CVIndependent

Mon12102018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Cliff Young has been a well-known face in the Southern California food scene for more than two decades.

He’s owned coffee carts and coffee houses. He’s done restaurant reviews. He’s organized food festivals. He’s hosted popular radio and TV shows, including a local PBS show, Out to Eat, for more than five years. Through it all, however, his true passion has always been coffee—specifically, roasting coffee.

About six months ago, he put aside his media efforts to focus on his passion full-time via his brand-new Coachella Valley Coffee Co. The “small-batch artisanal coffee roasting” company today makes coffees specifically tailored to individual restaurants, while also roasting coffee that’s great to brew up at home—and Young always makes sure that a chunk of the proceeds go toward philanthropy. Young’s coffee can be purchased online or at retailers including Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace and the Palm Springs Air Museum.

To order coffee or learn more, visit coachellavalleycoffee.com. We recently sat down with Young at—where else?—a coffee house for a chat.

What possessed you to go ahead and start Coachella Valley Coffee Company?

I’ve been roasting since 1994. I started my first coffee business at Kaiser Permanente in Fontana—a little coffee cart. If you go to any Kaiser … those coffee carts were started by me. So I’ve been in the coffee business a long time. I wanted more control over my product, so I started going to Seattle, and hanging out with the roasters in San Francisco. I love taking this raw green coffee bean, which is about 12 to 15 percent moisture, and turning it into this gorgeous brown bean. Done rightly, the sugars come out.

A lot of people think, “Oh, I’ll just buy a roaster. I’m going to put this in, and it comes out.” No, it doesn’t. I learned from the old guys up in San Francisco, when Alfred Peet was still alive. It was nose and ears—it was olfactory and your ears. I can smell what’s going on with that coffee bean during the roasting process, and I can listen to it. I love standing next to my roaster, and just closing my eyes, and going, “That bean’s at 386 degrees,” and I’ll be within a degree or two, because you can hear what’s going on with that coffee. Even though we all have computers now telling us what to do, a computer can’t smell; a computer doesn’t taste.

I sold all of my other roasting businesses in ’08, before I started my PBS television show, because I was going to get rich on PBS. (Laughs.) Out to Eat was a fun show; I was No. 2 in ratings behind Huell Howser. Even after Huell died, he was still beating me in the ratings.

After moving back out here from Los Angeles, I said, “I’ve got to do something besides PBS, because I’m not paying the bills.” I’ve always been very, very good at roasting. Everybody has something they’re good at, and that was my thing. I built my own restaurants, opened my own restaurants—but this coffee thing, it got me. It’s my thing. I travel to the farms and meet the farmers …

Let me ask you about that. I just finished a bag of fantastic Nicaraguan coffee from you at home. How do these beans get from Nicaragua or Sumatra, or wherever it is, to your roaster?

Cliff Young, the roastmaster general, goes to Nicaragua, or Guatemala, or Costa Rica, or Colombia—I go to every country except for the African countries. I might buy from brokers who’ve been in the business for 30 years. I go visit farms. I learned years ago that just because it’s from, you know, Columbia, it doesn’t mean it’s good coffee. Columbia grows a lot of bad coffee, and so does Guatemala. The key is finding the farmers who take care of their crops, who are making sure they have the right fertilizers, natural, and that they’re feeding (their crops). Then you pay them properly … so they’re making money, and I get a great product.

I just got back from Nicaragua, where I’ve been going since ’03—(with) some of the best coffees ever. Luckily, I took one of my roasting friends with me, a kid who used to work for me, who now owns my very first coffeehouses in Redlands, and is roasting and doing a good job. We bought the entire crop. He said, “This is the best coffee we’ve ever had,” and thank god he has a bigger credit card than me. Then we book shipping containers and get it up here. It takes us a couple of weeks. Then I hold it … in a controlled environment. Even though we’re out in the desert, I have a controlled warehouse, because I want to keep that moisture content at 12 percent in that raw bean, so I have something to work with when it’s time to roast.

I think that’s what sets me apart: I travel. I know the farmers, and I make sure the farmers are taken care of. I enjoy traveling to these countries and making sure that not just the farm, but the local community, is taken care of.

Since you started doing this full-time again, how’s the reception been?

