CVIndependent

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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Jimmy Boegle

When Desert Rose Playhouse opened David Dillon’s Party last year on June 24 for a six-week run, the circumstances surrounding Desert Rose—the valley’s only LGBT theater company—and the LGBT community as a whole were rather bleak.

Desert Rose’s future was up in the air, thanks to a substantial financial loss caused by the company’s critically lauded yet poorly attended production of Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches earlier in the year. Meanwhile, the LGBT community was reeling from the Pulse Nightclub massacre, which had taken place just 12 days before.

Party turned out to be just what Desert Rose needed: The raucous comedy, about a “Truth or Dare”-style game played by seven gay friends at a house party, was such a box-office smash that the production was extended from six weeks to nine, returning Desert Rose to firm financial footing. The playhouse also took up a collection for Pulse Nightclub-related charities at each show—and raised more than $7,000 during the run.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Desert Rose is reprising Party for a six-week, non-extendable run this summer, opening Friday, June 23. The playhouse will again be passing the hat to raise money for various charities at each show.

Artistic director Jim Strait, who directs the play, said the show was written by David Dillon in the early 1990s because the playwright couldn’t find a positive, uplifting gay play.

“Everything was about AIDS or coming out,” Strait said. “He thought of a party he was once at where everyone at the end of the night ended up naked and dancing. So he wrote the play, and it had this wonderful, positive message.”

Take note: Everyone onstage indeed winds up naked by the end of Party. In other words, the play is meant only for mature audiences.

Robbie Wayne played James, a butch, leather-wearing party attendee, in last year’s show—and he jumped at the chance to play the role again this year, he said. In fact, five of the seven actors from last year’s production returned to their roles.

“We were pressing Jim: ‘Please, we hope we can do it again,’” Wayne said.

Acting is a hard enough thing to do while fully clothed, so I had to ask: How difficult is it to perform while buck-naked in front of a room full of strangers?

“Being in front of strangers is actually the easy part,” Wayne said. “The hard part is when your neighbors come to see the show, or your best friend’s mom is there. The people we knew in the audience made it scary—not the people we didn’t.”

The LGBT community was still in shock following the Pulse shooting when Party opened last year. This year, circumstances are different—but still disconcerting, given the less-than-LGBT-friendly presidential administration now in place. Strait promised that Party will make attendees feel better about things, if only for a couple of hours.

“We are, first off, having a good time and selling tickets,” Strait said. “But we are also spreading the gospel of a positive gay lifestyle. It’s such a wonderful bonding experience (for the characters), and the audience feels that, too.”

Wayne said that for a lighthearted play, Party has a surprising amount of depth.

“There are a lot of layers to this play,” he said. “There are some punch lines that are a lot more meaningful this year.”

Party will be performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, July 30, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $34 to $37. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

What: The Don Veto sandwich

Where: Larry’s Gourmet Market, 2781 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $7.99 (8 inches); $12.99 (12 inches).

Contact: 760-832-7188; larrysgourmetmarket.com

Why: It’s a damn good sandwich.

From North Palm Canyon Drive, Larry’s Gourmet Market does not look like much.

I’ve zoomed by the reddish brick-walled building many times and have never really given it a first thought, let alone a second one. However, I once overheard someone raving about the sandwiches there. Then a friend sang those sandwiches’ praises to me. Thus, I decided it was time to check out Larry’s for myself.

I was the only customer inside the cute market (which, by the way, features a great selection of liquor and wine). I went up to the deli and asked the pleasant woman behind the counter what sandwich she recommended; she suggested the Don Veto, with roast beef, capicola, mortadella, salami, provolone, veggies and Larry’s “famous” vinaigrette dressing. As my side, I picked the house-made pasta salad over potato salad and coleslaw.

She said several sandwich orders had come in before mine, so I’d have a brief wait. I sat down at one of a very small handful of tables and chairs … and watched and listened as a steady stream of orders got called in. I may have been the only customer actually at the market at the time, but I was far from the market’s only customer.

Turns out Larry’s—which also offers pizzas, salads, hot dogs and some Mediterranean specialties—does a lot of call-in business, and also offers delivery, for a $15 charge or more, depending on your Coachella Valley location.

After a brief wait, my sandwich was ready, and I took it home to eat it. It was splendid—the roll was crispy and flavorful, and that “famous” vinaigrette added a perfect tangy and sweet complement to the salty and savory meats.

Good stuff. Sandwiches are one of my favorite foods … and Larry’s is now one of my favorite local sandwich places.

