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Wed07172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The shrimp ceviche

Where: Tac/Quila, 415 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $16

Contact: 760-417-4471; www.tacquila.com

Why: It’s refreshing and tasty.

I had decidedly mixed feelings when I learned that Tac/Quila was going to be opening in the space most recently occupied by Watercress Vietnamese Bistro.

On the minus side, the Coachella Valley is not suffering from a dearth of good Mexican restaurants—taqueria, upscale Mexican, regional fare … it can all be found here. In other words, Tac/Quila would not be filling a defined culinary need in the valley.

On the plus side, Mark and Liz Ostoich know what they’re doing. The owners of Tac/Quila have proven themselves to be shrewd restaurateurs and fantastic members of the community with Farm, the mostly outdoor French restaurant in La Plaza the Ostoiches purchased in 2016. Given what they’ve done with Farm, I was curious to see what they’d do with a Mexican concept.

As for what they’ve done … they’ve knocked it out of the park with Tac/Quila. They’ve taken what was a somewhat clunky space and infused it with class, beauty and charm—and the menu is absolutely mouth-watering. Consider yourself warned: You’ll pay more at Tac/Quila than you will at the vast majority of other Mexican restaurants around the valley—but what comes out of the kitchen and is delivered to your table will most likely be worth it.

I met a friend at Tac/Quila for a recent lunch. (There’s not a separate lunch menu, so be prepared to pay dinner prices.) I decided to try the chicken tortilla soup ($11) and the shrimp ceviche ($16). The soup was quite good, if misnamed—it’s actually a chicken vegetable soup, with tortillas having nothing to do with it other than being tossed on top. The ceviche, meanwhile, was perfect—fresh, delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day.

Tac/Quila may wind up filling a local culinary need after all: While many good restaurants call the Coachella Valley home, there are few great restaurants—and Tac/Quila has the potential to become one.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The French dip with tots

Where: Revel Public House, 140 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $15.50 at lunch

Contact: 760-325-9464; revelps.com

Why: It’s a perfectly put-together sandwich.

The French dip sandwich, despite the name, is not at all French—it was actually born right here in Southern California, a little more than a century ago, at a downtown Los Angeles restaurant. The exact place of birth is a matter of debate; both Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet and Philippe’s claim the invention.

While I have no idea which of those two restaurants deserves the credit, I do know that Revel Public House in downtown Palm Springs deserves the credit for having the best French dip I’ve had in the Coachella Valley.

Two things make the sandwich at Revel so gosh-darned good. First, the ingredients are fantastic: Owner Mindy Reed uses McLean’s all-natural roast beef, as well as a particularly tasty Swiss cheese. Second: The sandwich is assembled and prepared perfectly. Rather than just slapping the ingredients between two French-roll slices and throwing it on the plate, the folks in Revel’s kitchen press the sandwich, so it’s easy to hold, dip and devour. The horseradish mayo that comes with it is fantastic; as for the au jus, it could have been a little stronger on my recent visit—although the sandwich was great despite this tiny flaw.

The sandwich normally comes with either cole slaw, fries, roasted potatoes or quinoa, but I recommend forking out the extra $2.50 and throwing the diet (even further) out the window so you can get the tater tots. The Revel kitchen prepares the tots perfectly: They’re crisp, crunchy and addictive. (The tots are also available on their own, topped with cheese and pulled barbecue pork, if you want to completely annihilate the diet.)

I can hear some of you retorting: “A hot sandwich? In the summer? Are you mad?!” No, I just love delicious, well-prepared food—and Revel’s French dip is a tasty, pleasing choice no matter the weather.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The meatloaf (Mondays only)

Where: Paul Bar/Food, 3700 E. Vista Chino, Palm Springs

How much: $17

Contact: 760-656-4082; paulbarps.com

Why: It’s great meatloaf, pure and simple.