I thought it would be better, because I thought, “OK, I know so many of the shops and the restaurateurs in the valley; they’ve been on my television show, and on my radio shows,” so I thought they would just crawl all over me. It’s tough, and I know part of it is that I’m new. There are a couple other roasters out here that have been doing it for three years, or five years. I’ve got 25 years under my belt, and there’s a world of difference. I think I just have to put my product in front of them and let them try it, and compare it to anybody else’s, and they’ll notice the difference.

Where can your coffee be found right now?

A couple of the places in the Coachella Valley are Heirloom Craft Kitchen in La Quinta … and Wabi Sabi (Japan Living) and Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace in downtown Palm Springs; Oscar’s just picked us up, and Alebrije Bistro Mexico. … It took me about three tries to get a roast level that they were happy with. Theirs is really a half dark and half city roast.

You’re actually customizing your coffee for your different clients?

Yeah, I try to customize it for each restaurant, because … different coffees go with different foods. For Alebrije and the Mexican food with a little more fat in it, I wanted to get a darker roast in there that cleanses the palate. If I was going into more of a strictly breakfast restaurant, I’m going to stick with a little bit of a lighter roast.

What’s the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had?

It was on one of my first trips to Nicaragua in 2004. We didn’t want to stay in the city with the farm owner at their nice house, so we stayed at the farm with the workers, because I thought, “Oh, how cute, I want to pick coffee.” Well, that lasted about a half-hour, because it’s hard, and it was raining, and I’m falling down. … We stayed there at the farm in their new building, which just meant it was a one-room building with a concrete floor. Every day, we had black beans and rice and tortillas. You could hear the cook when she got to work at 5 a.m., because you could just hear slap, slap, slap as she’s making tortillas in the morning.

What made it good was … we figured out everything: We got a great coffee; we brewed it correctly. Roasted correctly, coffee has natural sugars in it, and you know you’ve done it right when people are putting less and less flavored syrups or sweeteners in their coffee. We take that liquid, that 12 percent moisture, and we caramelize (the bean) correctly at the right heat, and we have about 5 seconds while we can turn that into sugar, or we can destroy it. … (It’s not) full of sugar; it’s not that kind of sweet. It’s smooth. It’s almost velvety.

Most of us drink our coffee at home. When you’re making coffee for the general public, you can’t really customize it to a food, like you are for a restaurant. What do you do to make sure that coffee is great?

What am I doing? I’m packing it into a plastic bag with a valve that releases the carbon dioxide, because as coffee ages, it’s letting out (carbon dioxide). After a couple of weeks, all the gas is gone; all the CO2 is gone. CO2 is good, because it also moves flavors around in your mouth, so once all the CO2 is gone, it’s stale, old coffee.

When you get coffee, grind it right before you brew it, because within a few minutes of grinding coffee, 50 percent of those oils and the flavor disappear. So grind it fresh, and then use good water. If you drink your water from the tap, and it tastes good, then it’s good. We don’t have to over-complicate this. Buy a decent grinder—you can get one for $30. So you have good, fresh-ground coffee, good water and hot water—water’s got to be right off of the boil, about 202 degrees. That’s the issue with a lot of home coffee makers—they don’t get hot enough, and if you don’t get hot enough, you’re not extracting everything you want to.

Published in Features & Profiles

New: So Cal-Based Chain Luna Grill Opens Its Doors in Palm Desert

Luna Grill claims to be “one of the country’s hottest fast-casual concepts.” While we are not sure exactly what that means, we are sure that the 39th and newest Luna Grill is located in Palm Desert, at 73405 Highway 111, in Palm Desert—and we’re also sure that the Mediterranean-style food being served there is pretty darned delicious.

Independent contributor Kevin Fitzgerald and I were fortunate enough to attend a pre-opening training-day lunch at Luna. I ordered the chicken kabob and gyros plate ($14.95) while Kevin had the chicken wrap ($9.50), and we split the handcrafted spinach pie ($5.25) as a starter. While we had minor quibbles—the chicken in Kevin’s wrap was a little dry, and the rice on my plate needed a bit more flavor—everything was delicious (especially that gyro meat!).

The first Luna Grill opened in 2004, and there are now locations across Southern California, as well as in the Dallas, Texas, area. The company is in a “strategic growth push,” according to a news release, so don’t be surprised to be more locations popping up.

For more information, or to order food online, visit lunagrill.com.


Roc’s Firehouse Grille Cancels NFL Sunday Ticket in Protest of the Protests

On Oct. 4, ROC’s Firehouse Grille, located at 36891 Cook St., in Palm Desert, made an announcement on Facebook: Owner Roland O. Cook was cancelling the restaurant’s subscription to DIRECTV and NFL Sunday Ticket due to the ongoing player protests, during which some players are kneeling during the national anthem.

