CVIndependent

Sat09222018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The morning BLT

Where: Grand Central Palm Springs, 160 La Plaza, Palm Springs

How much: $16

Contact: 760-699-7185; www.grandcentralpalmsprings.com

Why: It’s a sophisticated, tasty take on a classic.

Here’s the story of Grand Central Palm Springs’ opening, as told through our Restaurant News Bites column:

April 26, 2016: “Downtown Palm Springs’ La Plaza will soon be the home of Grand Central Palm Springs.”

Nov. 28, 2017: “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. … And then nothing happened. … Rita Capponi, a partner in the project, said it would likely open sometime in January, if not before.”

March 30, 2018: “The much, much delayed opening of Grand Central Palm Springs … is apparently close.”

May 22, 2018: “Grand Central Palm Springs is finally open!”

Whew! And the news gets even better: Grand Central was worth the wait.

I stopped in one recent morning for breakfast with my friend Brad, and I was immediately struck by how interesting the space is. First, it’s huge; second, it’s gorgeous in a decidedly “classic” way. The La Plaza building, once home to Desmond’s department store, was built in 1936. The old, historic nature of the building—which had been vacant for more than a decade—is what led to all of the delays, Capponi told me.

Then there’s the food … which is creative and delicious. Brad had the palm sugar waffles—“sweet waffles with Nueske applewood bacon and our own cherry butter,” the menu says—and he loved them. I was in more of a mood for savory food, though, so I was ecstatic that I ordered the morning BLT, featuring the aforementioned Nueske bacon, a double-yolk poached egg, heirloom tomatoes and lemon arugula, placed on a piece of grilled sourdough bread topped with avocado dressing. Fantastic.

Grand Central is only serving breakfast and lunch now, but dinner service is slated to start sometime in October. This is a new restaurant to watch; something truly special may be taking place at Grand Central.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The wild mushroom soup

Where: Acqua California Bistro, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; also at Lulu California Bistro, 200 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $5.99-$8.99 depending on menu; also available on special menus

Contact: 760-862-9800; www.acquaranchomirage.com (Acqua); 760-327-5858; www.lulupalmsprings.com (Lulu)

Why: It’s consistently delicious.

Whenever I go to Acqua California Bistro (or Lulu California Bistro, for that matter), I have a problem: Even though the menu is rather expansive and varied, I almost always feel the need to order the same thing—the wild mushroom soup.

Why, you may ask, do I feel the need to always order a hot soup, when the local temperatures often can best be described as “convection oven”?

The answer is simple: It’s really, really tasty. This soup is not much to look at, but it makes my taste buds happy. The earthy and even meaty flavor of the mushrooms is enhanced by perfect seasoning—including just a touch of truffle oil. Yum!

Actually, my “need” to always order the wild mushroom soup isn’t really much of a problem. If I sit in the bar area, where it’s pretty much always happy hour, I can enjoy the soup for just $5.99, meaning there’s room in my budget to order something else. And if I am not sitting in the bar area, the soup is included as an offering on all of Acqua’s discounted prix-fixe menus. In other words, I can always get the soup and an entrée and a dessert for less than $20. Awesome.

On my recent visit to Acqua, I “splurged” and ordered from the $29.99 four-course menu (a fine deal!). I started with the soup, and then enjoyed the ahi tuna on crispy wontons before having the sirloin-steak salad as my entrée, and finishing with the lemon tart. All of it was great … but it’s the mushroom soup that makes my mouth water every time I think of it.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The three-scoop bowl

Where: Haus of Poké, 111 N. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 160, Palm Springs; also at 42500 Bob Hope Drive, No. 3, Rancho Mirage

How much: $11.49

Contact: 760-537-1173 (Palm Springs); 760-636-1892 (Rancho Mirage); www.hausofpoke.com

Why: It’s make-your-own bliss—if you do so carefully.

Sometimes, when we’re given too many options in life, we make mistakes.

