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Bongo Johnny’s Moving Into Former Café Europa Space; Antigua Opens in Former Gyoro-Gyoro Spot

When it comes to some restaurant spaces in downtown Palm Springs, the only constant is change.

Witness the second-floor space at 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, across from the Hyatt. In recent years, it’s housed both Crave and Plate | Glass; about two years ago, restaurateur Mike Stoltz moved his popular Café Europa in there during the daytime, and introduced a bar/small-plates concept, jusTapas, for the nighttime.

The move turned out to be a mistake, it seems: Café Europa/jusTapas recently closed its doors. However, the space will not be vacant for long: Bongo Johnny’s, the Arenas Road mainstay which has been closed since a fire destroyed its kitchen back in March, is moving in, and could be open by January. Owner Robb Wirt had originally planned to remain in the space at 214 E. Arenas Road, but abandoned those plans, he says, due to a lack of responsiveness from his landlord.

Meanwhile, a couple of blocks away, Antigua Kitchen and Bar has opened at 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in the spot most recently occupied by Gyoro-Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise. It’s a new venture by the owners of L’Olivo Palm Springs—an Italian restaurant that’s called 333 N. Palm Canyon Drive home for years—offering “quality American dishes, with locally sourced ingredients and a casual desert dining vibe.” A recent visit revealed tasty food, a décor largely unchanged from Gyoro-Gyoro, and a bar only serving beer, wine and low-alcohol cocktails, since a full liquor license had not yet been obtained.

Oh, and adjacent to Antigua—in the space occupied for years by Starbucks before it moved into new, fancier digs across the street—El Patron Taqueria and Bar is supposed to be coming soon.

Got all that?

All of these changes and moves, naturally, lead to some questions about whether these restaurants can succeed where others have failed. I have no idea what will happen with El Patron—although I am discouraged by the fact that a sign has been up for weeks encouraging people to follow the restaurant’s progress on Instagram and Facebook pages that don’t seem to yet exist—but I am cautiously optimistic about the chances for Antigua and Bongo Johnny’s.

As for Antigua: Gyoro-Gyoro, despite a fantastic location, seemed to be poorly managed throughout its run—including an embarrassing and lengthy closure by the health department. Given the location, and the fact that the owners have a proven track record with L’Olivo, Antigua seems primed for success.

As for Bongo Johnny’s … I do have some concerns. The restaurant had a good, long run on Arenas, but it really flourished when Wirt deftly expanded the hours until 3 a.m. on weekends—taking advantage of its location in the midst of bars and clubs—and started offering delivery. Will he be able to duplicate that success in a location that’s blocks away from all those clubs? I am concerned … but optimistic.

Stay tuned.


In Brief

The Shop Café, the family-owned restaurant located at the Aqua Soleil Hotel at 14500 Palm Drive, in Desert Hot Springs, has closed. Management announced the closure on the restaurant’s social media on Nov. 19, but said the family would continue to offer catering services. … New to Palm Desert: Trattoria Mezzomondo, at 73850 Highway 111. Owner Elio Cavallari formerly owned Mezzomondo in Studio City; he closed it, moved to Palm Desert and opened the new place. Get details at mezzomondopd.com. … New to Palm Springs: Taka Shin Japanese Cuisine, at 641 N. Palm Canyon Drive. We have not yet been able to visit this authentic sushi joint ourselves, but our friend Miho Suma, the incredible owner of Shabu Shabu Zen, raves about the place—a worthy endorsement indeed. Call 760-600-5806 for more details. … New to Cathedral City: The Desert Queen, a café serving Southern fare at 35400 Date Palm Drive. All three meals are offered at this cute little place, and we can’t wait to try the homemade meatloaf, as well as the fried chicken … with cornbread! More info at thedesertqueen1.com. … New to La Quinta: The Roblero Pit, serving up “Santa Maria-style” barbecue, Napa Valley dishes and other fare at 79410 Highway 111. View the menu and get details at www.robleropit.com. … And now for something completely different: The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort, at 74855 Country Club Drive, in Palm Desert, has opened T&T Innovation Kitchen. From a news release: “Dishes change daily, inspired by both time and temperature, encouraging the team to get creative with everything from their produce choices to their preparation process. Furthermore, there’s an unconventional entrance through the restaurant that takes guests through the massive resort kitchen and in through the back of the restaurant—a nod to the anticipation and mystery of speakeasy restaurants.” T&T offers five-course dinners every Friday and Saturday; learn more at www.facebook.com/timeandtemp.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

FIND Food Bank Celebrates 35 Years of Feeding Coachella Valley Residents in Need

The statistics are staggering: Each month, FIND Food Bank—which supports the communities of the Coachella Valley, high desert and Salton Sea area—helps more than 85,000 people, both directly and through its partner agencies. In a year’s time, more than 10 million pounds of food will be given to those in need—more than half of that fresh fruit and vegetables.