What: The kimchi Jji-gae

Where: Umami Seoul, 67555 E. Palm Canyon Drive, No. A-105, Cathedral City

How much: $14.99

Contact: 760-202-0144; www.umamiseoul.com

Why: The variety of flavors and textures.

I’ve had many good meals at 67555 E. Palm Canyon Drive, No. A-105, in Cathedral City. For years, that was the home of Thai Kitchen 1, my favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant. I was heartbroken last summer when I tried to call in an order of food to go—and got the “this number has been disconnected” recording.

However, the fact that Umami Seoul is now occupying the space is making me feel just a little better about things.

The original owners of longtime Palm Springs restaurant Wasabi are the folks behind Umami Seoul, which serves up a nice selection of Korean and Japanese fare, including sushi. The hubby and I stopped in for a recent lunch, and while one of the Korean-barbecue lunch specials caught his eye, I had to order a Korean entrée which is one of my all-time favorites: the kimchi jji-gae.

For the uninitiated: This is a soup/stew in which kimchi is the star of the show. Therefore, the soup is tart and spicy, with the kimchi complemented by whatever the other ingredients are—in this case, pork and tofu. The dish is flavorful, filling and unique.

As an added bonus, the kimchi jji-gae (as well as the other Korean entrées) comes with rice and various side dishes (bahn-chan)—including pickled sprouts, a potato salad, pickled daikon radishes and a tofu concoction. The meal as a whole contains pretty much every flavor profile imaginable, as well as a bunch of different textures and temperatures.

Yeah, I still miss Thai Kitchen 1, its delicious basil chicken and its delicious tom yum soup. However, I’m thrilled that I can now get delicious kimchi jji-gae at a place not too far from home.

We are living in unprecedented times, as far as national politics is concerned.

This thought kept coming to mind as I read the latest installment of Democracy in Crisis published by the Independent. Writer Baynard Woods, simply and briefly, lays out 13 anecdotes that show how authoritarianism is on the rise in our country.

Reporters arrested. Protesters arrested. Conflicts of interest being flouted and going unchecked. Sigh.

However, there’s at least one silver lining I’m finding in all the chaos: It’s clear that great journalism is alive and well in the United States.

Some of the reporting we’ve seen from The New York Times and the Washington Post, just for starters, has been amazing. In recent weeks, these papers exposed the fact that our president apparently revealed classified information to the Russians—jeopardizing, at the very least, relationships with countries with whom we partner on intelligence. They reported that our president apparently asked our FBI director to lay off of an investigation of him—before the president would go on to fire that very FBI director.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Times in April published an unprecedented six-part editorial series titled “Our Dishonest President,” which made the clear case that Donald Trump is unfit for office.

As always, smaller news outlets are doing great work, too. Take Democracy in Crisis as an example; it’s a joint project of alternative papers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent.

While it’s inspiring and amazing to see all of this great journalism, it’s important to point out that these aforementioned newspapers are operating with a fraction of the resources they had, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

That’s why it’s vital that you support great journalism: Buy a newspaper subscription, or two, or three. Advertise. Pay for online articles. It costs money to do well-reported, well-written, well-edited stories.

In that vein, if you like what the Independent is doing, consider throwing a few bucks our way. Both our print version and CVIndependent.com have always been and always will be free to all—but you can join our Supporters of the Independent program for just $10, or even less. Find details at CVindependent.com/supporters.

By the way, pick up the June 2017 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, hitting streets this week and early next week. As always, thanks for reading—and if you have thoughts or feedback, email me anytime.

What: The build-your-own pizza

Where: Blaze Pizza, 201 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; also at 73393 Highway 111, Palm Desert

How much: $7.95

Contact: 760-318-2529 (Palm Springs); 760-895-4259 (Palm Desert); www.blazepizza.com

Why: It’s delicious, and it’s a great deal.

In the almost five years that the Independent has been around, we’ve written 116 Indy Endorsements. Only a half-dozen or so have been written about chain joints—and most of those were about smaller, California-based chains. In other words, the Indy Endorsement is a feature that almost exclusively touts locally owned restaurants.

Therefore, it really means something that we’re endorsing the make-your-own pies at Blaze Pizza.

Why are we endorsing food at a large, national chain, pretty much for the first time? For one thing, the make-your-own 11-inch pizzas at Blaze are truly make-your-own—you can have as many cheeses, sauces and toppings on your pizza as you want. There’s no limit. For example, the pizza in the picture here has mozzarella cheese, goat cheese, bacon, smoked ham, mushrooms, olives and tomatoes, with classic red sauce and just a little garlic pesto underneath. That’s two sauces, two cheeses and five toppings—for one price. If I wanted to double those numbers, the price would stay the same.

