CVIndependent

Fri11222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The Merguez lamb sausage

Where: Cuistot Restaurant, 72525 El Paseo, Palm Desert

How much: $9.50

Contact: 760-340-1000; cuistotrestaurant.com

Why: It’s affordable and delicious.

A round of applause, please, for the bar menu.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to a restaurant and eschewed the main dining room in favor of the bar—and as a result, presumably had a superior experience while saving a few bucks to boot.

My most recent amazing bar-menu experience came at Cuistot, the much-loved, longstanding French restaurant at the western end of El Paseo in Palm Desert. The hubby and I had stopped in for the restaurant’s Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week drink, an amazing (and gorgeous) gin-based beverage called the Aviation, so we headed for Cuistot’s bar area—cleverly named BARcelona. We were a bit peckish, so we decided to also get a small bite from the BARcelona menu. Our choice: the Merguez lamb sausage.

The sausage wound up being so delicious that we had to talk ourselves out of getting a second order. The reddish meat was impeccably flavorful—slightly spicy and pleasantly earthy. My only quibble is that the menu said the dish came tzatziki; it would have added a delightful creaminess, but it was nowhere to be found. On the plus side: The arugula beneath the sausage, doused with lamb jus, was no mere garnish; it was also delicious. We devoured every bit of it.

Bonus: From 4 to 6 p.m. in the bar, Cuistot also offers a happy hour menu. From that menu, an endorsement within an endorsement must go to the homemade pate, which was an utter steal at $9.50.

It was an amazing experience: The food, the drink, the affordable prices, and the conversation with Fernando the bartender were all impeccable.

Another round of applause, please, for the bar menu!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Bartending competitions … are they a test of ability, or just a sideshow full of tricks and gimmicks?

This is a question I have debated for years—and now that I reside in California, I see bartending competitions everywhere. This isn't to say they don't exist back in my former home, Boston, but during my bar “upbringing,” the competition came every night behind the stick: We were earnest (mostly) tradespeople—just a little wilder, perhaps—and competitions seemed alien to us. We were drink-slingers, masters of ceremonies, psychologists and peacekeepers, and we had the final word on all debates. Then something happened all over the world: Bartenders started caring more about knowing obscure recipes, using showy techniques and developing complex cocktails. We rediscovered the craft, and—for better or worse—everything changed.

So this is 2016, and bartending is a sport—get used to it. It can be a pretty fun sport, too. I did my first bartending competition right here in Palm Springs. The first round included a mystery basket (basically like on the TV show Chopped), and I got knocked out early. To rub salt in the wound, it was on my home field, Seymour's, and I was the hyped “new guy in town.” That said, I had a great time and met some fantastic bartenders and enthusiasts, and I got to nerd out about drinks and techniques all night. Fast-forward to October, when I was invited to compete in a competition at Village Pub hosted by Templeton Rye Whiskey. This time, I did really well in the cocktail-creation round and moved on to the exhaustive final round against 11 other bartenders from all over the area. Five hours of events later, I finished fourth behind three of the best in the valley (David from Workshop; Chad from Bootlegger Tiki; and Patrick from Workshop). It was a blast hanging out with some great bartenders over (too many) shots of Jameson.

After all that, it was nice to just take it easy at the Coachella Valley Independent’s Craft Cocktail Championship on Thursday, Nov, 17. I was excited to meet some bartenders from outside of my usual circuit—and thrilled about visiting the Purple Palm at the Colony Palms, which had been on my list of places to visit for months. What a beautiful venue—exactly what I thought Palm Springs would be like before I ever came here. Sadly, the event and other obligations kept me from fully exploring the drink list (I will be back), but I managed to try the Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week special: The very busy bartender, Jeff, made me the Bangkok Sling (created by bartender Brandon), and with a name like that, I looked forward to a combination of gin, liqueurs, citrus and soda. I was right about the gin (TRU Gin) and citrus (lemon), but the rest of the ingredients were guava purée, Thai basil, pink peppercorn and Fruitlab Hops Organic Liqueur. I tend to avoid drinks with purées, because they can easily overwhelm a cocktail, and I generally don't like the texture. However, this drink avoids that pitfall by bringing strong flavors to the party. The gin and hops hit first while the guava lingers, and the basil finishes strong. I am a pepper junkie, so I wish I’d gotten more of that, but all together, it was an unexpected and tasty cocktail.

