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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

A sold-out crowd of more than 100 people enjoyed nine fantastic cocktails—all made with Ketel One Botanical vodka—at the Third Annual Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship, held Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Moxie Palm Springs.

Carlos Argumedo, of Farm, was declared the champion of the event, earning an amazing 92 points (out of 100 possible) on the judges’ scoresheets. The tally was close—three points separated first place from fourth place. Argumedo follows in the footsteps of 2018 winner Hunter Broggi, of Lulu California Bistro (who also participated in this year’s event), and 2016 winner Sherman Chan, of Trio Restaurant.

Trio’s Garrett Spicher was the Audience Choice winner.

Nine bartenders competed in the event, which sold out for the first time in its three-year history. Each competitor made tastes of their drinks for each attendee, before making full drinks for the judges: Ketel One’s Leslie Barclay; Brad Fuhr, of media sponsors Gay Desert Guide and KGAY 106.5 FM; and representatives of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week’s beneficiaries: the Desert AIDS Project’s Darrell Tucci, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s Alexis Ortega.

The championship is the highlight of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, a production of the Coachella Valley Independent. During the week, which continues through Saturday, Feb. 2, participating restaurants create a special drink for the week, or highlight an existing drink from their menus, and donate at least $2 from each drink sold during the week to the Desert AIDS Project and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert. A complete list of drinks and participants can be found at PSCraftCocktails.com.

Below is a collection of photos from the event, taken by the Independent’s Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

What: The roasted suckling pig

Where: Alebrije Bistro Mexico, 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $28

Contact: 760-537-1279; www.alebrijeps.com

Why: It’s a surprisingly refined dish.

Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week brought both disappointments and delicious finds at the handful of participants I was able to visit—but my most delicious find of all was Alebrije Bistro Mexico.

It was so delicious that Alebrije was the only place I visited twice during Restaurant Week.

Alebrije went above and beyond by offering four courses—not just the requisite three—for $39, and the food showed a level of sophistication rarely found here in the Coachella Valley. A couple of examples: The octopus ceviche ($14 on the regular menu) respected the star ingredient while wowing the taste buds. The creamy poblano soup ($8) with roasted corn and caramelized peppers was a nuanced, creamy revelation, with the spice and earthiness of the pepper enhanced and improved by the sweetness of the corn.

Either of these dishes was worthy of an endorsement—but the entrée I had on both Restaurant Week visits, as well as a follow-up visit, came out on the top of my list: the roasted suckling pig. There doesn’t seem to be all that much to the dish: There’s a pile of shredded meat with onions on top; some corn puree spread around the plate; and small dishes of black beans and salsa verde, with homemade corn tortillas on the side.

The magic happens when the ingredients are combined: Once a portion of that moist, delicious pork is placed in a delicious tortilla with a little bit of each of the other ingredients … wow.

On all of my visits so far, Alebrije has been far from busy. This, folks, is a shame: This Palm Springs restaurant is offering an upscale dining experience like no other in the Coachella Valley. Go. You will be very happy that you did.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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

Former Dish Chef Lands at Azucar; Alebrijie Lands in Former Dish Space

As the saying goes: When one door closes, another opens—and such is definitely the case in the restaurant industry.

A door closed, literally, for Joane Garcia-Colson last fall, when she shut down Dish Creative Cuisine, her well-regarded restaurant at 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs; she cited conflicts with others involved with the business as the reason. I don’t use the phrase “well-regarded” lightly: Dish, which originally opened more than five years ago in Cathedral City, made many “Best Of” lists thanks to Garcia-Colson’s amazing blend of classic technique and whimsy.

Given Garcia-Colson’s talent, it was inevitable that another door would open for her—and it did at Azucar, the restaurant at the La Serena Villas, at 339 S. Belardo Road, in downtown Palm Springs. She’s taken her former Dish sous chef with her, and we can’t wait to see what she does at Azucar; watch laserenavillas.com/azucar-restaurant-and-bar for updates.

