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Sun02252018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

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

What: The queso y frijoles pupusa

Where: El Salvador Café, 1751 N. Sunrise Way, #F2

How much: $2.95

Contact: 760-322-3778

Why: It’s stunningly simple but flavorful.

We were bummed out. The front end of my car had been smooshed up in an accident a couple of days prior, and we were on our way to an auto-body shop for an insurance-mandated damage assessment.

But first … we needed a tasty lunch—and, if possible, a good cheer-up. Thankfully, El Salvador Café was able to provide us with both.

I’d been craving pupusas—thick corn tortillas stuffed with some sort of filling—after seeing them on a travel-food show recently, so in addition to the plato de antojitos ($11.50, including plantains, meat cakes, a bean and cheese pupusa and a Salvadoran-style enchilada), we also ordered a steak and cheese pupusa ($3.95) and a shrimp and cheese pupusa ($3.95).

Both the steak and shrimp pupusas were good, as were the plantains, meat cakes and the Salvadoran-style enchilada (which is something akin to a Mexican tostada). However—much to our surprise—the favorite thing we had was the bean-and-cheese pupusa.

It doesn’t get much simpler than beans, cheese and tortillas—but simple, in this case, meant delicious. I’ll be honest: I am not sure why the bean pupusa rang our figurative bells while the steak and shrimp pupusas didn’t quite reach that level (even though they were both enjoyable). My best guess is that the flavor of the earthy, savory beans just melded better with the subtle sweetness of the corn tortillas and the creaminess of the cheese.

But really … it doesn’t matter why they were so fantastic. Thanks in large part to the bean-and-cheese pupusa, we left El Salvador Café with happy taste buds, a full tummy and decidedly better dispositions—that’s what matters.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Tillamook cheddar beer soup

Where: Ein Brathaus, 117 La Plaza, Palm Springs

How much: $5.95 for a bowl; $4.50 for a cup

Contact: 760-300-3601; www.einbrathaus.com

Why: It’ll warm you up and please your taste buds.

On Ein Brathaus’ menu, next to the listing for the Tillamook cheddar beer soup, it says—rather adorably—“seasonal item.”

The calendar says it is late fall, with winter just around the corner. But we live in the Coachella Valley, and to nobody’s surprise, it was damn near 90 degrees outside as I enjoyed this “seasonal item” at Ein Brathaus.

Yes, a warm, hearty soup has a definite utility when the weather outside is frightful—and the odds are decent that we will, at some point, have a coldish day or three here soon ’round these parts. When those days are here, I suggest that you waste no time in getting to Ein Brathaus, located in the newly renovated space that formerly was home to Delicatesse in downtown Palm Springs’ La Plaza.

Not only will this cheese-beer soup warm you up; it’ll elate your taste buds. It’s everything a soup like this should be: rich and creamy, with a ton of flavor thanks to the beer and seasonings. It’s not too salty; it’s juuuust right. The soup can also, as our friendly server pointed out, make a great dip for Ein Brathaus’ soft pretzels ($4.50). I’ll take that a step further and say that it’d serve as a great dip for everything on the menu (including various German sausages, hot dogs, a pastrami sandwich, a buffalo chicken sandwich, etc.), except for perhaps the desserts and the buttermilk waffles. (Upon further reflection, I am not ruling out the waffles, either.)

This soup is so delicious that I’ll eat it whether the temp is 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Perhaps the good folks at Ein Brathaus will consider making it a soup for all seasons.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: El Cubano

Where: Chef Tanya’s Kitchen, 706 S. Eugene Road, Palm Springs

How much: $9.50

Contact: 760-832-9007; cheftanyapetrovna.com

Why: It is a tasty creation all its own.

As I ordered my El Cubano sandwich at gourmet vegan restaurant Chef Tanya’s Kitchen, the woman taking my order asked if it was my first time at the restaurant.

“Yep!” I said.

“Oh, you’re going to love it!” said the woman behind me.

As I waited for my to-go order—all of the limited seating space was taken—we chatted a bit. I told her I was trying Chef Tanya’s Kitchen—the newest endeavor of Tanya Petrovna, the founder of the Native Foods Café—even though I am a confirmed meat-eater, because so many people had raved to me about the place. The woman explained she’d recently become vegan, and was losing a lot of weight as a result.