The cynical among us right now might be thinking: “That’s great. But this is a restaurant-news column. What does this have to do with restaurant news?”

My retort: Those of us fortunate enough to eat at restaurants on occasion need to realize that a whole bunch of our neighbors need our help to get food on the table, period.

To that end, FIND is celebrating its 35 years of existence during September—which is also Hunger Action Month at FIND and all Feeding America-affiliated food banks—with an ambitious goal: FIND’s management is hoping 3,500 people will donate $35 to mark the Indio-based food bank’s 35 years of service.

Debbie Espinosa, FIND’s president and CEO, said she, her staff and volunteers are proud of what they’ve accomplished over 35 years.

“The accomplishment is amazing,” she said, “from starting with basic food rescue out of a blue Pinto, and turning it into a food bank that serves the Coachella Valley and beyond.”

Help out, if you can, with that $35 or more. Get details at www.findfoodbank.org.


In Brief

Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise, the sprawling restaurant located 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, has closed for good. File this one under “wasted opportunity”: The restaurant, owned by now-in-bankruptcy Ramla USA Inc., could not take advantage of a relative dearth of Japanese restaurants in the west valley. While Gyoro Gyoro was a gorgeous restaurant with at-times great food, it seemed mismanaged, including a notorious closure following a bad health inspection, and a lack of community involvement. However, the news is not all bad: The family that owns L’Olivo Italian Restaurant, located at 333 N. Palm Canyon Drive, has already snapped up the location. Watch this space to see how that turns out. … Toucans Tiki Lounge, the popular gay bar located at 2100 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has been purchased by managers who are part of Foundation 10 Creative, the company that owns restaurants including Birba, Cheeky’s and Mr. Lyons Steakhouse. Dave Morgan, of Reaction Marketing and Promotions, is also involved. The new owners are saying Toucans will remain a gay bar focused on entertainment. Let’s see how this goes. ... Newish to Rancho Mirage, at 42452 Bob Hope Drive: Hielo Sno, a shaved-ice/snow-cone joint. Learn more at hielosno.business.site. … Donald “Lucky” Callender has purchased Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse, located in Rancho Mirage’s The River at 71800 Highway 111, from the trust fund set up by his father, Donald W. Callender, the man who started both Babe’s and the Marie Callender’s chain. We hear changes are already taking place. … Celebrate Mexican Independence Day, if you’re so inclined, on Sunday, Sept. 16, with $16 tequila flights and live music at Las Casuelas Terraza, located at 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. Watch www.lascasuelas.com for more details. … On Saturday, Sept. 15, The Saguaro, at 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will hold its Beats and Brews Fest. For $45, sample beers and tequilas from well more than two dozen companies, and enjoy great music from bands including The Flusters, Spankshaft and Plastic Ruby. Get more details at thesaguaro.com/palm-springs. … Coming soon to Palm Desert: The Vine Wine Bar, at 74868 Country Club Drive. Watch www.thevinewinebar.com/palm-desert-ca for details. Oh, by the way, it’s right next door to a new IW Coffee location! … Bit o’ Country, the diner at 418 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has reopened. It has new owners and has been tidied up a bit, but the greasy-spoon food and vibe remain (and we mean that in a good way). … There is good news and bad news from Bootlegger Tiki, the craft-cocktail joint at 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. The good: The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation honored the bar with one of its Spirited Awards, for having one of the 10 Best Bar Teams in the western U.S. The bad: The leader of that team since the bar’s opening, Chad Austin, has departed Bootlegger and the Coachella Valley for greener pastures. Congrats to Bootlegger, and best wishes to Chad!

