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New: So Cal-Based Chain Luna Grill Opens Its Doors in Palm Desert

Luna Grill claims to be “one of the country’s hottest fast-casual concepts.” While we are not sure exactly what that means, we are sure that the 39th and newest Luna Grill is located in Palm Desert, at 73405 Highway 111, in Palm Desert—and we’re also sure that the Mediterranean-style food being served there is pretty darned delicious.

Independent contributor Kevin Fitzgerald and I were fortunate enough to attend a pre-opening training-day lunch at Luna. I ordered the chicken kabob and gyros plate ($14.95) while Kevin had the chicken wrap ($9.50), and we split the handcrafted spinach pie ($5.25) as a starter. While we had minor quibbles—the chicken in Kevin’s wrap was a little dry, and the rice on my plate needed a bit more flavor—everything was delicious (especially that gyro meat!).

The first Luna Grill opened in 2004, and there are now locations across Southern California, as well as in the Dallas, Texas, area. The company is in a “strategic growth push,” according to a news release, so don’t be surprised to be more locations popping up.

For more information, or to order food online, visit lunagrill.com.


Roc’s Firehouse Grille Cancels NFL Sunday Ticket in Protest of the Protests

On Oct. 4, ROC’s Firehouse Grille, located at 36891 Cook St., in Palm Desert, made an announcement on Facebook: Owner Roland O. Cook was cancelling the restaurant’s subscription to DIRECTV and NFL Sunday Ticket due to the ongoing player protests, during which some players are kneeling during the national anthem.

In the lengthy announcement, Cook—a former firefighter—said that he supported the rights of the players to protest, but that cops and military officers are his friends, and he thinks political divisions are “killing” the country.

“It’s a sure recipe for destroying our children's future,” he wrote. “Damn, can’t you leave politics out of football and just play the game on Sunday? Emphasis on ‘play’ and ‘game.’”

The announcement was followed by hundreds of comments both in support of and opposition to ROC’s decision. The public comment chain is at times moving, at times horrifying (with some definite ignorance and racism here and there), and completely fascinating.

While I disagree in principle with Cook’s decision, I admire his willingness to take a stand for something in which he believes. Beyond that, I’ll leave the pros-and-cons discussion of these player protests—started by Colin Kaepernick, regarding the disproportionate number of deaths of minorities at the hands of law enforcement in this country—for other sections of this newspaper, and simply refer you to www.facebook.com/ROCsFirehouseGrille, where you can read Cook’s announcement and the many, many comments that follow.


In Brief

So long, Appetito. The “Cal-Italian Deli” at 1700 S. Camino Real, in Palm Springs, has closed its doors. A sign went up saying the place would be closed for deep cleaning … and then everything inside disappeared. … Also closed: Palmie French Restaurant, which was located at 44491 Town Center Way in Palm Desert. … And now some good news: Numerous new restaurants continue to open along Highway 111 in Palm Desert. In addition to Luna Grill, the second valley location of Dragon Sushi will soon be opening—if it hasn’t already—at 72261 Highway 111. The original Dragon Sushi, at 82451 Highway 111, in Indio, is wildly popular. Let’s hope this new Dragon Sushi location lasts longer than a short-lived Cathedral City incarnation did three years ago. Search for Dragon Sushi Palm Desert on Facebook for more info. … Just down the street, the second Pokehana is open, at 73405 Highway 111, following in the footsteps of the original location in La Quinta. Learn more at www.pokehana.com. … Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, at 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has hired Alen Badzak as the new executive chef. Badzak’s resume includes stints at the Europa Restaurant at the Villa Royale Inn, The Nest and The New York Company Restaurant. He replaces Jennifer Town, who moved over to Melvyn’s/Ingleside Inn. Learn more at purpleroompalmsprings.com. … Local wine-seller and social club Mood Wine is holding a red-wine tasting at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 15, at Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace, at 276 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Food bites will be paired with the wines on offer; tickets are $57.30. Find more information and a ticket link at www.facebook.com/moodwinellc. … Mark your calendars: The Palm Desert Food and Wine festival will return March 23-25, 2018. Get tickets or sign up for updates at www.palmdesertfoodandwine.com. … If you don’t want to wait until March for local food-fest fun, no worries: The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival is slated for Feb. 17, 2018. Head to www.ranchomiragewineandfoodfestival.com for tickets and details.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

