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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Palm Desert Food and Wine Fest Returns

It’s March in the Coachella Valley—and that means it is time for the ritziest, fanciest food fest the desert has to offer: The Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival will take place Friday through Sunday, March 22-24.

Actually, the classes, tastings and various events start several days before that, but the biggest event of them all is the Grand Tasting, which takes place at the Gardens on El Paseo, 73545 El Paseo, from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd. Tickets start at $100 and include tastes of food from 40 restaurants, as well as all sorts of wine and spirits samples. If you want to get in early for the VIP portion, or attend an exclusive chef demo even earlier than that, it’ll cost you a little bit more.

On Sunday, there’s another grand tasting, also from noon to 3 p.m.—this one called “North to South: Food of the Americas.” It promises “a menu of inspired dishes, influenced by the different spices and foods native to the Americas and infused with each participating chef’s signature style.” This tasting also starts at $100 and includes spirits, wine, craft beer and cocktails.

Beyond the tastings, there are a dozen or so other events featuring local talent, as well as celebrity chefs you’ve seen on TV. Best of all: The whole thing benefits FIND Food Bank and the James Beard Foundation. In other words, you can splurge and engage in a bit of high-brow gluttony with a completely clear conscience!

For tickets and more information, visit www.palmdesertfoodandwine.com.


In Brief

Coming soon to downtown Palm Springs’ La Plaza: French Miso Café, “A romantic and modern French café with wonderful Japanese influences,” according to the café’s Facebook page. It could open any day now, if it hasn’t already; look for French Miso Café on Facebook, and watch for updates. … Mark your calendars: On Saturday, April 6, La Quinta Brewing Co.’s Palm Desert location, at 77917 Wildcat Drive, will host the CountryFest 2019 parking-lot party. It’s a fundraiser for the Desert Cancer Foundation, and $15 gets you a souvenir party cup along with a day of beer, barbecue and country music from Rick Shelley and headliners Leaving Austin. The parking lot opens at 2 p.m., with Leaving Austin taking the stage at 6:30 p.m.; get tickets at the Palm Desert taproom or at lqbccountryfest2019.bpt.me. … Something very cool is coming to the city of Coachella: The Coachella Food Truck Park will set up shop at 1609 Fourth St., and is celebrating its grand opening on Saturday, March 16. The night before, Coachella Magazine will be hosting its Poets and Provocateurs party there; it’s an open-mic event featuring DJ Big Cali. Get more info and watch for updates at www.facebook.com/CVFoodTrucks. … Morongo Casino Resort, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon, will again be the spot for monthly live broadcasts of Chris Carter’s Breakfast With the Beatles radio show. The broadcasts take place along with a buffet on Sundays at the Cielo Steakhouse, located on the 27th floor of the resort. According to the news release, KLOS 95.5’s Breakfast With the Beatles is “a living encyclopedia of all things Beatles. Carter’s shows feature stories about the band, rare interview tracks with the boys, as well as loads of hit music, live performance recordings and deep tracks from the Beatles musical library.” Tickets for the 21-and-older broadcast and brunch are $45; get tickets and more info, including a schedule, at www.morongocasinoresort.com. … New to Palm Desert: Coachella Pho, serving Vietnamese food at 72286 Highway 111. More details at www.coachellapho.com. … Also new to Palm Desert: Solano’s Bar and Grill, at 37029 Cook St. It’s the sister restaurant to Solano’s Bistro in La Quinta; details at solanosbarandgrill.com. … Loco Charlie’s Mexican Grill, which has earned a lot of fans in Palm Springs at 1751 N. Sunrise Way, just opened a second location in Indio, at 42250 Jackson St. Get the scoop at www.facebook.com/lococharlies.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

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

New: Chop House at Jackalope Ranch

I must confess: Before I walked into the new Chop House for a media preview dinner on Jan. 31, I thought the move by Lee Morcus and his Kaiser Restaurant Group to re-open the steakhouse inside of Jackalope Ranch was a gimmick.

I am a big fan of the Chop House. If memory serves, the first meal I ever ate in the Coachella Valley was at the old Palm Desert Chop House (which is now a Kaiser Grille), and I had many special meals at the downtown Palm Springs Chop House before it closed last year. I was sad to see the Chop House go, and I feared Morcus and co. were simply taking a room inside the sprawling, 660-seat Jackalope Ranch; calling it “Chop House”; throwing some old Chop House items on the menu; and calling it a day.