The competition itself involved five local bartenders, each using a randomly assigned sponsor spirit. Fernando González (Cuistot) led off with his “Carolus’ Cobbler.” This was a blend of Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin, homemade peach purée, cinnamon and aromatic bitters. Two drinks with a purée in one night is a record for me, but this, too, was done well; Fernando put a lot of effort into the product and did his homework on the gin. Nolet’s has a fruitier and sweeter profile than a traditional London dry, with the addition of … guess what … peaches! I think a dash of something to temper the gin a bit (maraschino liqueur?) might have helped bring it all together, but he earned extra points for the homemade element, the research and the horse’s neck garnishes.

Kevin Helvie (Chill Bar and Scorpion Room) had the toughest spirit to work with, in my opinion. He mixed Crown Royal Vanilla, lemon, blueberry sour, tarragon and simple syrup into the “Royal Blue XL.” One of the judges put it best, saying it was “a good time in a glass.” It had the party-drink trinity of boozy, sweet and sour. It was also the favorite of many attendees. I was wondering the whole time what I would do with that spirit. Honey? Lemon? Ginger? Egg white? Heck, port? Luckily, I was just observing this time.

Michael Phillips (Fix a Dessert House) prepared a drink called “Citrus Rose” using Ketel One Oranj, fresh orange juice, local honey, homemade rose water, orange flower, rose sugar, a lime wedge and an edible flower. I wouldn't advise drinking it near a hive of killer bees, but I thought the floral focus was an intriguing and unique choice. It could have been overwhelming, but I found it to be nicely balanced and tasty. I also enjoyed hearing his story and about his passion for making drinks, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next time.

The audience favorite was Joey Tapia (New York Company) and his “Mellow Melon.” Joey is relatively new to bartending, and he smartly kept it simple, with Captain Morgan White Rum, cantaloupe, fresh lime, muddled mint and sugar. The drink was light and tasty. From an aesthetic point of view, I might have fine-strained the mint out, but the Mellow Melon is the kind of drink that pushes bar sales. Simple can be good, too.

The champion was Sherman Chan (Trio), who came ready to rumble. Her spirit was Bulleit Bourbon, which some would say was the luckiest pull because of the wealth of bourbon cocktails from which to draw inspiration. Luck only gets you so far, though, and she clearly knew her stuff. She made a chimera of a “Brown Derby” (bourbon, honey syrup and lemon) and a “Kentucky Mule” (bourbon, ginger, citrus), with Peychaud’s Bitters and rosemary “straight out of Trio’s parking lot!” Despite the potential for a spit-take from the judges after that remark, Sherman rolled with emcee Shann Carr’s increasingly “blue” commentary with confidence and humor. She also brought “dragon balls”—round ice balls with herbs frozen into them. Word to the wise: Behind the bar, “the show” is almost as important as what you make. The drink itself, “Bulleit Proof,” was not just smoke and mirrors, though; it was extremely tasty. It’s debatable whether the “dragon balls” would be feasible for a busy bar program, but the drink itself would sell for sure.

How much does a contest truly reflect one’s worth as an elite bartender? Winning can get you fame, money, magazine features, gigs shilling for spirit brands, Instagram followers, guest spots on reality shows and so on, so I understand why some people devote so much time and energy to competing. Frankly, it's pretty much the only way to get noticed in our new culture of “Rock-Star Bartending” (unless you happen to work at a world-famous establishment), but that shouldn't be what it's all about. I guess it all comes down to staying grounded and having fun—taking it seriously, but not tying one’s worth to winning or losing.

