CVIndependent

Wed11202019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Owners of Wally’s Desert Turtle to Retire at the End of the Season; Restaurant’s Future ‘To Be Determined

At the very least, management change is coming to Wally’s Desert Turtle, one of the desert’s pre-eminent fine-dining restaurants, located at 71775 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage: Owners Michael and Nicole Botello have announced they’re going to retire at the end of the tourist season.

Wally’s—which was opened by Michael’s father, Wally Botello, in 1978—has been managed by Michael and Nicole since 1982.

What does this mean for the future of Wally’s? We reached out to the restaurant and asked whether it would close or continue on under new management. The response: “That is to be determined. What we know at this time is that the Botellos are retiring.”

Watch this space and www.facebook.com/wallysturtle for more information.


Sanctuary Palm Springs Throws a ‘Holiday Spectacular’ at Spencer’s

One of the valley’s most amazing nonprofits also happens to throw one of the valley’s most festive holiday parties—at one of the valley’s most revered restaurants.

Sanctuary Palm Springs—a transitional home for former LGBTQ foster youth, 18-21, who have aged out of the system—will be throwing its Holiday Spectacular fundraiser from 5 to 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8, at the Bougainvillea Room at Spencer’s Restaurant, at 701 W. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs.

We’ll now quote from the news release, because it explains the goings-on as well, if not better, than we could: “The $95 ticket price includes cocktails, lavish hors d’oeuvres, and a not-so-silent auction co-hosted by the effervescent Dottie and Maude of Les Dames du Soleil, plus a special performance by Broadway’s David Burnham. David is an award-winning actor and singer last seen on Broadway in the mega-hit musical, Wicked. The event will be hosted by actor and comedian Alec Mapa.”

The event was formerly known as Holiday Socks, because it involved filling holiday stockings with presents for the youth living at Sanctuary. “With a goal of raising funds to help support the entire program, the ‘socks’ part of its name seemed less relevant, so we’ve evolved and renamed it Holiday Spectacular, which is more fitting,” said Rob Woronoff, Sanctuary’s executive director, in the aforementioned news release.

For tickets or more information, visit sanctuarypalmsprings.org (click on “Support Us” for tickets), or call 760-766-3500.


In Brief

New to 73850 Highway 111, in Palm Desert: Grindhouse Burgers. The joint’s Facebook page promises a unique, never-frozen burger blend, along with brews and TVs with sports on. And what’s this about sweet-potato tots? And homemade brown sugar maple cake? Call 760-404-0300, or visit facebook.com/grindhouseburgersurge for more details. … Brew in LQ, one of the east valley’s best beer festivals, returns on Saturday, Nov. 2. More than a dozen breweries will be on hand, along with food, live music, games and more. It takes place at the One Eleven La Quinta Center, at 78950 Highway 111, in La Quinta, and advance tickets cost $25, or are two for $30, plus fees; designated drivers get in for $10, and imbibers will pay $10 more at the door. Get tickets to the rain-or-shine, 21-and-older event, as well as more info, at www.playinlaquinta.com/brew. … Even though the big event isn’t until March 27-29, 2020, tickets are now on sale for the annual Palm Desert Food and Wine festival. Admission to the grand tastings starts at $100. Head on over to www.palmdesertfoodandwine.com. … Even though this is a project by friends of the Independent, we don’t know a lot about it—but we’re intrigued. It’s called the Palm Springs Oyster Society, and the description on the Instagram page simply reads: “Oysters and caviar. DM us to RSVP for our next event November 10th.” Wanna know more? Get thee to that Instagram page (www.instagram.com/psoystersociety), and send a DM! … New to the Cathedral Canyon Golf Club, at 68311 Paseo Real, in Cathedral City: Jax Bar + Dining. It’s operated by Jack Srebnik, the owner of The Slice in Rancho Mirage, and Maracas Mexican Cantina in Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs. Expect California cuisine, live music on the weekends, and other fun; visit www.facebook.com/JAXBarDining for more. … Newish at 66121 Pierson Blvd., in Desert Hot Springs: Delicias Mexican Cuisine. The owners promise “authentic Mexican food from Mexico City.” Sounds yummy! Head to www.facebook.com/DeliciasMexicanCuisine for more. … One of our favorite local chefs has landed at one of our favorite special-occasion restaurants. Jennifer Town, formerly of the Purple Room and Melvyn’s, is now the executive chef at the Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Hotel, at 572 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Curious about what she’s up to? Watch www.facebook.com/PurplePalmRestaurant.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Dining Out for Life Benefits the Desert AIDS Project on Thursday, April 27