When Paul Bar/Food opened a year ago, it became popular seemingly overnight due to the tasty eats, the amazing service (helmed by the bow tie-rocking Paul O’Halloran, a former Mister Lyons bartender who is adored in the Palm Springs service industry), the swanky East Coast vibe, the now-famous frozen sidecar, and the stunningly gorgeous wooden bar area—all found in a small shopping center, located at the northeast corner of Vista Chino and Gene Autry Trail, that is not exactly what you’d call “posh.”

Look for the sign that says BAR/FOOD. Find it, and you’ve found Paul.

O’Halloran could have rested on his figurative laurels … but he didn’t. In recent months, he’s worked to make the food at Paul even better—including daily specials, such as a soft-shell crab sandwich on Sundays, mussels on Saturdays, and pot roast (!) on Thursdays. I am sure all those specials are quite yummy … but I’d be stunned if any of them are as fantastic as the meatloaf, served with carrots and mashed potatoes, only on Mondays.

Now, I am not exactly a meatloaf aficionado. If a friend invites me over for a meatloaf dinner, I won’t say no … but if meatloaf shows up on a restaurant menu, the chances I’ll order it are between slim and non-existent. However, when I met my friend Eric at Paul for a happy-hour dinner on a recent Monday, the formally dressed bartender recommended the meatloaf with such passion that I couldn’t say no.

That passion was justified: The meatloaf was amazing. Its defining characteristic is that it’s, well, meaty. This is a dense yet juicy, perfectly seasoned, expertly prepared brick o’ meat.

The hubby is a meatloaf aficionado, and when I took him to Paul a couple of Mondays later for it, he agreed with my assessment—that this is some of the best meatloaf you’ll have anywhere.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Reuben

Where: Wexler’s Deli at Arrive Palm Springs, 1551 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $17

Contact: 760-507-1640; wexlersdeli.com/wexlers-arrive-palm-springs

Why: It’s a top-notch sandwich.

When it was announced that Wexler’s—a Jewish-style deli with three popular Los Angeles-area locations—would be taking over the main restaurant space at the Arrive Hotel, I was excited. After all, there’s a serious demand here for the type of food served at Wexler’s

“Have you ever tried to get a table at Sherman’s in Palm Springs at noon on a Saturday during season?” I wrote.

Since the fall 2018 opening, however, I have neither seen nor heard much about Wexler’s. Therefore, I decided to go in for lunch one recent day to check things out—and I found a restaurant that’s wasting a ton of potential.

The food at Wexler’s is not the problem—hence its inclusion in this column. While the menu is much more limited than what you’ll find at Sherman’s or Manhattan in the Desert, the Jewish-deli staples are all there, and the Reuben sandwich I had was excellent all around, from the delicious and thick slices of corned beef, to the perfectly toasted rye bread, to the tasty potato salad and pickles on the side.

However … the sandwich costs $17. That’s about what you’ll pay elsewhere in town—but elsewhere, you can get fries, whereas at Wexler’s, if you want fries instead of coleslaw or potato salad, you’ll have to get a side for $5. And strangely enough, the Wexler’s locations in L.A. charge $2 or $3 less for this Rueben.

Also: As I mentioned, I haven’t seen or heard much about Wexler’s since it opened, and it seems to be out of mind for many locals. Advertising and/or community involvement is needed here.

I say this, because despite a gorgeous space at Arrive, and despite great food, Wexler’s was basically dead during my weekday lunch visit. When I drove by Sherman’s on my way home—after the “lunch rush,” about 1:30 p.m.—there was a throng of people waiting outside.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The French onion soup

Where: Bongo Johnny’s Patio Bar and Grill, 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 200, Palm Springs

How much: $3.95 for a cup; $6.95 for a bowl

Contact: 760-318-3960; www.bongojohnnys.com

Why: It’s delicious, pure and simple.

Before I begin extolling the deliciousness of the French onion soup at Bongo Johnny’s, I should explain that this restaurant holds a special place in my heart.

