CVIndependent

Sat04042020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

A crowd of more than 80 people battled cold weather and a baffling lack of parking on Wednesday, Dec. 18, to head to Copa Nightclub to celebrate the winners of the sixth annual Best of Coachella Valley, as voted on by the readers of the Coachella Valley Independent.

It was the third time in four years that Copa has hosted the event—an honor bestowed upon Copa due to its win in the Best Nightclub category. The event honors the winners of the Independent's yearly readers' poll, which features almost 130 categories, ranging from Best Chiropractor, to Best Vegan/Vegetarian Cuisine, to Best Marijuana Dispensary.

The biggest contingents at the party—hosted by Independent editor/publisher Jimmy Boegle—came to celebrate Augustine Casino, which took the top spot in a whopping eight categories; Paul Zapala's win as Best Real Estate Agent; and KGAY 106.5's victory as Best Radio Station.

Below is a gallery of photos from the event, taken by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

Best Band to Help You Learn Spanish

Ocho Ojos

In all honesty, the only Spanish words I—a decidedly white guy—know are lyrics to Ocho Ojos songs.

Following a last-minute booking at Coachella in 2017, and an album and EP release in 2018, the duo transformed into a quartet, with the band’s sound evolving into something that could be described as “psychedelic cumbia.”

This has been a standout year for Ocho Ojos: The band was again on the Coachella schedule—when the poster was released, not as a last-minute addition. This prompted a frenzy for Ocho Ojos, as the group could seemingly be seen performing anywhere in the valley, and even in Los Angeles. The shows could range from 30 minutes to three hours, thanks to the band members’ ability to perform many popular Spanish tunes in addition their own catalog—all while keeping the crowd singing along and dancing the night away.

When Sunday nights at Coachella came, the boys proceeded to close out the Sonora Stage in front of a packed tent. The energy was electric, and it was something only a band that truly represents the Coachella Valley could pull off.

Don’t believe me? Then take it from Rolling Stone: “Ocho Ojos managed to make their performance feel like a grand family function of pure baile with all your primos and extended relatives in attendance.” The performances were listed by the publication’s writers as one of the 16 best things they saw.

—Matt King


Best Weird Place to See a Band

Gadi’s Bar and Grill

In a building at 56193 Twentynine Palms Highway that has been home to various restaurants since the 1960s, Gadi’s Bar and Grill (www.gadisbarandgrill.com)has now been around since 2014, when Gadi Okevi bought what was then a Yucca Valley rib joint.

One side has a tiny bar with dining booths … but a short walk down a hallway will take you to an adjoining second barroom with a sound stage. Here’s where things get weird: Looming above the generic tables, chairs and tile floor is some wacked-out wavy woodwork that worms its way over the room. It was apparently created in the ’60s, and the wood-lined walls and ceiling don’t match anything else.

Why the funky ceiling was built remains a mystery. Was it was done as a creative way to hide vents? Or to amplify acoustics? Who knows. Whatever the case may be, soundman Jason Maxfield always makes the room sound amazing.

Gadi’s hosts an eclectic mix of live shows, from smaller local bands to occasional bigger acts, in genres including country, metal, old school punk or rock—Gadi doesn’t seem to have met a genre he doesn’t like. And thanks to Jason Maxfield, it all sounds amazing—whether or not that crazy ceiling is a help or a hinderance.

—Beth Allen


Best Ramen

Ramen Musashi

We’ve often posited in these pages that the Coachella Valley is about five years behind the big cities regarding the arrival of food and drink trends—and such is the case when it comes to ramen.

This time last year, if I wanted reliably good ramen in the Coachella Valley, I had nowhere to go, at least that I knew of. However, today, I have at least one regularly available option: Hooray for Ramen Musashi, located at 44491 Town Center Way, in Palm Desert.

This little restaurant was opened earlier this year by the good folks who also operate Musashi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar, which has been around since 1996. In other words, Ramen Musashi is run by restaurateurs who know what they’re doing—and this is proven by every bowl of original Musashi tonkatsu that comes out of the kitchen.

Here’s what I wrote about the Musashi tonkotsu a few months back: “The ramen was revelatory. All of the ingredients were perfect. The pork was tender and delicious; the egg was a creamy delight. The garlic chips and onion did not overwhelm, and the noodles were just right. But for me, ramen is all about the broth—and this tonkotsu broth was stellar. It was packed with umami, seasoned masterfully and soooooo delicious.”