Dining Out for Life day is one of my favorite days of the year. Why, you ask? Well, when else can you eat at one or two (or, uh, like seven?) of many, many Coachella Valley restaurants—and say you’re doing so not due to gluttony, but instead to benefit a great cause?

The great cause in this case is the Desert AIDS Project, and this year’s DOFL date is Thursday, April 27. On that day, participating bars and restaurants will donate anywhere from 33 percent to 100 percent (!) of the day’s sales to DAP.

Earning special mention are the four (as of our press deadline) restaurants giving their entire days’ sales to DAP: The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, Pho 533, Ristretto and Townie Bagels.

You must participate in this. I mean, you dine out anyway, right? We’ve said it before, and we’ll say again: It’s literally the least you can do.

For more information, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings—and on that special day, follow the Independent’s Facebook page as we chronicle our various visits to Dining Out for Life restaurants.


New: Truss and Twine, Sister Bar/Restaurant of Workshop Kitchen + Bar

When Michael Beckman’s Workshop Kitchen + Bar restaurant opened in the historic El Paseo building at 800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, in 2012, it earned a lot of much-deserved buzz thanks to its innovative menu, its stark industrial décor and its fantastic craft-cocktail offerings.

Now Beckman has a second buzz-worthy restaurant in that building. Truss and Twine opened March 13, offering “classic cocktails broken down by era, alongside a desert-inspired menu using ingredients from the Coachella Valley,” according to a news release.

Wait … cocktails broken down by era? Very cool! According to that news release, bar managers Dave Castillo and Michelle Bearden broke down their menu into five eras of cocktail culture: the “Golden Age,” “Prohibition,” “Tiki,” “Dark Ages” and “Originals” (featuring new in-house creations).

As for the food, expect upscale bar/snack offerings, including jamon iberico, the amazing ham that caused me to put on several pounds the last time I was in Spain.

We had not checked out Truss and Twine in person as of our press deadline—but trust me, we will soon.

Truss and Twine is open at 4 p.m. daily, and stays open late. Details at trussandtwine.com.