What: The Blistered Shishito Peppers

Where: Appetito Cal-Italian Deli, 1700 S. Camino Real, No. 2, Palm Springs

How much: $4.95

Contact: 760-327-1929; appetitodeli.com

Why: They’re an example of delicious simplicity—with a side of adventure.

Appetito opened earlier this year in the long-vacant space in the Koffi building adjacent to the Ace Hotel, and has since been delighting foodies with its “Cal-Italian” fare, including panini, pasta dishes, pizzas and other goodies.

However, one of Appetito’s best menu items has its roots in neither Italy nor California—instead, it comes from Japan.

Shishitos are a long, thin, green pepper variety. They’re sweet, but you have to be careful when eating them: Every so often, you’ll come across a shishito that’s rather hot. So, hey: Consider eating shishitos to be an adventure!

Eating shishitos is also delight. These peppers are thin-skinned, which means they react wonderfully to heat: The skin chars, or blisters, leaving tasty goodness all around the pepper.

There’s not much to blistered shishitos—just the peppers, salt, a little oil and perhaps another flavoring agent here or there. (On our recent trip to Appetito, I kept getting hints of citrus; whether that was the pepper talking, or whether the talented folks in Appetito’s kitchen added a squeeze of juice during the cooking process, I am not sure. All I know is that it was yummy.)

Another great thing about the peppers: the price. For just $4.95, you get a whole bunch of them. They’re perfect to enjoy before the main course (say, a porchetta sandwich that’s packed with perfectly prepared roasted pork)—or on their own, perhaps paired with a negroni or something else from Appetito’s full bar.

Enjoy!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Appetito Cal-Italian Deli Is Open—and Exciting

It’s safe to say that Appetito Cal-Italian Deli, at 1700 S. Camino Real, in Palm Springs (located in the same building as Koffi), is unlike every other restaurant in the Coachella Valley.

On one hand, the service is fast-casual, meaning that you order at the counter and then get your food delivered to you. (Take note: One of the managers lectured me when I called the service style “fast casual,” even though the term is accurate.) On the other hand, the food you’ll receive is better than you’d get at almost every other so-called fast-casual restaurant. (This explains the lecture.)

On one hand, the menu looks fairly simple: It includes starters, salads, pastas, sandwiches and foccacia (think pizzas, but on foccacia rather than pizza dough). On the other hand, it’s not simple at all: For example, one of the salads is a surprisingly tasty Tuscan kale Caesar (I say “surprising,” because I despise kale), and the ricotta gnocchi is made entirely of cheese—no potato or pasta is present.

On one hand, the décor is open and has a bustling, industrial sort of feel. On the other hand, the space is quite comfortable and features great lamps and other fantastic touches, due to the Christopher Kennedy design. There’s also a great bar, and the patio features an amazing mountain view over the adjacent Ace Hotel and Swim Club.

I was invited to a recent media dinner at Appetito, and I was stunned by all that managing partner Patrick Service and executive chef Chad Shaner—both veterans of the New York restaurant scene—have managed to accomplish so far. We tried a lot of food, and my favorites included the blistered shishito peppers ($5); the tagliatelle with English peas, pancetta, pecorino and a hint of mint ($11 regular portion; $16 full portion); and the foccacia with oven-dried tomatoes, stracciatella, oregano and garlic ($9).

However, the undisputed highlight was the porchetta panino, with pork, broccoli rabe, provolone and a chili aioli ($14). It’s delicious on its own; it’s simply stunning when paired with Coachella Valley Brewing Co.’s Appetito Ale—brewed specially for Appetito, and brewed specifically to go with the porchetta panino.