Damn. My mouth’s watering just thinking about it.

—Jimmy Boegle


Best Local Album

Captain Ghost, Into the Grave

If you’re looking for an album to listen to while driving very fast, look no further than Into the Grave.

Captain Ghost exploded onto the music scene this year—and very quickly made a name for itself, with lyrics of love and politics being screamed out in a desperate cry over firework-style guitar riffs and tight, crunchy bass and drum lines.

If you get a chance to see Captain Ghost live, take note: It is fun to see people’s reactions to the group, as mustachioed leader Brad Burton towers over his bandmates, almost Joey Ramone-esque, and his sweet stage banter offers a direct contrast to his emphatic cries.

After the band began performing, it began to win more and more hearts with each show—while anticipation grew for the release of Captain Ghost’s debut album, which is a hard-hitting 35 minutes of rock. Tracks like “Raise the Flag,” “Behold the Press” and “Last Day” are sure to make any music fan a Captain Ghost fanatic.

—Matt King


Best Evidence of Our Flourishing Theater Scene

CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City

I’ve been fortunate enough to occasionally attend theatrical productions in the Coachella Valley for seven years now, and I’m shocked—in a good way—at how much the theater scene has absolutely flourished during that timeframe.

Dezart Performs is wowing audiences with top-notch performances in its home at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club—a home the company is quickly outgrowing. Dezart’s fellow Woman’s Club tenant, Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, is continuously mounting edgy productions of brand-new shows; Desert Theatreworks has helped revitalize the Indio Performing Arts Center with a steady slate of varied productions; and the LGBT-focused Desert Rose Playhouse continues to raise the figurative bar with seemingly every play. (Its summer production of Ruthless! was one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, period.)

However, this all pales in comparison to what Coachella Valley Repertory has pulled off: Raising millions of dollars to turn the old IMAX theater in Cathedral City into a Broadway-caliber, state-of-the-art playhouse.

It is, in a word, stunning. Founder Ron Celona—along with his staff, board and volunteers—have changed the game for Coachella Valley theater with the CVRep Playhouse. It’s proof that while the Coachella Valley as a whole may still be a “small town,” our theater scene is worthy of a big city.

—Jimmy Boegle


Best Comic Book Shop by Day, and Music Venue by Night

Interstellar Comic Books and Collectibles

Music nerds and comic nerds can unite under one roof at Interstellar Comics.

In the heart of Palm Springs, on Tahquitz Canyon Drive just off Indian Canyon Drive, sits this colorful comic-book shop. Whether you’re in search of a vintage find, or are excited about a new issue, you can find both on the shelves at Interstellar. You can even come in to play various card games, such as Magic the Gathering, with your friends.

But on occasion, when the sun sets over the strip, you can hear local bands reverberating within the walls of the shop. Interstellar has been host to a few shows over the year, once every couple months or so—and I couldn’t think of a better place to perform or watch a show. During these shows, local artists also sell their art inside the multifaceted space. In other words: If you catch a show at Interstellar, you are celebrating all that the local art scene has to offer, in one place, at the same time.

—Matt King


Best Tucked-Away Pastry Palace

Carousel Bakery

Carousel Bakery is an unassuming little gem, tucked away in a hidden corner of the airport-adjacent El Cielo Center (440 S. El Cielo Road), known mostly for its Spectrum storefront.

Inside, friendly and hard-working owners Elizabeth and Alberto create all their baked masterpieces from scratch, with no pre-made anything. Yep: They actually cut up and cooked a real pumpkin to make that fresh pie in the case. The result is the best possible combination of professionally baked goods and homemade appeal.

Along with a surprising variety of traditional bakery fare (pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, croissants, bagels, etc.), Carousel produces some delicious Latin specialties. Think sweet empanadas in an array of flavors ranging from apple to the more-exotic guava with cheese. And don’t miss their one-day-only offerings of Pan de Muerto for Day of the Dead, and Rosca de Reyes for Epiphany.

Carousel serves tasty sandwiches that are enough of a reason to visit, but the real jewels here are the pastries. So the next time you’ve had to wait 45 minutes to return equipment at the Spectrum store, take the edge off with a baked treasure from Carousel.

