CVIndependent

Tue03192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The Reuben

Where: Wexler’s Deli at Arrive Palm Springs, 1551 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $17

Contact: 760-507-1640; wexlersdeli.com/wexlers-arrive-palm-springs

Why: It’s a top-notch sandwich.

When it was announced that Wexler’s—a Jewish-style deli with three popular Los Angeles-area locations—would be taking over the main restaurant space at the Arrive Hotel, I was excited. After all, there’s a serious demand here for the type of food served at Wexler’s

“Have you ever tried to get a table at Sherman’s in Palm Springs at noon on a Saturday during season?” I wrote.

Since the fall 2018 opening, however, I have neither seen nor heard much about Wexler’s. Therefore, I decided to go in for lunch one recent day to check things out—and I found a restaurant that’s wasting a ton of potential.

The food at Wexler’s is not the problem—hence its inclusion in this column. While the menu is much more limited than what you’ll find at Sherman’s or Manhattan in the Desert, the Jewish-deli staples are all there, and the Reuben sandwich I had was excellent all around, from the delicious and thick slices of corned beef, to the perfectly toasted rye bread, to the tasty potato salad and pickles on the side.

However … the sandwich costs $17. That’s about what you’ll pay elsewhere in town—but elsewhere, you can get fries, whereas at Wexler’s, if you want fries instead of coleslaw or potato salad, you’ll have to get a side for $5. And strangely enough, the Wexler’s locations in L.A. charge $2 or $3 less for this Rueben.

Also: As I mentioned, I haven’t seen or heard much about Wexler’s since it opened, and it seems to be out of mind for many locals. Advertising and/or community involvement is needed here.

I say this, because despite a gorgeous space at Arrive, and despite great food, Wexler’s was basically dead during my weekday lunch visit. When I drove by Sherman’s on my way home—after the “lunch rush,” about 1:30 p.m.—there was a throng of people waiting outside.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The French onion soup

Where: Bongo Johnny’s Patio Bar and Grill, 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 200, Palm Springs

How much: $3.95 for a cup; $6.95 for a bowl

Contact: 760-318-3960; www.bongojohnnys.com

Why: It’s delicious, pure and simple.

Before I begin extolling the deliciousness of the French onion soup at Bongo Johnny’s, I should explain that this restaurant holds a special place in my heart.

You see, Bongo Johnny’s supports many of the same causes I do—the Desert AIDS Project, for example, via Dining Out for Life. It’s also an active member of the Desert Business Association (of which I am on the board) and even one of the primary sponsors of my softball team. (Go Palm Springs Heat!) Therefore, I was crushed when an early-morning kitchen fire on March 7 of last year shuttered the restaurant—and, due to a dispute with the landlord over the rebuild, forced it to move several blocks northwest, to the space most recently occupied by Café Europa/jusTapas.

In the nearly 10 months that Bongo Johnny’s was closed, I missed it … and I especially missed one menu item—the French onion soup.

Bongo Johnny’s isn’t known for fancy fare—it features the burgers, sandwiches and breakfast items one would expect from something called a “patio bar and grill”—but its kitchen also produces some items that go well beyond standard bar fare. For example, the macaroni-and-cheese options are among the town’s best … and then there’s the French onion soup. Served with melted cheese and a crostini, as it should, this soup is simply delicious. It’s rich, packed with fresh onions and perfectly seasoned.

On my first visit to the reopened Bongo Johnny’s—for a softball team meeting, actually—the first thing I ordered was the French onion soup. When it was brought to the table and placed in front of me, I couldn’t help but smile … because one of my favorites was back.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The house turkey club

Where: Carousel Bakery, 440 S. El Cielo Road, No. 5, Palm Springs

How much: $9.99

Contact: 760-699-5006; carouselbakeryps.com

Why: It’s mostly made in-house.

I’ve pledged to substantially cut my carbohydrate intake in 2019—and places like Carousel Bakery are making it very difficult for me to keep this pledge.

Pretty much everything Carousel makes is carbs … and pretty much everything Carousel makes is delicious. On a recent visit to Carousel (at which I’d decided to completely and totally throw the diet out the figurative window, obviously), I decided to get the house turkey club sandwich for my main course, and a cheese finger ($2.50) for dessert.

Alberto and Elizabeth Cervantes are the proprietors of this tiny bakery, and they’re almost certainly the people who will be serving you there. On this visit, Elizabeth guided me through tough decisions about my sandwich (like which house-made bread I wanted it on, and whether I wanted it toasted; “sourdough” and “yes” were the recommendations with which I went) while Alberto rang up my order. Elizabeth informed me that the turkey used on the sandwich is roasted in-house—and the Dijon mayonnaise is made there, too.

All these fresh, house-made touches were evident from the first bite of the sandwich; it was full of flavor, with perfect proportions of all the ingredients. A flaw in just one element can throw off a sandwich, but there were no flaws at all here.

And that cheese finger … wow. The dough was flaky and sweet, while the cheese filling was creamy, just a little savory and just a little sweet. It was a flawless pastry.

