CVIndependent

Sun11172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Darrell Tucci is the chief development officer for the Desert AIDS Project, and he spearheads D.A.P.’s annual Dining Out for Life fundraiser, taking place this year on Thursday, April 25.

“Last year, we challenged people to become part of the B.L.D. Club—to commit to having breakfast, lunch and dinner at Dining Out for Life restaurants,” Tucci said, adding that D.A.P. is issuing the same challenge this year.

I am proud to say I was part of last year’s B.L.D. Club … and then some. In fact, I went a little crazy (in a good way) last year during Dining Out for Life: I wound up dining—or, at the very least, buying a drink or a snack—at 11 different participants last year, starting with coffee and a scone at Ristretto, and ending my night with a Maker’s Mark and Coke at the Tool Shed.

A lot of people joined me in meeting D.AP.’s challenge, and then some: Due to the generosity of the 75 participating bars and restaurants, Dining Out for Life last year raised a whopping $280,000 for D.A.P.—$50,000 more than the year before.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dining Out for Life, here’s how it goes: Local bars and restaurants agree to donate at least 33 percent of their sales on Thursday, April 25, to D.A.P. It’s that simple. Really. While D.A.P. volunteers will be present at most of the participating venues during the day—offering “I Dined” stickers and giving people the opportunity to make extra donations if they’d like—all people need to do to help D.A.P. is dine and/or drink at one of the participating restaurants and bars.

Find a complete and constantly updated list of participants at www.diningoutforlife.com/city/greater-palm-springs.

Dining Out for Life is held on behalf of HIV/AIDS service organizations in 45 cities across North America on the last Thursday each April. Even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smallest markets—if not the smallest market—that participates, last year’s $280,000 was the second-largest amount raised in any city. Only Denver, which had three times as many restaurants participating, raised more money.

Why is Dining Out for Life so successful in the Coachella Valley?

“We have a secret sauce that’s a combination of a few important ingredients,” Tucci said. “First, the restaurateurs in our valley really embody our valley’s philanthropic nature.

“Second, this valley has been at the forefront of the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic since day one, and today’s inhabitants embody that. At Dining Out for Life, we see a dedication from attendees that’s almost like the dedication people have when going to vote.

“People wore that ‘I Dined’ sticker as a badge of honor, just like the ‘I Voted’ sticker on Election Day,” Tucci said about last year’s Dining Out for Life event. “We’d never ran out of stickers before.”

Tucci isn’t exaggerating when he touts the generosity of local restaurateurs; last year, the top three fundraising restaurants in North America—yes, the entire continent—were all located in Palm Springs: Spencer’s Restaurant, Lulu California Bistro and Trio Restaurant.

Then there are the smaller restaurants that give literally everything they have, and then some, on Dining Out for Life day. Tucci said he was amazed, for example, by the generosity of the Holiday House Palm Springs last year: Not only did the restaurant give 100 percent; the owner then matched that 100 percent donation. And at Rooster and the Pig, the restaurant gave 100 percent—and the staff donated all of their tips for the day, too. Other 100 percent participants last year included The Barn at Sparrows Lodge, Ristretto and—at 110 percent—Townie Bagels.

“All of these restaurants that participate, whether they’re giving 33 percent or 100 percent—not one of them is making money that day,” Tucci said.

This incredible generosity is needed more than ever by the Desert AIDS Project. While the origination remains one of the top HIV/AIDS service organizations in the world, D.A.P. is now also much more: As a Federally Qualified Health Center, anyone in need of primary medical care can walk in D.A.P.’s doors and become a client, getting access to doctors, prescriptions, dental care and behavior-health care. In fact, roughly half of D.A.P.’s clients today are not living with HIV.

Seeing as more than half of the Coachella Valley’s residents now live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, D.A.P. is struggling to make sure everyone who needs quality health care in the valley can get it. To meet the demand, D.A.P. is in the midst of a $20 million expansion, slated for completion in 2020, that will more than double the organization’s patient capacity. When the expansion is complete, D.A.P.’s 60,490-square-foot campus will be able to serve 8,000 patients, up from 3,900 in 2017. The dental clinic will be able to help 1,700 people, compared to 814 in 2017, while the behavioral-health-patient capacity will rise from 583 to 1,200.

