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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The famous truffle tots

Where: Heirloom Craft Kitchen, 49990 Jefferson St., No. 100, Indio

How much: $6; $4 when added to an entrée

Contact: 760-773-2233; heirloomcraftkitchen.com

Why: The crispiness, the seasoning and the sauces.

Andie Hubka is one of the valley’s most talented restaurateurs. More than six years ago, she opened the fun and stylish dinner restaurant Cork and Fork in La Quinta; then early last year, she opened Heirloom Craft Kitchen, a fast-casual joint serving brunch, lunch and dinner in Indio.

As justifiably acclaimed as Cork and Fork is, Hubka really outdid herself with Heirloom: It’s more accessible than Cork and Fork—and the food served there is every bit as delicious.

Heirloom offers “craft sandwiches,” “crafted salads,” starters, a handful of entrées, fun brunch items and an impressive selection of vegan offerings. Everything on the menu is thoughtful and unique—so much so that on a recent lunch visit, I had one hell of a time deciding which delicious-sounding thing to order. I finally decided on the shrimp and grits with andouille sausage ($14)—and because I have a policy of trying anything on a restaurant menu that includes the word “famous,” I added on the famous truffle tots as a side.

The shrimp and grits were excellent—elevated, surprisingly enough, by the inclusion of small pieces of pickled jalapeños, which added a much-needed brightness to the otherwise-earthy dish. However, the highlight of the meal was the add-on: The “famous” truffle tots were downright revelatory.

Truffle oil has become such a ubiquitous ingredient on menus that it’s received a not-entirely-unjustified bit of backlash from some chefs, but the way Hubka uses it here is a perfect illustration of why it became ubiquitous in the first place: The truffle flavor doesn’t overwhelm the tots, but instead just makes them more interesting. Then there are the sauces served with the tots: The fantastic homemade ketchup (lighter and fresher-tasting than the bottled stuff) and the dill aioli (which I apparently received by mistake) were perfect matches. (I got some of the sauce I was supposed to receive, too: a truffle aioli, and while it was decent, I preferred the other two.)

Heirloom Craft Kitchen is truly a special place. And the famous truffle tots are pretty special, too.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Grand Central to Open Soon … Hopefully? … in Palm Springs’ La Plaza Center

More than a year ago, local foodies were all abuzz about the anticipated opening of Grand Central Palm Springs, a restaurant and event space in the historic La Plaza Center in downtown Palm Springs.

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. Other posts teased menu items for the restaurant, which was going to feature American food, a coffee bar and cocktails. It seemed that Grand Central’s opening was imminent.

And then … nothing happened, at least publicly. More than 14 months went by with nary a peep on Grand Central’s fate.

Fearing Grand Central had been scrapped, I decided to try to find out what was going on. I sent a message via Grand Central’s Facebook page—and was relieved when Rita Capponi, a partner in the project, called me and assured me that Grand Central was still happening. In fact, she said it would likely open sometime in January, if not before.

“We are so close to the finish line,” she said.

So … what was the huge and apparently unexpected delay all about? Capponi said the owners greatly underestimated what it would take to get the building—built in 1936, and unoccupied for a decade—ready for business.

“We’ve been laying low, because bringing a 1936 building up to 2017 building code—well, it’s been an adventure,” she said with a weary laugh.

Capponi said what she hoped would be the “final inspections” would take place around early December. She also said she’s been buoyed by the support people have offered the Grand Central Team.

“People have been stopping by and saying, ‘We’re really rooting for you. We’re waiting for you,’” she said.

Keep your fingers crossed, and watch www.grandcentralpalmsprings.com for more information.


Agua Caliente Names Leanne Kamekona as the New Executive Chef

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has named Leanne Kamekona as its new executive chef. She oversees all of the restaurants at the resort, located at 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage.

Kamekona, according to a news release, first became smitten with the food business while working in a family-owned grocery store in her native Hawaii. She went on to graduate from the University of Hawaii, and has thus far enjoyed a career in the food/resort world spanning more than two decades.

Since arriving at Agua Caliente, she’s revamped the menu at the Waters Café, adding items ranging from a classic chicken pot pie, to a lobster roll, to saimin, a Hawaiian noodle soup featuring Portuguese sausage and fishcake in a dashi broth.

“The Hawaiian way of life continues to infuse the menus I develop with unique culinary experiences, while incorporating in the flavors that are distinctive to our Southern California location in Rancho Mirage,” Kamekona said in the type of quote that could only be found in a press release.

For more information, visit www.hotwatercasino.com.