In Brief

Early readers of this column, here’s an event you won’t want to miss: The lovely Purple Palm Restaurant and Bar, at the Colony Palms Hotel, 572 N. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, is hosting the Pink Party. It takes place from 6 to 9 p.m., Wednesday, March 29. The event, featuring chef Nick Tall’s cuisine and a variety of rosé wines, is a benefit for the Annette Bloch Cancer Care Center at the Desert AIDS Project. Admission is $50; call 760-969-1818 for reservations. … Pete’s Hideaway, at 665. S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, is the home of the new Club Rouge. The “secret underground nightclub and showroom” is a joint product of PS Underground, the group that puts on various themed dinners at top-secret locations around the valley. Club Rouge is currently hosting the Lost Cherry Cabaret every Saturday at 10:30 p.m.; $47 will get you “gourmet appetizers and sinful desserts” as well as the show, featuring performers Francesca Amari, Robbie Wayne and Siobhan Velarde. A full bar is available, of course. Get tickets and info at www.rougepalmsprings.com. … Coming soon to Rancho Mirage: Haus of Poke, a restaurant serving the raw-fish salad in various forms. It’ll be at 42500 Bob Hope Drive, Suite B; info at www.hausofpoke.com. … The old Café Europa space at The Corridor, at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will soon be the Mod Café. A menu at ToastTab.com shows it’ll offer all three square meals, with salads, stuffed pitas, burgers, melts and bowls as the main lunch and dinner fare. Visit www.toasttab.com/mod-cafe for more. … The Noodle Bar, our favorite place to eat at the Spa Resort Casino, 401 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs, has closed. … Coming soon: Vinny’s Italian Ice and Frozen Custard, to 190 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Attendees of the LGBT Center of the Desert’s recent Red Dress Dress Red Party got to sample some of Vinny’s frozen fare; expect an opening around May 1. Details at www.vinnysitalianice.com. … The L Fund, a local nonprofit that helps out lesbians in crisis, is having its Gumbo Gala fundraiser at noon, Sunday, April 2, at the Palm Springs Pavilion, 401 S. Pavilion Way, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $75; get details at www.facebook.com/Palmspringslfund. … Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza has opened its doors in the West Elm building in downtown Palm Springs, at 201 N. Palm Canyon Drive. It’s the second valley location of the highly regarded pizza franchise. Details at www.blazepizza.com/locations/palm-springs. … Brunch has returned to The Saguaro, at 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Outside of El Jefe, the hotel’s culinary offerings have been in flux since the departure of Tinto. People can now enjoy weekend brunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends on the courtyard patio; get menus and more info at thesaguaro.com/palm-springs.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

What: The seared scallops and smoked pork belly

Where: The Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Hotel, 572 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $30

Contact: 760-969-1818; www.colonypalmshotel.com/dining

Why: It’s elegantly delicious.

It’s a Thursday night. It’s been seemingly forever since my friend Darrell and I have caught up, so we make plans to grab a drink and perhaps a small bite at one of our favorite haunts: the Purple Palm Restaurant, poolside at the Colony Palms Hotel.

We order drinks from the amazing bartender. We chat. We peruse the menu. I see the words “seared scallops and smoked pork belly” in the entrée section.

Hmm. I am not going to be having a small-bite here; this is going to be a full-blown meal.

Pork belly is one of those foods I can rarely resist—even though I oftentimes wind up disappointed by what appears on my plate. When pork belly is prepared right, it’s orgasmic, but too often, it’s overcooked, rendering it gummy and greasy and just sort of bleh.

Well, the pork belly that appears on my plate at the Purple Palm is a prime example of why I can rarely resist pork belly: It’s divine. It’s cooked perfectly, and winds up being a splendid, salty companion to the pillowy scallops. The parsnip puree and chanterelle mushrooms bring even more depth to the party, and when I am finished, I feel a hint of sadness that this near-perfect meal has come to an end.

Unless I order another, that is. Hmm … nah. Neither budget nor calorie count will allow that.

So instead, Darrell and I order another round, and continue to catch up, as we enjoy the amazing Palm Springs “winter” weather. Life can be truly grand sometimes, can’t it?

Published in The Indy Endorsement

New in Downtown Palm Springs: Moxie Palm Springs

For several years, Grind Brgr Bar languished on the second floor at 262 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. I went to the Kaiser Restaurant Group-owned restaurant fairly frequently, because the burgers were good, and I loved the view. However, the place seemed constantly understaffed, and there was no vibe whatsoever.

Well, Grind is gone, as is its downstairs sister restaurant, The Chop House. In Grind’s place is Moxie Palm Springs—and it appears the charming second-story space (above what is now the Broken Yolk Café) is finally getting the treatment it deserves.

Don’t go to Moxie expecting a big, honking meal; instead, you’ll find salads, $4 bar bites (such as a single slider or a jicama shrimp taco) and “sharables” such as papas bravas ($8) and a charcuterie platter ($15). On the drink side, Moxie offers an innovative selection of “crafty cocktails” and “classy cocktails” for $11, and well drinks for $6—and you can knock a buck or two off those prices during happy hour, between 4 and 7 p.m.

