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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: Various pollo items

Where: El Taco Asado, 440 S. El Cielo Road, Palm Springs

How much: Varies; $9.75 for the combo No. 1 is a good way to go

Contact: 760-323-7544; eltacoasado.com

Why: This is not your normal Mexi-restaurant chicken.

Chicken. It’s often the least-heralded meat at Mexican joints, and for good reason: Beef does better with grilling; you can do a ton of interesting things with fish; and pork is … well, pork.

That’s not to say chicken is bad. It stews well, after all, and can absorb a ton of surrounding flavors—although it’s often presented in a shredded form, which turns off some people.

This leads us—and it should lead you—to El Taco Asado, located in a strip mall at Ramon and El Cielo roads. (Yes, Time Warner Cable is also in the strip mall. Yes, you’re allowed to boo.) At this popular Mexican restaurant (which is a sister joint of Taqueria Tlaquepaque on Sunny Dunes Road, and La Piñata Restaurante in Indio), in our minds, chicken is the star.

We tried the carne asada. We tried the tampiqueña steak. We even tried the beef tongue. All were fine, but then we tried the chicken—and we were hooked. The chicken you’ll find in the tacos, enchiladas, tostadas (all three pictured above as the combination No. 1), burros and other entrées here is not shredded. Instead, the flavorful and juicy (marinated, perhaps?) chicken comes in little chunks. It wouldn’t be right to call it cubed, as the li’l pieces come in various shapes and sizes, so we’ll call it cubed-adjacent.

It’s oh so good, so flavorful, and not the least bit dry.

Chicken—this splendid, in enchiladas and tacos at a Mexican joint. What’ll they think of next?

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The gazpacho

Where: Tinto, inside the Saguaro, 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $11

Contact: 760-322-1900; www.jdvhotels.com/restaurants/california/riverside-dining/tinto

Why: The smoothness.

A friend recently told me that she has thus far avoided Tinto—the Iron Chef-owned “Basque wine bar” restaurant inside the Saguaro Palm Springs—because she finds the menu “a tad scary.”

I am blessed (or perhaps cursed, if you consider my waistline’s perspective) with the ability to eat and enjoy almost anything (as long as it’s … y’know … good). However, I do understand that not everyone is like me, and a menu featuring all sorts of unfamiliar words that seem loaded with unnecessary x’s (like “pintxos” and “gatxuxa”) may be a tad scary to some.

However, to this friend and any others who may be intimidated by Tinto’s menu, I say this: You have nothing to worry about, because one of the best things on said menu has a name that we’ve all heard before—gazpacho.

There may be no better time and place on Earth to enjoy chilled soup than Palm Springs in August, so I highly recommend this glass of deliciousness. Other than a bit of bread (for consistency and flavor) and spices, this gazpacho is vegetable heaven, with tomato, peppers and a bit of fresh avocado leading the way. It’s so tasty and refreshing that you may find yourself engaging in a Pavlovian bit of drooling when driving by the multicolored former Holiday Inn that is the Saguaro.

I’ll now give you a home-cooking tip: When we were trying to re-create the gazpacho ourselves at the Independent test kitchen (i.e., our apartment), we stumbled across a video on The Desert Sun’s website of Tinto owner/chef Jose Garces making the gazpacho.

In the video, Garces doesn’t share the exact proportions he uses, and gazpacho he makes is not the exact version on the current Tinto menu. Nonetheless, the video was helpful enough to lead us to gazpacho joy. In fact, by tweaking the gazpacho to our own preferences, our home version tastes even better than Tinto’s version, at least to us.

But one thing we haven’t been able to replicate successfully is the smoothness (even though we have a serious blender at home). The gazpacho at Tinto is creamy, silky, yummy.

So, friends, don’t be afraid. Tinto’s gazpacho is there to cool you and comfort you. Go.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Gyros Plate

Where: Nina’s Traditional Greek Cuisine and Pizzeria, 555 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs

How much: $10

Contact: 760-323-8552; www.ninasgreekcuisine.com

Why: The mixture of crunch and moist and creamy

I just finished the gyros plate I got for lunch at Nina’s Traditional Greek Cuisine and Pizzeria. Two words describe how I am feeling right now.

Full. And—foremost—happy.