Every dollar raised during Dining Out for Life makes a huge difference. As for the aforementioned scone and coffee at Ristretto I bought to kick off Dining Out for Life last year … with Ristretto giving 110 percent of that sale to D.A.P., that $8 purchase wound up paying for three safer-sex kits. I went to Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill for dinner with two friends; we spent $120, and with the restaurant giving 50 percent, $60 went to D.A.P. to pay for three free, confidential HIV tests. I dropped in and had a drink with a party of about a dozen or so friends, most of whom were dining there, at Zin American Bistro; seeing as Zin donated about 75 percent of that check, about $340 went to D.A.P.—enough to house a low-income client for a whole month.

Follow me via the Coachella Valley Independent’s Facebook page on Thursday, April 25, as I try to match or even surpass my 11 stops from last year—and join me in visiting as many Dining Out for Life participants as possible. After all, the Coachella Valley has a lot of work to do this year to match the giving of last year.

For more information, including a complete list of Dining Out for Life participants, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/city/greater-palm-springs. If you know of a restaurant that you’d like to see participate in Dining Out for Life, get information at www.desertaidsproject.org/2019-dining-out-for-life.

TRIO Closed Indefinitely After Early-Morning Fire

Sometime around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 2, a fire broke out in the parking lot behind TRIO Restaurant, located at 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. The ever-popular restaurant suffered significant smoke and water damage during the fire—and is now closed indefinitely.

In the aftermath of the blaze—which also devastated the neighboring Shag Store—TRIO owner Tony Marchese said he hoped Trio would reopen by Labor Day weekend. However, in late August, he announced via TRIO’s Facebook page that the cleanup and other work would not be completed by then.

Keep your fingers crossed for a reopening date sometime in mid-late September.

Authorities deemed the fire “suspicious,” but had not released any further concrete details as of our press deadline.

Watch www.facebook.com/TrioPalmSprings for updates.


Village Pub Closed for 'Rehab' After Liquor-License Violations

Whoever is in charge of the spin effort regarding the month-long closure of the Village Pub—at 266 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs—deserves a raise.

Here’s what happened: The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control suspended the Village Pub’s liquor license for 30 days due to a couple of major violations: A now-former employee “battered” a customer, and the pub had a bar manager who did not meet the state’s qualifications.

Oops. Well, how did the Village Pub handle the mess? The brilliant answer: Management ’fessed up and embraced the punishment.

Managers did TV interviews. Owners answered reporters’ questions. They announced the closure—which was cleverly branded as the bar’s “Rehab”—would take place starting Thursday, Aug. 24. They said that between then and a planned Saturday, Sept. 23, reopening, they’d “clean, refresh and retrain.” And they announced some great parties—some pre-“Rehab”-themed—before the closure.

Bravo for the PR effort … but not so much for the rules violations.

Watch www.facebook.com/villagepubpalmsprings for updates.


In Brief

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club, at 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, is holding its sixth annual Craft Beer Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9 and 10. A craft-beer festival, a beer brunch and all sorts of other events are on the docket; get details, tickets and reservations at www.acehotel.com/palmsprings. … Congrats to our friends at Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill. On Sunday, Aug. 20, the restaurant, at 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, celebrated the two-year anniversary of its wildly popular Desert Divas Drag Brunch. The Sunday brunch and the show are a steal at $16.95; get info at rioazulpalmsprings.com/drag-brunch. … When Johnny Costa’s Ristorante, at 440 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, reopens for its 42nd season on Friday, Sept. 1, it’ll have a new look. “The new concept has a modern feel with exotic woods and soft earth-tone colors,” according to a news release. “The beautification of the dining room will feature new carpet, all new upholstery and seating, and new paint throughout the restaurant. Custom angled framed mirrors will showcase the walls; new chandeliers, sconces and other enhancements will allow the dining experience to be more intimate.” Visit johnnycostaspalmsprings.com for more info. … After a series of violent incidents at The Block Sports Bar and Grill, 68955 Ramon Road, in Cathedral City, the city shut down the restaurant on Aug. 10, apparently due to an expired business license. However, management jumped to resolve the paperwork issues, and reopened two weeks later. Watch www.facebook.com/theblocksportsbar for updates. … Coming very soon to the space at 68525 Ramon Road, in Cathedral City, that most recently housed Mike’s American Bistro: Bubba’s Bones and Brews. Watch this space for more information. … Coming soon: The valley’s fourth Koffi, to Tahquitz Plaza, at 600 Tahquitz Canyon Way, in Palm Springs. It’ll be the third Palm Springs location for the popular hangout; watch www.kofficoffee.com for more information. … Fans of the Desert Fox Bar, which called downtown Palm Springs home until closing in 2015, have cause to celebrate: The bar is making a return, at 44750 San Pablo Ave., in Palm Desert. Watch www.facebook.com/desertfoxbar for an exact opening date. … New to Palm Desert, specifically the Westfield Palm Desert mall: Burgerim, a “gourmet” chain burger joint. Customers who sign up can get all sorts of free food during a grand opening celebration on Wednesday, Sept. 13; visit www.facebook.com/BurgerimPalmDesert for info and signup details. … Grocery-delivery service Instacart has come to the Coachella Valley. For $5.99, you can get your grocery order of $35 or more—from stores including Stater Bros., Ralph’s, Smart and Final, Petco, Whole Foods and Costco—delivered to your door. Get more info at www.instacart.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Pho 533 Expands, Adds a Spring Roll Bar