Meanwhile, at the old Dish location, a door opened for Alebrije Bistro Mexico. The restaurant debuted on Valentine’s Day, featuring upscale Mexico City-style cuisine. That Valentine’s Day menu featured tasty treats like lamb stew, rib eye with mole de cadera, and—as an appetizer—a bone marrow thyme emulsion and shaved Parmesan.

Wow. We can’t wait to check out Alebrije ourselves. Watch the Alebrije Facebook page for updates.


New: The Craft Rancho Mirage Comes to The S at Rancho Mirage

The Desert Island Country Club, located at 71777 Frank Sinatra Drive, in Rancho Mirage, is now called The S at Rancho Mirage—and the restaurant inside the country club has been revamped and is now open to the public.

The restaurant is now The Craft Rancho Mirage. It’s being run by executive chef/partner Erick Hernandez, formerly of Escena and the Indian Canyons Golf Resort; and veteran food/beverage director John Trad.

“We are excited to invite folks into The S at Rancho Mirage Country Club to be able to have a ‘taste’ of the club life without the membership,” said John Trad in a press-release quote. “While there are so many fabulous restaurants in the valley, this specific area of Rancho Mirage is lacking in options, and we are thrilled to be able to open our doors to the general public to join us in an incredible setting.”

The menu features “fresh, high quality and locally sourced ingredients,” and includes entrées like shrimp scampi, sugar-and-spice salmon, and “The Gatsby”—blackened ahi tuna, zucchini pasta, heirloom tomatoes and wasabi beurre blanc. You’ll pay between $24 and $36 for your main course—or you can enjoy happy hour every weekday from 3 to 6 p.m. at the bar.

For more information, call 760-328-2111, or visit www.thesresort.com/dining.


In Brief

Help a new nonprofit organization get up and running, from 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, March 23, at Pirch, 71905 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Not only can you learn about Alzheimer’s Coachella Valley’s mission, programs and services; you can enjoy hors d’oeuvres, beer, wine and Pirch signature cocktails. Admission is $50; RSVP by March 9 at 760-776-3100 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. … Every year, TRIO Restaurant throws its much-anticipated “Hollywood’s Biggest Night” party during the Academy Awards, to benefit AAP-Food Samaritans. This year’s event starts at 4 p.m., Sunday, March 4; for $125 (bar seating) to $175 (VIP/premium seating), you’ll get a prix-fixe six-course dinner, well drinks, wine, champagne and the satisfaction that comes from helping out a great cause. Get tickets at aapfoodsamaritans.org or by calling 760-325-8481. … Coming soon to 170 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in the curve area of Palm Springs: Kreem Artisanal Ice Cream and Coffee. Keep your fingers crossed for an opening date here soon; watch www.facebook.com/ilovekreem for updates. … Newish to Indio: La Michoacana Real, serving up ice cream, raspados, juices and more at 81673 Highway 111; call 760-347-3939 to learn more. … Support the kids in Rancho Mirage High School’s CAFÉ Culinary Arts Department while trying their delicious creations from 5:30 to 8 p.m., Thursday, March 15. Admission is $10, and attendance is limited to 250 people—and these popular fundraisers often sell out. The school is located at 31001 Rattler Road; call the Thousand Palms Chamber of Commerce at 760-343-1988 to RSVP. Awesome! … And now for something else that’s awesome, albeit quite a bit more expensive: Citi Taste of Tennis takes place at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells from 7 to 10 p.m., Monday, March 5. For $200, you can enjoy cocktails and great cuisine while mingling with tennis greats and culinary giants, including Top Chef Richard Blais and Iron Chef Jose Garces, and local luminaries including Andrew Copley (Copley’s, AC3) and Engin Onural (The Venue, Sandfish). Get tickets at www.tasteoftennis.com/iw.

Published in Restaurant & Food News