I am full, because the food on said plate is not a small portion. There are four smallish slices of pita bread, two large Kalamata olives, a fairly generous amount of marinated red onions, slices of tomato, a cup of tzatziki, and a whole bunch of delicious gyro slices.

Let’s talk about that gyro: This spiced mixture of lamb and beef is the best gyro I’ve ever had. The thing that makes the gyro special is the way in which it’s prepared: On the ends, it’s got crunchy-char goodness; in the middle of the slices, the meat is moist and almost spongy. As the saying goes: Variety is the spice of life, and the variety of both flavor and texture offered in a single slice of gyro adds a whole lot of figurative spice. (And the non-figurative level of spice is perfect, by the way.)

Now, let’s talk about that tzatziki: This yogurt sauce (which can be eaten on its own, too) is what sends this plate into the culinary stratosphere. As with the gyro, it’s some of the best I’ve ever had. It adds a cool, tart freshness to anything it comes in contact with—and when added to the gyro, it leads to an almost overwhelming (in a good way) nexus of sensations and flavors.

So, yeah. I am full—so, full, in fact, that an extra 20 minutes of cardio at the gym is a must next time. But thanks to this homestyle, made-with-love food at this small, almost-cramped counter-service restaurant, I am happy. Really, really happy. 

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The picnic eggs

Where: Bar, 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $6

Contact: 760-537-7337; www.barwastaken.com

Why: A deliciously spicy twist on an American classic.

Question: Is there anything more all-American than the deviled egg?

Answer: Well … yeah, there is: mom, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Vin Scully, for starters. Still, deviled eggs are pretty gosh-darned American—they’ve been a picnic and party staple for years, after all. And at downtown Palm Springs’ Bar, one can enjoy this all-American classic—with a distinctly Asian twist.

The menu says it all: Picnic eggs. Eggs siracha wasabi. Yeah, they misspell “sriracha,” but we’ll forgive them, because these deviled eggs are splendid. The eggs definitely have a back-draft-style kick, so if you don’t like spicy foods, either start liking spicy foods, or get something else from Bar’s charmingly unique menu.

While bar-food standards like burgers, sandwiches and fries are indeed present, they all have a decidedly non-bar-food twist. The burger is a Caprese burger with tomato chutney and basil. The sandwiches include a chicken club with a “spicy Vietnamese” flair. And the fries come with garlic freakin’ aioli.

In other words, this is bar food … that’s not bar food.

We recommend dropping in for a before-dinner nosh, or an after-dinner snack. Or, hell, drop in for dinner. Order a drink. (We’re partial to the whiskey sours. And don’t skip the egg whites.) Enjoy some live music.

Have an all-American good time.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Tuesday-night spaghetti with meat sauce

Where: Bongo Johnny’s Patio Bar and Grille, 214 E. Arenas Road, Palm Springs

How much: $6.95

Contact: 760-866-1905; www.bongojohnnys.com

Why: It’s delicious, bottomless and amazingly inexpensive.

The website announces: “Bongo Johnny's is one of the best neighborhood restaurants in Palms Springs.”

The strange “Palms Springs” reference aside, I agree with that assessment—especially on Tuesdays, when this Arenas Road, gay-friendly restaurant offers its “Italian Night” special.

For $6.95, one can get all the spaghetti with meat sauce that one can snork down, as well as either soup or salad. (If one wants to add a large, tasty, house-made meatball to the plate—and one probably should—add $2.50. For some out-of-this-world garlic bread, add another $2.50.)

The thing about the spaghetti with meat sauce is this: Not only is it a smokin’ deal; the food is actually quite good. The meat sauce is made by people in the kitchen who know what they’re doing; it’s flavorful, meaty and satisfying.

Can you find better restaurant spaghetti with meat sauce out there? Perhaps (although you won’t find it at those mediocre Italian-ish chains in Palm Desert or Rancho Mirage). Will you find all-you-can-eat pasta this good, and this inexpensive? I sincerely doubt it. (And if you do, let me know where, please.)

Unless you’re a vegetarian or in a 12-step program for gluttony, there’s no reason not to check out Bongo Johnny’s on Tuesday night. The service is friendly; the liquor is moderately priced; and the outside patio is a people-watching bonanza. (If you are a vegetarian, there are other items on the menu that’ll please you.)