We then talked about the menu—salads, sandwiches and specials, like tacos on Tuesdays, and dinner items on Wednesdays—and I asked if she’d ever ordered the Pastrami Mami sandwich. No, she responded; she’s not a fan of sauerkraut.

“Oh, that sandwich is what made me start to like sauerkraut!” another diner exclaimed.

I thought to myself: Wow, the customers here are really gung-ho about the food at Chef Tanya’s Kitchen!

When I got home and took a bite of my sandwich, I began to understand why. When done right, a Cuban sandwich is one of my favorite foods. Chef Tanya’s version subs out the usual ham and pork for slow-roasted citrus and garlic seitan, and while I can’t say the seitan made me forget about the absence of those meats, it made for a damn tasty sandwich. It melded with the tomatoes, pickles, onions, lettuce, mustard, mayo and freaking amazing bread to create a hot-pressed delight. To my palate, this El Cubano didn’t taste exactly like a Cuban sandwich; instead, it tasted like something different—but equally delicious.

I may still be a confirmed meat-eater—but I’ll certainly be a regular at Chef Tanya’s Kitchen. Her vegan fare is simply fantastic.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The tower of avocado and tuna tartare

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

How much: $14.99; $9.99 at the bar (all-day happy hour)

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

Why: It is a delicious deal!

Barbara and Jerry Keller have created an undeniably successful restaurant formula: Take a large space; make that space gorgeous (including great patio seating); offer a variety of consistent, decently priced food; also offer some great prix-fixe and happy hour deals; and be fantastic members of the community.

It worked for a decade at Acqua Pazza California Bistro in Rancho Mirage. It’s been working for six years at Lulu California Bistro in Palm Springs. And now it’s working again at the slightly renamed and renovated Acqua California Bistro in Rancho Mirage.

I live a short walk from Lulu. I eat there regularly, and I am going to let you in on a secret: The bar is the place to sit. Not only is there often seating available in the bar area when there’s a wait for a regular table; the “happy hour” prices at the bar, offered every day from 11 a.m. to close, are drastically lower for many items than they are in the rest of the place.

This means that I can almost always walk in to Lulu (and now, Acqua)—weekday or weekend, season or off-season—and get one of my favorite items at a steep discount: The tower of avocado and tuna tartare is just $9.99 at the bar, while it’s $14.99 elsewhere in the restaurant.

Whatever the price, the dish is delicious: A nice helping of high-grade, seasoned ahi is shaped into a cylindrical “tower”—with some fresh avocado added to the middle. On the side are some wonton chips, sprouts, a small mound of wasabi, some pickled ginger slices, and a little bit of seaweed salad.

It’s cool, refreshing and a delight to the taste buds. And of course, the atmosphere can’t be beat.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Super Cheesy Nachos

Where: Blackbook, 315 E. Arenas Road, Palm Springs

How much: $10; $14 with carne asada (as shown) or marinated chicken

Contact: 760-832-8497; blackbookbar.com

Why: This is an elevated version of a bar-food classic.

Blackbook has only been open for a couple of months in the old Café Palette space, but its take on elevated bar food has already developed quite a following.

Salads, tacos, burgers, fries and even a jacked-up hot dog are all on Blackbook’s menu—but I’d been hearing quite a lot about two of Blackbook’s offerings: the fried chicken sandwich ($12; you pick the level of spiciness), and the nachos.

The hubby and I met our friend Darrell at Blackbook for a recent Friday lunch. I was hoping to have the best of both figurative worlds—I could order the chicken sandwich as my entrée, and we could all split the nachos as an appetizer—but I was out of luck: Darrell was dieting, and the hubby has sworn off carbs, so they declined the nachos. Therefore, I decided to order the nachos with carne asada, and save the chicken sandwich for another visit.

Before I get to my gushing praise of the nachos, a complaint: The kitchen was rather skimpy with the carne asada. Each piece, while tasty, was tiny—and there weren’t a whole lot of pieces. Even for the relatively modest $4 up-charge, there should have been more.

