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Fri07282017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

What: The shredded pork with garlic sauce

Where: Cie Sichuan Cuisine, 45682 Towne St., Indio

How much: $8.50 as a lunch special; $9.50 as an entrée

Contact: 760-342-9888; ciesichuancuisine.com

Why: It was worth the wait.

I’ve been hearing raves about Cie Sichuan Cuisine for months now. Some friends have even gone so far as to say that Cie serves some of the best—if not the best—Chinese cuisine in the Coachella Valley. Seeing as I love good Chinese food, and am generally unimpressed with the Chinese restaurants ’round these parts, I looked forward to dining at Cie Sichuan.

One problem: Cie Sichuan is a 28-mile drive from both my home and my office. While I do get to the East Valley often, my schedule is usually slammed, so I don’t often have time to go explore new restaurants and such. Ugh.

However, on one recent weekday, I turned lemons into lemonade: A client was a no-show for a meeting in Indio. I suddenly had an open hour around lunch time—so off to Cie Sichuan I went.

I would have loved to try Cie for the first time with several other people, so we could have sampled a variety of dishes. However, it was just me. Hmm … should I try something rather unique-sounding like the cold dressing beef slice and lung ($9.50)? Or the ribs-with-radish soup ($7.95)? The divine-sounding stir-fried pork belly ($10.50)?

I couldn’t decide, so I asked the server for advice; he recommended the shredded pork with garlic sauce lunch special. I took his advice—and was glad I did.

After a lovely cup of egg drop soup, the entrée arrived. The pork was not shredded like you’d find in a burrito at a Mexican joint; instead, it was sliced into thin strips and coated with a splendid garlic sauce that included sprouts, carrots, green onions and peppers. While my breath after lunch was probably dreadful, my taste buds were enthralled.

I’m looking forward to trying more of Cie Sichuan’s cuisine … and with the rise of all the new delivery services here locally (Yelp’s Eat24, UberEATS, etc.), it looks like I may be able to get Cie’s food delivered to my home soon, if not already. Awesome.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Bi Bim Bap

Where: JOY Asian Cuisine at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio

How much: $17

Contact: 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com/prod/dining/dining.php#joy

Why: So many flavors and sensations!

Once upon a time, casino food was looked down upon. I grew up in Reno, Nev., home of the Club Cal Neva, which for years advertised a 99-cent ham-and-eggs meal on billboards far and wide. And, yes, you get what you pay for.

Of course, things have changed since those days, when casinos were pretty much limited to Nevada and Atlantic City. Today, casinos can be found most anywhere—and they’ve upped their game, no pun intended, when it comes to food. In fact, some of the world’s best restaurants are found in casinos. The same can be said about the Coachella Valley: I’ve recently discovered that one of the area’s best Asian restaurants can be found inside of Fantasy Springs.

JOY offers a pan-Asian menu, and on my inaugural visit there, I was happy with every dish that I tried. The kimchi? Amazing. The war wonton soup? Packed with flavor. And the bi bim bap? One of the best preparations of this dish I’ve ever had.

What made the JOY version of this Korean classic so gosh-darned yummy? Well, there is the well-seasoned beef. (My only nitpick is that I wanted a little more.) Then there are the tasty mushrooms and vegetables. And last but oh-so-certainly not least is the rice, oh that rice—pillow-soft in some parts, and delightfully crispy along the sides of the blazing-hot bowl.

Regular readers know I am not thrilled with the Asian food on offer here in the Coachella Valley. Well, I am feeling a little better about things after the first of what will most likely be many visits to JOY. My mouth waters at the mere thought of that bi bim bap; it was truly excellent.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Szechwan beef lunch special

Where: China Bistro, 45765 Towne St., Indio

How much: $7.50 (lunch special)

Contact: 760-342-7288; chinabistroindio.com

Why: Good flavor—and they deliver the spice, if you ask.

Let’s say you’re an east valley resident craving good Chinese food for lunch. Or maybe you’re from the west valley, and you’ve been called to do your civic duty at the Larson Justice Center—and you want a quick, delicious lunch (preferably at a spot within walking distance). In either case, it’d be smart to head to China Bistro.

Just a block north of the Larson Justice Center, China Bistro offers great Chinese food at reasonable prices—especially at lunch. The menu includes the standards one would expect, and I was fortunate enough to select the Szechwan beef.

