CVIndependent

Sat09222018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Jimmy Boegle

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.

What: The wild mushroom soup

Where: Acqua California Bistro, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; also at Lulu California Bistro, 200 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $5.99-$8.99 depending on menu; also available on special menus

Contact: 760-862-9800; www.acquaranchomirage.com (Acqua); 760-327-5858; www.lulupalmsprings.com (Lulu)

Why: It’s consistently delicious.

Whenever I go to Acqua California Bistro (or Lulu California Bistro, for that matter), I have a problem: Even though the menu is rather expansive and varied, I almost always feel the need to order the same thing—the wild mushroom soup.

Why, you may ask, do I feel the need to always order a hot soup, when the local temperatures often can best be described as “convection oven”?

The answer is simple: It’s really, really tasty. This soup is not much to look at, but it makes my taste buds happy. The earthy and even meaty flavor of the mushrooms is enhanced by perfect seasoning—including just a touch of truffle oil. Yum!

Actually, my “need” to always order the wild mushroom soup isn’t really much of a problem. If I sit in the bar area, where it’s pretty much always happy hour, I can enjoy the soup for just $5.99, meaning there’s room in my budget to order something else. And if I am not sitting in the bar area, the soup is included as an offering on all of Acqua’s discounted prix-fixe menus. In other words, I can always get the soup and an entrée and a dessert for less than $20. Awesome.

On my recent visit to Acqua, I “splurged” and ordered from the $29.99 four-course menu (a fine deal!). I started with the soup, and then enjoyed the ahi tuna on crispy wontons before having the sirloin-steak salad as my entrée, and finishing with the lemon tart. All of it was great … but it’s the mushroom soup that makes my mouth water every time I think of it.

FIND Food Bank Celebrates 35 Years of Feeding Coachella Valley Residents in Need

The statistics are staggering: Each month, FIND Food Bank—which supports the communities of the Coachella Valley, high desert and Salton Sea area—helps more than 85,000 people, both directly and through its partner agencies. In a year’s time, more than 10 million pounds of food will be given to those in need—more than half of that fresh fruit and vegetables.

The cynical among us right now might be thinking: “That’s great. But this is a restaurant-news column. What does this have to do with restaurant news?”

My retort: Those of us fortunate enough to eat at restaurants on occasion need to realize that a whole bunch of our neighbors need our help to get food on the table, period.

To that end, FIND is celebrating its 35 years of existence during September—which is also Hunger Action Month at FIND and all Feeding America-affiliated food banks—with an ambitious goal: FIND’s management is hoping 3,500 people will donate $35 to mark the Indio-based food bank’s 35 years of service.

Debbie Espinosa, FIND’s president and CEO, said she, her staff and volunteers are proud of what they’ve accomplished over 35 years.

“The accomplishment is amazing,” she said, “from starting with basic food rescue out of a blue Pinto, and turning it into a food bank that serves the Coachella Valley and beyond.”

Help out, if you can, with that $35 or more. Get details at www.findfoodbank.org.


In Brief

Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise, the sprawling restaurant located 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, has closed for good. File this one under “wasted opportunity”: The restaurant, owned by now-in-bankruptcy Ramla USA Inc., could not take advantage of a relative dearth of Japanese restaurants in the west valley. While Gyoro Gyoro was a gorgeous restaurant with at-times great food, it seemed mismanaged, including a notorious closure following a bad health inspection, and a lack of community involvement. However, the news is not all bad: The family that owns L’Olivo Italian Restaurant, located at 333 N. Palm Canyon Drive, has already snapped up the location. Watch this space to see how that turns out. … Toucans Tiki Lounge, the popular gay bar located at 2100 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has been purchased by managers who are part of Foundation 10 Creative, the company that owns restaurants including Birba, Cheeky’s and Mr. Lyons Steakhouse. Dave Morgan, of Reaction Marketing and Promotions, is also involved. The new owners are saying Toucans will remain a gay bar focused on entertainment. Let’s see how this goes. ... Newish to Rancho Mirage, at 42452 Bob Hope Drive: Hielo Sno, a shaved-ice/snow-cone joint. Learn more at hielosno.business.site. … Donald “Lucky” Callender has purchased Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse, located in Rancho Mirage’s The River at 71800 Highway 111, from the trust fund set up by his father, Donald W. Callender, the man who started both Babe’s and the Marie Callender’s chain. We hear changes are already taking place. … Celebrate Mexican Independence Day, if you’re so inclined, on Sunday, Sept. 16, with $16 tequila flights and live music at Las Casuelas Terraza, located at 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. Watch www.lascasuelas.com for more details. … On Saturday, Sept. 15, The Saguaro, at 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will hold its Beats and Brews Fest. For $45, sample beers and tequilas from well more than two dozen companies, and enjoy great music from bands including The Flusters, Spankshaft and Plastic Ruby. Get more details at thesaguaro.com/palm-springs. … Coming soon to Palm Desert: The Vine Wine Bar, at 74868 Country Club Drive. Watch www.thevinewinebar.com/palm-desert-ca for details. Oh, by the way, it’s right next door to a new IW Coffee location! … Bit o’ Country, the diner at 418 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has reopened. It has new owners and has been tidied up a bit, but the greasy-spoon food and vibe remain (and we mean that in a good way). … There is good news and bad news from Bootlegger Tiki, the craft-cocktail joint at 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. The good: The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation honored the bar with one of its Spirited Awards, for having one of the 10 Best Bar Teams in the western U.S. The bad: The leader of that team since the bar’s opening, Chad Austin, has departed Bootlegger and the Coachella Valley for greener pastures. Congrats to Bootlegger, and best wishes to Chad!