You see, Bongo Johnny’s supports many of the same causes I do—the Desert AIDS Project, for example, via Dining Out for Life. It’s also an active member of the Desert Business Association (of which I am on the board) and even one of the primary sponsors of my softball team. (Go Palm Springs Heat!) Therefore, I was crushed when an early-morning kitchen fire on March 7 of last year shuttered the restaurant—and, due to a dispute with the landlord over the rebuild, forced it to move several blocks northwest, to the space most recently occupied by Café Europa/jusTapas.

In the nearly 10 months that Bongo Johnny’s was closed, I missed it … and I especially missed one menu item—the French onion soup.

Bongo Johnny’s isn’t known for fancy fare—it features the burgers, sandwiches and breakfast items one would expect from something called a “patio bar and grill”—but its kitchen also produces some items that go well beyond standard bar fare. For example, the macaroni-and-cheese options are among the town’s best … and then there’s the French onion soup. Served with melted cheese and a crostini, as it should, this soup is simply delicious. It’s rich, packed with fresh onions and perfectly seasoned.

On my first visit to the reopened Bongo Johnny’s—for a softball team meeting, actually—the first thing I ordered was the French onion soup. When it was brought to the table and placed in front of me, I couldn’t help but smile … because one of my favorites was back.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The house turkey club

Where: Carousel Bakery, 440 S. El Cielo Road, No. 5, Palm Springs

How much: $9.99

Contact: 760-699-5006; carouselbakeryps.com

Why: It’s mostly made in-house.

I’ve pledged to substantially cut my carbohydrate intake in 2019—and places like Carousel Bakery are making it very difficult for me to keep this pledge.

Pretty much everything Carousel makes is carbs … and pretty much everything Carousel makes is delicious. On a recent visit to Carousel (at which I’d decided to completely and totally throw the diet out the figurative window, obviously), I decided to get the house turkey club sandwich for my main course, and a cheese finger ($2.50) for dessert.

Alberto and Elizabeth Cervantes are the proprietors of this tiny bakery, and they’re almost certainly the people who will be serving you there. On this visit, Elizabeth guided me through tough decisions about my sandwich (like which house-made bread I wanted it on, and whether I wanted it toasted; “sourdough” and “yes” were the recommendations with which I went) while Alberto rang up my order. Elizabeth informed me that the turkey used on the sandwich is roasted in-house—and the Dijon mayonnaise is made there, too.

All these fresh, house-made touches were evident from the first bite of the sandwich; it was full of flavor, with perfect proportions of all the ingredients. A flaw in just one element can throw off a sandwich, but there were no flaws at all here.

And that cheese finger … wow. The dough was flaky and sweet, while the cheese filling was creamy, just a little savory and just a little sweet. It was a flawless pastry.

While I’ll be limiting my carbs and calorie intakes this year, Carousel Bakery will definitely near the top of my restaurant splurge list. What they do there is just so good.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The cinnamon brown sugar breakfast tart

Where: Wilma and Frieda’s, 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; also at 73575 El Paseo Drive, Palm Desert

How much: $4.95

Contact: 760-992-5080 (Palm Springs); 760-773-2807 (Palm Desert); wilmafrieda.com

Why: They’re delicious—and very affordable.

When I heard that Wilma and Frieda’s was going to be taking over the former location of The Falls—one of the most beautiful restaurant spaces in the valley, overlooking the La Plaza area in downtown Palm Springs—I was elated.

For five years, Wilma and Frieda’s, located on El Paseo in Palm Desert, has been serving up some of the valley’s best breakfasts and lunches. Not only was I excited about the fact that one of the area’s most renowned restaurants was expanding to the west valley; I was intrigued by what the owners would do with the large, second-story space.

Well, it seems my excitement was justified: The new Wilma and Frieda’s is gorgeous, and the owners have expanded the offerings at the Palm Springs location beyond 3 p.m.: The bar is currently open until 9 p.m. most nights, and full dinner service is coming soon.