As for the rest of the nachos … they were stellar. Fried corn tortilla pieces were topped with cheddar, Monterey jack, “Blackbook dark salsa” (which tasted like a good mole-esque enchilada sauce), tomatoes, green onions, sour cream and guacamole. Served in a cute tray, the gooey, delicious nachos made for a filling entrée—and they’d have been perfectly good as an appetizer, too, had my dining companions not been so darned high-maintenance.

Blackbook has elevated bar food a notch or two—and this is a very good thing.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The jamón Iberico

Where: Counter Reformation, inside the Parker Palm Springs, 4200 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $14

Contact: 760-770-5000; www.theparkerpalmsprings.com/dine/counter-reformation.php

Why: It’s a treat in every sense of the word.

I was fortunate enough to spend several days in Barcelona at the end of a cruise a while back—and during those several days, I enjoyed some of the best food I’ve ever had.

I was reminded of those glorious meals one recent late afternoon when I met friend and colleague Kevin at Counter Reformation, a hidden gem of a wine bar tucked inside the Parker Palm Springs hotel.

However, Counter Reformation is much more than a mere wine bar; it also serves some of the most decadent small plates around. Along with your glass of lovely wine (all of which are $6 for 3 ounces, $11 for 6 ounces, or $40 for a bottle) or champagne ($11 for 5 ounces, or $40 for a bottle), you can enjoy more than a half-dozen delights such as the grilled prawn brochette ($11), or the fingerling potatoes with a poached egg ($11) or the downright-intriguing foie gras macaron ($12).

However, when I saw the jamón Iberico on the menu, I knew that’s what I had to have. The cured meat from the black Iberian pig was one of the culinary highlights of my Barcelona stay, and the see-through-thin slices on offer at Counter Reformation—served with a tomato relish and two crostini with a creamy spread—were every bit as delicious (if a bit more pricey) as the stuff I enjoyed in Spain.

Almost (but not quite) as great as the jamon were the complimentary jars of olives and cornichons served with the tapas and wine. Wow. Just … wow.

The hours at Counter Reformation are limited (3 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Monday), but it’s worth finding some time to treat yourself there. It’s one of the best wine bars in the Coachella Valley—with some of the best tapas in the Coachella Valley. 

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The build-your-own pizza

Where: Blaze Pizza, 201 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; also at 73393 Highway 111, Palm Desert

How much: $7.95

Contact: 760-318-2529 (Palm Springs); 760-895-4259 (Palm Desert); www.blazepizza.com

Why: It’s delicious, and it’s a great deal.

In the almost five years that the Independent has been around, we’ve written 116 Indy Endorsements. Only a half-dozen or so have been written about chain joints—and most of those were about smaller, California-based chains. In other words, the Indy Endorsement is a feature that almost exclusively touts locally owned restaurants.

Therefore, it really means something that we’re endorsing the make-your-own pies at Blaze Pizza.

Why are we endorsing food at a large, national chain, pretty much for the first time? For one thing, the make-your-own 11-inch pizzas at Blaze are truly make-your-own—you can have as many cheeses, sauces and toppings on your pizza as you want. There’s no limit. For example, the pizza in the picture here has mozzarella cheese, goat cheese, bacon, smoked ham, mushrooms, olives and tomatoes, with classic red sauce and just a little garlic pesto underneath. That’s two sauces, two cheeses and five toppings—for one price. If I wanted to double those numbers, the price would stay the same.

For another thing … that price is a deal: just $7.95. Where else can you get an 11-inch pizza with unlimited ingredients for less than eight bucks? Nowhere, you say?

That’s why we’re endorsing a large, national chain, pretty much for the first time.

The process is easy: You get in line, pick your crust (gluten-free and high-rise/thicker options cost a bit extra), pick your sauces, pick your cheeses and pick your toppings. You watch as the employees put the toppings on your pie—and if you want more or less of an ingredient, tell ’em, and they’ll happily make it so. You then watch as they put the pizza in the oven; a couple of minutes later, they take it out, put it on a metal plate, and call your name.

Simple. Inexpensive. Delicious. Endorsement-worthy.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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