Published in Restaurant & Food News

The first Coachella Valley Beer Week—which I helped create—recently wrapped up after 10 days of craft-beer events all over the valley. On Nov. 14, the Indio BBQ and Beer Competition took place, and on that same day, La Quinta Brewing celebrated its second anniversary.

Now that these excellent events are over, where in the Coachella Valley can you go to enjoy the ever-expanding craft-beer revolution?

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club keeps up with trends in music, art, food and drink, and the folks in charge have updated the Amigo Room to carry more craft beer again. You can enjoy them in the dim, cavernous space, or brighten up by the pool.

In the northernmost reaches of Palm Desert, you’ll find the beloved La Quinta Brewing Co. and its taproom. On any given evening, you may find a local band playing, or women enjoying Koffi Porter ice cream floats during Ladies Night. The Heat Wave Amber and Tan Line Brown Ale beers recently returned, and the Napoleon barrel-aged beer was released for the brewery’s second anniversary. The biggest news of all: La Quinta Brewing just opened a taproom in Old Town La Quinta!

In Rancho Mirage, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse has been serving up barbecue (just voted as the valley’s best by Independent readers) and craft beer since 2002. Try the award-winning Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale, brewed with raisins and whole Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. Babe’s also offers new, seasonal brews and a nice selection of other Southern California beers in the restaurant bar. Keep an eye out for the recently released DIPA, a hoppy pilsner, as well as an apricot tripel.

Babe’s neighbor at The River, the Yard House features 155 beers on tap. I’ve recently met knowledgeable bartenders there who will guide you in the right sudsy direction.

Schmidy’s Tavern is a favorite in Palm Desert among the younger crowd. Live music is a constant, and the pool tables are typically full. Enjoy beers on tap like Bell’s Midwestern Pale Ale, Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale and Ironfire Outcast Dead Barrel Aged Imperial Red Ale.

Up Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs is a restaurant offering a farm-to-concrete-table dining experience that’s industrial chic and progressive. While the menu at Workshop Kitchen + Bar is heavy with cocktails and duck fat, the spot also offers a nice selection of beer. With a 34-foot-long concrete communal table and lofty wood-trussed cathedral ceiling, you may feel as if you’re sharing beer steins in Bavaria.

A little closer to the heart of downtown Palm Springs is Bar. The street-art-friendly, chalet-inspired watering hole serves classic cocktails and a nice sampling of Southern California craft beers. Try the Picnic Eggs—deviled eggs with Sriracha and wasabi—with the War Gin beer cocktail, with gin and lemon honey pale ale.

The spirit of Sinatra is alive at the Purple Room Restaurant and Stage—but unlike hangouts of the ’60s, this swanky supper club offers a great selection of craft beers. In bottles, you can enjoy San Diego beers like Ballast Point Longfin Lager and Stone Pale Ale. On tap, enjoy CVB’s Desert Swarm, Babe’s Blackfin Lager, La Quinta’s Poolside Blonde and many other brews

Fame Lounge is an upscale cigar, wine and microbrew lounge located in the heart of downtown Palm Springs. At the bar, you’ll find a rotation of beers on tap. Recent finds: Stone Wootstout 2.0 and North Coast Indica IPA.

On Indian Canyon Drive, check out the progressive Vietnamese-American beer bar Rooster and the Pig. Try the banh mi burger with one of the California craft beers on draft. Chef/owner Tai Spendley also has a nice variety of Vietnamese beers in bottles.

What happens when you combine traditional Tokyo cuisine with American and Japanese craft beer? You get the upscale-casual Gyoro Gyoro, at Tahquitz Canyon Way and Palm Canyon Drive. The spot offers a nice selection of craft beers from the states and Japan, along with a variety of fantastic sake.

Beloved farm-to-table brewery Coachella Valley Brewing Co. also celebrated its second anniversary recently. Sustainability, creativity and passion are key ingredients in these exceptional beers. Be sure to check out head brewer Chris Anderson’s sour program, as well as the brewery’s Profligate Society, which features rare beers. Palms to Pines, the ever-popular Triple IPA brewed with locally foraged spruce tips and coconut palm sugar, will be released around mid-December.

On Highway 111 in Indian Wells, you’ll find So Cal chain Eureka! Currently, Eureka! boasts 20 impressive taps ranging from Stone’s Barrel Aged Brown Ale with Balaton Sour Cherries to Mother Earth’s Imagination Land. Watch for great beer-pairing events.

