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Fri09222017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

What: The Tuna Hana bowl

Where: Pokehana, 78742 Highway 111, Suite A, La Quinta

How much: $11.95

Contact: 760-564-0004; www.pokehana.com

Why: It’s a tasty (and trendy) treat.

Another trendy food has come to the Coachella Valley—in a big way.

A year or two ago, if a desert denizen was craving poke—a Hawaiian-style bowl or salad starring raw fish—said denizen was most likely out of luck. However, that’s not the case today, thanks to a handful of new poke places—including Pokehana, which opened its doors in La Quinta just before the start of the new year.

I recently stopped by Pokehana for a late lunch. Being a Pokehana rookie, I asked the friendly person behind the counter what she recommended, and she pointed to the Tuna Hana bowl. It’s packed with ingredients: tuna, onion, cucumber, Hijiki seaweed, crab salad, avocado, mango, crispy garlic pieces, toasted sesame seeds, masago (fish eggs), edamame and sauce, all over a choice of white rice, brown rice or mixed greens. (I chose brown rice.)

Customers can customize any bowl—Pokehana is a fast-casual joint, and you watch as they assemble your bowl from ingredients behind the counter—but since I was a newbie, I chose to get the Tuna Hana bowl as it is on the menu. The resulting entrée was indeed delicious and endorsement-worthy. The temperature contrast between the hot rice and the cool fish and vegetables was pleasant, and the abundance of flavors and textures was a lot of fun.

However, on my next visit to Pokehana—and trust me, there will be a next visit—I’ll cut that number of ingredients in half, at least, and let some of the bowl’s high-quality contents shine without so many supporting cast members. That’s my personal preference—and one of the great things about places like Pokehana is the fact that any dish is fully customizable.

Watch for a second Pokehana coming soon to Palm Desert, and perhaps one in Palm Springs down the line.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Stuffed French Toast

Where: The Broken Yolk Café, 262 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 78430 Highway 111, La Quinta

How much: $11.95

Contact: 760-318-9655 (Palm Springs); 760-777-9655 (La Quinta); thebrokenyolkcafe.com

Why: It’s sweet yet surprisingly nuanced.

I’m normally a savory-breakfast kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE the sweet stuff, but when it comes to a choice between, say, bacon and … well, anything, bacon’s going to win.

However, things started to change a bit on a recent visit to the Broken Yolk Café, where I saw this description of the stuffed French toast: Two extra thick slices of batter-dipped egg bread stuffed with creamy mascarpone cheese and sliced bananas. Crowned with rich caramel sauce, more bananas and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Wow. This is a dish that seemingly offers far more nuance than most sweet breakfast fare, so I decided I had to try it. (Yeah, I also got the add-on of two eggs and two bacon strips for a downright affordable $2.75. Because, y’know, bacon.)

While the plate of food that arrived could certainly send some individuals into an instant diabetic coma, it was indeed fantastic. The bananas (lots of them!) mingled nicely with the caramel—a classic combination, after all—and the mascarpone added a lovely creaminess. The bread offered just enough resistance to keep everything together and create a pleasant mouth feel. However, I was definitely happy I ordered the add-on, too, as the saltiness from the bacon and the muted richness of the eggs countered the sweetness of the French toast before it became overwhelming.

After my meal, I left the Broken Yolk Café decidedly satisfied; my sweet tooth was pleased, while my desire for savory fare was quenched, too … even if I did feel the need to add an extra gym trip to my schedule to atone for all that breakfast goodness.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Marcie’s Matcha smoothie

Where: Fresh Juice Bar, 73030 El Paseo, No. 104, Palm Desert; also in La Quinta and Palm Springs

How much: $5.95 for 16 ounces; $7.95 for 24 ounces

Contact: 760-837-9777; freshjuicebar.com

Why: All the unique flavors.

As I drove away from the Fresh Juice Bar on El Paseo, I faced a dilemma.

I knew I was going to be writing an Indy Endorsement about the Marcie’s Matcha smoothie on which I was sipping; after all, it was one of the best smoothies I’d ever tasted. However … I could not figure out how in the world I was going to describe the flavor.