For more on Bongo Johnny’s, check out the aforementioned website, or visit the restaurant’s page on Facebook, even if the page is impersonally robotic and features only two posts, repeated verbatim. (Every Tuesday, the page touts Italian night; and every Friday, it announces the Friday night ribs special.) It’s oddly creepy, for some reason.

So, yeah, Bongo Johnny’s online presence needs help. Thank goodness the restaurant’s spaghetti and meatballs plate does not.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Hot Mess

Where: The Sandwich Spot, 240 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $8.99

Contact: 778-7900; thesandwichspotps.com

Why: The wheat bread puts it over the top.

“So, what’s the best sandwich here?” I asked the friendly gentleman behind the counter.

He started pointing out different menu items. Then he added: “Well, there’s also our secret menu …”

Alrightie then. Tell me more about that.

He mentioned a sandwich called “the Hot Mess.” His description to me hewed pretty closely to the description in a post on the Sandwich Spot’s Facebook page, which reads: “A former employee was the inspiration for the latest Sandwich Spot Palm Springs spectacular, the Hot Mess. Layers of warm roast beef, turkey, pastrami and savory ham are skillfully stacked into a huge steaming pile onto which cheddar and provolone cheeses are lovingly melted. The soft bakery fresh roll of your choice (is) then anointed with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and … a viscous squirt of (thousand island) dressing. The sandwich then is complete. $8.99 for this experience, folks.”

Yes. Yes, I want that. (To be fair to the gentleman behind the counter, he had the sense not use the phrase “viscous squirt.”)

A few minutes later, the sandwich, viscous squirt and all, arrived at the table. And it was yuuuummmy.

What made this sandwich truly great—the aspect which put it over the figurative top—was the bread. The “soft bakery fresh roll” of my choice was a wheat roll, and it was the perfect vessel for the meats, cheeses, veggies and condiments contained inside. It was hearty and firm enough that it stayed together, yet was soft enough to be non-damaging—even pleasing—to my mouth. (Raise your hand if hard sandwich bread has done a number on the roof of your mouth. Yep, thought so.)

This shop—a part of an expanding California chain—has been earning raves on the various review sites, and the Hot Mess is one reason why. This secret-menu item may not be all that “secret” (How can it be secret if it’s mentioned prominently on the restaurant’s freakin’ Facebook page?), but that’s a good thing—because this sandwich is worth knowing about.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Bavarian meatloaf dip

Where: Pinocchio in the Desert, 134 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs

How much: $9.95

Contact: 760-322-3776; www.pinocchiops.com

Why: Because it’s different.

Pinocchio in the Desert is one of the valley’s most popular breakfast/brunch/lunch joints for many reasons, not the least of which is, frankly, the booze: Bottomless champagne for $3.95? Well drinks and martinis for $2.50? Before mid-afternoon?! Hell yeah.

Hey, the food’s pretty good, too. Among the standard-ish omelets and benedicts and sandwiches, you’ll find some creative, different gems, and we encourage you to find one in particular: the Bavarian meatloaf dip.

This sandwich is truly greater than the sum of its parts. There’s some sauerkraut, as well as some grilled onions. There’s melted white cheese. There’s a grilled French roll. On the side is some creamed horseradish (use it) and some au jus (skip it).

And the meat? Well, it’s “super fine meatloaf from veal and pork,” and it is indeed super fine, even if it has the consistency of a thick piece of mortadella, or, God help us all, Spam. But Spam never tasted this good. Trust us.

Put all of those ingredients together (except for the au jus), and you have one fantastic sandwich, a melding of tastes that all stand up to and complement each other: meaty, spicy, sour, creamy, etc. Yum.

So, go. Be prepared for a wait if it’s a Saturday or a Sunday; just chill by the rainbow-flag-draped Marilyn Monroe statue, and be patient. Cheap drinks and tasty fare await—and the Bavarian meatloaf dip may be the fairest fare of all.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Friday, May 31, may seem like a long way away, but the organizers of Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week say it never hurts to get an early start on planning.

“Every year, my husband and I make it a staycation,” said Kim Crandal, the executive director of Restaurant Week, during which a bevy of local restaurants will be offering special three-course prix-fixe menus for either $26 or $38 per person.

Given that this year’s Restaurant Week is bigger than ever, perhaps planning is a good idea. For one thing, the week is much longer than a week—it runs for 17 days, in fact, from Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 16.