The Stuft Pizza locations in Palm Desert and La Quinta have become hot spots for watching the game and sipping your favorite suds. The “not just pizza” joint in Palm Desert has 15 taps, two of which rotate with the latest craft seasonals. There’s a reason why pizza and beer are a match made in heaven: The acids and tannins in wine tend to amplify the acidity of tomato dishes.

Wherever you go … take time to savor your beer and enjoy the craft-beer revolution! 

Published in Beer

The whole mess started, as far as we can figure, when somebody walking by Oscar’s Café and Bar noticed the restaurant had posted its recent “C” rating from the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, as required. He or she took a photo, and then posted it on Facebook.

After that, things got really stupid, really fast.

The picture on Facebook went locally viral, and became the talk of area foodies. It was even posted on a prominent local blog or two.

Then, in a move that would cause any decent journalism-school professor to weep in despair, KMIR News showed up, did a story on the Oscar’s rating, and inexplicably led off a newscast with it.

As a result, Oscar’s—located at 125 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, in Palm Springs—was unfairly maligned. This is not to say that Oscar’s didn’t deserve the “C” rating, or that Oscar’s customers didn’t have a right to know about it. This is also not to say that the Oscar’s manager didn’t make matters worse when, on the three-minute-long KMIR news story, he complained that the county inspectors should have “given us notice that they were coming.”

The problem here is that this stupid, stupid story lacked context—and, as a result, Oscar’s was unfairly singled out.

During the KMIR piece, reporter Julie Buehler mentioned that Oscar’s had “the only C rating in the Coachella Valley.” This statement was both false and contextually bonkers. It was false because Sam’s Sushi, in Rancho Mirage, also had a “C” rating hanging over its figurative head at the time, a fact that was added to the online version of the KMIR story three days later.

Here’s how it was contextually bonkers: According to an analysis of Riverside County Department of Health records by the Independent, at least 13 restaurants in the Coachella Valley received “C” ratings between August 2014 and July 2015. Of course, KMIR didn’t do a story on any of those other “C” ratings—at least not that we could find on the KMIR website.

To show how unfair this kerfuffle was to Oscar’s, know this: Oscar’s was inspected on July 30. Gyoro Gyoro Isakaya Japonaise (a place I adore, by the way), located a very short block away from Oscar’s, at 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, was inspected on July 9, just three weeks before Oscar’s was.

Not only did Gyoro Gyoro receive a “C” rating during that inspection; health inspectors closed the restaurant, due to violations including “rodents, insects, birds or animals,” “sewage improperly disposed,” “hot and cold water not adequately available” and “food contact surfaces not cleaned and sanitized.” Gyoro Gyoro would not re-open until a re-inspection five days later, on July 14. Yet this closure received no coverage anywhere that I could find.

According to Health Department records, the other Coachella Valley places that received “C” ratings over the last year are Woody’s Burgers and Beer (June 30), the Cathedral Canyon Golf Club (May 29), Pho Lan (May 27), Two Bunch Palms Bliss (May 19), El Taco Asado (April 3), Aqua Soleil Hotel and Mineral Water Spa (March 12), Four Seasons at Palm Springs (March 20), Las Flores (in Coachella, Jan. 16), Fandango Tacos and Beer (Nov. 25) and O’Leary’s Pub and Grill (Nov. 13).

It’s also worth noting that many dozens of area restaurants, some with very prominent names, received “B” ratings—with a surprising number receiving on-the-cusp-of-C scores of 80.

Any restaurants that get “B” or “C” grades are re-inspected within several days, and eventually given an “A” grade. That means unless you’re doing some pretty serious digging on the Riverside County Department of Health website, or you just happen to be at a restaurant at the right time, it’s hard to know which places initially received less than an “A” grade.

But that doesn’t excuse the unfair treatment Oscar’s received.