A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Garrett, decided to get more active on Facebook. One of his motivations was a realization that our friends are, for the most part, like-minded—Democrats, fairly liberal, etc.

He decided to send friend requests to anyone with 50 or more mutual friends—people with whom he likely had something in common, but didn’t necessarily already know.

His Facebook friends list grew by hundreds over the next few days … and this led to some interesting things. A few of his new “friends” instantly hit on him. He had a couple of nice conversations with people regarding their common connections. And he discovered that some of his new Facebook friends were rather fervent Trump supporters.

For some people—many people, actually—this would have led to an instant click of the “unfriend” link. I’ve seen a lot of my liberal friends brag with glee after unfriending Trump supporters who had chosen to speak out on Facebook; I’ve even heard some talk about unfriending people who merely clicked “like” on Trump’s page, even though people “like” Facebook pages for a lot of different reasons.

However, Garrett’s goal was not to simply become “friends” with yet more people who shared his opinions—so rather than clicking “unfriend,” he decided to engage.

I asked Garrett what he has learned so far from his Trump-supporting friends. His rather depressing response: “They’re self-isolating and aren’t interested in other opinions.”

In other words, they’re just like our liberal friends.

There’s a lesson to be learned here: We should all be a little more like Garrett, and reach out more to our neighbors who may not agree with us. After all, we need to share our roads, our stores, our cities, our planet; shouldn’t we at least make an effort to understand each other? As Garrett said to one of the Trump supporters (who, alas, went on to unfriend him): “If we can’t communicate with each other, democracy doesn’t work.”

I am going to repeat that, because it’s important: If we can’t communicate with each other, democracy doesn’t work.

Today and tomorrow, the Independent is joining hundreds of newspapers and news websites around the country in publishing editorials calling on President Donald Trump to stop his near-constant attacks on the freedom of the press. Since before he took office, Trump has repeatedly, and angrily, denounced the news media as a whole—even, as I recently mentioned, going so far to refer to the media as “enemy of the people.”

I could go into details here about how this rhetoric is right out of the authoritarianism playbook. I could elaborate on how the news media is not one big, cohesive entity, but instead, many hundreds of publications with all sorts of different editorial philosophies and viewpoints, ranging from sharply liberal to staunchly conservative. I could go on and on … but I won’t. I’ll just again repeat Garrett’s words: If we can’t communicate with each other, democracy doesn’t work.

The nation’s free, unrestricted press is one of the ways we communicate with each other—and the unwarranted, unspecific and potentially dangerous verbal attacks by the president on the free press must stop.

We all need to do better. As citizens, we need to do a better job of understanding other. As newspapers, we need to make sure we’re being as diverse as possible—inclusive of all valid viewpoints and concerns. Our public officials need to do a better job of representing their constituents—all of them—and being leaders.

Of course, leadership starts at the top, and in the United States, that means it starts with the president of the United States.

No matter what your politics are, I hope we can all agree: Journalists are not the enemy. Because if we can’t communicate with each other, democracy doesn’t work.