My advice to bartenders: Give it your best if competing, and cheer your hardest if attending. Realize it's not always fair, that it's subjective, and that no contest will determine accurately how good a bartender is in one’s natural environment. Winning a competition and actually tending bar are two different skill sets. As with any skill, you have to practice. I will be better the next time I compete, if and when I do, and so will all of these competitors.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to practice flipping bottles and breathing fire.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

Five of the Coachella Valley's top bartenders met Thursday night, Nov. 17, at the Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Hotel to battle for the first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship.

The event was one of the highlights of the Coachella Valley Independent's first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, which ends tonight (Saturday, Nov. 19). 

One week before the event, the five contestants met at the Purple Palm for a draw to determine the order in which they would compete, and which of the five sponsor liquors they would use. The sponsor—Pacific Wine and Spirits of California—is donating $500 to each of Cocktail Week's charity beneficiaries: The LGBT Community Center of the Desert's Community Food Bank, and the Desert AIDS Project's Food Pantry.

Fernando Gonzalez of Cuistot Restaurant (using Nolet's Silver Dry Gin), Kevin Helvie of Chill Bar Palm Springs and Scorpion Room (using Crown Royal Vanilla), Sherman Chan of TRIO Restaurant (using Bulleit Bourbon), Michael Phillips of FIX a Dessert House (using Ketel One Oranj) and Joey Tapia of The New York Company Restaurant (using Captain Morgan White Rum) made tastes of their drinks for all attendees, who then each turned in a ballot with their favorite cocktail circled. Then the competition began in earnest, with each bartender mixing full-size drinks for each judge live while bantering with host Shann Carr.

The judges were Jonathan Heath of F10 Creative, Darrell Tucci of the Desert AIDS Project, Mike Thompson of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, and Brad Fuhr of Gay Desert Guide.

After all of the drinks were made and tasted, and the results tabulated, Shann Carr announced the winners: Joey Tapia of the New York Company Restaurant won the Audience Choice Award, while Trio's Sherman Chan won the Championship.

Below is a gallery of photos by Independent photographer Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

Townie Bagels Bakery Cafe Opens On Sunny Dunes

On Wednesday, Aug. 26, things in the Sunny Dunes area of Palm Springs got a whole lot tastier. That’s when Townie Bagels Bakery Café opened its doors at 650 E. Sunny Dunes Road, in the space Tlaquepaque used to call home.

Owners Andy Wysocki and Bill Sanderson had been selling bagels for quite some time at the Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market before moving into the Sunny Dunes space, where they serve breakfast, lunch and coffee from Joshua Tree Coffee Company, in addition to their tasty bagels.

One of the things I like the most about Townie is the space: The café has a definite neighborhood coffee-shop vibe, with comfy seating, a welcoming atmosphere and all sorts of friendly faces from the surrounding area(s). It’s exactly the thing this part of Palm Springs needed. I’m a Palm Springs resident, and every time I’ve gone to Townie since it opened, I’ve run into at least one person I know.

Congrats, Andy and Bill. You’re really created something great.

Townie Bagels is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., every day but Tuesday. Visit www.facebook.com/towniebagels for more information.


Robbie Knievel to Make a Sunset Jump at Spa Resort Casino’s Brews and Bbq

A really interesting event is coming to downtown’s Spa Resort Casino on Saturday, Oct. 24—and a good cause will be all the better for it.

As one would expect from the name, Brews and BBQ will feature beer from great Southern California breweries, as well as food on sale from local restaurants. It’s a family-friendly event, with a play zone for kids; adults will be able to check out motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles courtesy of Palm Springs Motorsports.

But the highlight of the event, at least as far as I am concerned: Daredevil Robbie Knievel will make a motorcycle jump at 5 p.m.

Festivities start at 1 p.m. Admission is $15 (including a souvenir tasting glass); designated drivers and kids age 4-20 get in for $10. Kids younger than 4 are admitted for free. Beer-tasting tickets are a buck each, with the proceeds going to the Rotary Club of Palm Springs.