In the lengthy announcement, Cook—a former firefighter—said that he supported the rights of the players to protest, but that cops and military officers are his friends, and he thinks political divisions are “killing” the country.

“It’s a sure recipe for destroying our children's future,” he wrote. “Damn, can’t you leave politics out of football and just play the game on Sunday? Emphasis on ‘play’ and ‘game.’”

The announcement was followed by hundreds of comments both in support of and opposition to ROC’s decision. The public comment chain is at times moving, at times horrifying (with some definite ignorance and racism here and there), and completely fascinating.

While I disagree in principle with Cook’s decision, I admire his willingness to take a stand for something in which he believes. Beyond that, I’ll leave the pros-and-cons discussion of these player protests—started by Colin Kaepernick, regarding the disproportionate number of deaths of minorities at the hands of law enforcement in this country—for other sections of this newspaper, and simply refer you to www.facebook.com/ROCsFirehouseGrille, where you can read Cook’s announcement and the many, many comments that follow.


In Brief

So long, Appetito. The “Cal-Italian Deli” at 1700 S. Camino Real, in Palm Springs, has closed its doors. A sign went up saying the place would be closed for deep cleaning … and then everything inside disappeared. … Also closed: Palmie French Restaurant, which was located at 44491 Town Center Way in Palm Desert. … And now some good news: Numerous new restaurants continue to open along Highway 111 in Palm Desert. In addition to Luna Grill, the second valley location of Dragon Sushi will soon be opening—if it hasn’t already—at 72261 Highway 111. The original Dragon Sushi, at 82451 Highway 111, in Indio, is wildly popular. Let’s hope this new Dragon Sushi location lasts longer than a short-lived Cathedral City incarnation did three years ago. Search for Dragon Sushi Palm Desert on Facebook for more info. … Just down the street, the second Pokehana is open, at 73405 Highway 111, following in the footsteps of the original location in La Quinta. Learn more at www.pokehana.com. … Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, at 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has hired Alen Badzak as the new executive chef. Badzak’s resume includes stints at the Europa Restaurant at the Villa Royale Inn, The Nest and The New York Company Restaurant. He replaces Jennifer Town, who moved over to Melvyn’s/Ingleside Inn. Learn more at purpleroompalmsprings.com. … Local wine-seller and social club Mood Wine is holding a red-wine tasting at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 15, at Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace, at 276 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Food bites will be paired with the wines on offer; tickets are $57.30. Find more information and a ticket link at www.facebook.com/moodwinellc. … Mark your calendars: The Palm Desert Food and Wine festival will return March 23-25, 2018. Get tickets or sign up for updates at www.palmdesertfoodandwine.com. … If you don’t want to wait until March for local food-fest fun, no worries: The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival is slated for Feb. 17, 2018. Head to www.ranchomiragewineandfoodfestival.com for tickets and details.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

What: The Breakfast Sandwich

Where: Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace, 276 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $7.95

Contact: 760-322-6666; tippersgourmetmarketplace.com

Why: It’s a terrific meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

I was running errands around 5 p.m. one recent late afternoon/early evening when my stomach started telling me it was hungry.

More specifically, it was hungry for breakfast. (My stomach clearly does not care what time of day it is when it comes to what it craves.) I was in downtown Palm Springs, so I knew right where to go to make my tummy happy.

Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace, tucked into the rear of the Henry Frank Arcade across the street from the Hyatt, specializes in breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes that can be enjoyed either onsite or to-go. While the breakfast sandwich is obviously on the breakfast menu, Felix Tipper and his crew have the good sense to offer it all day long.

And what a sandwich it is: A fried egg is placed atop toasted sourdough bread along with Gruyere cheese, bacon, tomato and a special aioli. The sandwich doesn’t look especially pretty, but it tastes freaking fantastic. And at $7.95, it’s a pretty great deal, to boot.

While the breakfast sandwich holds my heart, Tipper’s menu includes all sorts of yummy things. Breakfast offerings include quiche, pancakes (cinnamon banana sour cream!) and traditional fare, while lunchtime brings all sorts of sandwiches and salads, and dinner keeps it simple: You can get chicken, or Italian turkey meatloaf.

