What: The cordoniz estilo Ernesto (quail, Ernesto style)
Where: Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill, 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
How much: $24.95
Contact: 760-992-5641; rioazulpalmsprings.com
Why: It’s one of the tastiest plates of food in the entire valley.
I grew up on a cattle ranch outside of Reno, Nev., where quail are ubiquitous.
Thus, I know a little bit about these birds. Quail are cute. Quail are fast. Quail don’t seem all that bright. And I’d never thought of quail as all that delicious, either. I’d eaten quail a couple of times, and those meals were rather unremarkable. The little birds struck me as stringy and insubstantial—a lot of work for not a lot of reward.
Flash forward to a month or two ago, when my partner and I were having dinner at downtown Palm Springs’ Rio Azul. We ordered the parrilladas for two ($38.95), the restaurant’s entrée combination plate. It included a couple of different shrimp preparations, grilled steak, grilled chicken, the usual Mexican sides … and “succulent quail grilled to perfection.”
If you’d have told me ahead of time that the quail would be the hit of the plate (over bacon-wrapped shrimp?!), I’d have told you to lay off of whatever substance was leaving you outside of your right mind. But lo and behold: The quail was amazing.
Now, flash forward to my next (and most recent) meal at Rio Azul: Of course I had to get the cordiniz estilo Ernesto (aka the quail Ernesto style; Ernesto Gastelum is Rio Azul’s executive chef).
The plate, pictured above, does not offer the prettiest presentation—and, yes, you’re gonna have to get your hands a bit messy to eat this. Well, roll up your sleeves, because it’s worth it: This combination of potatoes, onions, peppers, garlic with the moist quail parts is fantastic.
It’s fantastic even without that little cup o’ sauce off to the side—but it’s even better when the quail is dipped in that “famous diablo cream salsa.” Don’t let the words “diablo” or “salsa” confuse you: It’s a liquid that’s not all that spicy; instead, it’s rich and luxurious.
I don’t know how Chef Ernesto makes these quail so succulent, so juicy, so packed with flavor—but he does. And the result is one of the best meals I’ve had in the Coachella Valley.