Get tickets and more information at www.sparesortcasino.com.


In Brief

Looking for a spiritual chat over coffee? Then check out the “Coffee House Rabbi” chats featuring Rabbi Sally Olins, happening at 10 a.m. the first and third Sunday of each month upstairs at Lulu California Bistro, 200 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Olins retired from Palm Springs’ Temple Isaiah recently. More info at rabbisally.com. … Applause, please, for the folks at Wally’s Desert Turtle, at 71775 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. As the high-class restaurant heads into its 38th season (!), president and owner Michael Botello recently announced a “complete conversion” of the landscape at Wally’s, including new signs—and native, drought-tolerant xeriscaping taking the place of water-guzzling grass. The restaurant will be reopening after its summer slumber on Friday, Oct. 9. More info at www.wallysdesertturtle.com. … It has always seemed somewhat oxymoronic that the excellent La Quinta Brewing Co. was located in the northern outreaches of Palm Desert rather than, well, La Quinta. However, this “wrong” is being righted: La Quinta Brewing will soon be opening a taproom on Main Street in Old Town La Quinta. According to the Old Town La Quinta folks, the new taproom will feature indoor seating as well as a patio. Watch LaQuintaBrewing.com for more information. … The second annual Taste of East Valley will take place from 4 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 20, at the Shields Date Garden, 80255 Highway 111 in Indio. Your $20 will get you tastes from some of the eastern Coachella Valley’s top joints. The event will kick off East Valley Restaurant Week, which runs through Nov. 1; get tickets and details at www.cvdining.com. … Congrats to Zin American Bistro, located at 198 S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, for its newly bestowed Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine. It joined Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs and Cuistot in Palm Desert as Coachella Valley restaurants that have earned the honor, for an impressive wine list. Less than 1,100 restaurants have earned the honor or better. … Postmates.com has come to the Coachella Valley. It’s a delivery service that includes a bunch of restaurants, both chains and local—but be prepared for the delivery-service fees. Check it out at, obviously, Postmates.com. … Renowned El Paseo Drive breakfast-and-lunch joint Wilma and Frieda’s Café will start offering dinners on Oct. 15. Watch www.facebook.com/wilmafriedascafe for details.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Jewelry is often referred to as “wearable art”—and Michael Kneebone creates incredible wearable art via Michael K Jewels.

His one-of-a-kind pieces go far beyond the ordinary thanks to Michael’s keen eye, steady hand and vision for style and quality that has served him well for decades, ever since he studied at Northern Illinois University and earned a degree in jewelry design.

Early on, an instructor recognized his talent and recommended him for an apprenticeship position, where he honed in his skills in casting and refined fabrication. He even mastered the almost-lost art of enameling. Today, only a handful of jewelry artisans are true specialists in the enameling process.

When you meet Michael, you immediately sense his dedication and demand for quality. His jewelry is always one-of-a-kind; his clients know that each piece is unique and personal. Nothing is ever duplicated.

Early in his career, his line was represented exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue, before he opened his own store in Naples, Fla.

For a glimpse of some of his designs, visit MichaelKJewels.com, or visit his charming store, aka the Canyon Road Collection, located at 73200 El Paseo, Suite 2C, in Palm Desert.

Michael’s works often show off colored stones of impeccable quality. He uses cabochon cuts and bright-colored sapphires from sources around the world. Kneebone’s knowledge and expertise allows him to select the most vivid colored stones. They are as bright as they come, and include exotic varieties such as spinel, which is almost as hard as a diamond. Spinel is mined in a variety of colors from pinks to reds to black. His sapphires are available in the traditional blues, as well as rarer black, green, orange, yellow and even silver. He uses green amethysts and tourmaline stones that range from pink to bright greens and blues. He carries the best pearls in shapes and sizes that boggle the mind. Yes, he uses diamonds, too, in every shape and color.