About a year and a half ago, Chad Gardner—known for his fantastic Dash and a Handful Catering business—purchased longtime old-school Vietnamese restaurant Pho 533, located at 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive.

What a difference 18 month makes: On Tuesday, Aug. 30, Pho 533 will emerge from a month-long closure as a completely different place.

First, Gardner has doubled Pho 533’s size while also revamping the menu. Second, he’s added a cocktail bar. Third, he’s added a 10-seat spring roll bar.

Yes, that’s right … a spring roll bar.

On Sunday, Aug. 28, Pho 533 offered a sneak preview to the Palm Springs Eating and Living Facebook group—and the new digs are gorgeous.

The food’s pretty amazing, too. The new spring roll menu includes 10 different types of rolls, featuring everything from mango to chicken to lobster to mushrooms. The samples of the spring rolls being created—“hand rolled to order,” thank you very much—at that aforementioned spring roll bar were delicious. I got a bite or two of the spicy tuna roll ($16), which comes with sashimi-grade tuna mixed with pickled ginger, shirataki noodles, cilantro, lettuce, cucumber, sesame seeds and the house sriracha mayo. Let’s just say I am looking forward to enjoying my own spicy tuna roll, and don’t expect me to be in a sharing mood.

As for the drinks coming out of the new bar: The event featured the tequila “buoi”—Pho 533’s version of the paloma—which includes Arette blanco tequila, Bundaberg grapefruit soda, lime and salt. Tasty, indeed.

For more information, visit Pho 533’s Facebook page or website for more information.


Coming Soon: Umami Seoul Korean BBQ and Japanese Cuisine

We have a good-news, bad-news situation here.

First, the bad news: Thai Kitchen 1, which was located at 67555 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City, has closed. Thai Kitchen 1 was one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the valley, and I learned the restaurant had closed the hard way: When I called the restaurant to get some takeout, I got that dreaded message: “Beep beep BEEP! We’re sorry. You have reached a number has been disconnected or is no longer in service.”

Now, the good news: The folks who owned downtown Palm Springs’ Wasabi for many years are opening Umami Seoul Korean BBQ and Japanese Cuisine in that spot.

“How did we come up with the name Umami Seoul?” the restaurant’s website asks. “We wanted to combine both our Japanese and Korean influences into one. Umami means savory in Japanese, using and challenging all of your senses to create a truly ‘umami’ experience. Seoul is our hometown city in Korea and the place that has inspired all of our Korean cuisine.”

The online menu promises various appetizers, sushi rolls and Korean specialties. Yum!

The restaurant should be open any day now; heck, it may be open by the time you read this. Stop by, or visit www.umamiseoul.com and www.facebook.com/umamiseoulps for updates and more information.