The dish featured a reasonable amount of tender, tasty beef (you can get this preparation with shrimp or chicken, if you prefer), as well as a variety of crisp vegetables, including green and red bell peppers, mushrooms, celery, water chestnuts, carrots and onions. It was all covered in a tasty sauce, and served alongside some decent, if unremarkable fried rice (regular rice is also an option) and a fried wonton wrapper, as well as the soup of the day (which was egg drop soup when I was there).

One other detail worth noting: I like my food very spicy, and far too often, restaurants fail to make food spicy enough for my tastes. Well, the good folks at China Bistro adequately heeded my request for spicy Szechuan beef, and left my taste buds happy.

The next time I find myself in Indio, you can bet that if I’m in the mood for some delicious, inexpensive Chinese food (and I am pretty much always in such a mood), I’ll be stopping by China Bistro.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Dragon Roll with the all-you-can-eat sushi at Dragon Sushi

Where: Dragon Sushi, 68369 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City; also at 82451 Highway 111, No. 103, Indio

How much: $22.99 for lunch; $27.99 for dinner

Contact: (760) 321-5935; www.facebook.com/pages/Dragon-sushi/194086770616660

Why: A variety of flavors and textures for one fair price.

Nevada may just be the all-you-can-eat (AYCE) sushi capital of the world.

Several recent newspaper articles have confirmed that the cities of Reno and Las Vegas are havens for AYCE sushi; in fact, one of those stories speculated that every sushi joint in Reno offers an AYCE option. These stories throw out a variety of speculative reasons for this, ranging from the need for sushi restaurants to compete with the ample number of all-you-can-eat buffets, to a desire for sushi by cash-strapped college students (and both Reno and Las Vegas are indeed college towns).

I bring this all up for one reason: I, your humble food scribe, grew up in Reno, which means my formative years were spent gobbling up nigiri and various rolls without concern for individual prices. Alas, when it comes to sushi, the Coachella Valley ain’t Reno: Many of the area’s finer sushi joints don’t offer an all-you-can-eat option, meaning that my AYCE-conditioned brain is confused and paranoid about pricing whenever I eat at one of these places.

However, an increasing number of local sushi restaurants are starting to offer AYCE options—such as the relatively new Dragon Sushi in Cathedral City. (The original Dragon Sushi location in Indio does, too.) This somewhat peculiar restaurant—it shares an entrance and space with La Tablita, a Mexican joint—offers a nice variety of appetizers, nigiri and rolls under its AYCE option. During a recent lunch, we sampled a number of goodies, and they were uniformly tasty—but our favorite was the Dragon Roll (what else would it be at a place called Dragon Sushi?), which is basically a California Roll with freshwater eel, eel sauce and crunch thrown in.

It was a great lunch—and my brain was spared confusion and paranoia. Here’s to the continuing spread of the AYCE sushi paradigm! 

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The salsa (with chips, of course)

Where: Rincon Norteño, 83011 Indio Blvd., Indio

How much: Free with your meal

Contact: 760-347-4754; www.rinconnorteno.com

Why: Because it’s hot—and we ain’t talking about the spice.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, well past my usual lunch time. Due to various meetings in Indio, I have not yet had a chance to eat, and I am freaking hungry.

I wander in to Rincon Norteño, and for some reason, the waitress who seats me thinks I am ordering to-go. When she comes to take my order, and I tell her that I am actually dining at the restaurant, she says “Ohhhh!” and immediately heads to … a soup warmer?

Yes. A soup warmer.

She ladles some of the contents into a bowl; grabs a bowl of chips off a nearby shelf (the chips are placed in bowls in advance; why, I have no idea); and delivers them to me.

I sniff the warm, tan-colored liquid in the small yellow bowl. It does not look all that appetizing, but I am ravenous, so I grab one of the thickish tortilla chips and dive in.

Mmmm.

Most salsas that are served around these parts, of course, are served chilled (or perhaps room-temperature), and feature tomatoes as one of the main ingredients. In this deliciously warm concoction, at least two different types of peppers (the server tells me) are instead the main attraction, with a lot of white onions backing them up. (As for the ingredients beyond the onions and the chiles? I have no idea. It’s a delicious mystery.)