Such was the case for me on a recent lunch visit to the new downtown Palm Springs House of Poké. I knew I wanted a nice, healthyish bowl of fish yumminess; however, I didn’t think much about the specific form that yumminess would take.

When I walked in and looked at all of the choices … it was almost overwhelming. How many scoops … with a choice of nine proteins? Which of the five base ingredients? Which of six mix-ins? Which of 10 sauces? Which of more than a dozen toppings?

Not sure about all this, I just winged it: I decided on three scoops, split between ahi tuna and yellowtail. (Shrimp and octopus were also strong candidates. The tofu and the beets? Not so much.) I went with just one mix-in, the green onions. I got two sauces—eel sauce and ponzu—and two toppings: crab meat and crispy garlic, with pickled ginger on the side.

I paid for my order, sat down, and eagerly dove in. And I didn’t like it.

There was nothing wrong with the ingredients; they were great, in fact. The problem was that I came up with a concoction that did not work with my palate at that time. The eel sauce overwhelmed the fish and the crab, and conflicted with the crispy garlic; there was not enough ponzu sauce to keep the rice moist, in part because I said I only wanted a “medium” amount of the sauces combined.

I decided to go back for lunch the next day—after giving more thought to things. This time, I got salad and chips as my base, ahi tuna as my protein, green onions as my mix-in, mustard ponzu (after trying it first to see how it tasted) as my one sauce, and crab meat as my only topping.

It was amazing. It was so good, in fact, that I had to talk myself out of going to Haus of Poké for lunch a third day in a row.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Italian ice

Where: Vinny’s Italian Ice and Frozen Custard, 190 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $7 as shown

Contact: 760-904-4625; vinnysitalianice.com

Why: It’s a tasty, cooling treat.

By this time of year, even the heartiest desert-dwellers are simply done with the oppressive heat.

We all have our tricks for dealing with the 110-degree-plus temps, ranging from 24-hour pool access to constant near-nudity to diets consisting of nothing but cold alcoholic beverages. Well, my friends, I recently discovered another helpful tool in the battle with the summer sizzle: the Italian ice at Vinny’s, in downtown Palm Springs.

Italian ice is apparently more of an East Coast thing—I haven’t lived farther east than Tucson, Ariz., so I wouldn’t know—that’s akin to sorbet, in that it doesn’t contain any milk, dairy or egg. As a result, it’s less creamy, but healthier—and it’s really, really cold.

On a recent trip to Vinny’s—which also serves house-made custard and gelato, for those of you who like your cold treats with a little more heft—I got a medium-sized cup, which included three scoops. I decided to mix it up with three decidedly different flavors: vanilla, mango and pecan pie. All three scoops were delicious and oh-so-refreshing; the tastiest was the mango, although the pecan pie was the most interesting.

If I have one complaint … it’s that Vinny’s offerings are rather pricey. I get it; it takes time and money to take quality ingredients and turn them into great, house-made products; it also costs money to pay for rent, employees, air conditioning, etc. However, I also understand that when cash is tight, it might make more sense to go to the store and spend $3 to $5 on a quart and a half of ice cream.

When money’s not an issue, and the heat is an issue, I can promise you: I’ll be at Vinny’s enjoying some cold, delicious Italian ice.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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

What: Ice cream (specifically, the cookies and kreem)

Where: Kreem, 170 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $6 for two scoops, as shown

Contact: 760-699-8129; www.ilovekreem.com

Why: It’s revelatory … but your favorite flavor may not always be available.

There’s something to be said for mass-produced products.

Take, for example, a Snickers bar. If I want a Snickers bar—pretty much any time day or night, and pretty much anywhere in the world—I can get a Snickers bar. It’s that simple.

Alas, the same cannot be said for the cookies and kreem ice cream at Kreem.

