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Help the Desert AIDS Project by Dining Out for Life on April 26

Thursday, April 26, is one of my favorite foodie days of the year.

It’s not a day featuring a lot of great deals and food specials; instead, it’s a day during which local restaurants and their customers (i.e., you) do a lot of good for the community.

April 26 is this year’s date for Dining Out for Life, the annual fundraising extravaganza for the Desert AIDS Project and other HIV/AIDS service organizations around the country. It’s simple, really: On that day, restaurants across the Coachella Valley have agreed to donate anywhere between 33 and 110 percent of their sales to DAP.

It really is simple: All you do is go out to eat, like you probably would anyway—and DAP gets a big chunk of whatever you spend. (If you feel like you must do more than simply eat out, never fear: Many participating locations also have donation envelopes available.)

My friends at DAP tell me that even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smaller markets in which Dining Out for Life takes place, it’s one of the larger markets in terms of money raised. Last year, we ranked No. 3 in North America—and this year, the folks at DAP are keeping their fingers crossed for a jump to No. 2. Our li’l community does so well, in part, because of the generosity of some large and very busy restaurants: Lulu California Bistro (donating 50 percent), TRIO (donating 60 percent) and Spencer’s (donating 75 percent) generally rank near the top of the continent-wide list in terms of the amount of money donated.

However, it is most certainly not all about the big places: The biggest generosity, in many ways, comes from the smaller, mom-and-pop places. Rooster and the Pig and Ristretto are both donating 100 percent of their sales on April 26 to DAP—while Townie Bagels is giving a whopping 110 percent.

On Dining Out for Life day, you’ll be able to find me at a half-dozen or so—maybe more—participating restaurants throughout the day: having bagels, coffee, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, dinner, a post-dinner snack and then probably a few drinks. Follow my exploits via the Coachella Valley Independent Facebook page.

Please join me for Dining Out for Life on April 26. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s literally the least you can do.

Visit www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings for a complete and constantly updated list of restaurants and their donation percentages.


In Brief

The much, much delayed opening of Grand Central Palm Springs, a restaurant and event space in La Plaza in downtown Palm Springs, is apparently close. Yeah, we’ve heard this several times before over the last two years, but co-owner Rita Capponi is so confident it’s actually happening this time that she gave me a “firm” opening date: May 1. More details to come; watch www.grandcentralpalmsprings.com for updates. … Alicante, the tapas-themed restaurant at 140 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, is gearing up for a name and theme change. Revel Public House will offer sports, great food and lots of drink, led by three new exclusive beers brewed by San Marcos’ Mason Ale Works—under the name Palm Springs Brewing Co. Visit the brand-new Revel Facebook page for details. … Draughtsman, at 1501 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, just started a new late-night menu. “Late Night at Draughtsman” takes place from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., Wednesday through Sunday. The menu includes fare such as Cauliflower “McNuggets” ($9) and a braised pork belly banh mi ($14), along with late-night beer specials and frequent entertainment. Get more info at draughtsmanpalmsprings.com. … The owners of CCBC—a gay, clothing-optional resort and play place (*ahem*)—have announced plans to build an adjoining 2,560-square-foot restaurant, called Runway; it’ll also have a 568-square-foot dining patio. We cannot wait to see this! See plans at www.ccedd.org/project/ccbc-resort-runway-restaurant. … Try (hopefully) great chili and benefit the Cathedral City Senior Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, April 7. The annual Chili Cook-Off takes place at the Big Lots Center at Highway 111 and Date Palm Drive; $20 gets you chili tastings and a box lunch from Aspen Mills. Yum! Find more details at www.cathedralcenter.org. … And now, in the “Why in the hell not?” category: The Village Pub Palm Springs, at 266 S. Palm Canyon Drive, has launched two new food challenges. On Wednesdays, you can try one of two challenges: Eat 10 blazing wings in five minutes ($13); or gobble down one pound of potato chips and two pounds of fish with homemade beer batter in 10 minutes ($30). Beat the challenge, and the food is free. Hmm. Learn more about the “Village Idiot Food Challenge”—and see if any idiots actually succeed—at www.facebook.com/villagepubpalmsprings.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

State Fair: Babe’s Is the California Brewery of the Year

Arthur Vasquez, the chief operating officer at Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage, humbly posits that Babe’s does not make the state’s best beer, as far as his palate is concerned.