While I’ll be limiting my carbs and calorie intakes this year, Carousel Bakery will definitely near the top of my restaurant splurge list. What they do there is just so good.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The cinnamon brown sugar breakfast tart

Where: Wilma and Frieda’s, 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; also at 73575 El Paseo Drive, Palm Desert

How much: $4.95

Contact: 760-992-5080 (Palm Springs); 760-773-2807 (Palm Desert); wilmafrieda.com

Why: They’re delicious—and very affordable.

When I heard that Wilma and Frieda’s was going to be taking over the former location of The Falls—one of the most beautiful restaurant spaces in the valley, overlooking the La Plaza area in downtown Palm Springs—I was elated.

For five years, Wilma and Frieda’s, located on El Paseo in Palm Desert, has been serving up some of the valley’s best breakfasts and lunches. Not only was I excited about the fact that one of the area’s most renowned restaurants was expanding to the west valley; I was intrigued by what the owners would do with the large, second-story space.

Well, it seems my excitement was justified: The new Wilma and Frieda’s is gorgeous, and the owners have expanded the offerings at the Palm Springs location beyond 3 p.m.: The bar is currently open until 9 p.m. most nights, and full dinner service is coming soon.

I stopped in one recent Saturday after an early-ish dinner to see the new space and try a cocktail. Since it was after dinner, I was craving dessert … and Wilma and Frieda’s (at both locations) has an amazing selection of housemade sweets, including brownies, bars, cookies, cakes and “breakfast tarts”—you know, like those store-bought frosted pastries that you pop into the toaster, but presumably a lot better.

Being a fan of all things containing brown sugar, I decided to try the cinnamon brown sugar breakfast tart. Not only did it sound delicious; it was only $4.95—and where else can you get a fresh-baked dessert for that price in this town?

The tart exceeded my expectations: It was warm, crispy out the outside and gooey on the inside—and it was yummy.

Welcome to Palm Springs, Wilma and Frieda’s. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The spiced Jurgielewicz duck

Where: 4 Saints, inside the Kimpton Rowan Hotel, 100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs

How much: $37

Contact: 760-392-2020; www.4saintspalmsprings.com

Why: The nuance.

Sometimes when I’m hungry, I want to head to the civilized human equivalent of a feed trough and eat. Other times, I want something a little more refined … nuanced … special.

Enter 4 Saints, the gorgeous restaurant on the top floor of the year-old Kimpton Rowan Hotel in downtown Palm Springs. I’ve dined there twice now—twice a year is about what my finances will allow—and both times, I have been blown away by the quality of the food coming out of executive chef Stephen Wambach’s kitchen.

On my most recent visit, the hubby and I sat at the bar and shared the hamachi crudo ($19) and foie gras ($24) as starters. Both were fabulous; in fact, I doubted that either of our entrées would surpass them.

Then came my spiced Jurgielewicz duck. (Jurgielewicz is the name of the Pennsylvania family farm that produces the duck—raised humanely and free-roaming—used at 4 Saints.) It’s not hyperbole when I say it was one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever had.

Three slices of duck sat on a bed of spatzle and puréed autumn squash, next to red cabbage. It sounds simple—but every single element was perfectly seasoned, cooked and prepared. It seemed like a true sacrifice to spare just one bite so my husband could try it. Truthfully, I am having difficulty coming up with words to describe the flavors, so I’ll just say this: My mouth is watering as I write this.

Some may scoff at the price tags and modest portions … but trust me: The food being offered at 4 Saints is worth it. That’s where you’ll find me come the next special occasion.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The big guac burrito

Where: Guacamoles, 555 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs

How much: $9.25

Contact: 760-325-9766; www.guacsps.com

Why: It’s one of the tastiest burritos around.

Guacamoles does not get the respect it deserves.

The Mexican restaurant is an undeniable success—it’s been open now for 28 years, since the Sesma family launched it during the first half of George H.W. Bush’s presidency. Yet when I hear people talking about their Palm Springs-area Mexican-food favorites, Guacmoles rarely comes up.

Perhaps this is due to the space Guacamoles occupies: It’s small and tucked away in the middle of the shopping mall at the southwest corner of Sunrise Way and Ramon Road. Perhaps it’s due to the restaurant’s no-frills vibe: You order at the counter, and the food is delivered on disposable plates with plastic utensils. I admit that until fairly recently, I rarely dined at Guacamole’s; over a five-year period, I ate there once, maybe twice—and that was it.

However, that all changed one night not long ago. I was stuck at home alone, with work deadlines looming; I was hungry and had no time to cook. So I got on one of the delivery apps and perused my options, one of which was Guacamoles. A burrito sounded good, so I decided to order a chicken big guac (aka a burrito with the works).

The food was delivered quickly. And even though the burrito weighed in at around a pound, it was devoured quickly: It was delicious, and gluttony won out.

Since that fateful night, Guacamole’s has become one of my regular takeout or delivery options. (Although whenever I get the big guac now, I cut it in half and put half away for later, to avoid further gluttony.) The food is fresh—with no MSG or lard—well-prepared and tasty.

Cheers to the Sesma family for their success. Here’s to another 28 years—and Guacamoles hopefully getting the respect it deserves.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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