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18 Nov 2020

Culture and Cuisine: Persimmon Bistro and Wine Bar Reopens With a New Pizza Oven and a Renewed Focus on Freshness

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Persimmon's beautiful patio. Persimmon's beautiful patio.

“Have a cup of coffee. Relax, and enjoy the sculpture garden,” suggests Art Vasquez as he opens his arms toward the spacious patio.

It’s the beautiful home of Persimmon Bistro and Wine Bar, located on the lower level of the Palm Springs Art Museum. For most restaurants, outdoor dining has become necessary, if not ideal—but it’s always been an intrinsic element of Persimmon.

“I’ve always considered this my main dining room,” says Vasquez as he gestures toward the courtyard. The tables are spread out around two large fountains, interspersed around a collection of sculptures and the neatly curated landscape. With ambient jazz playing in the background, Persimmon’s patio offers an immersive, cultural experience, set below ground in seclusion from the bustle of the outside world. You could forget you’re in Palm Springs—well, except for the overhead sunshine, towering palm trees and mountain backdrop.

Vasquez assumed ownership of Persimmon in the spring of 2019. A successful local valley restaurateur—he spent years operating Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse—he saw Persimmon as something of a passion project.

“Prior to taking over here, my wife and I would make three or four trips a year to the California Central Coast, exploring the restaurants, the wineries and the breweries,” Vasquez says. “This is my way of bringing a piece of that back here so I don’t have to miss it so much.”

He researched restaurants located at some of the country’s larger museums. The result: Persimmon is an eclectic lunch spot (it currently closes at 6 p.m.) that’s part wine bar, part coffee shop and part French bistro. Pre-pandemic, you could get a sense of that from the vibrant Parisian décor inside. Mid-pandemic, we’re out in the courtyard, and the vibe is almost entirely wine country, with the addition of museum artwork.

That wine-country concept is evident in the Mediterranean-themed menu, which offers a vibrant potpourri of fresh, local, artisan flavor. Vasquez frequents local farmers’ markets, bringing in hand-selected heirloom tomatoes, basil, romaine lettuce, arugula and citrus. He’s also an advocate of small and local, with offerings including fare from CV Microgreens, Fulvio’s Italian Sausage (owned by TV-meteorologist Patrick Evans), local dates and local honey.

That dedication to freshness is woven into dishes like the panini margherita and the heirloom tomato salad, as well as housemade signatures like the pesto, hummus and tapenade. The spicy pozole rojo is a can’t-miss chicken soup, topped with avocado, radishes and cabbage. The charcuterie and cheese boards come in a variety of options, featuring products including Spanish chorizo, soppressata, prosciutto, Maytag blue cheese, Humboldt Fog goat cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano and aged gouda, garnished with accoutrements like European olives, dried and fresh fruit, figs, caper berries and watermelon radishes. Every board is its own unique creation.

“It’s like painting a picture,” Vasquez says. “I love doing it.”

Vasquez admits to kicking his heels quite a bit during the lockdown. Persimmon got hit a little earlier than everyone else, as the museum was one of the first notable closures in California. A couple of months of “quality family time” soon became the “sleepless nights” of summer. When Persimmon finally reopened in late October with the cooler weather, Vasquez set about various internal renovations and also invested in new equipment. Most notably, you’ll see the addition of an outdoor pizza oven. Actually, you might smell it first, as the soft aromas of hard red oak waft subtly across the patio—and conveniently to the sidewalk above.

“Red oak is indigenous to the Central Coast,” Vasquez says, “It’s a high temperature, slow-burning wood. I get a lot of compliments about the aroma and the flavor it imparts on the pizza.”

Not only have the pizzas been an instant hit; they’ve also been a recent vice, Vasquez says as he jokingly pats his “COVID belly.” Vasquez makes the sauce from scratch with authentic Italian San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and oregano. Most of the toppings are sliced to order.

Such personal selection extends to the bar, which features an array of craft beers, California and international wines, wine cocktails and Madeira. Beer is my first passion, and I have always been impressed by Persimmon’s array of craft beer—even more so with the new addition of a six-tap draft system. It’s likely the only place in the valley you’ll find beers like Lost Abbey Lost and Found and WestBrew Mosaic Surfer on tap.

“I drove down to San Diego and picked that one up myself,” Vasquez says about the Mosaic Surfer.

Standouts among the California and Belgian bottle selections include Monk’s Café Flemish Sour and The Bruery 12 Drummers Drumming.

There’s also plenty of diversity on the wine menu, including a variety of California and international wines. Sparkling wines are popular, with ample choices including Italian prosecco, French crémant and brut rosé, as well as a tantalizing orange-infused wine from Wiens in Temecula.

“I’m trying to have fun and keep things interesting,” Vasquez says. “I try to offer something different while keeping it approachable and well-priced.”

The museum has yet to reopen, and given the recent COVID-19 spike, it’s unclear when it will; after all, the only thing certain in 2020 is the uncertainty. That fact has reduced foot traffic around the bistro, although Persimmon does draw in a good number of locals and hikers from the adjacent trails.

In the meantime, consider Persimmon Bistro and Wine Bar one of Palm Springs’ best little secrets. It’s a secluded escape from the bustle and noise of Palm Canyon Drive—and a perfect spot for socializing or reflective sipping amidst culturally enlightened surroundings.

For more information, visit www.persimmonbistro.com.

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