I stopped in one recent Saturday after an early-ish dinner to see the new space and try a cocktail. Since it was after dinner, I was craving dessert … and Wilma and Frieda’s (at both locations) has an amazing selection of housemade sweets, including brownies, bars, cookies, cakes and “breakfast tarts”—you know, like those store-bought frosted pastries that you pop into the toaster, but presumably a lot better.

Being a fan of all things containing brown sugar, I decided to try the cinnamon brown sugar breakfast tart. Not only did it sound delicious; it was only $4.95—and where else can you get a fresh-baked dessert for that price in this town?

The tart exceeded my expectations: It was warm, crispy out the outside and gooey on the inside—and it was yummy.

Welcome to Palm Springs, Wilma and Frieda’s. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The spiced Jurgielewicz duck

Where: 4 Saints, inside the Kimpton Rowan Hotel, 100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs

How much: $37

Contact: 760-392-2020; www.4saintspalmsprings.com

Why: The nuance.

Sometimes when I’m hungry, I want to head to the civilized human equivalent of a feed trough and eat. Other times, I want something a little more refined … nuanced … special.

Enter 4 Saints, the gorgeous restaurant on the top floor of the year-old Kimpton Rowan Hotel in downtown Palm Springs. I’ve dined there twice now—twice a year is about what my finances will allow—and both times, I have been blown away by the quality of the food coming out of executive chef Stephen Wambach’s kitchen.

On my most recent visit, the hubby and I sat at the bar and shared the hamachi crudo ($19) and foie gras ($24) as starters. Both were fabulous; in fact, I doubted that either of our entrées would surpass them.

Then came my spiced Jurgielewicz duck. (Jurgielewicz is the name of the Pennsylvania family farm that produces the duck—raised humanely and free-roaming—used at 4 Saints.) It’s not hyperbole when I say it was one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever had.

Three slices of duck sat on a bed of spatzle and puréed autumn squash, next to red cabbage. It sounds simple—but every single element was perfectly seasoned, cooked and prepared. It seemed like a true sacrifice to spare just one bite so my husband could try it. Truthfully, I am having difficulty coming up with words to describe the flavors, so I’ll just say this: My mouth is watering as I write this.

Some may scoff at the price tags and modest portions … but trust me: The food being offered at 4 Saints is worth it. That’s where you’ll find me come the next special occasion.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The big guac burrito

Where: Guacamoles, 555 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs

How much: $9.25

Contact: 760-325-9766; www.guacsps.com

Why: It’s one of the tastiest burritos around.

Guacamoles does not get the respect it deserves.

The Mexican restaurant is an undeniable success—it’s been open now for 28 years, since the Sesma family launched it during the first half of George H.W. Bush’s presidency. Yet when I hear people talking about their Palm Springs-area Mexican-food favorites, Guacmoles rarely comes up.

Perhaps this is due to the space Guacamoles occupies: It’s small and tucked away in the middle of the shopping mall at the southwest corner of Sunrise Way and Ramon Road. Perhaps it’s due to the restaurant’s no-frills vibe: You order at the counter, and the food is delivered on disposable plates with plastic utensils. I admit that until fairly recently, I rarely dined at Guacamole’s; over a five-year period, I ate there once, maybe twice—and that was it.

However, that all changed one night not long ago. I was stuck at home alone, with work deadlines looming; I was hungry and had no time to cook. So I got on one of the delivery apps and perused my options, one of which was Guacamoles. A burrito sounded good, so I decided to order a chicken big guac (aka a burrito with the works).

The food was delivered quickly. And even though the burrito weighed in at around a pound, it was devoured quickly: It was delicious, and gluttony won out.

Since that fateful night, Guacamole’s has become one of my regular takeout or delivery options. (Although whenever I get the big guac now, I cut it in half and put half away for later, to avoid further gluttony.) The food is fresh—with no MSG or lard—well-prepared and tasty.

Cheers to the Sesma family for their success. Here’s to another 28 years—and Guacamoles hopefully getting the respect it deserves.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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

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