“I’ll be the first person to tell you that there are some amazing beers produced in California, and I would jump over my beer to get to them in a second,” he said.

However, the judges at the Northern California Brewers Guild, who run the California State Fair Commercial Craft Brew Competition, disagree: They say Babe’s is the 2015 Brewery of the Year.

This is an incredible honor for Babe’s, the granddaddy of the Coachella Valley craft-brew world. According to the Northern California Brewers Guild, 302 participants entered some 1,086 beers in the contest, and Babe’s took top honors in part because three of the six beers Babe’s entered won awards: the Belgian Vanilla Blond Ale, the 2014 Winterfest Ale, and the Blackfin Lager.

The Independent spoke to Vasquez on the day before he was slated to hop on a quick flight out of Ontario to Sacramento for an awards ceremony on the steps of the California State Capitol.

“We’re in a bit of a shock. We were hoping to win a ribbon or two,” Vasquez said, adding that the six beers Babe’s entered must have “just happened to hit the technical qualities in the categories we entered. … We sent the right beers to the right competition.”

Modesty aside, Babe’s is obviously doing something right: Vasquez noted that Babe’s has taken home at least one award from every competition the brewery has entered since 2009.

“This means a lot to us,” Vasquez said.

Congratulations to everyone at Babe’s, located at The River, 71800 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Watch the Babe’s Facebook page for updates and more information.


Johannes Clarifies Bottled-Water Policy

Last month in this space, we poked fun at the fact that Johannes Restaurant, located at 196 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, was going to stop serving tap water, and instead only serve bottled water imported from New Zealand—in an effort to “preserve the environment.”

After that item appeared, chef/owner Johannes Bacher invited me to the restaurant so he could further explain the policy.

First: Bacher noted that even though an initial news release said Johannes customers would no longer be able to receive tap water, period, customers can have tap water, if they insist, rather than paying $1 per bottle for the Waiwera Organic Artesian Still Water.

Second: He insisted he was not making any money off the policy change, because he was essentially offering the Waiwera at cost.

Third: He extolled the virtues of Waiwera, and said he didn’t see much of a pollution problem coming from the fact that the water is shipped in all the way from New Zealand.

“I’m not harming the environment, because much of the stuff in the U.S. comes from overseas, anyway,” he said.

Fourth: He said that the use of tap water at Johannes—and therefore, use of California’s dwindling water supply—had been “greatly reduced” since the policy change.

So … there you have it. You can judge for yourself whether Bacher’s policy makes sense.

Get more information at www.johannesrestaurants.com.


In Brief

A lesson to all would-be scammers out there: Do your research! Mindy Reed, the owner of Zin American Bistro in downtown Palm Springs, recently received a letter at the restaurant from a Jack Sardinias of Hollywood, Fla. He was asking Zin to reimburse him for a cleaning bill, after a server at Zin allegedly spilled a small amount of sauce on his wife’s jacket. Here’s where the story gets interesting: Reed also owns Alicante, also in downtown Palm Springs—and Alicante received an almost-identical letter from the same person. Word is that other downtown Palm Springs restaurants were targeted, too. … Further proof that the Coachella Valley is becoming less “seasonal” as the years go by: Clementine Gourmet Marketplace and Café, located at 72990 El Paseo, Suite 3, in Palm Desert, recently announced that for the first time, the restaurant would be open all summer long. “We recognize that many of our loyal customers will be here all summer, and they are so happy that we’re planning to stay open,” said Christophe Douheret, an owner of Clementine, in a news release. Yay! … On the flip side, Margaritas, located at 100 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, closed for the summer on June 28. Management says to expect a re-opening on Oct. 1. … Because most local city councils are paranoid and ridiculously behind the times, it’s unlikely the Coachella Valley will be home to a vibrant food-truck scene anytime soon. However, Noni’s Wood-Fired Pizza, a mobile pizza-service operation, has found a work-around: It’s planning a series of “pop-up” partnerships with brick-and-mortar joints, the first of which will take place at Justme Sweets Bakery and Café, 83214 Requa Ave., In Indio, on Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11. Visit www.facebook.com/nonispizza for more details.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Mark Your Calendars: Dining Out for Life Is on Thursday, April 30

