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08 Feb 2013

Wine and Small Plates: Cork and Fork Brings 'Creative Cuisine' to La Quinta

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Chef Andie Hubka: "“The only theme is that everything has to be really good." Chef Andie Hubka: "“The only theme is that everything has to be really good." corkandforkwinebar.com

Andie Hubka was five years into running a successful gourmet cooking school when she had an idea: What if she offered a dinner of seasonally driven, creative dishes once a week? Would people come?

“I just started getting the itch to do a restaurant night,” said Hubka, co-owner of the new restaurant Cork and Fork in La Quinta. “So we put together an underground supper club, for lack of a better word, and became really well known for that, and before we knew it, we were turning people away, because we had more people coming than we could seat on any given night.”

With the dinner nights an obvious hit, Hubka saw a craving for interesting, wine-paired dishes. She decided it was time to leave the quiet classroom of her cooking school and enter the fast-paced world of restaurant ownership, which happened officially when Cork and Fork opened to the public on Wednesday, Jan. 16.

“We’re packed every night. We just can’t believe it,” says Hubka. “We knew we were going to be busy, because we had an existing clientele, but the big surprise has been the people from out of town and people we’ve never seen before, who are super-excited about it. We’re sold out and actually oversold every night.”

Cork and Fork is not that big of a place—it seats about 50 people—but packing the house night after night is quite a feat for any new restaurant. But it helps, says Hubka, that there are precious few places in the area that serve the type of cuisine her team creates.

“I come from Los Angeles, where you have lots of options and lots to choose from, but out here in the desert, it’s pretty devoid of interesting food,” said Hubka. “There are a lot of steakhouses and a lot of meat-and-potato places, but there isn’t a lot of ethnic or creative cuisine.”

Not that Hubka is beating her guests over the head with unapproachably complex dishes. Her tactic is to take things people recognize and give them a twist. Add to that a well-trained staff who can suggest appropriate wine-pairings, and you have what is turning out to be a concept people get excited about.

The menu is broken down into snacks, salads, pizzas and favorites that are holdovers from the restaurant’s former life as an underground supper club. Baby-back ribs, Thai shrimp cakes, tamales, mac-and-cheese and a good amount of salads and other dishes take diners on a winding road without delving into anything too strange or unknown.

“You’ll notice there really isn’t a common denominator,” says Hubka. “The only theme is that everything has to be really good.”

The most popular items thus far have been dates stuffed with Point Reyes blue cheese and topped with toasted almonds and chive-infused oil. Guests have also been crazy about the wood-fired “Coachella” pizza—think dates, applewood bacon, goat cheese and pickled onions—and the french fries made with local sweet potatoes.

“We make food that people recognize, but that are all small plates, all shareable,” says Hubka. “The focus is on wine and food pairing, trying a lot of different foods with wines. We call it a ‘unique wine and food experience.’”

The wine list is also a bit different than what many local diners may be used to, since there are few California wines. Instead, the emphasis is on wines from other renowned wine-producing regions such as South Africa, Oregon and others.

“I still run the cooking school, and the teacher in me wants to expose people to different things,” says Hubka. “We’re constantly having to explain our wine to people, but we’re excited to do it because we want people to experience it.”

Hubka says the restaurant is currently open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Happy hour, which includes specials on drinks and bar snacks, happens all night on Wednesday and Sunday and from 4 to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.

Cork and Fork is located at 47875 Caleo Bay Drive, Suite A106, in La Quinta. Call 777-7555, or visit corkandforkwinebar.com for reservations or more information.

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