For another thing … that price is a deal: just $7.95. Where else can you get an 11-inch pizza with unlimited ingredients for less than eight bucks? Nowhere, you say?

That’s why we’re endorsing a large, national chain, pretty much for the first time.

The process is easy: You get in line, pick your crust (gluten-free and high-rise/thicker options cost a bit extra), pick your sauces, pick your cheeses and pick your toppings. You watch as the employees put the toppings on your pie—and if you want more or less of an ingredient, tell ’em, and they’ll happily make it so. You then watch as they put the pizza in the oven; a couple of minutes later, they take it out, put it on a metal plate, and call your name.

Simple. Inexpensive. Delicious. Endorsement-worthy.

The New York Company Restaurant Closes After Three-Plus Years

After more than three years in business, The New York Company Restaurant, at 1260 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has closed its doors for good.

“We know you enjoyed dining at The New York Company Restaurant,” said a note sent to the restaurant’s email list on April 25. “So, we want you to know that our last day serving our guests was at Sunday’s champagne Brunch on April 23rd. It was a great run while it lasted … three-plus years of spending wonderful evenings together. Our party is over despite all we could do to create success. We know that we will miss you!”

This closure saddened me for several reasons. For one thing, one of the finest meals I’ve had in the Coachella Valley occurred last year at The New York Company Restaurant. For another, I got to know some of the folks there due to the restaurant’s participation in the inaugural Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, during which New York Company bartender Joey Tapia won both the Audience Choice Award at the Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship, and top honors at the Non-Alcoholic Craft Cocktail Championship.

While the closure saddened me, it certainly didn’t surprise me. I don’t know all of the things Neil Castren, Ken Misa and Wally D’Agostino did to get the word out about the restaurant, but I do know the place escaped my consciousness, more or less, for most of the time it was open—even though I live just a five-minute drive away. I rarely saw advertisements for the restaurant, and its social-media presence was nearly non-existent. If someone like me—a media-savvy person who writes about food on a regular basis—was never somehow motivated to check the place out, what chance did The New York Company Restaurant have with other potential customers?

Perhaps there’s a lesson here: Marketing and publicity, or a lack thereof, can make or break a restaurant.

So long, New York Company. You’ll be missed.


Coming Soon to Palm Springs: 716 on 111

After the sudden closure of the beloved Dickie O’Neals due to the death of its owner in the spring of 2015, the building at 2155 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, sat vacant until Frenchy’s Sports Bar and Grill came along in late 2016.

But within months, Frenchy’s was gone. However, the building won’t be vacant for long.

Keep your fingers crossed for an August opening of 716 on 111. The restaurant, owned by couple Christopher Krayna and David Hoffman, already has a Facebook page that’s full of useful information. For example, the page tells us that 716 on 111 will use “always fresh, never frozen” ingredients, often from local purveyors; that the menu will include “real deal” chicken wings, as well as a cast iron-prepared filet over a crisp wedge iceberg salad; and that a life-sized buffalo sculpture will somehow be involved.

Watch the 716 on 111 Facebook page for updates.


In Brief

We’re getting more and more information about the restaurants coming to the big downtown Palm Springs redevelopment project along Palm Canyon Drive north of Tahquitz Canyon Way. A press release issued in mid-May by Grit Development—formerly known as Wessman Development, before John Wessman, y’know, got indicted—revealed that Il Corso, a longtime Palm Desert restaurant, will open a spot in the development. Other restaurants will include Stout Beer and Burgers, a Tommy Bahama and a Starbucks Reserve. … New to Cathedral City: Justin Eat and Drink just opened its doors at 68784 E. Palm Canyon Drive. The menu of the “upscale casual” restaurant includes appetizers (“Snack Time,” says the menu header), tacos (“Taco ’bout It”), salads (“Rabbit Food”), sandwiches/burgers (“Things on Bread”) and entrees (“Grown Up Stuff”) including a prime hanger steak and a mushroom risotto. For more info, call 760-904-4093, or visit www.facebook.com/justinrestaurantcc. … A few doors down is another new place: Pollo Doky’s, at 68718 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Peruvian fare—most notably rotisserie chicken and chicharron (pork) sandwiches—is what you’ll find at this fast-casual joint. For more information, call 760-832-6878, or head over to the restaurant Facebook page. … The Reef is now open in the bar area at the Caliente Tropics, at 411 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Rory Snyder’s bar/restaurant replaces The Congo Room, which fled the property amidst claims of leaky roofs and storm damage. Visit www.thereefpalmsprings.com to learn more. … Now open: Blackbook, in the old Café Palette space at 315 E. Arenas Road in downtown Palm Springs. The stylish-looking joint serves appetizers, sandwiches, chicken wings, salads and tacos; call 760 832 8497 or visit www.facebook.com/blackbookbarandkitchen for more info.