Just as exciting as the food and drink, however, is the list of special events: A quick gander at Moxie’s Facebook page shows goings-on such as wine-tastings and live entertainment.

Moxie is open at 4 p.m. daily, and closes no later than midnight. For more information, call 760-318-9900, or visit www.facebook.com/moxiepalmsprings.


The Ace Looks to Taco Maria to Spice Up King's Highway Offerings

Forgive me if you’ve heard this before: The Ace Hotel and Swim Club, at 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has enlisted the aid of a highly regarded out-of-town restaurant to improve the food offerings at the King’s Highway restaurant.

This time, the help is coming from Taco Maria, the Costa Mesa restaurant that’s earned chef Carlos Salgado many awards; in fact, our friends at the OC Weekly have named it the best Orange County restaurant three years in a row.

It was just two years ago that I was telling you that the Ace had brought in Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant Five Leaves to shore up the King’s Highway menu. Some of those changes were great—the Five Leaves burger was tasty, while the buttermilk fried Jidori earned a coveted Indy Endorsement from the rag you’re reading right now.

Despite these bright points, however, I’ve never really enjoyed eating at King’s Highway all that much—even though I would definitely qualify as an Ace regular. What came out of the kitchen over the last couple of years was inconsistent, while some of the prices were simply outrageous: Chips and salsa will set you back $9 in the Amigo Room. If you want the add “crushed avocado,” your total tab is $15. Really?!

So far, the changes I’ve seen to the menu have been encouraging. I’ll be curious to see what Salgado ultimately does as part of this culinary partnership. (Here’s hoping more-reasonable prices are among the changes!)

Visit www.kingshighwaydiner.com for more information.


In Brief

If you 1) love great food, 2) love great beer, 3) love a gorgeous restaurant atmosphere and 4) are reading this column fairly early, take note: You’ll want to be at the Purple Palm Restaurant, at the Colony Palms Hotel at 572 N. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, for the Winter Food and Beer Fest. According to this here news release, Purple Palm executive chef Nick Tall “has created a festive dinner of shared plates, all expertly paired with beer” from Coachella Valley Brewing Co. The evening—which starts with a reception at 6 p.m. and is followed by a sit-down dinner—costs $70. Call 760-969-1818 for reservations or more information. … Breakfast is becoming big in down Palm Springs: We recently heard a rumor that a veeeeery popular Palm Desert-area breakfast/brunch joint may be soon moving into the second-story space that The Falls Steakhouse used to call home, at 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive. We have not confirmed the rumor, so we won’t share any further details, but keep your eyes open and your fingers crossed. … Frenchy’s Sports Bar and Grill is now open at 2155 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in north Palm Springs, in the space the late, lamented Dickie O’Neal’s used to call home. Live entertainment and karaoke are in the mix along with the food and sports. Call 760-424-8765, or visit www.facebook.com/FrenchysPalmSprings.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

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

Nejat Kohan is an Iranian Jew who, like many immigrants (myself included), came to this country in hopes of creating better life.

Kohan’s dream was to become a big-time developer. One of the first projects he was involved with here in the desert was the reconstruction of the historic Spanish Inn—nowadays known as Triada—the iconic hotel on Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.

The property has been a hot spot for Hollywood celebrities since 1939. Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor frequented there, as well as Howard Hughes and Alan Ladd. In 1995, Los Angeles-based investor Hormoz Ramy bought the deteriorating hotel; Kohan stepped in as his business partner in 2002. Kohan threw all of his financial resources, time and energy into the reconstruction, he said.

“The project I was working on was a massive undertaking,” Kohan said. “There are three complexes within the 65,000-square-foot lot. The underground parking alone is 14,000 square feet.”

Since the property was a historic site in the famed Movie Colony neighborhood, the renovation was done slowly and carefully.

