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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Coming Soon: AsiaSF Palm Springs, to the Former Hacienda Location

A San Francisco restaurant known for its “Cal-Asian” cuisine and dinner shows featuring transgender performers is opening a Palm Springs location in the space that was once the Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club, at 1555 S. Palm Canyon Drive.

While no formal announcement has yet been made, the owners of AsiaSF let the figurative cat out of the bag by promoting auditions for the Palm Springs location in four cities (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Rancho Mirage—at the Desert Rose Playhouse—and San Francisco) on four consecutive nights in mid-July.

AsiaSF opened in 1988 in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood, founded by Larry Hashbarger and Skip Young.

“The world-famous restaurant, cabaret and nightclub is an iconic entertainment landmark that has inspired over 1 million people from all over the world with great food and entertainment,” says the AsiaSF website. “AsiaSF has been a visionary pioneer in supporting the transgender community through empowerment by creating a safe space and unique employment opportunities that showcase our beautiful transgender stars, the Ladies of AsiaSF, who not only entertain but also educate and enlighten people about the transgender experience and human diversity.”

We hear that more details about the Palm Springs location will come out shortly. Whatever those details are … it’s fantastic news that the Hacienda space will soon be alive once again. The Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club opened during the summer of 2014, but closed under a cloud of scandal in the fall of 2015, as the owner was indicted and charged in a bribery scheme involving then-Mayor Steve Pougnet. In 2016, Chris Pardo—the driving force behind the ARRIVE Palm Springs hotel—was linked to plans to build a hotel on the Hacienda property, but those plans fell through.

We’ll have more details as they develop. In the meantime, we recommend watching www.facebook.com/officialasiasf for updates.


New and Popping Up: Ni-Chome Ramen

If you’re a fan of ramen, you need to be keeping your eyes on the Wabi Sabi Japan Living Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WabiSabiJapanLiving. The owners have been taking over local restaurant spaces (like Peabody’s and Evzin Palm Springs) during times when they’re closed to offer a pop-up ramen restaurant that even has its own name: Ni-Chome Ramen.

Recent seatings have included a three-course meal plus sake and Japanese beer for the downright-reasonable price of $33. Who knows … maybe Ni-Chome Ramen will have its own home one day?

The next Ni-Chome pop-ups will take place at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Sunday, July 28, at Evzin Palm Springs, 411 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Visit that aforementioned Facebook page or www.wabisabijapanliving.com for tickets and more details.


In Brief

Coming soon to the space next to Heirloom Craft Kitchen, at 49990 Jefferson St., in Indio: Tu Madres Cantina and Grill. It’s the latest venture by Andie Hubka, the chef/owner of Heirloom and her original restaurant, La Quinta’s Cork and Fork. A post on the Cork and Fork says: “Our new concept is fresh, modern chef-driven Mexican fare and an amazing bar with a crazy tequila list and craft beer selection. Vegans and gluten-free guests will find plenty of options, too. We love Baja Mexico and are excited to bring home a taste of the culture and cuisine there.” Watch tumadrescantina.com for updates, and expect a fall opening. … Coming soon to Palm Desert: Little Bar, a speakeasy-style bar and restaurant at 73560 Highway 111. Watch www.little-bar.com for further developments. … Coming soon to 117 La Plaza, in downtown Palm Springs: Pineapple Express. We know this because we saw the “Public Notice of Application to Sell Alcoholic Beverages” sign in the window of the former Delicatesse space—but that’s all we know for now. Watch this space. … New in the former Greek Islands location at 139 E. Andreas Road, in Palm Springs: The Greek at 13, offering cocktails plus Greek and Italian fare. Learn more at www.facebook.com/thegreekps. … Returning to the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs: the eighth annual Craft Beer Weekend. Two-dozen-plus craft breweries will be on hand from noon to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 3 and 4, along with entertainment and all sorts of revelry. A one-day pass is $50; both days will cost you $85. Get tickets and a complete list of participating breweries at acehotel.com/craftbeer.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

What: The famous truffle tots

Where: Heirloom Craft Kitchen, 49990 Jefferson St., No. 100, Indio

How much: $6; $4 when added to an entrée

Contact: 760-773-2233; heirloomcraftkitchen.com

Why: The crispiness, the seasoning and the sauces.

Andie Hubka is one of the valley’s most talented restaurateurs. More than six years ago, she opened the fun and stylish dinner restaurant Cork and Fork in La Quinta; then early last year, she opened Heirloom Craft Kitchen, a fast-casual joint serving brunch, lunch and dinner in Indio.

As justifiably acclaimed as Cork and Fork is, Hubka really outdid herself with Heirloom: It’s more accessible than Cork and Fork—and the food served there is every bit as delicious.

Heirloom offers “craft sandwiches,” “crafted salads,” starters, a handful of entrées, fun brunch items and an impressive selection of vegan offerings. Everything on the menu is thoughtful and unique—so much so that on a recent lunch visit, I had one hell of a time deciding which delicious-sounding thing to order. I finally decided on the shrimp and grits with andouille sausage ($14)—and because I have a policy of trying anything on a restaurant menu that includes the word “famous,” I added on the famous truffle tots as a side.