Describing the color (yellowish-green) would be easy. Describing the texture (delightfully smooth) would be a piece of cake. But the flavor? Well, here’s my best effort.

It was sweet—but in a mellow way, thanks to the banana and vanilla whey. It was slightly earthy, due to the matcha green tea (read: powdered green tea) and the almond milk. It had just a hint of spice, due to the cinnamon.

But here’s the kicker: Even though I’ve used words to minimize the power of all these flavor profiles—mellow, slightly, just a hint—the sum of all these parts is a smoothie that’s packed with flavor.

As I pondered all of this for what seemed like seconds—a minute or two, tops—my heart sank when the flow of liquid in the straw suddenly ceased: My 16-ounce smoothie was gone. I’d practically guzzled the thing. This depressing event turned my thoughts from describing the flavor to regretting the decision not to get a 24-ounce smoothie instead.

Try this smoothie. You’ll like it. And trust me: Get the 24-ounce size.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: Aspirins

Where: Burgers and Beer, 72773 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; also located at 79815 Highway 111, No. 101, La Quinta

How much: $7

Contact: 760-202-4522 (Rancho Mirage); 760-775-6494 (La Quinta); www.burgersandbeer.com

Why: They’re a delightful, unexpected find.

One expects a place called Burgers and Beer to offer a nice selection of, well, burgers and beer. One could also make an educated guess that a place that offers burgers and beer probably also offers a TV screen, or two, or 16, showing sports.

However, one may not expect a place called Burgers and Beer to offer a pretty darned decent menu of Mexican fare. Yet all of this can indeed be found at our valley’s two Burgers and Beer restaurants.

I’m particularly smitten with one Mexican-ish item on offer at Burgers and Beer: The Aspirins. No, this appetizer has nothing to do with the famous pain medication; instead, these Aspirins are miniature sopes (a thick corn-based cake; imagine a really thick tortilla) topped with beans, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and, joy of joys, chorizo; salsa is served on the side.

Boy, are they tasty. The mouth-feel is interesting as well: The chorizo, sopes and beans are warm, while the other ingredients are nice and cool. The corn cakes are fantastic and add a lot of flavor (although some may find them to be a little thick, and therefore on the verge of overtaking the rest of the ingredients). Seven bucks will get you six of these Aspirins; they’re perfect to share, or can be a semi-light meal for one.

They can be had at either of the Coachella Valley Burgers and Beer locations, as well as the four non-Coachella Valley locations (two in El Centro, and one each in Temecula and Yuma). Try ’em; you’ll like ’em—even if you’re watching your favorite sports team getting creamed.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The BBQ Pork and Egg Roll Vermicelli Bowl

Where: Pho Vu, 34260 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert; also at 79630 Highway 111, No. 103, La Quinta; coming soon to 285 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $8.95

Contact: 760-324-1888 (Palm Desert); 760-775-2417 (La Quinta); phovurestaurant.com

Why: Pork and “Vietnamese vinaigrette” rock together.

Let’s face it: With a few notable exceptions, the Asian-food scene in the Coachella Valley is pretty dismal.

Yeah, there are some good Thai and Indian joints … but how many truly outstanding, say, Chinese-food restaurants are there? Heck, let’s not even go that far: How many better-than-passable Chinese-food restaurants are there?

The same can be said for Vietnamese food—although things are improving, thanks in large part to the introduction of Pho Vu, with newish restaurants in Palm Desert and La Quinta, and a third location coming soon to Palm Springs.

I recently stopped by the Pho Vu in Palm Desert, located in one of those seemingly endless strip malls near the intersection of Dinah Shore Drive and Monterey Avenue. I was craving one of my fave Vietnamese dishes: bún, aka a vermicelli bowl, with lettuce, cucumber, mint, cilantro, green onions, nuoc cham (touted on the menu as a “Vietnamese vinaigrette”; it's a fish-sauce-based dressing, of sorts) and one’s toppings of choice; I chose pork and egg roll.

I am elated to report that my craving was more than satisfied.