Why the expansion?

“We took a look at the history of requests from some of the restaurants,” Crandal said. “… So many people were experiencing success.”

As of now, 79 restaurants throughout the valley—including local favorites, big chains and eateries that are new to the scene—are signed up to participate.

But the week goes beyond food; the tag line for the event is “Eat. See. Stay.” Crandal said numerous hotels and resorts (that would be the “stay” part) are participating, as are various attractions and spas (that would be the “see” part).

“We are focusing more on crafting the ‘see’ and ‘stay’ components so people understand it’s more than a restaurant week,” she said. What do you do during the day?”

About a dozen hotels are currently signed on, and the 20 or so “see” partners include everything from the Palm Springs Art Museum to Knott’s Soak City to the Desert Springs Spa to Desert Adventures Eco-Tours and Events.

Restaurant Week also has something of a special relationship with “Forever Marilyn,” the 26-foot-tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe that currently graces downtown Palm Springs. She was installed just before last year’s Restaurant Week, and she’ll be taken down and moved (temporarily, many hope) during this year’s Restaurant Week. While plans are not yet finalized, an idea is being batted around to create a more life-sized Marilyn Monroe representation—a statue, perhaps, or a cut-out—and have her pop up at the various restaurants during the 2 1/2 weeks of Restaurant Week.

Crandal noted that some folks are indeed already making Restaurant Week plans. For example, she cited a group of about 90 golfers from Santa Barbara who have made Restaurant Week an annual trip.

“It’s really building a nice following,” Crandal said.

Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week takes place from Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 16. For a complete list of participants and updates, visit www.palmspringsrestaurantweek.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

What: The farro calamari salad

Where: Workshop Kitchen + Bar, 800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $13

Contact info: 459-3451; workshoppalmsprings.com

Why: The variety of textures and flavors.

There are a lot of attention-grabbing items on Workshop Kitchen + Bar’s winter menu. A scallops dish with squid-ink risotto. Wood-charred Brussels sprouts. (An aside: Did Brussels sprouts become ubiquitous overnight, or what?) And the star of the show, the 30-ounce grass-fed rib eye, which is prepared sous vide before being grilled. (We endorse this steak, too, by the way, as long as there are at least four people in your party—and as long as the $77 price tag won’t give you a heart attack.)

Flying under the radar a bit, however, is arguably our favorite thing on the menu: the farro calamari salad with olive oil, red-wine vinegar, olives, tomatoes, herbs and lemon cucumber.

Some foods are just delicious; other foods are fun to eat. This salad is both: Delicious because the flavors work so well together (freshness from the cucumber; tartness from the vinegar; saltiness from the olives, etc.), and fun because of the whacked-out variety of textures. Crunchy (cucumber), slippery (oil), bouncy (calamari), chewy (farro)—it’s all there.

The portion is generous, too; it’s perfect for splitting with several friends, or as a main course for one. Actually … now that we think about it, this salad’s so fun to eat that it may be best to just order it for yourself. It’s best to avoid awkward I-don’t-want-to-share moments during a nice night out, after all.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

At a time when locally owned coffee houses across the world are closing due to ever-expanding chains (like Starbucks and McDonald's), here’s some refreshing news: Palm Springs’ Koffi recently announced plans to open a third location in Rancho Mirage.

However, a quick look at the spot slated to house the new location, at 71390 Highway 111, reveals that any opening is likely months away.

Koffi’s original spot, at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, was opened by owners John Abner and John Strohm in August 2002. They doubled the size of the place in 2005, and opened the second location, at 1700 S. Camino Real (at Palm Canyon Drive, across Camino Real from the Ace Hotel), in 2008.

At the Camino Real location, a large “Road Map to Koffi” poster has for weeks announced that the Rancho Mirage location—in the building that was formerly home to Amici Italian Trattoria, just a bit east of the Rancho Mirage Public Library—is “coming soon.”

Abner and Strohm, through Koffi general manager Troy Neifert, declined to comment for this story.

Therefore, I swung by 71390 Highway 111 today to peek in the windows. The space—which features a cute outdoor patio area to the west—was vacant and largely stripped out, save for some construction materials, including some orange cones.

We’ll keep our eye on the announced new Koffi location, and will post updates when available.

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Published in Restaurant & Food News