When I made my inaugural visit to the newish “artisanal ice cream and coffee shop”—located in the part of Palm Springs where Palm Canyon Drive changes from a north-south thoroughfare into an east-west road—I ordered the cookies and kreem ice cream. It beat out flavors including strawberry rose, lavender coffee, vegan turmeric ginger and vegan ube … and it was revelatory. It got better with each passing bite, and when I was finished, I had to talk myself out of ordering more.

Flash forward to several days later, when I decided to take an ice cream break from work. I hopped in the car and made the short trek to Kreem, with my mouth watering the entire way.

I walked in, opened my mouth to put in my order … and then realized cookies and kreem was not on the menu anymore. You see, all of Kreem’s ice creams are made fresh in-house, and the cookies and kreem had sold out.

The kicker: I was told more had just been made … but it had not yet set, and was therefore not ready to be served.

Sigh.

So I ordered the chocolate chip ice cream. It’s what’s shown in the picture above. It was very good. But it was not the cookies and kreem I so deeply desired.

Damn you, artisanal yumminess! Damn you!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The pizza Italia

Where: Spaghetteria Pasta and Pizza, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 13, Palm Springs

How much: $20.95 for a medium, as shown

Contact: 760-322-7647; www.facebook.com/Spaghetteria-184803948227261

Why: A bevy of tasty ingredients.

I was in the mood for pizza.

It had been a long work day—including a meeting with a friend/colleague who had extolled the virtues of the thin-crust pizza at Spaghetteria, the longtime family-owned restaurant in Palm Springs. Therefore, I put two (my hankering for pizza) and two (my friend’s recommendation) together, and called up Spaghetteria for a to-go order.

Spaghetteria offers a variety of reasonably priced pies, but the one that caught my eye was the pizza Italia, thanks to the menu description: “everything on it.” When I called in my order, I asked for some clarification. “It has all of the ingredients we offer, except for pineapple and anchovies,” the woman replied.

It turns out that not everything else offered, toppings-wise, was on the pizza; I did not see any broccoli, spinach or chicken, which are also available on Spaghetteria pizzas. However, this is not a complaint, as there were ingredients aplenty: The pizza came with mushrooms, onions, black olives, artichoke hearts, sausage, ham and pepperoni, all with mozzarella on top—and it would have had green peppers on it had I not declined ’em.

After I picked up my pizza and brought it home, I could not wait to dive in—and my friend’s recommendation rang true: This was a great pizza. The crust was tasty and had a fine texture, while all of the many ingredients were excellent. Other than the inadvertent inclusion of some inedible onion-skin pieces, I had nary a complaint.

Spaghetteria offers all sorts of other Italian fare, including, yes, spaghetti, and I look forward to trying other things there.

“From Florence with love,” it says on the menu. This makes sense: It was clear that my delicious pizza was indeed made with love.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Tom Yum Soup

Where: Thai House, 246 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $11.95

Contact: 760-778-1728; thaihousepalmsprings.com

Why: It’s a delicious pick-me-up.

Whenever I am stuffed up due to a cold or an allergy attack, I go see Nisa—and she helps me feel better.

Such was the case one recent workday. I had a crazy sinus headache, and I had a lot of work to do, so I headed to downtown Palm Springs to get some sinus-clearing chicken tom yum soup at Thai House.

The aforementioned Nisa is Nisa Hennecke, the owner of Thai House for more than four years now, and one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. She instantly recognized me and asked if I wanted the tom yum soup pot. Yes, I said. Yes, I really do.

Not only will this tasty hot-and-sour soup make one’s sinuses feel better; it’ll make one’s taste buds dance for joy. Lemongrass, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, lime juice, fresh chicken and other ingredients help make this tart but oh-so-savory soup unbelievably delicious. The presentation’s fun, too: It comes served in a hot pot, with a moat of yummy soup surrounding a lovely flame.

While I make a beeline for Thai House to order the tom yum anytime I am under the weather, the restaurant’s charms go well beyond soup; all of the food I’ve had at Thai House has been delicious, from the curries to the noodle dishes to the chef’s favorites and beyond. Oh, and the service is fantastic as well—especially when Nisa is there, as she almost always is.