Appetito opens at 11 a.m. daily. Call 760-327-1929, or visit www.appetitodeli.com for details.

Fantasy Springs Offers Sip of the Desert

The Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio, is promoting its new Sip of the Desert Wine and Spirit Tasting series thusly: “Think monthly wine club, but with the top wineries and spirit distilleries all in one place, knowledgeable representatives, no pricey membership, gourmet cheese pairings and a breathtaking view spanning across the valley floor.”

OK. We’re intrigued.

On Wednesday, March 26, the first Sip of the Desert will feature wines from Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. On Wednesday, April 23, expect tastings of Scotch!

The monthly event is held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the 12th Floor Cocktail Lounge and Wine Bar, and it will cost you $20. Reservations are recommended at 760-238-5727.

The Ritz-Carlton Takes a California-Centered Dining Approach

After a number of long and costly delays, it appears that The Ritz Carlton, Rancho Mirage, 68900 Frank Sinatra Drive, is actually going to open soon: The resort is hiring and accepting reservations for arrivals starting on May 15.

But what does the Ritz have in store for foodies? The resort’s website offers some clues.

The State Fare Bar + Kitchen “pays tribute to California’s prized harvest and ingredients, inspired by offerings from the finest purveyors in the Coachella Valley, inland Southern California and the Pacific coast,” says the website. “Presenting the best of California for daily breakfast, lunch and supper, the restaurant provides a fresh and creative California menu, a lively chefs’ display kitchen, seasonal and artisanal culinary specialties, and signature cocktail trolley service offering table-side classics with a twist.”

Wait. Did that say signature cocktail trolley service? Very cool.

In the fall, The Edge steakhouse is slated to open at the resort as well. Watch for details at www.ritzcarlton.com.

In Brief

Sessions, the restaurant at the Hard Rock Palm Springs (150 S. Indian Canyon Drive), is offering half-off breakfasts and lunches to locals every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through the end of March. Another tip for locals: The Hard Rock pool is open to the public at no charge (as long as you’re 21 or older), and as the weather warms up, there will be more poolside barbecue options available. … Shawn Aoki, the chef at Pinzimini at the Westin Mission Hills (71333 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage), is now offering a new five-course tasting menu. Enjoy kale chips as an amuse before moving on to cauliflower soup, herbed risotto and lobster toast. For the main course, choose between porcini fennel-rubbed flat-iron steak or basil pesto pasta, before finishing with a profiterole for dessert. All of this is yours for $75; visit www.pinziminipalmsprings.com for details.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Hey, Locals: Give Thai House Another Shot

Nisa Hennecke, the new owner of the Thai House in downtown Palm Springs, doesn’t think her personal story is all that special—but she thinks her food is.

Well, I’ve got some news for Hennecke: Both her food and her personal story are pretty gosh-darned special.

Hennecke, a native of Thailand, had worked for years at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, as a poker dealer. But last year, she decided to make a huge change: In June, she purchased Thai House, at 246 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

Why?

“My whole family owned a restaurant, everybody, in Thailand,” she told me.

Indeed, Thai House is a family affair: Hennecke’s sister and brother-in-law moved to the Coachella Valley from Thailand to cook at the restaurant, and her children help out as well.

Hennecke said she and her family completely revamped Thai House’s menu, and that they cook food the way people cook at home back in Thailand.

“My sister is the best cook you will see,” she said.

Hennecke emphasizes freshness, and that was apparent when she treated me to lunch: The tom yum soup was some of the best I’ve ever had.

While Thai House is doing well with tourists, Hennecke said, she’s had a difficult time attracting locals, perhaps because they are unaware that the food has changed. So, Thai-food-loving locals, take it from me: Give Hennecke and Thai House another shot.

For more information, call 760-778-1728, or visit www.thaihousepalmsprings.com.