Boy, was I wrong.

Not only did Morcus revamp and bring back the full Chop House menu; he completely renovated one of the spaces inside the Jackalope Ranch complex, and created a new, dedicated kitchen specifically for the Chop House. He’s treating the restaurants as separate entities: A special occasion here or there aside, diners can only get the Chop House menu in the Chop House area, and can only get the Jackalope Ranch menu in the other areas.

I liked what I saw and tasted. The ahi tuna tartare ($16) was amazingly fresh, and the heirloom tomato and buratta salad ($12) was excellent. Unfortunately, I had to leave early due to other commitments, so I didn’t get to sample any of the main courses, like the 36-ounce Tomahawk rib chop for two ($98, with two sides).

Morcus is clearly taking the new Chop House seriously. He spoke at great length about all of the work he and his team have put into the new space, and talked passionately about the quality of meat he serves—aged at least 28 days, and never pre-sliced.

He also hinted at future plans for the Jackalope Ranch complex: He mentioned the possibility of a separate microbrewery/restaurant concept taking over a third kitchen in the building, and noted that Indio could perhaps use a hotel on some of the adjacent vacant land.

The Chop House at Jackalope Ranch is located at 80400 Highway 111, in Indio. For more information, call 760-342-1999, or visit www.thejackaloperanch.com/chop-house.


In Brief

Do you have your tickets yet for the Palm Desert Food and Wine festival? If not, now is the time: The foodie-dream weekend takes place Friday, March 24, through Sunday, March 26. Chefs’ demonstrations, wine dinners and other special events are on the schedule, along with the Grand Tasting main event. Grand Tasting tickets start at $100. Get them and more info at www.palmdesertfoodandwine.com. … If you have not yet tried the new menu at the Village Pub, at 266 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, do so. PR goddess Chris Martelo invited me to lunch there one recent weekday, and I was impressed by chef George Gonzalez’s food. The menu offers entrées from locales world-round, and my mouth now waters whenever I think of the fantastic gorgonzola, chicken and pear salad. Mere bar food, this ain’t. Visit palmspringsvillagepub.com for more info. … The downtown Palm Springs Pho Vu is no more. The restaurant, at 285 S. Palm Canyon Drive, has changed ownership and is now called Fuzion Five Vietnamese and Lao Cuisine. We’ll share more details after we check the place out; in the meantime, visit www.facebook.com/fuzionfive. … Congratulations to La Quinta Brewing Co., which nabbed two medals in the Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend, Ore.: a gold for the Heatwave Amber Ale, and a silver for the Tan Line Brown Ale. … Congratulations are also in order for two beloved local restaurants which are among Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for 2017: Rancho Mirage’s Shabu Shabu Zen and Sake Bar came in at No. 78, while Indio’s TKB Bakery and Deli is No. 5. Amazing! … Happy Sushi Ro Ba Ta, at 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has seen a change in focus in recent years—and now, it has a different name, too. Kaikou highlights ramen and poke in addition to sushi offerings; more info at www.facebook.com/KaikouRamenPokeSushi. ... Speaking of sushi: You can now get more of it in Desert Hot Springs, thanks to the debut of Best Sushi and Grill. It’s located at 13525 Palm Drive, No. 3. Visit www.bestsushigrill.com for a menu and more info. … At long last, the relocated Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club is open, at 69830 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. More info at bernies.club. … After closing rather suddenly back in September due to the death of the owner, Morongo Valley’s Willie Boys appears to be on the path toward reopening: The restaurant’s Facebook page says the restaurant is hiring for all positions. More info at www.facebook.com/willieboyssaloon.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Everything Old Is New Again: Acqua California Bistro to Open at The River

When Acqua Pazza California Bistro closed at The River back in December 2014, owner Jerry Keller told the local daily that he was ending Acqua Pazza’s 10-year run because his lease was up, and he had decided it was time for him to slow down and focus on his other restaurant, the wildly successful Lulu California Bistro in downtown Palm Springs.

Keller has apparently decided it’s time to speed up again: Acqua Pazza is coming back … sort of.

Jerry and Barbara Keller, along with The River, announced on Sept. 12 that Acqua California Bistro will open in the old Acqua Pazza space—most recently occupied by the now-shuttered BB’s at The River—this winter.