In Brief

Fans of the Augustine Casino’s restaurants—Café 54 and the Menyikish Bar and Grill—take note: The entire casino will be closed from Monday, Sept. 19, through Sunday, Oct. 16. The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians is taking that time to do a full-scale remodel of the 14-year-old facility, located at 84001 Avenue 54, in Coachella. Visit www.augustinecasino.com for details and updates. … Coming soon: The Big Rock Pub, to 79940 Westward Ho Drive, in Indio. Expect “a blend of classic rock and classic cuisine.” Visit www.thebigrockpub.com for more info, including details on Big Rock’s job fair, taking place Sept. 6-9. … Congrats to the good folks at Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill, at 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, who on Aug. 28 celebrated the one-year anniversary of the restaurant’s popular Sunday Desert Divas Drag Brunch! For just $14.95, it’s an amazing deal. (Be sure to bring dollars to tip the divas, too!) Visit rioazulpalmsprings.com for more info. … Get ready to enjoy German beers and eats—and support a great cause while doing so! From 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 2, Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge, at 849 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will be holding an Oktoberfest celebration—and 30 percent of all Oktoberfest proceeds will go to the March to Equality, billed as “the most expansive virtual march in history supporting full LGBT equality.” Visit marchtoequality.org for more details. … Please extend a hearty Coachella Valley welcome to Andrew Cooper, the new executive chef at the La Quinta Resort and Club, at 49499 Eisenhower Drive, in La Quinta. He’ll oversee the food and beverage program at all of the resort’s bars and restaurants, including Morgan’s in the Desert. Cooper’s 15-year career includes a lot of time at various Four Seasons resorts, most recently the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe, N.M. More info at www.laquintaresort.com. … Popular build-your-own-pizza joint Pieology Pizzeria has opened its first valley location, at 42500 Bob Hope Drive, Suite D, in Rancho Mirage. Head to www.pieology.com for details. … Coming soon to the old Sam’s Sushi location at The River, 71800 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage: Fox and Fiddle, a British-style pub. There are a bunch of Canadian locations of Fox and Fiddle; visit www.foxandfiddlecalifornia.com for more info. … Keep your eye open for changes at Matchbox, on the second floor at 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. It’s under new ownership; a new name and menu should soon follow. … We’ve been hearing nothing but raves about Cie Sichuan Cuisine, which opened a couple of months ago at 45682 Towne St., in Indio. We’ll give a more detailed report after we’ve had a chance to check it out; in the meantime, find menus and more info at www.facebook.com/ciesichuancuisineofficial.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Looking Back and Looking Ahead at the Local Restaurant Scene

As we turn the calendar from 2015 to 2016, it’s worth examining the year gone by in the local food scene—and speculate about what’s coming up.

What did we learn about the local restaurant scene in 2015? A few top-of-the-mind thoughts:

• Intriguing restaurants can still create a buzz. Think for a moment: What was the last local restaurant that opened and created a buzz like Eight4Nine did? Unless I am forgetting something (which is entirely possible), it’s been years since a new place created such a fervor.

In some ways, Eight4Nine represents a perfect restaurant-buzz storm: It has an excellent pedigree, thanks to the team of co-owner Willie Rhine, the longtime general manager at Lulu California Bistro; renowned photographer John Paschal; and veteran executive chef Chuck Courtney. It has an exciting location, in the burgeoning uptown design district of Palm Springs. Finally, previews of the look and menu of the restaurant helped build excitement long before the doors finally opened.

I also think part of the buzz surrounding Eight4Nine can be attributed to a less-than-pleasant fact about the local dining scene: People are starving for great dining experiences here. There are a lot of good restaurants in the Coachella Valley. Tons of ’em. But there are just a few great ones.

• Having said that, there are nuggets of greatness to be found in the Coachella Valley food scene. Roman Blas is doing amazing things at Over the Rainbow, and just got a little love on Top Chef. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhousewas named the 2015 Brewery of the Year at the California State Fair, and the two newer breweries in the valley are picking up medals at various beer competitions.

The stupid runs deep when it comes to some protesters. I totally understand why someone would be opposed to the concept of foie gras, or want to be vegetarian. There are some serious, serious problems with the corporatized food industry in this country regarding food safety and humane practices.

However, I don’t understand why local food protesters set their sights on Mindy Reed and Zin American Bistro.

In January, a California law banning foie gras—fatty duck or goose liver—was overturned, and Reed added several foie gras dishes back to the menu at Zin, located in downtown Palm Springs. Soon after, she was besieged with hate mail and protesters.

If the protesters had done their research, they would know that Reed is one of the area’s biggest proponents of local, free-range and humanely raised ingredients. That goes for foie gras, too.

“I serve foie gras that’s humanely raised,” she told the Independent earlier this year. “The geese are not caged. There’s no tube. There are no machines. The goose is hand-fed. There are a few farms doing this. Geese will gorge themselves naturally. People who like foie gras appreciate the fact that I buy humanely raised foie gras.”

Reed also had a question for her protesters.

“Why aren’t they picketing McDonald’s or other restaurants in town (that don’t seek out meat from humanely raised animals)?” she asked. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

She’s right. If you’re going to protest, think things out first, OK?