What: The three-scoop bowl

Where: Haus of Poké, 111 N. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 160, Palm Springs; also at 42500 Bob Hope Drive, No. 3, Rancho Mirage

How much: $11.49

Contact: 760-537-1173 (Palm Springs); 760-636-1892 (Rancho Mirage); www.hausofpoke.com

Why: It’s make-your-own bliss—if you do so carefully.

Sometimes, when we’re given too many options in life, we make mistakes.

Such was the case for me on a recent lunch visit to the new downtown Palm Springs House of Poké. I knew I wanted a nice, healthyish bowl of fish yumminess; however, I didn’t think much about the specific form that yumminess would take.

When I walked in and looked at all of the choices … it was almost overwhelming. How many scoops … with a choice of nine proteins? Which of the five base ingredients? Which of six mix-ins? Which of 10 sauces? Which of more than a dozen toppings?

Not sure about all this, I just winged it: I decided on three scoops, split between ahi tuna and yellowtail. (Shrimp and octopus were also strong candidates. The tofu and the beets? Not so much.) I went with just one mix-in, the green onions. I got two sauces—eel sauce and ponzu—and two toppings: crab meat and crispy garlic, with pickled ginger on the side.

I paid for my order, sat down, and eagerly dove in. And I didn’t like it.

There was nothing wrong with the ingredients; they were great, in fact. The problem was that I came up with a concoction that did not work with my palate at that time. The eel sauce overwhelmed the fish and the crab, and conflicted with the crispy garlic; there was not enough ponzu sauce to keep the rice moist, in part because I said I only wanted a “medium” amount of the sauces combined.

I decided to go back for lunch the next day—after giving more thought to things. This time, I got salad and chips as my base, ahi tuna as my protein, green onions as my mix-in, mustard ponzu (after trying it first to see how it tasted) as my one sauce, and crab meat as my only topping.

It was amazing. It was so good, in fact, that I had to talk myself out of going to Haus of Poké for lunch a third day in a row.

What: The Italian ice

Where: Vinny’s Italian Ice and Frozen Custard, 190 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $7 as shown

Contact: 760-904-4625; vinnysitalianice.com

Why: It’s a tasty, cooling treat.

By this time of year, even the heartiest desert-dwellers are simply done with the oppressive heat.

We all have our tricks for dealing with the 110-degree-plus temps, ranging from 24-hour pool access to constant near-nudity to diets consisting of nothing but cold alcoholic beverages. Well, my friends, I recently discovered another helpful tool in the battle with the summer sizzle: the Italian ice at Vinny’s, in downtown Palm Springs.

Italian ice is apparently more of an East Coast thing—I haven’t lived farther east than Tucson, Ariz., so I wouldn’t know—that’s akin to sorbet, in that it doesn’t contain any milk, dairy or egg. As a result, it’s less creamy, but healthier—and it’s really, really cold.

On a recent trip to Vinny’s—which also serves house-made custard and gelato, for those of you who like your cold treats with a little more heft—I got a medium-sized cup, which included three scoops. I decided to mix it up with three decidedly different flavors: vanilla, mango and pecan pie. All three scoops were delicious and oh-so-refreshing; the tastiest was the mango, although the pecan pie was the most interesting.

If I have one complaint … it’s that Vinny’s offerings are rather pricey. I get it; it takes time and money to take quality ingredients and turn them into great, house-made products; it also costs money to pay for rent, employees, air conditioning, etc. However, I also understand that when cash is tight, it might make more sense to go to the store and spend $3 to $5 on a quart and a half of ice cream.

When money’s not an issue, and the heat is an issue, I can promise you: I’ll be at Vinny’s enjoying some cold, delicious Italian ice.

The president of the United States has yet again called the media the “enemy of the people.”

I am a member of the media. I—like many other journalists I know—work long hours for crappy pay, because I believe in the power and importance of a robust and free press. I am not complaining about the hours and the pay; I chose this profession, this life. I love it so much that I poured every dime I had, and then some, into starting what I thought was a much-needed newspaper in a community I love.

I just wish the president—a common and frequent liar by any measure—would stop calling me an “enemy of the people” when I am exactly the opposite. Note that whenever the president spews this hatred, he almost never uses specifics about what the media got wrong. There’s a reason for this.

I—like many other journalists I know—am sometimes afraid. Several weeks ago, five newspaper people were murdered in their Maryland newsroom. When news of these shootings came out, I was despondent, afraid someone had finally taken the president’s words about reporters and turned them into cold, evil action. I was strangely relieved when word came out that the gunman was apparently motivated by a long-standing obsession with the newspaper, and not anything the president said.