Every year, dozens of area restaurants agree to give a chunk of one special day’s proceeds to the Desert AIDS Project, and that sacrifice makes a big financial difference: Last year, more than $175,000 was raised for DAP’s client services, thanks to about 10,000 diners and 43 participating restaurants.

This year, DAP has even higher hopes for Dining Out for Life, which will take place on Thursday, April 30: As of this writing, 47 restaurants had pledged to participate, with each giving at least 33 percent of the day’s proceeds to DAP.

That’s fantastic. Even better: Two restaurants have committed to giving 100 percent of the day’s take to DAP: Ristretto (500 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs) and Pho 533 (1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 625, Palm Springs; more on Pho 533 later).

By the way: The Independent is a sponsor of Dining Out for Life, and we have agreed to “adopt” three restaurants during the day; follow us on Facebook to watch as we eat breakfast at King’s Highway at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club (701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs), lunch at Alicante (140 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs), and dinner at Bar (340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs). Or better yet—join us at these great restaurants; have a great meal; and help the Desert AIDS Project surpass last year’s $175,000 take.

Go out and eat for a good cause; it’s literally the least you can do!

For more information, including a complete list of participating restaurants, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings.

Dash and a Handful Owner Buys Pho 533

Chad Gardner, the brains (and the culinary talent) behind the Dash and a Handful catering company, is in the process of buying Pho 533, the Vietnamese restaurant that calls the Smoke Tree Village Shopping Center in Palm Springs home.

In a news release, Gardner said he had no immediate plans to make big changes at the restaurant; in fact, he said he is a longtime fan of Pho 533.

“I’m extremely excited to take the reins of this great restaurant and its loyal following that has been lovingly cultivated by its current ownership,” Gardner said, in the type of awkward quote that could only be found in a press release. He continued: “You may see some new specials introduced here and there, but the current menu will remain virtually intact.”

According to that news release, Gardner has long wanted to own a restaurant. “I started my career in restaurants, and I love all types of Asian food, but since I was trained as a French chef, I particularly love Vietnamese food,” he said.

Escrow is expected to close sometime in early April.

Congratulations to Gardner! Watch pho533palmsprings.com for updates.

In Brief

Serious Food and Drink has moved in to the space at 415 N. Palm Canyon Drive that was the longtime home of Hamburger Mary’s. The restaurant’s website describes Serious as a “new American restaurant with a fun, relaxed atmosphere that is great for all occasions,” and there is some serious talent behind the place. Expect compelling appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrées for lunch, while dinner brings a lot of tasty stuff—with price tags topping out at $28. I personally can’t wait to try out the Quack Stack appetizer ($13.95): Take duck fat fries, and add shredded duck confit and duck-egg hollandaise. I gained four pounds just reading that—but my mouth is watering. Learn more at seriousfoodanddrink.com. … With the change in seasons comes changes in menus—and such is the case at Simon Kitchen + Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs. On Monday, March 30, the restaurant—which carries the name of celebrity chef Kerry Simon, and is led by executive chef Jeremy Saccardi—added new “social plates” (read: appetizers) that include veal meatballs Parmigana with rapini and burrata; and wok-charred edamame with togarashi. That sounds good, but it was the steak addition that got our attention: a 22- or 36-ounce bone-in rib eye prepared with marrow butter and special steak sauce. Yes, marrow butter. More info at www.hrhpalmsprings.com/simon.htm. … Finally, sad news: Michael Farber, the proprietor at Dickie O’Neal’s Irish Pub, at 2155 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, passed away due to heart problems. Following his death, Dickie O’Neal’s closed its doors indefinitely. Both Farber and Dickie O’Neal’s Irish Pub will be greatly missed.

Published in Restaurant & Food News