Viceroy Introduces a New Handcrafted Cocktail Menu

David Nepove knows his cocktails—and residents of the Coachella Valley should be elated that he’s sharing his knowledge with local bartenders.

Nepove is the president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, as well as the director of mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits in California. He was recently in town for a couple of days to help the good folks at the Viceroy Palm Springs’ Citron Restaurant revamp their cocktail menu for the season.

The goal of the Viceroy’s new menu: To use fresh ingredients that are locally sourced, if possible—and to include something for everyone. The results are refreshing and delicious.

I spoke to Nepove as I sipped on a rosemary gimlet, made with 209 gin, fresh lime and rosemary syrup—made from rosemary grown on-site at the Viceroy. Nepove said it’s his goal to make sure all of the bartenders he works with get inspired to take their craft to the next level, and to think of new ways to present lovely ingredients to their customers.

“My job is to steal information from friends and peers, and show that to the people I work with,” Nepove said. “… The staff here at the Viceroy was extra-receptive to this training. They walked in here as bartenders; now they’re craft bartenders.”

The drinks aren’t cheap—the specialty drinks at Citron cost $14—but they’re also a lot more complex and better-thought-out than the drinks you’ll find almost anywhere else.

Citron is located at the Viceroy, 415 S. Belardo Road, in Palm Springs. For more information, call 760-320-4117, or visit www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/palmsprings.

Now Open: Shabu-Shabu Zen

I was first introduced to shabu shabu in Tucson, Ariz.—and I was instantly smitten.

It was at a restaurant (which, alas, has since closed) called Shabu Shabu Takaka, and if memory serves, here’s how shabu shabu works: Diners are brought a soup broth, along with sauces and a variety of raw veggies and meats. The broth is brought to a boil at the table—think fondue, sort of—and the diners cook the raw meats and veggies themselves in that broth. The cooked veggies and meats can be dipped into the sauces and eaten; when they’re all gone, noodles can be added to the broth, and the concoction can be eaten as soup.

It was, in a word, delicious.

Anyway, flash-forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I was driving down Highway 111 through Rancho Mirage. I spotted a sign for a new restaurant, called Shabu-Shabu Zen, with the description “Japanese hot pot, tapas and sake bar.”

Ooh.

The restaurant opened in late January, at 71860 Highway 111, and has been getting rave reviews on the citizen-review websites ever since. My schedule has not allowed me to visit Shabu-Shabu Zen for a meal yet; after I stop in, I’ll share the details here.

As of this writing, there’s no info other than a logo at the restaurant’s website, www.shabu-shabu-zen.com; presumably, more details will show up there eventually. Watch this space for details, too.

In Brief

Tonga Hut, at long last, is open. The tiki bar and restaurant, located at 254 N. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, celebrated its grand opening on Valentine’s Day. … Smoothie fans, take note: Juice It Up! has opened at 79775 Highway 111, No. 102, in La Quinta. It’s the second valley location of the Irvine-based chain, joining the store at 72877 Dinah Shore Drive, No. 101, in Rancho Mirage. … Morgan’s in the Desert, located at the La Quinta Resort and Club at 49499 Eisenhower Drive in La Quinta, is kicking off its Spring Peak Harvest Festival. Expect a series of three-course prix-fixe meals highlighting seasonal ingredients—from blue mussels from Puget Sound, Wash., to morel mushrooms from Mesik, Mich.—between now and early June. Get details at www.morgansinthedesert.com. … Congrats to the folks at Las Casuelas Terraza, the humongous restaurant at 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. The restaurant celebrated its 35th anniversary in February. … Appetito, a “Cal-Italian Deli” restaurant featuring the food of chef Chad Shaner, is expected to open any day now next at 1700 S. Camino Real, No. 2, in Palm Springs. That’s the spot right next to the Koffi across from the Ace Hotel and Swim Club.

Published in Restaurant & Food News