What: The turkey BLT folded waffle sandwich

Where: Si Bon Belgian Bistro, 40101 Monterey Ave., Rancho Mirage

How much: $13

Contact: 760-837-0011; www.sibon-sogood.com

Why: It’s a clever take on a classic sandwich.

I had just finished a less-than-pleasant medical appointment in Rancho Mirage. It was lunch time; I was hungry; and I wanted to treat myself. Hmm … where should I go?

When I realized I was more or less across the street from Si Bon, I smiled.

Si Bon is one of those places I’d heard great things about and had wanted to try for years—but for some reason, I’d never gotten around to it. Well, I was finally getting around to it.

I expected the classy-but-unpretentious vibe and the top-notch service. What I did not expect was Si Bon’s obsession with waffles.

Seeing waffles on the breakfast/brunch menus at a Belgian bistro makes total sense—but on the lunch menu? Yes, waffles dominate Si Bon’s lunch menu, due to selections of pizza-style flat waffles, folded waffle sandwiches, and waffle bun sandwiches. (Waffles are even on the dinner menu—most intriguingly in the form of the “9 holers escargot waffle.”)

I decided to try one of the folded waffle sandwiches: the turkey BLT with pesto and avocado, with waffles serving as the bread. I admit I was concerned about the waffle part—but once I took a bite, I realized the concern was all for naught. The waffle was not sweet at all, and instead had a rather pleasant yet subtle savory flavor. It was thick enough to properly contain the sandwich ingredients, yet thin enough to manageably eat.

As for what was inside the folded waffles: The ingredients were top-notch, with the delightful pesto bringing all of the flavors together.

I’ve eaten many, many BLT sandwich variations over the years. This was the first time that waffles were involved—and Si Bon’s sandwich was one of the better BLTs I’ve had. Who knew?

By the time mid-May comes along, most valley theater companies are about to close their curtains on major productions until the fall—if they have not done so already.

However, such is not the case at the Palm Canyon Theatre. This weekend, the downtown Palm Springs mainstay will open one of its most complex shows of the season for a seven-show run.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen Rock of Ages, either on the stage or on the big screen. The homage to 1980s rock opened in Los Angeles in 2005, before moving Off-Broadway in 2008, and to Broadway itself in 2009; the show would not close until almost six years later. In the midst of that epic Broadway run, a film version hit screens in 2012, with Julianne Hough playing the transplant from Oklahoma with big dreams, and Tom Cruise playing egotistical rock star Stacee Jaxx.

Now, the epic show is coming to the Palm Canyon Theatre. I recently spoke to the show’s director and choreographer, Andrea Bellato. She’s a veteran of about a dozen Palm Canyon productions, ranging from Hairspray to West Side Story to Legally Blonde; she’ll also appear in Rock of Ages as part of the ensemble. Here are five things you should know about the show.

1. Rock of Ages marks the directing debut for Bellato. Bellato is a 2011 graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles with a fair number of shows under her belt as both an actress and a choreographer—but she’s never taken the helm of a play before. How’s the experience been?

“It’s been great,” she said. “It takes a lot of hard work and determination, but I have such a great cast. They came in with great ideas for their characters and were ready to just go for it.”

She said Rock of Ages was the perfect show for her as a first-time director.

“To be honest, I feel like I was pretty prepared for this show,” she said. “I love ’80s rock music so much, so doing this has felt natural to me.”

2. The cast is freaking huge—23 people huge, to be exact. There are nine named roles, and 14 people in the ensemble. However, Bellato—who’s infectiously enthusiastic—said her great cast has made things relatively easy for her. In fact, she repeatedly heaped praise on the cast during our chat.

“I feel like a mother who’s bragging about her children all the time,” she said with a laugh.

3. If you don’t like musicals, or are new to musicals, Rock of Ages is still worth your time. Bellato said the show is often liked by people who don’t like musicals for good reason.