“There’s not a day that goes by when we meet someone who misses our first restaurant at The River,” said Jerry Keller in a news release. “Our customers have asked us to come back to Rancho Mirage, and we will this winter with Acqua California Bistro.”

Whatever the owners of The River did to lure the Kellers back, it was shrewd. The Rancho Mirage shopping center, at 71800 Highway 111, has been battered by negative buzz, due to various closures and empty storefronts.

“We are very excited to welcome Acqua California Bistro into our mix of retail shopping, dining and entertainment experiences, and of course, to welcome the Keller family back to Rancho Mirage,” said Ungar Kung, the principal at CL Asset Management, the owners’ representative of The River, in a could-only-be-said-in-a-press-release statement. “Acqua Pazza was an important destination restaurant during the first 15 years or so in The River’s history. I am confident that the Kellers will bring the same energy and excitement back to this location with their new Acqua California Bistro.”

Expect a December opening. Visit www.facebook.com/AcquaRanchoMirage for details and updates.


Taste of Palm Springs Returns to Colony 29 on Oct. 11

Every year, the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce puts on the 2016 Business Expo and Taste of Palm Springs. The good folks there will like you to know that the annual Business Expo—which takes place at the Colony 29, nestled against the mountain at 147 S. Tahquitz Drive, in Palm Springs—will feature more than 100 businesses showing off products and services from 5 to 9 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 11.

OK, well, that’s nice. But what about … you know, the Taste of Palm Springs part? Here’s the scoop: More than 30 area restaurants will offer bites of their fare, along with beer and wine—and there’s a cocktail bar there to boot.

Now we’re talking!

Admission to the event is technically free, but you’ll want to pay $25 for a wristband that allows you to enjoy the food, beer and wine. Also, a tip: Park at one of the downtown garages, and get to and from the festival at Colony 29 by catching one of the special Buzz trollies at Tahquitz Canyon Way and Cahuilla Road, or Palm Canyon Drive and Baristo Road.

Participating bars and restaurants are slated to include Appetito, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse, Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge, Frankinbun, Lulu California Bistro, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill, Ruby’s Diner, Sherman’s Delicatessen and Bakery, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace, TRIO, Woody’s Palm House and a whole bunch more!

Get those wristbands and more information by calling 760-325-1577, or visiting pschamber.org.


In Brief

Man, a lot of good stuff is coming to the 1000s section of North Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs—including Draughtsman, at what used to be a Pizza Hut at 1501 N. Palm Canyon Drive. The “renderer of fine foods and craft beer” should open within a month or two. Visit www.facebook.com/draughtsmanpalmsprings for photos, details and updates. … What’s going on at Rocky’s New York Style Pizzeria, at 12856 Palm Drive, in Desert Hot Springs? The place often closes for the summer—but last we looked, not only is Rocky’s still closed; the inside has been gutted. When you call Rocky’s phone number, a message reassures callers that Rocky’s will reopen in the fall. Hmmm. Something either really bad or really good is happening; we’ll keep our eye on things. … Fans of donuts and good coffee, rejoice! Dunkin Donuts is supposed to open sometime in October at 42225 Jackson St., in Indio. … It’s been a rough couple of months for mid-valley chain restaurants. Both Richie’s Real American Diner, inside the Westfield Palm Desert at 72840 Highway 111, and Johnny Rockets, at 71885 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage, have closed their doors. … Keep your eyes on the space at 73330 El Paseo, in Palm Desert: Yard House Restaurants founder Steele Platt announced on Facebook that he is working on Grafton’s Steakhouse, slated to open in the summer of 2017. It’ll be a two-story restaurant with an island bar, a rooftop deck with mountain views, and all sorts of premium meats. We shall keep you posted. … Tickets are now on sale for the Palm Desert Food and Wine festival, slated for March 24-26, 2017. Head to palmdesertfoodandwine.com to get ’em; grand tasting tickets start at $100. 

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Bernie's Supper Club Gives Up on Palm Springs and Heads for Rancho Mirage

When we last checked in with the good folks at Bernie’s Supper Club, back in July of last year, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before reconstruction began at 292 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs—the site where the restaurant more or less burned to the ground on Christmas Day of 2014. The Palm Springs Planning Commission had approved plans, and it seemed like full steam ahead.

“The owners hope the brand-new building will be completed by this December,” we wrote.