—Jeffrey Clarkson


Best Place to Feel Childlike Wonderment and Joy

Bob’s Crystal Cave at the Sky Village Swap Meet

A tiny enclave in the middle of Yucca Valley’s seven-acre Saturday-and-Sunday swap meet (7028 Theatre Road), Bob’s Crystal Cave is an anomaly amidst junk and vintage vendors, stained-glass art and desert cactus gardens.

What is it, exactly? Well, it’s a Flintstones-esque building created from chicken wire and spray foam—and its puffy porthole-pocked exterior unveils a walk of wonderment. A short wander through the spray-foam-packed hall reveals locked doors (what lurks behind them?) and small windows here and there. You can peek into a whimsical miniature world of tiny trees; and mosaics of glass, mirror and precious stone. Water flows throughout into pools of lazily swimming goldfish.

Sadly, creator Bob Carr died in January of this year. But his legacy lives on through his serene creation, one that can make even the biggest curmudgeon crack a smile. Bob’s Crystal Cave is so cool that it’s written about in “the definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders,” Atlas Obscura.

—Beth Allen


Best Place to Learn About and Look at the Cosmos

Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater

The Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater is an open-air theater located next to the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground, at 2601 Sunfair Road.

What is it? Well, it’s a fenced-in area with a large stage and screen—including plenty of nice, sloped outdoor-chair seating, with plenty of room to set up your own chairs or blankets. It’s a big, dark place—perfect for stargazing.

Along the left side of the “theater” are various telescopes manned by gregarious members of the Southern California Desert Video Astronomers (www.scdva.org), who are happy to tour the constellations with anyone who wanders over. People of all ages can come to relax and learn tales of the cosmos. The group hosts regular events with cool themes like Friday the 13th’s “Spooky Superstitions: Lucky Stars and Moons of Doom,” or an amazing night of meteor showers at their peak. The JTAAT has also hosted movies (about aliens!) and the live tunes of local musician Clive Wright, who plays guitar along with “singing plants.”

When you go, BYOB—food, beers, buds—or, in other words, pack a picnic! Don’t forget to bring a flashlight so you can find your way to the porta-potties in the parking lot.

—Beth Allen


Best Combination of Silky and Fried

The California Avocado Fries at Grill a Burger

The other day, I was driving down the road, when all of a sudden, a thought popped into my mind: “Damn, I could go for some avocado fries at Grill-a-Burger right now.”

Now, let me place this random thought in proper context: I had not been to Grill-a-Burger in about a year and a half. I haven’t had avocado fries of any sort since then. So, what in tarnation led me to have this thought at this time? Was it the result of some unknown stimuli? A signal from the mothership?

I have no freaking idea. All I know is that ever since, I have not been able to get Grill-a-Burger’s avocado fries off my mind. These deliciously filling wedges have it all: Sweet. Savory. Smoothness. A Panko-breadcrumb crunch. Yum.

If you like avocado to the slightest degree, you must try these. Get thee to 73091 Country Club Drive, in Palm Desert, pronto.

—Jimmy Boegle


Best Pie

Buttermilk Pie at Billy Reed’s

As our press deadline for this issue approached, the heartbreaking news broke that Robbie Lemley, the co-owner of Billy Reed’s (at 1800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs), had passed away at the age of 86.

After the news broke, local social-media pages were flooded with remembrances and tributes, both to Lemley himself and the iconic restaurant he helped create. I didn’t know Lemley personally (although I am sure he greeted me a time or three during my visits to Billy Reed’s). However, I adore his work: Billy Reed’s is truly one of a kind.

Billy Reed’s is the place where I celebrated my most recent birthday. It’s the place I recently took some close friends who just moved here for their first “official meal” as Palm Springs residents. And it’s the place that introduced me to what has become one of my favorite desserts: buttermilk pie.

A piece of this pie looks simple, but its flavor is surprisingly complex. I don’t know exactly what the bakers at Billy Reed’s put in their version, but buttermilk pie, I’ve come to learn, typically includes a blend of buttermilk, eggs, butter, flour, lemon, vanilla and a whole lot of sugar. The resulting custard pie is pure decadence.

Thank you, Mr. Lemley, for the special place you helped make. And thank you for broadening my dessert horizons just a little, too.