In Brief

SO.PA has opened at the new L’Horizon Resort and Spa Palm Springs, at 1050 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Chef Giacomo Pettinari, who has a Michelin star to his credit, is at the helm. Info at lhorizonpalmsprings.com/sopa-restaurant. ... Starting Aug. 30, Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill, at 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will be offering a drag-queen show during Sunday brunch. Reservations are recommended; rioazulpalmsprings.com. … Summer closures are starting to come to an end! For starters, Vicky’s of Santa Fe, at 45100 Club Drive, in Indian Wells, will reopen Thursday, Sept. 10; www.vickysofsantafe.com. … Asian-fusion joint Kitchen 88 is slated to open in September at Spotlight 29, at 46200 Harrison Place, in Coachella; www.spotlight29.com. … Congrats to Bill’s Pizza, at 119 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs: TripAdvisor recently placed Bill’s on its list of Top 10 pizza joints in the country. Wow!

Published in Restaurant & Food News

More and more restaurants and bars are offering amazing craft beers in the Coachella Valley—and now there’s a new, responsible way to sample these tasty brews in Palm Springs.

Introducing the Buzz Crawl.

The concept behind the Palm Springs Buzz is simple: It’s a trolley that allows locals and visitors alike to explore Palm Springs for free. The bus is bright and retro, with vintage lettering, plush seats and wood paneling. The Buzz runs every 15 minutes from Via Escuela to Smoke Tree Lane, from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., every Thursday through Sunday—again, for FREE!

And, yes, there’s an app for that.

According to city officials, from Feb. 5-8, the Buzz picked up about 4,500 people. The following week—which included Valentine’s Day and Modernism Week’s kickoff weekend—that number rose to nearly 6,000.

John Raymond, the director of community and economic development for the city of Palm Springs, is keeping a finger on the pulse of the Buzz. He’s hopeful that the Buzz is reducing the number of people who are driving under the influence.

“People are fanatical about it. They think it’s great,” he said about the Buzz. “We figured tourists would catch on … but what’s been really great is the number of locals who are into it—Thursday night, especially.”

Because the Buzz is free and runs all weekend, you don’t need a defined schedule—but here are my recommendations on spots to hit for craft beer.

One of the first places is on the south end, near stop No. 18: The Legendary Purple Room at Club Trinidad has a “Rat Pack” heritage, but owners Tony Marchese and Mark Van Laanen are now offering modern fare and amazing Southern California craft beers. Head chef Jennifer Town graduated from the New England Culinary Institute and was the executive sous chef at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club before coming over to the Purple Room. She’s a craft-beer lover and appreciates the culinary art of pairing rich dishes with perfect craft beers.

Speaking of the Ace Hotel and Swim Club: It’s a great launching point, with amazing spaces at which to soak up the sun and/or people-watch. The closest Buzz stop is just across the street, No. 16. Check out The Amigo Room and its artisanal cocktails, hippy party vibe and fantastic variety of craft beers. Enjoy them in the dim, cavernous space—or better yet, have one by the pool. Choose among 21 taps from Southern California breweries including Babe’s, Coachella Valley Brewing, La Quinta Brewing, Stone and Hangar 24.

At the Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club (pictured below), near stop Nos. 14 and 20, soak in more rays by the pool or try your hand at bocce ball—or the largest game of beer pong ever (pictured below). While the Hacienda’s craft beer selection isn’t extensive, there are a few nice choices, and the $5 poolside menu is not to be ignored: Enjoy a Racer 5 IPA, Stone Pale Ale or Ballast Point Sculpin IPA with a braised short rib and Hacienda chorizo empanadas. Want really to get the party started? Have one of some 75 tequila flights, starting at only $3.50.

Not in the mood for Mexican-style food? Check out the new hip sushi spot in town. Gyoro Gyoro is in the middle of downtown, near stop No. 8. The restaurant opened last May and not only serves fantastic fish, but offers unique microbrewery beers from around the world—yes, even Japanese craft beer!—as well as a fine selection of sake.

Feeling like some fresh, delicious pizza? Get off at stop No. 9 or 11 and stroll over to Matchbox, which not only offers artisanal brick-oven pies amid a flame-lit balcony overlooking La Plaza; the restaurant also has a nice selection of craft beer, with a dozen or so on tap and about 20 different beers in bottles. Expect popular beers from breweries like Allagash, Green Flash, Stone, BearRepublic, Alaskan, LostCoast and Rogue. Matchbox typically has at least one local beer on tap, too.

Right around the corner is my favorite cigar lounge, which won over my heart because of its impressive selection of wine and craft beer: Fame Lounge is a masculine and comfortable place, also near stops No. 9 and 11. Try the cigar and beer pairing for $10.

