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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

At 6 foot 5 inches tall, chef Tom Hogan stands above the crowd.

His stature doesn’t just involve his height. He stands out because he’s cooked for five presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That’s quite a resume for a chef who calls the desert home, and has done so off and on since 2005.

Chef Tom—that’s how he’s known in the restaurant business—has been cooking for 39 years now. He started learning the trade as a kid in his aunt’s hotel in Atlantic City, right on the Boardwalk.

“I’d go down there to vacation with my parents, but I’d rather stay in the hotel’s kitchen with chefs, fascinated with cooking,” Hogan said.

From then on, Hogan, 53, followed his gastronomical passion all over the United States.

“My first job was in my birthplace, Holyoke, Mass., at The Log Cabin, one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in New England during the late ‘70s,” he proudly states. “After that, I moved to L.A. and got a job at the Hard Rock Cafe.”

Hogan’s career took off following his apprenticeship at the renowned Beverly Hills Hotel. He continued his culinary education under the tutelage of Elka Gilmore, a pioneer chef in fusion cuisine.

“Elka taught me how to think outside the box in the kitchen,” Hogan said.

Hogan later joined the Along Came Mary catering company, famous for its service to numerous stars and Hollywood studios. That’s how Hogan learned how to throw grand parties—from owner Mary Micucci, generally recognized as one of Hollywood’s biggest culinary names.

Hogan then reached for the stars—the movie stars, that is. His cooking for celebs such as Barbra Streisand eventually led to attention from the political world. Naturally, the Secret Service needed to check Hogan’s background, and he received security clearance to cook for presidents.

“Reagan was the first president I’ve cooked for,” Hogan said. “It was a small intimate gathering for 12 people in L.A., and the president and the first lady were among the guests. President Reagan entered the kitchen. He said: ‘Boys, what are we having for dinner? Mommy said we’re going out peas!’ I thought it was a little odd. Then Nancy came in and said, ‘Hi, guys, I heard we’re going to have a great meal!’ She held the president’s hand and led him out of the kitchen.”

He later cooked for Jimmy Carter, after his presidential term had ended. Hogan said his experience with Carter was special, because they were able to chat a bit.

“President Carter was speaking at a large gathering in Holmby Hills in L.A.,” Hogan said. “Security was very tight, but Carter came into the kitchen. He gravitated toward me. He asked me my name and where I was from. We talked a little about my father, who was a postman. We had a nice conversation. He gave me a tap on the shoulder and shook my hand.”

A fancy meal is not always necessary to please a presidential palate, according to Hogan. President Reagan enjoyed a roast leg of lamb, while President Carter loved Hogan’s pecan pie. For President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle, a buffet with roasted baby veggies, rosemary potatoes and shrimp cocktail was sufficient.

“President Bush and Vice President Quayle were getting off the plane at the Santa Monica Airport,” Hogan said. “We did a buffet for them, but we were unhappy with where the kitchen was set up. It was in an airport hangar, and although I was told I’d meet President Bush, I didn’t get a chance to do so.”

On another occasion, President Clinton, delighted by Hogan’s fried chicken, asked to meet the chef.

“It was a fundraiser at a private estate in Malibu,” Hogan said. “I made a mean fried chicken! President Clinton asked the host of the party, ‘Who made this fried chicken?’ The president was expecting someone with a Southern background. He told me it’s something like his mom would make! I told him that I created that recipe for Streisand’s Prince of Tides premiere. We talked for maybe five minutes, about my fried chicken, basically. I told him, ‘I’m just a Yankee.’ He started laughing.”

Then there was a fundraiser for President Obama, up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hogan’s not certain where the event was held, exactly, since he was driven to the location.

“I think it was a Larry Ellison estate,” Hogan said. “There were lots of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and San Francisco-area politicians. President Obama came into the kitchen to thank everyone. I found him and President Clinton to be extremely charismatic. The moment they’d walk into the room, they both immediately became the epicenter of attention.”

Today, Hogan—who spent a four-year stint at Tropicale in downtown Palm Springs—primarily works as a private/executive chef here in the desert and elsewhere. He said he may join forces with Dr. Jane Smith, the owner of a local historic ranch, for a pure organic-food venture. In other words, the chef to the presidents has come the full circle—back to farm-to-table cuisine.

For more information, visit www.mycheftom.com.

Published in Features & Profiles

What: The Torinise Sandwich

Where: The Real Italian Deli, 100 S. Sunrise Way, Suite B, Palm Springs; also at 44795 San Pablo Avenue, No. 1, Palm Desert

How much: $7.99

Contact: 760-325-3800 (Palm Springs); 760-836-1493 (Palm Desert); facebook.com/therealitaliandeli

Why: The yummy ingredients—especially the bread.