—Jimmy Boegle

Published in Staff Picks

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

The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival Debuts on Feb. 17

The large and increasingly renowned Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival is set for March 23-25. So … is there a need for yet another food and wine festival happening just five weeks before and just a few miles away?

According to festival organizer David Fraschetti, the answer is a resounding yes—hence the brand-new Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival, featuring food from 15 Rancho Mirage restaurants, and sips from more than 40 wineries, on Saturday, Feb. 17.

Fraschetti is the man behind the popular VinDiego Wine and Food Festival—but he resides here in the Coachella Valley. He wanted to start a festival locally, so he started looking for places to do so. It just so happens that he and his wife were playing tennis at Rancho Mirage Community Park one day, he said; she mentioned it would be a fine place for a food and wine festival. At first, he thought it would be too small, but they decided to take a closer look. An art fair was also going on that weekend—and that helped him realize he’d found a potential site.

“I was amazed at how large that park really is,” he said.

Fraschetti said he partnered with the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce—hence the inclusion of only Rancho Mirage restaurants, at least this first year—and the Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival was born. But what sets this festival apart from others … like, you know, that one happening down the street five weeks later? He said he learned a lesson from talking to the winery reps at other festivals, and asking what they’d change.

“They said, ‘Get rid of the beer. Get rid of the spirits. We’re tired of all the drunks, ’” Fraschetti said. “When you mix alcohols, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

So this festival has no beer, no booze and no cooking demonstrations. Instead, Fraschetti said, the focus is strictly on the wine.

“This is a marketing event for our wineries,” he said. “… We’re not trying to be everything to everyone.”

The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival takes place on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Rancho Mirage Amphitheater and Community Park, at 71560 San Jacinto Drive. Tickets start at $75; some of the proceeds will benefit the Desert AIDS Project. Visit www.ranchomiragewineandfoodfestival.com for those tickets or more information.


The Palm Desert Greek Festival Returns on Feb. 17 and 18

For some reason, I’ve really been craving good grape leaves lately. Because of this (and all sorts of other edible reasons), you’ll probably find me at the 22nd Annual Palm Desert Greek Festival, taking place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 17 and 18.

Not only will grape leaves (six tubs of them!) be for sale; all sorts of authentic Greek food will be available at St. George Greek Orthodox Church, along with entertainment including Greek music and dancers.

Admission is just $3, or free for children 12 and younger, as well as active-duty public-safety officers and members of the military. The church is located at 74109 Larrea St.; some shuttle service is available. Find those details and more by calling 760-568-9901, or visiting www.pdgreekfest.org.


In Brief

Sandfish Sushi and Whiskey is now open at 1556 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. It’s the latest venture by Engin Onural, the owner of The Venue Sushi Bar and Sake Lounge in Palm Desert. Get more info at www.facebook.com/pg/sandfishsushiwhiskey. … Cello’s Pantry, at 70225 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage, has closed its doors for good following a death in the owner’s family. We send our best wishes. … Carousel Bakery is now open at 440 S. El Cielo Road in Palm Springs. We’ve been hearing good things; call 760-699-5006 for more details. … The ever-popular TRIO Restaurant, at 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has a new executive chef: Nestor Ruiz. His previous employers include Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Palm Desert and The Chateau at Lake La Quinta. … Brand-new at 73655 El Paseo: Domo Sushi El Paseo. While we have not yet had a chance to try Chef Jin’s food, it sure does look beautiful. See for yourself at www.facebook.com/domosushielpaseo. … Speaking of beautiful food: New to Cathedral City, at 34041 Date Palm Drive, is Lala’s Waffles, Crepes and Shakes. See the pretty pics at www.facebook.com/eatlalas. … Now open in the old Clementine’s building at 72990 El Paseo: Wildest Greens, serving up raw, vegan, gluten-free and paleo options, plus more. Get more details at www.wildestgreens.com. … Also new, at 73900 El Paseo: Le Fe Wine Bar. You’ll find beer, wine, small plates and a fantastic happy hour. Learn more at www.facebook.com/pg/LaFeWineBar. … 716 on 111, which had been slated to open in the old Dickie O’Neal’s building at 2155 N. Palm Canyon Drive, may not ever happen, thanks to mold. Visit www.facebook.com/716on111 to learn the latest news on what has become a rather ugly tenant-landlord dispute.

Published in Restaurant & Food News