However, it’s only a matter of time before somebody does turn the president’s words into action. I have received death threats before. It’s a weird feeling to sit down at your desk, open your email, and see a letter from someone, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, who is threatening to take your life. It’s not fun.

Many of my colleagues at other newspapers tell me they’ve seen an uptick in threats and hatred thrown their way ever since the president took office. As a result, they’ve been beefing up security. My good friend Mary Duan, of the Monterey County Weekly, recently wrote a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review about the increases in security and protective measures the paper has enacted over the years. As of now, anyone wanting to enter the building must be buzzed in. However, there’s a problem: The Monterey County Weekly’s office building has a glass door … like the one the Capital Gazette shooter blasted through to gain access to his victims.

“So it is that the Weekly will once again add security to our funky, midcentury-modern building. Instead of being able to walk straight up to the glass door, visitors will first stop at a high steel gate that will go up across the approach to the building,” Mary wrote.

The only reason the Independent has not beefed up office security is that, well, we don’t have an office. I work from home … where the door is always locked, and where I have a security system and a gun.

It does not matter what one’s political views are. It’s wrong and irresponsible to be hostile to the idea of a free press. It’s terrible to insult and demean journalists for just doing their jobs.

It’s fascist, authoritarian and evil to call the free press the “enemy of the people.”

This is the note from the editor in our August 2018 print edition, hitting the streets this week. Like this article? Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent via our tip jar.

Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out for Life Breaks Records

If anyone ever needs proof that the residents of the Coachella Valley are a rather generous lot, look no further than the results of the Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out for Life (DOFL) fundraiser back in April.

First, a recap of how DOFL works: On one chosen day per year, restaurants across the Coachella Valley agree to donate at least 33 percent of their sales—from one particular meal, or from everything—to the Desert AIDS Project.

On April 26, 75 local restaurants participated, raising a whopping $280,000 for DAP—an increase of $50,000 from last year. An estimated 10,000 valley residents went to these 75 restaurants that day.

“You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a ‘badge of honor’—the ‘I Dined’ stickers given to diners at participating locations,” said event manager George Nasci-Sinatra, according to a news release.

That’s impressive. However, it’s even more impressive when these numbers are put into context.

Dining Out for Life is a nationwide (plus Canada!) campaign held the last Thursday in April every year by various HIV/AIDS service organizations. Representatives of all of these campaigns gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the North American Dining Out for Life Conference in July to compare notes. Well, it turns out that even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smallest markets participating in Dining Out for Life, we rank No. 2 (!) in terms of money raised.

“Only Denver, which had three times more participating restaurants, raised more funds this year,” said Darrell Tucci, the chief development officer for DAP. “To be the smallest market in population driving the second-largest results is absolutely extraordinary and something we should all be proud of. Other markets have more participating restaurants, but no other market can boast the level of commitment shown by restaurants in greater Palm Springs.”

The main reason for the local Dining Out for Life’s success is the sheer generosity of local restaurants: In fact, the Top 3 restaurants in the country (plus Canada!) in terms of the total amount of money donated are here—Spencer’s Restaurant, Lulu California Bistroand Trio Restaurant, in that order. They raised a combined total of $61,679.

It’s also worth noting the sacrifice of some smaller restaurants that elected to give 100 percent or more of the day’s proceeds to DAP: Townie Bagels, Holiday House, The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, Ristretto and Rooster and the Pig. Heck, the wait staff at Rooster and the Pig even donated their tips for the day to DAP.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I’m personally a supporter of the Desert AIDS Project; the Independent does business with DAP; and George Nasci-Sinatra and Darrell Tucci are good friends of mine.)

Will the Coachella Valley be able to top these fantastic results during the next Dining Out for Life, on Thursday, April 25, 2019? Stay tuned.

For more information as the 2019 date draws nearer, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings.


The Ace Hotel and Swim Club Celebrates Its Annual Craft Beer Weekend.

It’s become a summer tradition for Southern California beer-lovers: The Ace Hotel and Swim Club's Seventh Annual Craft Beer Weekend will take place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4 and 5.

The weekend’s big events are a Craft Beer Festival from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, featuring entertainment, food and unlimited tastings (!) from some of the top craft breweries from SoCal and beyond; and a beer brunch at 11 a.m. on Sunday, featuring six beer-inspired and beer-paired courses—plus starting and ending beers, too.