One of my favorite things about good bún is that it’s a veritable cornucopia of textures, flavors and even temperatures: The noodles are soft; the warm pork is slightly chewy and salty; the cool veggies are crisp and just a wee bit bitter; and the fish sauce is tart and vinegary. Despite the incredible sensory variety, it all comes together beautifully.

Yeah, the Asian-food world in the Coachella Valley has a loooog way to go. But it’s on the upswing, thanks in part to Pho Vu.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The shaved spit-roast organic pork

Where: Figue Mediterranean, 47474 Washington St., La Quinta

How much: $29

Contact: 760-698-9040; www.eatfigue.com

Why: Savory + sweet + pork skin = OMG

Can we talk about pig skin for a moment?

No, I am not referring to football here. I am talking about cracklins, or chicharrones, whatever you want to call this most delicious of foods.

It’s chewy. It’s salty. It’ll send your cardiologist into a snit. And it’s one of the factors that make the shaved spit-roast organic pork at Figue Mediterranean worth the $29 price tag.

While chicharrones could make almost any food better, perhaps even ice cream (hey, don’t judge; we’re all friends here), they merely play a supporting role in this fantastic dish. The pork shavings—rustically uneven slices, if you will—are the nominal star, with the mustard vinaigrette a potential nominee for Best Supporting Actor. The stone fruits add a nice touch of sweetness, and the arugula adds freshness.

And then there are the chicharrones. There could be more of them, yes—some would even say there should be more than the mere handful that’s tossed lovingly atop the dish—but if there were too many more, they’d overwhelm these other fantastic ingredients, and that wouldn’t be fair, now, would it?

To overextend the acting analogy a bit: This dish is not a vehicle for one big star (even though some of the ingredients may indeed have incredible star power). Instead, it succeeds based on its fantastic ensemble cast.

So, go. Enjoy. If pig skin and pork shavings aren’t your thing, go anyway: Figue—fully open for not quite three months yet—offers plenty of other delicious foods in a high-end restaurant atmosphere unlike any other in the valley. Think big windows, modern touches and lots of wood, to go along with delicious food and great service.

And just the right amount of pig skin.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Friday, May 31, may seem like a long way away, but the organizers of Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week say it never hurts to get an early start on planning.

“Every year, my husband and I make it a staycation,” said Kim Crandal, the executive director of Restaurant Week, during which a bevy of local restaurants will be offering special three-course prix-fixe menus for either $26 or $38 per person.

Given that this year’s Restaurant Week is bigger than ever, perhaps planning is a good idea. For one thing, the week is much longer than a week—it runs for 17 days, in fact, from Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 16.

Why the expansion?

“We took a look at the history of requests from some of the restaurants,” Crandal said. “… So many people were experiencing success.”

As of now, 79 restaurants throughout the valley—including local favorites, big chains and eateries that are new to the scene—are signed up to participate.

But the week goes beyond food; the tag line for the event is “Eat. See. Stay.” Crandal said numerous hotels and resorts (that would be the “stay” part) are participating, as are various attractions and spas (that would be the “see” part).

“We are focusing more on crafting the ‘see’ and ‘stay’ components so people understand it’s more than a restaurant week,” she said. What do you do during the day?”

About a dozen hotels are currently signed on, and the 20 or so “see” partners include everything from the Palm Springs Art Museum to Knott’s Soak City to the Desert Springs Spa to Desert Adventures Eco-Tours and Events.

Restaurant Week also has something of a special relationship with “Forever Marilyn,” the 26-foot-tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe that currently graces downtown Palm Springs. She was installed just before last year’s Restaurant Week, and she’ll be taken down and moved (temporarily, many hope) during this year’s Restaurant Week. While plans are not yet finalized, an idea is being batted around to create a more life-sized Marilyn Monroe representation—a statue, perhaps, or a cut-out—and have her pop up at the various restaurants during the 2 1/2 weeks of Restaurant Week.

Crandal noted that some folks are indeed already making Restaurant Week plans. For example, she cited a group of about 90 golfers from Santa Barbara who have made Restaurant Week an annual trip.

“It’s really building a nice following,” Crandal said.

Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week takes place from Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 16. For a complete list of participants and updates, visit www.palmspringsrestaurantweek.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

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.

Published in Restaurant & Food News