The cute little shop at the end of Palm Springs’ Sun Center strip mall isn’t a place to go for a co-worker’s last-minute birthday sheet cake, nor is it a place that serves trendy cupcakes.
No, this place is something much more unique.
Owners Helene and Christophe Meyer import flour from France to make classic French baked goods like croissants, turnovers, tarts and baguettes. Yes, there are cakes, but they’re on the fancy side—think chocolate ganache, lemon-raspberry and Grand Marnier.
On most days, bread is available fresh from the oven at 1 p.m., but on Saturdays and during the peak of season, you may want to order ahead to avoid the disappointment of arriving at the bakery—and finding your favorite variety sold out.
Best Local Musical Collaborator
DJ Day (Damien Beebe) has been holding down Thursdays in the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club with his ¡Reunión! nights for several years now. While the DJ and producer is probably best known for ¡Reunión!, he’s gained a worldwide fan base due to his travels.
He’s also well-known for one other thing: He truly believes in the spirit of collaboration. For starters, he often shares his for ¡Reunión! night with other local DJs, such as Aimlo, Pawn and Pedro Le Bass.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Aloe Blacc, who has worked with DJ Day in the past. “He’s a great human being, and working with him is very easy,” Blacc said about DJ Day. “We both love the same music, and we speak the same language. He sends me examples of music and songs he’s really interested in, and I try to make music that he’ll like. One of the markers I use in the studio is, ‘Do the musicians I’m working with really like this, and will my real friends like this?’ It’s not all the time that I hit that mark; sometimes I take a lot of risks, but for the most part, I think I’m making my buddies and DJ Day proud.”
Far too many DJs these days have a “me first” attitude. DJ Day does not—and that’s a beautiful thing.
Best Band Transformation
It’s been a turbulent couple of years for local band CIVX.
The group played its first show in early 2014, and basically achieved overnight success: CIVX won a slot at the downtown Palm Springs Tachevah Block Party in 2014, and found itself playing Coachella just a few days later.
But all good things eventually come to an end. Earlier this year, CIVX parted ways with frontman and bassist Nick Hernandez. Guitarist Dillion Dominguez took over lead vocals—a move that forced CIVX to reshape its sound and write new material. The remaining members recruited Dominguez’s jam buddy, Clay Samalin—originally a guitarist—to replace Hernandez on bass.
The results of all these changes: CIVX came out on top, playing a session for Jam in the Van, releasing a cassette that included new single “In Trance,” and turning in some fantastic live performances. Dominguez has come a long way since stepping into the role of frontman, while Joel Guerrero’s drumming has become tighter and more intense.
Our prediction: CIVX will continue to make great strides in 2016. We can’t wait.
Best Community Ambassador
Clifton Tatum, Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2015
The leather community is full of sort-of-but-not-really contradictions: On one hand, the community has a very sexual and kinky focus. On the other, it’s service-oriented; you’d be hard-pressed to find many groups that do more fundraising for fantastic local causes.
On one hand, the community is dominated by gay men; on the other, the Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert recently held a brunch for women during Leather Pride.
Here’s what I mean by sort-of-but-not-really contradictions: Why can’t a group that focuses on kink and sex also focus on helping others? Why can’t women be at home in the leather community?
Until this year’s Leather Pride, which took place in early November, the local leather community’s official ambassador was Clifton Tatum—a strikingly handsome, muscled, 57-year-old retired Department of Corrections counselor. Tatum perfectly represented the not-really dichotomy of the local leather community: He is sexy as all hell, and looks mighty fine in a jock strap—and he cares, deeply, about the Coachella Valley. He cares so deeply, in fact, that he spent his title year tirelessly raising funds for four local LGBT-youth charities.
In the end, he raised more than $20,000—and bemoaned the fact that he didn’t raise more—all while representing the leather community with class and style in both mainstream and not-so-mainstream circles. (Full disclosure: I helped him at several fundraising events.)
Christopher Durbin, the newly crowned Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2016, has big shoes to fill—figuratively and literally.
Best Attention to Detail
Shabu Shabu Zen
A confession: I was disappointed that Rancho Mirage’s Shabu Shabu Zen, the 2014-2015 Best Japanese winner, did not repeat its first-place finish in this year’s Best of Coachella Valley. I mean no disrespect to Kobe Japanese Steakhouse, this year’s winner—a restaurant at which I have had numerous wonderful experiences over the years—when I say that Shabu Shabu Zen is my go-to Japanese restaurant in the valley.
Here’s why: The attention to detail at Shabu Shabu Zen, presided over by the always-gracious Miho Suma, is unparalleled. The quality ingredients that go into the various Japanese hot-pot preparations look and taste amazing. The service offered by Suma and her staff is flawless. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a speck of dust anywhere in her restaurant.
I remember being blown away one day when she talked to me about making her own ponzu sauce. Ponzu sauce is generally just soy sauce and citrus; if Shabu Shabu Zen bought pre-made ponzu sauce, Suma would probably save both time and money—and 99.999 percent of her customers probably would neither notice nor care. Yet she makes her own—because details matter.
As a result of this fantastic attention to detail, not only is Shabu Shabu Zen one of the best Japanese restaurants in the valley; it’s one of the best restaurants, period.
Best Way to Spend a Monday Night
Trivia With Bella da Ball at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club
If you’re looking for the staff of the Coachella Valley Independent after 9 p.m. on any given Monday night, chances are you’ll find us in the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, sipping cocktails and scribbling answers to random trivia questions on a dry-erase board.
The weekly trivia nights are presided over by Palm Springs’ hostess with the mostess, the fabulous Bella da Ball (aka Brian Wanzek). The crowd varies from week to week, depending on whatever’s happening at the Ace (and whatever’s happening in town in general); the mix is roughly 50 percent locals, and 50 percent out-of-towners. Some nights are calm and breezy; other times, the crowd can get a little rowdier than you’d expect a crowd to get at a trivia contest.
Then there was that time a bunch of liquored-up employees of a So Cal brewery wandered into the Amigo Room for trivia after a company meeting. It’s probably a good thing Bella wasn’t armed.
Anyway, admission is free, and the top teams always win prizes—usually a $50 gift certificate to the Ace. Try it … and see if you can knock off the Independent and Friends Team. Good luck with that.