The shrimp and grits were excellent—elevated, surprisingly enough, by the inclusion of small pieces of pickled jalapeños, which added a much-needed brightness to the otherwise-earthy dish. However, the highlight of the meal was the add-on: The “famous” truffle tots were downright revelatory.

Truffle oil has become such a ubiquitous ingredient on menus that it’s received a not-entirely-unjustified bit of backlash from some chefs, but the way Hubka uses it here is a perfect illustration of why it became ubiquitous in the first place: The truffle flavor doesn’t overwhelm the tots, but instead just makes them more interesting. Then there are the sauces served with the tots: The fantastic homemade ketchup (lighter and fresher-tasting than the bottled stuff) and the dill aioli (which I apparently received by mistake) were perfect matches. (I got some of the sauce I was supposed to receive, too: a truffle aioli, and while it was decent, I preferred the other two.)

Heirloom Craft Kitchen is truly a special place. And the famous truffle tots are pretty special, too.

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

Grand Central to Open Soon … Hopefully? … in Palm Springs’ La Plaza Center

More than a year ago, local foodies were all abuzz about the anticipated opening of Grand Central Palm Springs, a restaurant and event space in the historic La Plaza Center in downtown Palm Springs.

In early August 2016, Grand Central hosted a job fair; the restaurant’s Facebook page reported that 200 people had applied for jobs in person, with another 90 applications coming in online. Other posts teased menu items for the restaurant, which was going to feature American food, a coffee bar and cocktails. It seemed that Grand Central’s opening was imminent.

And then … nothing happened, at least publicly. More than 14 months went by with nary a peep on Grand Central’s fate.

Fearing Grand Central had been scrapped, I decided to try to find out what was going on. I sent a message via Grand Central’s Facebook page—and was relieved when Rita Capponi, a partner in the project, called me and assured me that Grand Central was still happening. In fact, she said it would likely open sometime in January, if not before.

“We are so close to the finish line,” she said.

So … what was the huge and apparently unexpected delay all about? Capponi said the owners greatly underestimated what it would take to get the building—built in 1936, and unoccupied for a decade—ready for business.

“We’ve been laying low, because bringing a 1936 building up to 2017 building code—well, it’s been an adventure,” she said with a weary laugh.

Capponi said what she hoped would be the “final inspections” would take place around early December. She also said she’s been buoyed by the support people have offered the Grand Central Team.

“People have been stopping by and saying, ‘We’re really rooting for you. We’re waiting for you,’” she said.

Keep your fingers crossed, and watch www.grandcentralpalmsprings.com for more information.


Agua Caliente Names Leanne Kamekona as the New Executive Chef

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has named Leanne Kamekona as its new executive chef. She oversees all of the restaurants at the resort, located at 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage.

Kamekona, according to a news release, first became smitten with the food business while working in a family-owned grocery store in her native Hawaii. She went on to graduate from the University of Hawaii, and has thus far enjoyed a career in the food/resort world spanning more than two decades.

Since arriving at Agua Caliente, she’s revamped the menu at the Waters Café, adding items ranging from a classic chicken pot pie, to a lobster roll, to saimin, a Hawaiian noodle soup featuring Portuguese sausage and fishcake in a dashi broth.

“The Hawaiian way of life continues to infuse the menus I develop with unique culinary experiences, while incorporating in the flavors that are distinctive to our Southern California location in Rancho Mirage,” Kamekona said in the type of quote that could only be found in a press release.

For more information, visit www.hotwatercasino.com.


In Brief

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and somehow missed all the fanfare: The Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs has finally opened its doors at 100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way. That means its two restaurants—4 Saints, the much-anticipated rooftop space, and Juniper Table, offering Mediterranean-inspired fare—are open, too. Get all the details you need at kimptonhotels.com. … Also now open on the same block: The fancy-schmancy Starbucks Reserve. … Down in Rancho Mirage, The River shopping center, at 71800 Highway 111, has welcomed the new Coachella Winery. The wine bar offers both bottles and glasses of wine at a variety of price points, as well as food including pizzas, salads, appetizers, piadina (Italian flatbread sandwiches) and a variety of bar snacks and appetizers. You’ll find menus and more info at www.coachellawinery.com. … Coming soon to Indio: Heirloom Craft Kitchen, at 49990 Jefferson St. It’s a new place by Andie Hubka, the owner of the much-loved Cork and Fork in La Quinta, and it’ll offer “craft sandwiches,” “crafted salads” and entrées like buttermilk fried chicken and grilled wild salmon. Oh, and then there are the sides … including truffle tots. Wow! Watch heirloomcraftkitchen.com for updates. … Mark your calendars: The 11th annual Desert Woman’s Show is coming to the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 13 and 14. The show includes Taste of the Valley, which will feature food and drink from nearly two dozen area restaurants and vendors. Tickets are $15 in advance; head to www.desertwomansshow.com/taste-of-the-valley to get ’em and learn more.

Published in Restaurant & Food News