The Real Italian Deli opened in Palm Desert in late 2013 to nearly universal acclaim. However, your humble scribe just so happens to live in downtown Palm Springs, meaning that my dining opportunities in Palm Desert are relatively few and far between. As a result, I hadn’t yet sampled the goodies there.

That’s why I was very happy to hear in December that the Real Italian Deli was opening a second location at Sunrise and Tahquitz Canyon ways, a mere five-minute drive from my home. I recently had the opportunity to check it out with some dining companions—and we soon realized that we have been missing out.

The charming little spot is deli/shop first, and restaurant second—seating is limited, whereas the selection of Italian goodies, both pre-packaged and freshly made, is certainly not. Therefore, we ordered our food to go. My selection: A Torinese sandwich, featuring roast beef, lettuce, tomato and a gorgonzola spread, all on a yummy roll.

Man, was the Torniese a tasty sandwich. The meat was perfect; the Gorgonzola spread offered a savory, salty bite; and the tomato and lettuce gave the sandwich a needed freshness.

But what sticks in my memory the most about that sandwich is none of those ingredients; instead, what I remember is the bread. It was soft, yet firm enough to hold up to all the ingredients—and it tasted amazing. It gave the sandwich a lovely, yeasty sweetness, taking it from very good to fantastic.

The other stuff we tried ranged from so-so (the Lucchese sandwich, featuring chicken breast, Parmesan and a sun-dried tomato pesto) to pretty good (the cheesecake) to pretty great (the lasagna). The Real Italian Deli is certainly worth a visit—whether you live within five minutes or 25 minutes of one of the two locations.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Chili Dog

Where: Teriyaki Yogi, 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 210

How much: $5.19

Contact: 760-323-1162

Why: Simply put, it’s a damn good chili dog.

A friend recently mentioned that he’d just eaten one of the best chili dogs he’d ever had.

“Where did you get this amazing chili dog?” I asked.

His reply: Teriyaki Yogi.

Wait, what? This chili dog could be found at a hole-in-the-wall teriyaki joint?! More specifically, it could be found at a hole-in-the-wall teriyaki joint I had literally driven by hundreds of times, without ever giving it a second thought?

Yes. That’s the one. So of course I had to stop in and try a chili dog. And you know what? Teriyaki Yogi’s chili dog is fantastic.

I arrived just as the lunch rush was hitting, so I had to wait a good 10 minutes or so to get my dog. It was worth the wait: The charbroiled, all-beef frank was tucked inside a perfect bun—soft, yet sturdy enough to contain all of the goodness that’s placed inside. As for that goodness, it consisted of cheese, a nice chili and optional onions. There’s no complexity here—there are just great ingredients, prepared well and placed together in perfect proportion.

How’s the teriyaki at Teriyaki Yogi, you ask? Well, I have no idea—but I’ll learn soon, as I was impressed at how the meat was chopped fresh for every cup, bowl, salad and skewer that was prepared during my wait. So I’ll be returning for a teriyaki bowl, for sure—that is, unless I try one of Teriyaki Yogi’s tasty-looking Philly cheesesteaks instead.

Philly cheesesteaks at a hole-in-the-wall teriyaki joint? Wait, what?

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: Barbacoa (pork and beef stew)

Where: La Perlita Mexican Food, 901 Crossley Road, Palm Springs

How much: $11.95

Contact: 760-778-8014

Why: It’s some of the best Mexican food in the valley.

You really have to be looking for La Perlita Mexican Food to find it.

The joint is stuck at the end of a strip mall on Crossley Road between Ramon Road and Dinah Shore Drive. The strip mall is sort of behind the big ol’ Walmart, but, really, it’s surrounded by … nothingness. Your view from the large windows: sand and brush, a fact the owner joked with us about as we waited for our lunch to arrive.

But you’re not going to La Perlita for that view. You’re going for that lunch, or a dinner, or even a late breakfast. And if you’re smart, that meal, whichever meal that may be, will include La Perlita’s fantastic barbacoa.

The menu describes the barbacoa, one of the house specialties, as “homemade-style pork and beef stew with our special sauce, topped with onions and cilantro.” The key word there is “stew”: This is a slow-cooked bit of heaven. The meat is tender; the flavors are rich and infused. When thrown on top of the accompanying rice, or spooned into a fresh tortilla (or, heck, both!), it’s even better.

My only complaint about the barbacoa was that there wasn’t a whole lot of it. The portion was a bit smaller than one would normally find at a Mexican joint, and I was definitely left wanting more.