Michael and his partner, interior designer Herbert Smalley, came to the desert after finding the winters to be too cold in Santa Fe, N.M., where his jewelry store was one of the most beautiful on the famous Canyon Road. Herb, who has been featured in Architectural Digest for his design work in New York City and Naples, created the space for the jewelry stores and has been a promoter of and an advocate for Michael’s work during the 32 years they have been together.

Today, they have been in the desert for more than a decade and have established themselves in the community. Kneebone has been a jeweler for the Cuistot's Friday fashion luncheons for many years now, as well as the fashion luncheons at Wally’s Desert Turtle.

Become acquainted with the Canyon Road Collection and Michael K Jewels, whether you are a resident or a visitor. You will be amazed at the colorful, tasteful designs that have adorned so many of the well-heeled women. Even if you can’t afford the jewelry, it’s worth looking at for its artistic beauty.

Michael K. Jewels/Canyon Road Collection is located at 73200 El Paseo, Suite 2C, in Palm Desert. In-season hours (October to May) are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, or by appointment. For more information, call 760-880-4791, or visit www.michaelkjewels.com.

Published in Visual Arts

CPK’s Palm Springs Location to Make Way for Construction

Every time we walk by the California Pizza Kitchen at 123 N. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, we wonder: Given that it’s part of a mall that is now mostly demolished, what will be the restaurant’s fate?

We asked the CPK folks that very question. Spokesman Jeffrey Dorman responded via email: “According to Clint Coleman (CPK’s chief development officer), CPK will be closing the Palm Springs restaurant in late October/early November as the development gets to the phase where they need to demo the building.”

As for the future, Dorman said that the company is in “negotiations” for a space in the mall that will replace the Desert Fashion Plaza, and hopes to re-open in downtown Palm Springs sometime in the third quarter of next year.

In other words, for about a year, local CPK fans will have to make the trek to the chain’s other Coachella Valley location—on El Paseo in Palm Desert—to get their fix.

More info can be found at www.cpk.com.

Coming Soon: The New York Company Restaurant

A sign has gone up at 1260 S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs—most recently the home of Brushfire Grille and 911 Saloon—announcing that the New York Company Restaurant is coming soon.

A spelling-challenged Craigslist help-wanted ad offers a few more details: The “fine dining restaurant with a full bar” is slated to open in September.

We’ll share more details as we get ’em.

Local Restaurants Nab ‘Wine Spectator’ Accolades

A number of valley restaurants have been honored by Wine Spectator magazine as having top-notch wine selections.

According to the Wine Spectator website, the awards “recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.”

No valley restaurants were among the 73 “Grand Award” winners. (These restaurants generally offer 1,500 wines or more—wow.) However, two were among the 850 to earn the Best of Award of Excellence: Cuistot in Palm Desert, and Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs. “These lists typically offer 400 or more selections, along with superior presentation, and display either vintage depth, with several vertical offerings of top wines, or excellent breadth across several wine regions,” the magazine’s website notes.

Quite a few area restaurants were among the almost 2,900 honored with the Award of Excellence (meaning that they offer at least 100 well-chosen wines): Circa 59 at the Riviera, Europa Restaurant at the Villa Royale, Zin American Bistro and The Steakhouse at Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs; Desert Sage Restaurant and Piano Bar, Morgan’s in the Desert, and Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill in La Quinta; Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, and The Steakhouse at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage; Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Pacifica Seafood Restaurant, Ristorante Mamma Gina, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, and Mitch’s on El Paseo Prime Seafood in Palm Desert; and Sirocco at the Renaissance Esmeralda in Indian Wells.

Get more info at www.winespectator.com.

Get Some Learnin’ on French Wines

Speaking of wine: Total Wine and More, which recently opened at 72338 Highway 111 in Palm Desert, is offering some schooling on French wines.

At 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 8, the store will hold its “Romancing the Rhône” class and tasting. A news release promises “a journey through Avignon, Orange and Nimes to experience some of France’s most legendary wines, such as Côte-Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

The class is $25, and it will go for about two hours. Seating is limited, as they say; call 760-346-2029 for reservations.

Published in Restaurant & Food News