Bar is located at 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, near stop No. 7. With its dark surroundings and extensive whiskey menu, Bar is a great stop at night. Try the picnic eggs—deviled eggs with Sriracha and wasabi—and pair them with the War Gin (gin and lemon-honey pale ale) beer cocktail. Bar offers about 20 bottled beer choices, including Blazing World and Black House from San Diego’s Modern Times; the beers on tap rotate.

For upscale, neo-retro dining, head over to Trio, near Buzz stop No. 5, in an historic midcentury building in Palm Springs’ sophisticated Uptown Design District. Trio serves a fine selection of craft beers and delicious cocktails, and offers a three-course $19 prix-fixe menu 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Happy hour brings $3 well, $5 call, $8 premium and $5 bar bites at the bar and on the patio.

Nearby is Birba, a modern outdoor pizzeria. Birba translates from Italian to “little rascal.” Enjoy a carefully crafted cocktail like the “Hello Nancy” in the courtyard, surrounded by white-light-wrapped trees. While the eight signature cocktails are delicious, Birba also offers a selection of local craft beer.

Get off at Buzz stop No. 4 to enjoy the friendly and chic Workshop Kitchen + Bar. The popular spot has a nice selection of craft beer, but also specializes in cocktails inside the restored 1926 Spanish colonial revival building. I have been known to be a cross-drinker—and you might become one, too, among the cool concrete tables and souring wooden ceilings. Gourmet farm-to-table restaurants like Workshop are no stranger to the craft-beer “revolution,” and Workshop offers sublime pairings with locally sourced ingredients. The rich herbes de Provence fries are cooked in duck fat; pair them with a crisp Belgium beer. On tap, you’ll find brews from Salzburg, Colorado, San Diego and the Coachella Valley, as well as a great bottled-beer selection. Don’t be afraid to check out the spirits menu, showcasing “underdog” whiskeys, vodkas and gins. My personal favorite handcrafted cocktail here is the “Palm Springer,” with vodka, fresh pineapple juice, house-made grenadine, angostura bitters.

The Buzz has four buses, ensuring that riders can hop on at any of the 30-plus stops every 15 minutes. Check out the new fun and responsible way to catch a buzz in Palm Springs—and Tweet to @TheBeerGoddess if you’re checking out the #PSBuzz!

For more information and a route map, visit buzzps.com.

Published in Beer

What: The Grilled Miso Cod Set

Where: Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise, 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $17.95

Contact: 760-325-3005; otootorestaurant.com

Why: The price is right—and the fish is splendid.

Several of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed have been at Nobu, the extremely high-end Japanese restaurant chain owned by Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa.

Nobu’s house specialty is black cod in miso, a stunningly delicious piece of fish that is at once sweet, savory and velvety. It’s often included in the omakase tasting menus at Nobu ($100 to $200 at the Los Angeles Nobu)—or if you want to order the black cod with miso à la carte, it’s $32.

Pricey? Yes—and Nobu is two hours away, to boot. But the news is good for local foodies who don’t want to leave the valley and/or fork over $32, minimum, for a piece of fish: Gyoro Gyoro, in the heart of Palm Springs, is now offering miso cod.

Is the miso cod at Gyoro Gyoro as delectable as the version that made Nobu Matsuhisa a household name? Not quite … but it’s not that far off, either: This grilled cod is a flavor and texture delight—and it’s almost half the price of Nobu’s version.

But wait … there’s more! The “set” (it’s basically fancy bento box) that includes the cod also comes with miso soup, a lovely salad, a side dish (an impressive cold radish-noodle dish when we were there) and rice. (I spent $3 extra to upgrade that rice into four California roll pieces; I was glad I did.) Not bad for $17.95 (plus that $3 upgrade), eh? You can get a larger entrée portion—sans the set, but with veggies and Japanese Satsuma sweet mashed potatoes—for $21.95.

I recommend getting to Gyoro Gyoro a little early and taking advantage of the restaurant’s nice happy hour. Daily from 3 to 6:30 p.m. (or 10 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday), enjoy discounted treats such as a lychee sake-tini ($4.95) or a splendid spicy tuna roll ($5.95).