So add portion sizes to the list of La Perlita negatives, along with the location and the view. Whatever; I’ll be back—because that barbacoa is one of the tastiest Mexican dishes you’ll find in this not-so-li’l valley of ours.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Beef Stroganoff

Where: Miro’s, 1555 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $28

Contact: 760-323-5199; mirospalmsprings.com

Why: Perfection in proportions.

Beef stroganoff is, on paper, a simple dish. You have your beef and maybe mushrooms; you have your pasta; you have your sauce. Mix together. The end.

Ah, but if you want that beef stroganoff to be good, it’s not so simple, is it? For example: How’s the pasta quality? How is that pasta prepared? The same goes for the beef; we’ve all choked down bits of meat before that were closer in texture to leather than food. And then there’s the sauce: How does it taste? Is there too much of it, or is there too little?

The devil is in the details—and at Miro’s, the beef stroganoff is so splendid that you know the folks in the kitchen are carefully making sure those details are perfect.

Yes, you’ll pay more than one normally would for beef stroganoff ($28), but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. In this case, you’re paying for either delicious noodles or spaetzle—and we heartily recommend the spaetzle. It was light with just a hint of browning, giving it a mouth-pleasing hint of crunch. You’re paying for tender, tasty beef that’s been cooked with shallots, garlic and herbs. You’re paying for delicious, appropriately sized mushroom pieces. And you’re paying for all of that to be lovingly combined in just the right amount of a creamy mushroom-brandy sauce.

Miro’s Restaurant is celebrating 20 years in business this year, and dishes like this amazing beef stroganoff illustrate why: Miro Terzic, an immigrant from Yugoslavia, and his crew are experts at Mediterranean and Central European recipes. (An endorsement within an endorsement: You must try the cabbage rolls. Really.) Go and see for yourself.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Grilled Miso Cod Set

Where: Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise, 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $17.95

Contact: 760-325-3005; otootorestaurant.com

Why: The price is right—and the fish is splendid.

Several of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed have been at Nobu, the extremely high-end Japanese restaurant chain owned by Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa.

Nobu’s house specialty is black cod in miso, a stunningly delicious piece of fish that is at once sweet, savory and velvety. It’s often included in the omakase tasting menus at Nobu ($100 to $200 at the Los Angeles Nobu)—or if you want to order the black cod with miso à la carte, it’s $32.

Pricey? Yes—and Nobu is two hours away, to boot. But the news is good for local foodies who don’t want to leave the valley and/or fork over $32, minimum, for a piece of fish: Gyoro Gyoro, in the heart of Palm Springs, is now offering miso cod.

Is the miso cod at Gyoro Gyoro as delectable as the version that made Nobu Matsuhisa a household name? Not quite … but it’s not that far off, either: This grilled cod is a flavor and texture delight—and it’s almost half the price of Nobu’s version.

But wait … there’s more! The “set” (it’s basically fancy bento box) that includes the cod also comes with miso soup, a lovely salad, a side dish (an impressive cold radish-noodle dish when we were there) and rice. (I spent $3 extra to upgrade that rice into four California roll pieces; I was glad I did.) Not bad for $17.95 (plus that $3 upgrade), eh? You can get a larger entrée portion—sans the set, but with veggies and Japanese Satsuma sweet mashed potatoes—for $21.95.

I recommend getting to Gyoro Gyoro a little early and taking advantage of the restaurant’s nice happy hour. Daily from 3 to 6:30 p.m. (or 10 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday), enjoy discounted treats such as a lychee sake-tini ($4.95) or a splendid spicy tuna roll ($5.95).

Add the cocktail, the roll and the miso set together, and you’re still spending less than $32. That’s a great deal. Hooray for Gyoro Gyoro!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Desert Jewel

Where: Citron, inside the Viceroy Palm Springs, 415 S. Belardo Road, Palm Springs

How much: $14

Contact: 760-318-3005; www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/palmsprings

Why: It’s a perfect craft cocktail.

Regular readers of this feature know that your humble scribe likes—no, loves—a good craft cocktail.

Regular readers between the lines of this feature know that your humble scribe is pretty frustrated at the relative dearth of great craft cocktails in this valley.

Thankfully, more and more bars and restaurants are moving beyond Cape Cods and Jack-and-Cokes—and Citron at the Viceroy is undeniably one of the leaders of our valley’s emerging craft-cocktail scene.

Consider the Desert Jewel, Citron’s signature drink. The ingredient list: Absolut Mandarin, Aperol, grapefruit juice, lemon juice and Veuve champagne.