While the salsa is heat-hot, it’s not all that spicy-hot—these are mellow peppers, with just a little bit of kick. The resulting salsa/sauce/gravy/soup is earthy, comforting and just plain yummy.

The combination plate I had was, frankly, pretty average. No matter; that warm salsa will keep me coming back to Rincon Norteño. It’s that good.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Friday, May 31, may seem like a long way away, but the organizers of Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week say it never hurts to get an early start on planning.

“Every year, my husband and I make it a staycation,” said Kim Crandal, the executive director of Restaurant Week, during which a bevy of local restaurants will be offering special three-course prix-fixe menus for either $26 or $38 per person.

Given that this year’s Restaurant Week is bigger than ever, perhaps planning is a good idea. For one thing, the week is much longer than a week—it runs for 17 days, in fact, from Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 16.

Why the expansion?

“We took a look at the history of requests from some of the restaurants,” Crandal said. “… So many people were experiencing success.”

As of now, 79 restaurants throughout the valley—including local favorites, big chains and eateries that are new to the scene—are signed up to participate.

But the week goes beyond food; the tag line for the event is “Eat. See. Stay.” Crandal said numerous hotels and resorts (that would be the “stay” part) are participating, as are various attractions and spas (that would be the “see” part).

“We are focusing more on crafting the ‘see’ and ‘stay’ components so people understand it’s more than a restaurant week,” she said. What do you do during the day?”

About a dozen hotels are currently signed on, and the 20 or so “see” partners include everything from the Palm Springs Art Museum to Knott’s Soak City to the Desert Springs Spa to Desert Adventures Eco-Tours and Events.

Restaurant Week also has something of a special relationship with “Forever Marilyn,” the 26-foot-tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe that currently graces downtown Palm Springs. She was installed just before last year’s Restaurant Week, and she’ll be taken down and moved (temporarily, many hope) during this year’s Restaurant Week. While plans are not yet finalized, an idea is being batted around to create a more life-sized Marilyn Monroe representation—a statue, perhaps, or a cut-out—and have her pop up at the various restaurants during the 2 1/2 weeks of Restaurant Week.

Crandal noted that some folks are indeed already making Restaurant Week plans. For example, she cited a group of about 90 golfers from Santa Barbara who have made Restaurant Week an annual trip.

“It’s really building a nice following,” Crandal said.

Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week takes place from Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 16. For a complete list of participants and updates, visit www.palmspringsrestaurantweek.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

What: The $5 tri-tip sandwich

Where: Neil's Lounge, 80956 Highway 111, Indio

How much: $5, of course

Contact info: 347-1522

Why: It's the best damn French-dip-style sandwich for the price that we can find in the valley.

Neil's Lounge is one of the most internally incongruent places in the entire Coachella Valley: It's a dive bar ... with a stunningly high-class bathroom. (Seriously. Go see, even if you don't need to ... go.) It's located in the depths of Indio, but it attracts a clientele from across the valley. And it's a freaking bar ... that serves one of the best sandwiches we've eaten around these parts.

When you head to Neil's for lunch or dinner, make sure you peruse both the big Western Grill menu and the smaller $5 special menu, before you go up to the kitchen to order. There's some splendid food to be had on both menus—for example, the spinach-artichoke dip ($10.50) comes with two warm, fresh miniature loaves of bread, while the dip is creamy, gooey, chunky artichoke-packed nirvana—but the real attraction, as far as we're concerned, is the $5 tri-tip sandwich. 

The sandwich consists of a healthy dose of sliced beef placed on a fresh roll, and then sliced in half. That's it—so simple. Served alongside are a creamy horseradish sauce and a small cup of a weakish au jus. This sandwich doesn't sound all that special, I concede, but the quality of the beef and the roll are top-notch. The sandwich plus a dip in the creamy horseradish plus a dip in the au jus equals deliciousness.

Oh, and the accompanying potato salad? It's fantastic. 

A word of warning: When Neil's gets busy (which can happen quite often in this high sports season), the kitchen can get a bit backed up. However, chill out; have a cocktail; check out the amazing bathroom; and watch the game. The sandwich will be out soon, and it'll be more than worth the wait.

And when the bill comes, and you're reminded that your meal was just $5—you'll barely be able to believe it.

Published in The Indy Endorsement