Add the cocktail, the roll and the miso set together, and you’re still spending less than $32. That’s a great deal. Hooray for Gyoro Gyoro!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Restaurant Week Is Almost Here!

It may be the greatest time of year for local foodies: Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week is almost here!

The “week” is actually 10 days long, and this year, it takes place from Friday, May 30, through Sunday, June 8. (Last year, the “week” was actually 17 days long. Go figure.) Here’s how it works: Participating restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe meals for either $26 or $38, either in addition to or in place of their regular offerings. Some deals are quite impressive; when else can you eat an amazing three-course meal at a place like Dish Creative Cuisine, Figue or even Peaks (at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway) for less than $40?

The week began in 2007 with less than 30 participating restaurants and businesses; this year, more than 100 are involved, from all across the valley. Other valley businesses are getting in on the act, too; for example, Desert Adventures is offering eco-tours of the Indian Canyons or the San Andreas Fault, followed by lunch or dinner, for a special price. (Read more about that here.)

Get the complete lowdown, including menus and more, at www.palmspringsrestaurantweek.com.

Coming Soon: The Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club

If everything goes according to plan, the Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club, located at 1555 S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, will quietly open its doors the weekend of May 30.

It’ll be a baptism-by-fire sort of opening for the Hacienda: Just two weeks later, the new restaurant/beach club/events space will be hosting thousands of people as one of the three venues that are part of the second annual Splash House.

This is the restaurant-news column, so we’re obviously most concerned about the eats and the cocktails. Here’s some of what we know, culled from a news release: “By day, we are a hip sun-lovers’ paradise with an intimate desert-inspired pool scene with outdoor bar, cabanas with bottle service and live DJ music. At night, we are a chic restaurant, bar and lounge that synergistically combines to serve up fresh, organic and responsibly sourced high quality chef created Mexican cuisine. All drinks are masterfully hand-crafted with fresh juices and natural sweeteners.”

Wait. Did they really use the word “synergistically” there? Wow.

Anyway, the website (www.haciendacantina.com) offers more hints on what to expect: A posted menu includes appetizers like sea bass crudo and wood-smoked bone marrow (!); tacos and tortas with a half-dozen filling options, including duck confit (!!); ensaladas and sopas; and entrées such as duck-breast mole, and eggplant-stuffed poblano pepper (!!!). There’s a brunch menu, too.

As for the cocktails? The focus of the online menu us squarely on tequila, mescal and the drinks that can be made with these Mexican liquors. We’re dying to try the South x Southwest, which includes St. Germain, Moscato d’Asti, lemon, bitters and rosemary.

As for the prices? They remain a mystery—none are posted on the online menus.

Head to the aforementioned website, or call 760-778-8954 for more information.

Sessions at the Hard Rock Hotel Offers Locals' Summer Specials

After experimenting with a locals’ discount a couple of months ago, the folks at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs’ Sessions restaurant have brought the discount back for the entire summer.

Quite a discount, it is: Anyone with an identification card or a business card showing local residency or work ties can receive 50 percent off at Sessions. 50 percent!

Of course, there are some restrictions: The discount is only good for breakfast and lunch, and it’s only valid Mondays through Thursdays. Still, it’s a great deal!

The discount is being offered through Sept. 30 at Sessions, located at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs, 150 S. Indian Canyon Drive. For more information, call 760-325-9676, or visit www.hrhpalmsprings.com.

In Brief

The much-anticipated Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaisementioned in this space last month—is now open at 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs … Gone at 362 S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs is Asian Bistro. Coming soon in its place, says a big banner on the building: Tlaquepaque Mexican Restaurant, which has called Sunny Dunes Road home for years. … So long to the Hog’s Breath Inn. The Kaiser-owned restaurant in La Quinta recently closed after a decade in business.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Coming Soon: Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise

After many months of construction, Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise—located at 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, surrounding the Starbucks at the Tahquitz Canyon Way intersection—is getting closer to opening.

The signs for the much-delayed restaurant are up; several photos of the interior have been posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, too.

Gyoro Gyoro will be a sister restaurant to Oto-Oto, which includes locations in Monrovia and West Covina; and the Gyoro Gyoro in Encino. The menu posted online at otootorestaurant.com will make the mouth of any Japanese-food-lover water: A wide variety of sushi, sashimi, ramen dishes, rice clay-pot entrées and appetizers are listed, as are many other goodies.