“The show is, top to bottom, full of energy, and it’s so much fun,” she said. “It’s a party, and the audience can sing along. In a way, it’s an anti-musical. We actually make fun of musicals in it. People who don’t know musical theater can come in and enjoy it. … It’s like a rock concert mixed with a lot of comedy.”

4. The show came together pretty quickly. Bellato said the cast began rehearsals only about a month ago; fortunately, things have come together, she said, although it has been a lot of work.

“There’s never enough time,” she said with a chuckle. “I want to be able to duplicate my body and do everything that needs to be done.”

5. The ’80s music in the show is pretty awesome. I asked Bellato what her favorite songs in the show are.

“I love Foreigner, so I love everything they sing,” she said. “There are two of their songs in the show, ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’ and ‘I Want to Know What Love Is.’ … But the whole show is jam-packed.”

Rock of Ages will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 12, through Sunday, May 21, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $36, with discounts. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

What: The chocolate-peanut butter cheesecake

Where: Capizzi’s Cheesecakes, 68718 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City

How much: $4.50 per slice; $25-$35 for a whole cake

Contact: 760-408-8788; www.capizzischeesecake.com

Why: It’s a decadent and reasonably priced dessert

My sweet tooth was barking at me one recent afternoon as I drove down Highway 111. I wanted dessert—something nuanced and delicious. I was in the “downtown Cathedral City” area, and I remembered some raves I’d heard about Capizzi’s Cheesecakes.

I pulled off Highway 111, parked near Trilussa Ristorante, and began looking for Capizzi’s. It’s tucked into one of the spaces that has seen a variety of businesses come and go in recent years—although more and more spaces are getting tenants, owner Louis Capizzi told me as we chatted after I’d found the place.

I drooled as I perused the cheesecake by-the-slice offerings. Louie told me the original is especially popular, as is the pineapple coconut cheesecake. However, my eye was set on a gorgeous brown and black number: I was going to get a chocolate-peanut butter slice.

Since there’s no way to dine at Capizzi’s, I got my piece to go. Once I got home, I dug in.

Wow. This was one decadent dessert—and I mean that in the best possible way. The creamy peanut butter melded perfectly with the chocolate crust, top and chunks, as one would expect; chocolate and peanut butter are a classic combination, after all. However, if the ingredients aren’t top-notch, or if they’re assembled in inappropriate proportions, this classic combination can fall short. Well, there was no falling short with this piece of cheesecake; it exceeded my lofty expectations.

It turns out the Capizzi family has a lengthy and storied food history. There’s a menu near the counter for the Capizzis’ old Chicago restaurant—Louie told me some confused customers occasionally try to order off of it—and the Cathedral City space is now also offering pizzas, ravioli, cannoli and biscotti.

Well, my taste buds are very happy the Capizzi family is here in the Coachella Valley. That amazing piece of cheesecake satisfied my barking sweet tooth—if only for just a bit, before it started wanting more.

One of the biggest issues of the Palm Springs city election back in 2015 was the ever-increasing amount of homelessness in downtown Palm Springs.

While I think the Palm Springs City Council has done an admirable job, more or less, since that November 2015 election, the City Council has done a flat-out awful job of addressing homelessness.

Make sure you read Brian Blueskye’s excellent piece on the state of the homelessness problem in the Coachella Valley. As Brian notes, the problem is getting worse—especially on the west side of the valley—and it’s going to become a full-blown crisis when Roy’s Resource Center, the only west side shelter for the homeless, closes its doors at the end of June.

That means 90 people are going to lose their only shelter—in the midst of the summer heat.

In other news: I also recommend you read Baynard Woods’ recent “Democracy in Crisis” dispatch. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, and one point that Baynard makes has haunted me ever since I first read it: Many critics of President Trump heaped effusive praise on him—for the first time—after he ordered an April 7 missile strike in Syria, following the use of chemical weapons in the town of Khan Shaykhun three days prior. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria even went so far as to say that the missile strike marked the moment when “Trump became president of the United States.”

Putting aside the question of whether or not the missile strikes were the right thing to do: What does it say about our country when a violent act of war, justified or not, is the ONE thing that made Donald Trump suddenly become “presidential”?

I’ve been pondering that question now for almost three weeks. I am not at all happy about any of the answers I’ve been able to come up with.

Anyway … for those of you dismayed by the troubling nature of the aforementioned stories, never fear: As always, the Independent has plenty of happy, positive arts, food and music coverage that’ll make you feel a bit better about things.

As always, thanks for reading the Coachella Valley Independent. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and be sure to pick up the May 2017 print edition, being distributed valley-wide this week

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