Nisa is a poker dealer-turned-restaurant owner who comes from a restaurant background: Her family had a restaurant business in her native Thailand, and she’s assisted in the kitchen by her sister and brother-in-law. The family makes food with love—and it shows.

So, the next time you’re in need of some sinus-clearing soup, or, well, you’re simply hungry, go see Nisa. She and her fantastic food will help you feel better instantly.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Maple and Cardamom Coffee

Where: Ernest Coffee, 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $5.50

Contact: 760-318-4154; www.ernestcoffee.com

Why: Great ingredients make for a great beverage.

Ernest Coffee is part of a wave of great independent coffee shops that have opened in the West Valley in recent years (including Ristretto, Gré Coffeehouse and Art Gallery, 4 Paws, Joey, Custom, etc., etc.)—but several things set Ernest apart from the others.

First: It serves Stumptown Coffee, a renowned brand out of Portland, Ore., something the folks at Ernest are quite proud of. Second: It shares the space with Bootlegger Tiki (a space that once housed Don the Beachcomber, offering the building serious tiki cred), which means the place has a full liquor license—including some boozy coffee drinks on the Ernest side. Third: Ernest offers some of the more interesting coffee drinks in town—creativity spurred on, perhaps, by that aforementioned liquor license.

One of those creative drinks has become a favorite of mine. It’s listed on the menu board as “Maple and Cardamom,” with maple syrup, vanilla, cardamom and milk. Let’s dig into that a little deeper: The maple syrup is real maple syrup, and that vanilla syrup is made in-house. Add those quality ingredients to milk and good coffee, and sprinkle in cardamom—and the result is one delicious drink. It’s not a drink for everyone—the drink is quite sweet, and the aftertaste on my palate is a bit weird (a problem fixed easily by drinking something else afterward, like water)—but I think it’s fantastic.

If maple and cardamom aren’t your cup of … um, coffee, there are plenty of other unique creations on offer. (On my next visit, I’ll try the coffee with rosemary-infused white chocolate!) Oh, and fun fact: Don the Beachcomber’s real name was Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt. Now you know where the name came from!

So, go. Try something different at Ernest. You won’t regret it.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Buttermilk Pie

Where: Billy Reed’s, 1800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $5.25

Contact: 760-325-1946; www.billyreedspalmsprings.com

Why: It’s the epitome of a perfectly rich dessert.

During my first four years of residence in the Coachella Valley, I somehow never dined at Billy Reed’s, the old-school restaurant mainstay in Palm Springs.

About a year or so ago, I finally righted this culinary wrong—and instantly fell in love with the place, with its traditional American menu, its stained-glass bar décor and its reasonable prices.

Lately, I’ve been falling in love with another aspect of Billy Reed’s: Its amazing selection of yummy, house-made desserts.

On one recent visit, I was in the mood for pie, and this description of the buttermilk pie caught my eye: “Lemony with a vanilla undertone. Mysterious, a sweet tooth’s fantasy, hold on to yours, all of them.”

I was intrigued. So what if that description—particularly that second not-really-a-sentence—makes no sense it all? I ordered a piece.

Let me tell you: That description does not do this pie justice.

It’s not much to look at, but, man, a piece of this pie is something to behold once you take a bite of it. The custard-y filling is a little tart, a little creamy, and a whole lot sweet: This is one of the richest pies you’ll find in our valley’s dessert cases. It approaches and tiptoes incredibly close to the “too sweet” precipice—but never quite gets there. Even though “buttermilk” is in the name and is one of the primary ingredients, you’d have no idea it’s there based on the flavor—unless your taste buds are really paying attention.

These days, a Billy Reed’s visit with clam chowder, prime rib and a meal-concluding piece of buttermilk pie is one of my favorite meals to enjoy in the entire Coachella Valley. It’s so, so good.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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