There’s an interesting story behind Gyoro Gyoro and Oto-Oto. According to otootorestaurant.com, the restaurants are owned by Ramla Inc.: “Founded in Tokyo, Japan in 1980 by Akira Murakawa, Ramla has grown … into Tokyo’s third-largest restaurant operator. With 154 restaurants comprised of 32 brands, Ramla’s restaurants span a spectrum of cuisines ranging from traditional Japanese, to French, to Italian, to Spanish and more. … Ramla is embarking on an ambitious expansion into the U.S. with its plan to bring 150 Ramla-branded restaurants to American cities both large and small.”

Beyond Thai food, downtown Palm Springs is in serious need of more Asian-food offerings—so count us as excited. If you’re excited, too, follow Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise on Facebook for updates.

Now Open: Smoke Tree Supper Club

The Funkey Family has done it again: The folks behind Giuseppe’s Pizza and Pasta and downtown Palm Springs’ Bar have finally opened the much-anticipated Smoke Tree Supper Club.

The restaurant—located next to Giuseppe’s at 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs—appeals to lovers of grilled meat: In addition to starters and salads, the menu features reasonably priced steaks ($18 to $23), a 12-ounce pork porterhouse ($17) and slow-smoked baby-back ribs ($16), as well as a burger ($11), salmon ($16), a sea-scallop skewer ($16) and a pounded free-range chicken breast ($16). Prime rib—$26, with two sides—is the house specialty.

Vegetarians, take note: Aside from the aforementioned salads, you can enjoy a jumbo marinated portobello mushroom burger on a brioche bun ($10).

The Smoke Tree Supper Club is open for dinner every day but Monday. For more information, call 760-778-6521, or visit www.stsupperclub.com.

New: Nothing Bundt Cakes Opens in Palm Desert

Veteran Southern California chef Jeffrey Tropple, along with partner Ellie Koch, has opened the valley’s first Nothing Bundt Cakes location, at 72216 Highway 111, No. F-3, in Palm Desert.

Nothing Bundt Cakes is a chain, based in Las Vegas, with about 90 locations in 20 states. The Palm Desert location celebrated its “soft” opening on Friday, April 11.

The concept behind Nothing Bundt Cakes is simple: The bakery sells bundt cakes, 10 flavors of ’em (nine regular, with one flavor of the month thrown in), in various sizes. That’s it.

What Nothing Bundt Cakes does may be limited, yes, but they do what they do well: Store manager Lauren Bright offered us a sample of the cinnamon swirl cake, saying it was her favorite flavor. Why is the cinnamon swirl her favorite, as opposed to the carrot, or the red velvet, or the pecan praline?

“Because it’s amazing,” she said.

Turns out she was right: The moist, yellow cake with cinnamon, sugar and a signature frosting was indeed amazing. In fact, it was one of the best cakes we’ve had in the valley.

More good news: Tropple and Koch are celebrating the grand opening of their locally owned store by giving a little something back. On Friday, May 2, 20 percent of sales will go to local no-kill shelter Animal Samaritans.

For more information, call 760-346-3440, or visit www.nothingbundtcakes.com.

In Brief

While some restaurants have struggled in what is considered “downtown” Cathedral City—for example, Picanha Churrascaria never found its footing after moving from Palm Desert to 68510 Highway 111, next to the IMAX theater, before closing last year—fast food seems to be taking hold there: A Subway recently opened not too far from the Mary Pickford Theatre, and a Taco Bell is on its way. … Another sad note from downtown Cathedral City: Daniel Webster Jr., 44, the man who owned Big Mama’s Soul Food, has passed away, reportedly due to a heart condition. His highly regarded restaurant closed late last year. Our condolences go to Webster’s family and friends … Farm, the lovely breakfast/brunch place located in downtown Palm Springs’ La Plaza, is expanding, sort of: Just around the corner is Farm 2, a spot that will be offering “super foods and juices.” … On Tuesday, April 8, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse, located at 71800 Highway 111, No. A176, hosted the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center Child Abuse Awareness Lunch at the center, located on the Eisenhower campus at 39000 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage. The luncheon offered thanks to detectives, prosecutors and other professionals who fight child abuse.

Published in Restaurant & Food News