Great ingredients, yes, but the result of their combination is, as the saying goes, greater than the sum of the parts. The Desert Jewel is sweet, but subtly so. It’s citrusy, but not acidic. None of the ingredients overwhelm—which was a concern I had after reading the menu, because grapefruit tends to dominate. The cocktail is simply a refreshing, flavorful, slightly savory delight.

Of course, there’s a downside to craft cocktails at places like the Viceroy: They tend to be expensive, and this $14 drink is not an exception to that rule. One way to lessen the financial blow is to head to Citron’s oddly lit bar during Happy Hour—that’s 4:30 to 7 p.m., Sunday through Thursday—when some nice appetizers (including a revelatory watermelon gazpacho) and great cocktails can be had for just $6 each.

Sadly, the Desert Jewel is not one of those $6 cocktails. However, I’d take one $14 Desert Jewel over two $7 Cape Cods anytime. Life’s just too short for crappy cocktails. 

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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

What: The Slider Sampler

Where: Woody’s Burgers, 317 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $10.50

Contact: 760-230-0188; woodysburgersps.com

Why: Variety is the spice of life.

Sometimes, you don’t want to make a choice—and when it comes to burgers, Woody’s makes life a little easier on indecisive diners with the restaurant’s slider sampler.

Now, that does not mean said diners are absolved of all choices; after all, Woody’s offers more than a half-dozen burger offerings, and the sampler includes just three sliders (miniature versions of the restaurant’s burgers). Sorry ’bout that.

On our recent visit to the renowned downtown Palm Springs burger joint, we skipped the basic hamburger and cheeseburger, as well as the Hawaiian burger and the mushroom burger, in favor of the three sliders pictured above: the jalapeño burger, the bleu burger, and the Western burger.

Speaking of not wanting to make a choice: We’re glad nobody’s making us pick a favorite, because all three of these li’l burgers were damn tasty.

The three sliders had a lot of great things in common: The deliciously seasoned patties were cooked perfectly (medium, just as requested). The buns were delightfully toasted. And they were each cute as heck.

They also had a lot of fantastic differences as well: The jalapeño slider had a nice kick—from the fresh pepper slices, yes, but from the pepperjack cheese, too. The bleu burger had a lot of high-quality crumbled blue cheese, but not so much that the rest of the other flavors were overwhelmed. And the Western burger featured sweet, tangy barbecue sauce, as well as a firm, thick beer-battered onion ring.

Yummy.

While Woody’s is best known for the burgers, the restaurant is also known for friendly service, a great vibe and fantastic jazz music every single night. (Oh, and the restaurant has a full bar, too!) All of these factors make Woody’s Burgers an easy choice for burger-lovers and music-lovers alike.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Zin Bites

Where: Zin American Bistro, 198 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $9

Contact: 760-322-6300; pszin.com

Why: The zin in the sauce.

This is a story of second chances.

Several months back, we took a friend who was visiting Palm Springs out to dinner at Zin American Bistro. While the service and the ambiance were top-notch, the food was decidedly unremarkable. I’d tell you what we had … but I can’t remember what we had. It was not a terrible meal, but it was a meal that left us underwhelmed and not exactly rushing to return.

Shortly after that experience, I had a conversation with a fellow foodie; our lackluster Zin experience came up.

“Well, did you try the Zin Bites?” the foodie inquired?

We hadn’t.

“Well, you have to at least go back for those,” he said, before adding, “Really,” and explaining that the Bites were, essentially, miniature beef Wellingtons.

It sounded yummy. I made a mental note.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I was studying the various menus for Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Ten Days Week. I noticed that these Zin Bites (usually available for $9) were one of the first-course offerings on Zin American Bistro’s $26 prix-fixe menu; second courses included impressive offerings like a ribeye.

$26 for mini beef Wellingtons, a steak and dessert? Yes. It was time to give Zin a second chance.

Boy, are we glad we did.

The ribeye was nice (and a great deal)—but without a doubt, the best part of my meal was that plate of four Bites. The Zin Bites themselves—each including a tiny piece of filet mignon surrounded by goat cheese and wrapped lovingly in pastry—were great. However, the maroon zinfandel-reduction/shallot sauce took the Bites from great to oh my gosh, we need to order another plate of these.

However, we held off on ordering another round. Instead, we returned to Zin for another Restaurant Week meal several days later—making it the only restaurant we visited twice over that 10-day period.

Zin American Bistro is now on our list of regular restaurants. Thank goodness for second chances—and thank goodness for those fantastic Zin Bites.

Published in The Indy Endorsement