• Restaurants come and go. We lost a lot of great restaurants this year, including The Falls Steakhouse, Margarita’s, Twin Palms Bistro and Lounge, Michael’s Pizzeria, Wasabi, 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro, Dickie O’Neal’s Irish Pub and the Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club.

So what should we expect from the local restaurant scene in 2016? Whether you love what’s going on in downtown Palm Springs, or you hate it, restaurants will be part of the scene when all these new developments begin opening late this year. Here’s hoping they are good ones.

I also think (and hope) that the craft-cocktails trend continues to develop in the valley. While you’ll find more craft cocktails here now than you would have two or three years ago, the cocktails scene is still lacking.

Whatever 2016 may bring in the food and restaurants world, we’ll be reporting on it. Keep watching this space.

In Brief

Congratulations to the fine folks at Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill. The much-loved Mexican restaurant, located at 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, celebrated its fifth birthday in December. Get more details at rioazulpalmsprings.com. … Coming soon to downtown Palm Springs: Chicken Ranch, which is going into the old Jiao spot at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive. Dave Morgan and Mike Smith are opening the place, which according to its Facebook page will offer free-range, farm-fresh, locally grown fare including rotisserie chicken, sides and salads. There’s a full bar as well. Keep your fingers crossed for a January opening date; watch www.facebook.com/EatChickenRanch for updates.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Foodies from around Southern California and beyond have descended on Palm Desert this weekend for the 2014 Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival.

At the Saturday, March 22, grand tasting, attendees dealt with sweltering heat inside of the giant white tent on Larkspur Lane, just off of El Paseo. Despite the toasty temps, however, people seemed to have a great time, enjoying bites of food from various local restaurants, as well as sips of wine and cocktails from various vendors.

The Food and Wine Festival also spawned various food-related satellite events, such as the Taste of the Saguaro. Jose Garces—the Iron Chef and head of the Garces Group, which operates Tinto and El Jefe at the Saguaro—came to town for the weekend, and attended a special dinner at the Saguaro on Friday, as well as an event called Taste of the Saguaro on Saturday.

The Independent attended the Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival's grand tasting on Saturday afternoon, and the Taste of the Saguaro on Saturday evening. Scroll down to enjoy some photos from the events.

Published in Snapshot

What: The cordoniz estilo Ernesto (quail, Ernesto style)

Where: Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill, 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $24.95

Contact: 760-992-5641; rioazulpalmsprings.com

Why: It’s one of the tastiest plates of food in the entire valley.

I grew up on a cattle ranch outside of Reno, Nev., where quail are ubiquitous.

Thus, I know a little bit about these birds. Quail are cute. Quail are fast. Quail don’t seem all that bright. And I’d never thought of quail as all that delicious, either. I’d eaten quail a couple of times, and those meals were rather unremarkable. The little birds struck me as stringy and insubstantial—a lot of work for not a lot of reward.

Flash forward to a month or two ago, when my partner and I were having dinner at downtown Palm Springs’ Rio Azul. We ordered the parrilladas for two ($38.95), the restaurant’s entrée combination plate. It included a couple of different shrimp preparations, grilled steak, grilled chicken, the usual Mexican sides … and “succulent quail grilled to perfection.”

If you’d have told me ahead of time that the quail would be the hit of the plate (over bacon-wrapped shrimp?!), I’d have told you to lay off of whatever substance was leaving you outside of your right mind. But lo and behold: The quail was amazing.

Now, flash forward to my next (and most recent) meal at Rio Azul: Of course I had to get the cordiniz estilo Ernesto (aka the quail Ernesto style; Ernesto Gastelum is Rio Azul’s executive chef).

The plate, pictured above, does not offer the prettiest presentation—and, yes, you’re gonna have to get your hands a bit messy to eat this. Well, roll up your sleeves, because it’s worth it: This combination of potatoes, onions, peppers, garlic with the moist quail parts is fantastic.

It’s fantastic even without that little cup o’ sauce off to the side—but it’s even better when the quail is dipped in that “famous diablo cream salsa.” Don’t let the words “diablo” or “salsa” confuse you: It’s a liquid that’s not all that spicy; instead, it’s rich and luxurious.

I don’t know how Chef Ernesto makes these quail so succulent, so juicy, so packed with flavor—but he does. And the result is one of the best meals I’ve had in the Coachella Valley.

Published in The Indy Endorsement