In Brief

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and somehow missed all the fanfare: The Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs has finally opened its doors at 100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way. That means its two restaurants—4 Saints, the much-anticipated rooftop space, and Juniper Table, offering Mediterranean-inspired fare—are open, too. Get all the details you need at kimptonhotels.com. … Also now open on the same block: The fancy-schmancy Starbucks Reserve. … Down in Rancho Mirage, The River shopping center, at 71800 Highway 111, has welcomed the new Coachella Winery. The wine bar offers both bottles and glasses of wine at a variety of price points, as well as food including pizzas, salads, appetizers, piadina (Italian flatbread sandwiches) and a variety of bar snacks and appetizers. You’ll find menus and more info at www.coachellawinery.com. … Coming soon to Indio: Heirloom Craft Kitchen, at 49990 Jefferson St. It’s a new place by Andie Hubka, the owner of the much-loved Cork and Fork in La Quinta, and it’ll offer “craft sandwiches,” “crafted salads” and entrées like buttermilk fried chicken and grilled wild salmon. Oh, and then there are the sides … including truffle tots. Wow! Watch heirloomcraftkitchen.com for updates. … Mark your calendars: The 11th annual Desert Woman’s Show is coming to the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 13 and 14. The show includes Taste of the Valley, which will feature food and drink from nearly two dozen area restaurants and vendors. Tickets are $15 in advance; head to www.desertwomansshow.com/taste-of-the-valley to get ’em and learn more.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Andie Hubka was five years into running a successful gourmet cooking school when she had an idea: What if she offered a dinner of seasonally driven, creative dishes once a week? Would people come?

“I just started getting the itch to do a restaurant night,” said Hubka, co-owner of the new restaurant Cork and Fork in La Quinta. “So we put together an underground supper club, for lack of a better word, and became really well known for that, and before we knew it, we were turning people away, because we had more people coming than we could seat on any given night.”

With the dinner nights an obvious hit, Hubka saw a craving for interesting, wine-paired dishes. She decided it was time to leave the quiet classroom of her cooking school and enter the fast-paced world of restaurant ownership, which happened officially when Cork and Fork opened to the public on Wednesday, Jan. 16.

“We’re packed every night. We just can’t believe it,” says Hubka. “We knew we were going to be busy, because we had an existing clientele, but the big surprise has been the people from out of town and people we’ve never seen before, who are super-excited about it. We’re sold out and actually oversold every night.”

Cork and Fork is not that big of a place—it seats about 50 people—but packing the house night after night is quite a feat for any new restaurant. But it helps, says Hubka, that there are precious few places in the area that serve the type of cuisine her team creates.

“I come from Los Angeles, where you have lots of options and lots to choose from, but out here in the desert, it’s pretty devoid of interesting food,” said Hubka. “There are a lot of steakhouses and a lot of meat-and-potato places, but there isn’t a lot of ethnic or creative cuisine.”

Not that Hubka is beating her guests over the head with unapproachably complex dishes. Her tactic is to take things people recognize and give them a twist. Add to that a well-trained staff who can suggest appropriate wine-pairings, and you have what is turning out to be a concept people get excited about.

The menu is broken down into snacks, salads, pizzas and favorites that are holdovers from the restaurant’s former life as an underground supper club. Baby-back ribs, Thai shrimp cakes, tamales, mac-and-cheese and a good amount of salads and other dishes take diners on a winding road without delving into anything too strange or unknown.

“You’ll notice there really isn’t a common denominator,” says Hubka. “The only theme is that everything has to be really good.”

The most popular items thus far have been dates stuffed with Point Reyes blue cheese and topped with toasted almonds and chive-infused oil. Guests have also been crazy about the wood-fired “Coachella” pizza—think dates, applewood bacon, goat cheese and pickled onions—and the french fries made with local sweet potatoes.

“We make food that people recognize, but that are all small plates, all shareable,” says Hubka. “The focus is on wine and food pairing, trying a lot of different foods with wines. We call it a ‘unique wine and food experience.’”

The wine list is also a bit different than what many local diners may be used to, since there are few California wines. Instead, the emphasis is on wines from other renowned wine-producing regions such as South Africa, Oregon and others.

“I still run the cooking school, and the teacher in me wants to expose people to different things,” says Hubka. “We’re constantly having to explain our wine to people, but we’re excited to do it because we want people to experience it.”

Hubka says the restaurant is currently open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Happy hour, which includes specials on drinks and bar snacks, happens all night on Wednesday and Sunday and from 4 to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.

Cork and Fork is located at 47875 Caleo Bay Drive, Suite A106, in La Quinta. Call 777-7555, or visit corkandforkwinebar.com for reservations or more information.

Published in Restaurant & Food News