Well, that did not happen—and it turns out that a Palm Springs rebirth of Bernie’s is not happening at all.

Co-owners Geoff McIntosh and Rand Howell announced in February via Facebook that they had closed escrow on the building at 69830 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage, that was once a Marie Callender’s and was most recently Dhat Island.

What happened to the Palm Springs plans? McIntosh did not return a message left for him before our press deadline, but comments left on the Bernie’s Facebook page indicate that Palm Springs red tape eventually strangled the plans to death—whereas the city of Rancho Mirage was more than happy to welcome the restaurant into an existing building.

According to the Facebook page, McIntosh and Howell hope to have the much-larger Bernie’s open sometime in May. That seems overly optimistic to us here at Independent World Headquarters, but we hope we’re wrong.

Follow the progress at www.facebook.com/Berniesfans.


Save the Date: Palm Desert Food and Wine Fest Slated for April 8-10

Foodies, listen up and mark your calendars: The annual Palm Desert Food and Wine festival will take place Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10.

This year’s events include the James Beard Gourmet Four-Course Luncheon on Friday, featuring food from renowned chefs including former Iron Chef Cat Cora, as well as drink from Wine Australia ($125 to $150). The usual grand tastings ($100; $135 for VIP) with treats from more than 40 restaurants—as well as all sorts of wine and champagne—will take place on and Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

This year’s festival location is new: The goings-on have moved just a smidge down El Paseo, to the parking facility for the Gardens on El Paseo, located at 73545 El Paseo.

Get tickets, info and other forms of foodie enlightenment at palmdesertfoodandwine.com.


In Brief

A note to all of you Fatburger fans, like me, who were crushed when the Ramon Road location in Palm Springs closed several years ago: The Palm Desert Fatburger is finally open! Find it at 72261 Highway 111, right next to wing-joint Buffalo’s Café (a new concept from the owners of Fatburger). If you have problems finding it, you’re not alone: When last I drove by, I saw no signage on Highway 111 whatsoever. The restaurants can be found on the back side of the complex; enter the parking lot off of Fred Waring Drive across from the Desert Crossing shopping center. … If you have not heard already, we bring you sad news from Cathedral City: The much-loved El Gallito, located at 68820 Grove St., is closing this spring after almost four decades in business. Call 760-328-7794 for details. … We’ve mentioned the possible, maybe, hopefully impending opening of WTF and Buzz Bar, in the old Dink’s space at 2080 N. Palm Canyon Drive, a couple of times in recent months. Well, forget what we’ve said: It ain’t happening. A for-lease sign is back in front of the building. What went wrong? While we have heard various rumors, all we know for sure is the deal that would have placed WTF in the space fell through, and that money was involved. Sigh. … The Pet Rescue Center’s 18th Annual Western Barbecue Birthday Party will take place at J&J Ranch, 58300 Almonte Drive, in La Quinta, from 5 to 9 p.m., Sunday, March 13. Enjoy food, wine, music, a silent auction—you know, the usual stuff at a benefit for a great cause. Tickets are $90; call 760-398-7722, or visit coachellapetrescuecenter.org. … Can you believe Lulu California Bistro, at 200 S. Palm Canyon Drive, has never hosted a wine dinner in its almost five years of existence? Fact. That will change on Wednesday, March 9, when the iconic restaurant joins forces with Cakebread Cellars for a six-course, wine-paired feast. It’ll cost you $99.99; reservations are a must, so call Lulu at 760-327-5858 posthaste!

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Foodies from around Southern California and beyond have descended on Palm Desert this weekend for the 2014 Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival.

At the Saturday, March 22, grand tasting, attendees dealt with sweltering heat inside of the giant white tent on Larkspur Lane, just off of El Paseo. Despite the toasty temps, however, people seemed to have a great time, enjoying bites of food from various local restaurants, as well as sips of wine and cocktails from various vendors.

The Food and Wine Festival also spawned various food-related satellite events, such as the Taste of the Saguaro. Jose Garces—the Iron Chef and head of the Garces Group, which operates Tinto and El Jefe at the Saguaro—came to town for the weekend, and attended a special dinner at the Saguaro on Friday, as well as an event called Taste of the Saguaro on Saturday.

The Independent attended the Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival's grand tasting on Saturday afternoon, and the Taste of the Saguaro on Saturday evening. Scroll down to enjoy some photos from the events.

Published in Snapshot