I must admit that I’ve never actually tried the chicken or the meatloaf. Every time I’ve been at Tipper’s late in the day, I’ve been unable to resist that breakfast sandwich, and as fantastic as it is, I’m not sure I’ll ever try the chicken or meatloaf—unless perhaps I bring a friend and talk him or her into ordering one of those dinner entrées, and I steal a bite.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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

New: Elixir at the V Palm Springs Hotel

Could Palm Springs be entering an era when hotel-pool restaurants are all the rage with locals?

Given the wild success of Reservoir at the Arrive Hotel, at 1551 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, it’s possible—especially if the new restaurants at the V Palm Springs live up to their potential.

The V Palm Springs, located at 333 E. Palm Canyon Drive, is not quite finished yet; about half of the former Curve hotel opened just before April’s big music festivals, with the rest of the rooms slated to open later this year.

As for the food: The V’s owners enlisted the help of the New York-based Blank Slate Group to develop the restaurant concepts. Keep your fingers crossed that Solstice, the V’s signature restaurant, will be open late this summer (i.e., September or so). Press materials say Solstice “will be a desert-inspired, simple, modern American restaurant and cocktail lounge, serving creative farm-to-table fare with a commitment to the freshest locally sourced ingredients,” during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Slated for the menu are dishes including “roasted bass with preserved blood orange, fiddleheads, spring peas and lemon balm,” and “grilled skirt steak with cilantro spaetzle, black garlic puree, crispy shiitake and mache.”

You don’t have to wait to check out Elixir Pool Bar and Grill, which opened in mid-April. “Asian-fusion BBQ fare” is the emphasis here, with dishes including a green curry guacamole for starters, and entrées including fried rice noodles with sautéed vegetables.

During a preview event at the V, I was able to taste a couple of the V’s signature cocktails. I especially enjoyed the Cucumber Crush, with citrus-infused vodka, cucumber juice, lime, Velvet Falernum and pineapple.

Brian Kabateck, one of the attorneys who owns the V, told me he does not want the V to just be enjoyed by visitors.

“The local community is very important to us,” he said.

Get more information at vpalmsprings.com.


United Way of the Desert’s Annual Gala This Year Is ‘Shaken, Not Stirred’

Like martinis? Want to help out a fine cause? Have an extra $275 sitting around?

If your answer to all of those questions is, “Why, sure!” you’ll want to get your tickets for “Shaken, Not Stirred,” the 2016 edition of the annual gala put on by the United Way of the Desert.

It takes place at 6 p.m., Friday, May 6, at the Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage, at 68900 Frank Sinatra Drive. Your $275 will get you live music, dancing, entertainment—and, of course, signature martinis!

For more details, call 760-323-2731, or visit www.unitedwayofthedesert.org.


In Brief

The Funkey family—the people behind Giuseppe’s, Bar and Smoke Tree BBQ, all located in Palm Springs—have opened a second Smoke Tree BBQ location in Palm Desert, at 73850 Highway 111. Get smoked pork baby-back ribs, Angus choice brisket and other yummy food, plus cocktails, daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; smoketreebbq.com. … Chad Gardner, the owner of Dash and a Handful catering and Pho 533, has announced plans to open a new restaurant at the Andaz Palm Springs, 400 N. Palm Canyon Drive, when it opens in 2017. Fez Modern Moroccan will emphasize Moroccan fare, obviously, as well as vegan and vegetarian delights. Keep up to date at www.facebook.com/fezmodernmoroccan. ... We were zooming down the road through Rancho Mirage the other day when we noticed a sign announcing that Fisherman’s Crab Restaurant would soon be taking over the old Crab Pot location at 70030 Highway 111. That’s all we know for now; watch this space for more information. … Coming soon to the Henry Frank Gallery at 276 N. Palm Canyon Drive: Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace. From the Facebook page: “Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace is poised to be the No. 1 destination when it comes to quality grab-and-go-prepared foods in Palm Springs. The store will be an international market and deli that will feature a signature rotisserie chicken. In addition to the chicken, the store will offer prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner items as well as specialty food items and gifts from around the world.” Watch www.tippersgourmetmarketplace.com for updates. … Downtown Palm Springs’ La Plaza will soon be the home of Grand Central Palm Springs. Restaurant veteran Aaron Rogers is the general manager, and the restaurant’s website says Grand Central will have a full bar and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Expect the fare to be “American contemporary, a mix of updated classics and comfort foods” using locally sourced, sustainable ingredients where possible. Visit www.grandcentralpalmsprings.com for more information.

Published in Restaurant & Food News