Passes for the Saturday festival are $35, and the Sunday brunch will set you back $55—or do both for just $70. Attendees who book a room for the weekend get into the festival for free.

Get tickets and more info at www.acehotel.com/calendar/palmsprings/craft-beer-weekend-18.


In Brief

The Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, at 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage, has announced it has adopted new technology from a company called ORCA Digesters, Inc., that turns food waste into water. This will keep an estimated 624 tons (!) of food out of landfills each year. Awesome! … The Libation Room is now open at 73750 El Paseo, in Palm Desert. The new cocktail bar promises a speakeasy type of vibe; check it out Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 p.m. on. For more information, call 877-869-8891, or visit www.libationroom.com. … The Manhattan in the Desert in Palm Desert, at 74225 Highway 111, has apparently closed. The Palm Springs location, at 2665 E. Palm Canyon Drive, is still alive and kicking. … One of the most happening outdoor-dining spots in downtown Palm Springs has been temporarily closed for a “facelift.” The patio at Tropicale, at 244 E. Amado Road, was closed on July 9 for a remodel that “should take about three weeks,” although the indoor bar and dining room remains open during construction. Depending on how that goes, and when you’re reading this, it may have reopened already! Call 760-866-1952 with questions.

What: The roasted suckling pig

Where: Alebrije Bistro Mexico, 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $28

Contact: 760-537-1279; www.alebrijeps.com

Why: It’s a surprisingly refined dish.

Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week brought both disappointments and delicious finds at the handful of participants I was able to visit—but my most delicious find of all was Alebrije Bistro Mexico.

It was so delicious that Alebrije was the only place I visited twice during Restaurant Week.

Alebrije went above and beyond by offering four courses—not just the requisite three—for $39, and the food showed a level of sophistication rarely found here in the Coachella Valley. A couple of examples: The octopus ceviche ($14 on the regular menu) respected the star ingredient while wowing the taste buds. The creamy poblano soup ($8) with roasted corn and caramelized peppers was a nuanced, creamy revelation, with the spice and earthiness of the pepper enhanced and improved by the sweetness of the corn.

Either of these dishes was worthy of an endorsement—but the entrée I had on both Restaurant Week visits, as well as a follow-up visit, came out on the top of my list: the roasted suckling pig. There doesn’t seem to be all that much to the dish: There’s a pile of shredded meat with onions on top; some corn puree spread around the plate; and small dishes of black beans and salsa verde, with homemade corn tortillas on the side.

The magic happens when the ingredients are combined: Once a portion of that moist, delicious pork is placed in a delicious tortilla with a little bit of each of the other ingredients … wow.

On all of my visits so far, Alebrije has been far from busy. This, folks, is a shame: This Palm Springs restaurant is offering an upscale dining experience like no other in the Coachella Valley. Go. You will be very happy that you did.

What: The lamb and beef gyro plate

Where: Super Shawarma Mediterranean Grill, 69185 Ramon Road, No. 3, Cathedral City

How much: $11.99

Contact: 760-321-1100; www.supershawarmacc.com

Why: The oh-so-pleasing melding of textures and temperatures.

Once upon a time, I had a go-to gyro place. Whenever I had a hankering for good gyro, I’d head over there for some delicious food.

Alas, this would not last forever. The gyro place is still there; however, I decided I could no longer give the place my business after the owner angrily threw out one of the Independent’s distribution drivers for no reason—after he’d personally given me permission for us to leave papers there. (On the plus side … his angry responses to less-than-great reviews on his Yelp page are incredibly entertaining.)

So, for the last few years, I have been culinarily adrift, lacking a place to quickly and easily get great gyro. However, that’s changed now that I’ve found Super Shawarma.

I’d seen the place before—it’s next to one of my go-to sushi places—but I’d never stopped in until a recent lunchtime. Only one or two other tables in the impeccably clean space were occupied, which is a shame—because the food I had was excellent.

The lamb and beef gyro plate comes with hummus, tzatziki, a pickle-forward salad, pita and, of course, gyro—delicious, perfectly prepared gyro. It was a mixture of moist and crispy, and when wrapped in a piece of pita with some of the earthy hummus and cool, creamy yogurt sauce … wow, it was good.

Super Shawarma also offers all the expected Mediterranean dishes, as well as some fairly unusual finds. (A spicy Alexandria beef liver dish? Intriguing!) There are a bunch of vegetarian options, too, for those of you who eschew meat. For those of you who don’t … Super Shawarma just may become your new gyro place.

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