“Many of the hotel’s precious 1930s tiles have been restored to their original condition,” Kohan said. “Most of the damaged Spanish barrel roof tiles were replaced by ones from old 1930s homes located in the L.A. area. It took a lot to make it right.”

While Kohan was focused on the details, the city of Palm Springs began placing requirements on the developers—including the Movie Colony Traffic Calming Program.

“At first, I considered the city’s request for a traffic plan as a normal procedure when such reconstruction was under way,” Kohan said. “The city approved the shared cost of the street improvement with the clause about reimbursements.”

According to Kohan, the deal looked fine on paper, as the city’s demands obligated other surrounding properties to contribute; both the Spanish Inn and the Colony Palms Hotel were asked to put in an estimated $100,000 each.

But by 2007, as Kohan has indicated in documented complaints to the city, trouble was brewing.

“The city approved a covenant for Colony Palms Hotel, reducing its share for the street improvement from $109,000 to $45,000, without my knowledge,” Kohan claims. “That left me to cover the $362,000 cost for that project and then seek reimbursements from several surrounding properties.”

Meanwhile, the cost of the street improvements skyrocketed.

“In 2008, I finished the street plan at the cost of over half a million,” Kohan said, “and the Spanish Inn reconstruction was delayed by it for two years.”

By 2010, according to Kohan, his complaints to the city regarding reimbursement were accumulating—with no visible results. Kohan said he was quite desperate, and that is when the city’s mayor, Steve Pougnet, called him.

“On Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, Steve personally called me around 5:30 p.m.,” Kohan said. “He said: ‘This is Mayor Pougnet. I’m going to come visit your project, the Spanish Inn, right now! Would you also make a check for $500 to my campaign?’ I told him: ‘Yes!’

“The mayor came in a few minutes, and I toured him around,” Kohan continued. “The mayor told me that he was impressed with the progress of the project,” which was then about 80 percent completed. “I gave him the check. He spent about 10 to 15 minutes with me at the Spanish Inn.”

Kohan gave at least three other checks to Pougnet, too—all dated on the 27th day of a month, starting with a birthday check on Pougnet’s birthday, April 27.

“I attended the mayor’s birthday party in one of his friend’s homes and again donated the money to Pougnet’s campaign,” Kohan said. “Later, I was invited to a party at the mayor’s residence and contributed again to his campaign. I did feel that I was obligated to donate to Steve’s campaign in order to get his attention to Spanish Inn problems, particularly to the city’s agreement for the traffic plan.”

But it was all for naught.

“The city never paid anything for the traffic plan which was imposed as a pre-condition for building permits,” Kohan said.

After funding $7 million as a construction loan, the lender stopped financing the Spanish Inn project in 2011, Kohan said.

“I have lost about $2 million in my Spanish Inn investment and general contracting fees,” Kohan said. “Furthermore, there are some claims and liens up to $6.5 million for my personal guarantee. In 2011, the Pacifica Group bought the Spanish Inn in a trustee’s sale for $3.5 million.”

In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Colony Palms Hotel, about the same size as Spanish Inn, sold for $15 million.

Kohan said he questions Pougnet’s actions.

“I think I was discriminated against, and I believe that the discrimination was based on my origin,” Kohan said. “I also absolutely believe that Pougnet took advantage of my situation as a developer when he asked me for the donation.”

Pougnet did not initially respond to various requests for comment. However, after the initial version of this story was posted, Pougnet sent responses to some questions that had been emailed to him. He said he recalled receiving one “unsolicited contribution from Mr. Kohan in 2010.” In response to a question about whether he discriminated against Kohan, Pougnet responded: “Absolutely not!”

Marcus Fuller, the Palm Springs deputy city manager and city engineer, confirmed the street modifications were a requirement imposed on both the Spanish Inn and Colony Palms Hotel by the City.

Today, Nejat Kohan is no longer a developer. He is now an attorney—with an emphasis on business law and construction.

(Story updated at 5:35 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18)

Published in Local Issues