacular.

Our personal fave is the crab enchiladas. This casserole-style treat has a lot going on. A real-crab concoction is wrapped inside tortillas, which are topped with goodies including a slightly spicy salsa verde, cheese and a creamy sauce. Adjacent to all of this warm, gooey deliciousness is a heap of cool, fresh pico de gallo, as well as some cabbage pieces, for texture, flavor and temperature variety. Finally, there is a scoop of Mexican-style rice—a perfect foil for any salsa and sauce that happen to be left over.

Yeah, the weather is getting increasingly warm as the march toward summer continues, but trust me: This hot little dish is fantastic even when temps are in the triple-digits, in part because the entrée includes cool contrasts (the cabbage and pico de gallo), and in part because it’s so freaking delicious.

So, go and support these two local restaurant icons who have been making food—tasty food—with love around these parts for decades, will ya?

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The fish tacos

Where: El Ranchito Taco Shop, 34580 Monterey Ave., No. 103, Palm Desert

How much: $2.49

Contact: 760-320-9182; www.elranchitotacoshop.net

Why: The sauce, the crispiness and the price.

The first-ever Indy Endorsement was published on Nov. 1 of last year. The subject of our effusive praise: the fish tacos at Shanghai Reds.

Now, more than eight months later, we’re celebrating another Indy Endorsement first: For the first time, we’re endorsing essentially the same item (fish tacos) at a second restaurant.

One may have a reasonable expectation of getting a great fish taco at a local mini-chain that has “fish” in its name, as is the case of Shanghai Reds and its parent restaurant, Fisherman’s Market and Grill. However, one does not necessarily expect to get a great fish taco in a gigantic industrial-area Palm Desert strip mall that’s anchored by a freakin’ Walmart.

Yet that’s exactly what we found at El Ranchito Taco Shop. We wandered before a weekday Costco run—and were shocked to see every table in the smallish restaurant full. At 11 a.m. On a Friday. In the summer.

Fortunately, someone was leaving as we got in line to order, so the significant other nabbed the table while I stayed in line. I ordered several tacos, some chips, and an order of huevos rancheros ($5.25). An aside: El Ranchito serves breakfast all day, as all breakfast-serving restaurants should. Bless you, El Ranchito!

All of our food was tasty—but the fish taco, as you probably guessed from the fish-taco banter above, offered the best bites of the bunch. The cod was crispy and not overly oily; the white sauce was tangy and smooth; the cabbage and tomatoes were fresh and crisp. It was truly a pleasant surprise—and helped explain why El Ranchito was so damned busy at 11 a.m. on a Friday.

So, you may be wondering: Is the fish taco at El Ranchito as good as the one at Shanghai Reds? All things considered, yes: While the tortilla is far better with the Shanghai Reds taco (it’s thick and delicious, while the El Ranchito taco is wrapped in two average-tasting tortillas), the price is far better with the El Ranchito taco: It’s $1.46 less than the fish taco at Shanghai Reds.

And, unlike the Shanghai Reds taco, it’s available nearby before or after a Costco run.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The fish tacos (Baja fried or grilled)

Where: Shanghai Reds, inside of Fisherman's Market and Grill, 235 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $3.95, or $2.95 during late-night happy hour (8 p.m. to close)

Contact info: 322-9293; www.fishermans.com/shanghaireds.php

Why: Because of the tortilla. Trust us.

These tacos aren't exactly a secret around these parts--they're perennial honorees in the Desert Magazine Best of the Valley competition (not that you should necessarily value such honors all that much)--but we're surprised at how many valley residents don't know about the delights at Shanghai Reds, the bar/casual area tucked behind Fisherman's (which also has a location in La Quinta).

The taco's ingredients are not that unusual: The taco includes white fish, topped with pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, citrus and a tasty white sauce. What makes these fish tacos special is the wrapping--namely, the tortilla. It's a thick corn variety that spends a moment or three on the grill before meeting its contents, and that maize/char/yummy flavor ties the whole package together.

Somewhere along the line, far too many Americans settled for tortillas that are mere packaging--flavorless vessels to deliver flavor to one's mouth. Shanghai Reds reminds us that it's not supposed to be that way--and proves that a good tortilla can make oh so much difference.

Published in The Indy Endorsement