CVIndependent

Wed11132019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The lamb kofta burger

Where: Evzin Mediterranean Cuisine, 72695 Highway 111, No. A6, Palm Desert

How much: $11

Contact: 760-340-2020; www.facebook.com/evzinrestaurant

Why: The meat was just perfect.

My friend Jeffrey was effusive in his praise.

“Steven H. and I went to this new Greek place in PD,” he told me via Facebook. “WONDERFUL service was over the top … and they gave you all sorts of yummies before you even order.”

Good Greek food? Wonderful service? Yummies before you order? I’m there, dude.

Well, I was there a week later, at least, when I met Jeffrey at Evzin Mediterranean Cuisine for lunch.

Evzin is located in that warren of strip-mall buildings located between Highway 111 and the western genesis of El Paseo, and while it’s sort of difficult to find, it’s worth the effort. Jeffrey and I were greeted gleefully by the owner, who remembered Jeffrey from his previous visit, and we got the last unoccupied table in the small room. Sure enough, before we ordered, complimentary yummies began arriving—including a taste of the soup of the day, as well as pita bread with various sauces. Yummies, indeed.

The “soft opening” lunch menu on my visit included various salads and appetizers, pita sandwiches and four “mains.” It was one of the “mains” that caught my eye: the lamb kofta burger with Manchego cheese, harissa tahini, herb yogurt sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion, along with hand-cut fries.

Given all the flavors present in that description—the spices in the kofta, the herb yogurt sauce, the tahini—I was expecting a flavor bomb. However, that’s not what I received—and I don’t mean that as a criticism. There was indeed a lot of flavor, but it was all subtle. What really made the burger fantastic was the lamb meat: It was juicy yet firm, and utterly delicious.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what this brand-new restaurant does for dinner. After all, we can all use more yummies in our life, can’t we?

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The California Split Sandwich

Where: The Lunch Box, 74868 Joni Drive, No. 1a, Palm Desert

How much: $6.95 (plus $2.75 for a cup of soup)

Contact: 760-610-1136; thelunchboxpd.com

Why: This sandwich is satisfying.

Even though I knew I was in the right place, a small part of me wondered if I was being punked when I turned off Cook Street onto Joni Drive in search of The Lunch Box.

All I saw at first were warehouses and industrial buildings—but then I spied the sign above The Lunch Box’s door. Whew. Trust me: You’re unlikely to accidentally stumble upon this highly regarded sandwich joint. But stumble upon it, you should: The sandwiches here are mighty tasty.

I ordered the California Split sandwich—applewood-smoked bacon, melted jack cheese, avocado, tomato, sprouts and mayo on warm sourdough—along with a cup of the soup of the day, creamy chicken and vegetable. (“Think the inside of a chicken pot pie,” as the gentleman behind the counter accurately described it.) Only a few minutes later, my food arrived; I tore off a couple of paper towels from the roll on the table, and dove in.

It was a rainy day—we’ve been having a lot of those lately, yes?—and therefore, this was a perfect lunch. This classic sandwich was warm and flavorful. The bacon was crisp, and the avocado fresh; I swear my palate detected some Italian dressing in there somewhere, too. The sourdough was surprisingly light and fluffy, yet strong enough to keep the sandwich together—although the bread didn’t have to do its job for long, as it was quickly consumed.

This place is all about sandwiches (although several salads and even a hot dog are offered as well), and no one item will set you back more than $6.95. The Lunch Box is a great spot for simple yet well-done lunch fare at good prices—in a most unlikely location.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Alps Wienerschnitzel Sandwich

Where: Alps Village, 77734 Country Club Drive, Palm Desert

How much: $13

Contact: 760-200-5400

Why: I keep thinking of the sandwich, days after eating it.

Alps Village opened around the start of 2016, a fact that somehow did not make it onto my radar screen. A friend mentioned the place in passing, and since I love German food—when it’s done right, that is—I decided to check it out. I am happy I did—but disappointed that I missed out on this lovely little spot for the better part of a year.

There were only a couple of other tables occupied on my recent weekday lunch visit. The menu includes German and Mediterranean fare—including Italian-style pastas, pizzas and various salads—but I focused in on the Germanic fare. I seriously debated trying the goulash or the stuffed cabbage rolls, but instead decided on the Alps pork wienerschnitzel sandwich. (Chicken is also available, as is veal for an extra $2.)

After devouring my appetizer, a soft pretzel with a simply amazing kajmak spread—a homemade cheese spread with a stronger flavor and the consistency of whipped cream cheese—my sandwich arrived. It was not on my plate for long—as it was swiftly devoured.

The breaded pork cutlet was delicious and moist. The “Alpskraut” added tartness and a lot of flavor without overwhelming the pork. The pink-orange “house sauce” provided a nice hint of sweetness. All of it together on the rye bread was near perfection: Had there been any more sauerkraut or sauce, the flavors would have been thrown off balance; any less, and the sandwich would have been too dry.

As of this writing, it’s been several days since I had the sandwich, and I keep thinking about it. It was that good.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Merguez lamb sausage

Where: Cuistot Restaurant, 72525 El Paseo, Palm Desert

How much: $9.50

Contact: 760-340-1000; cuistotrestaurant.com

Why: It’s affordable and delicious.

A round of applause, please, for the bar menu.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to a restaurant and eschewed the main dining room in favor of the bar—and as a result, presumably had a superior experience while saving a few bucks to boot.

My most recent amazing bar-menu experience came at Cuistot, the much-loved, longstanding French restaurant at the western end of El Paseo in Palm Desert. The hubby and I had stopped in for the restaurant’s Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week drink, an amazing (and gorgeous) gin-based beverage called the Aviation, so we headed for Cuistot’s bar area—cleverly named BARcelona. We were a bit peckish, so we decided to also get a small bite from the BARcelona menu. Our choice: the Merguez lamb sausage.

The sausage wound up being so delicious that we had to talk ourselves out of getting a second order. The reddish meat was impeccably flavorful—slightly spicy and pleasantly earthy. My only quibble is that the menu said the dish came tzatziki; it would have added a delightful creaminess, but it was nowhere to be found. On the plus side: The arugula beneath the sausage, doused with lamb jus, was no mere garnish; it was also delicious. We devoured every bit of it.

Bonus: From 4 to 6 p.m. in the bar, Cuistot also offers a happy hour menu. From that menu, an endorsement within an endorsement must go to the homemade pate, which was an utter steal at $9.50.

It was an amazing experience: The food, the drink, the affordable prices, and the conversation with Fernando the bartender were all impeccable.

Another round of applause, please, for the bar menu!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Croque Madam

Where: Bouchée Café and Deli, 72785 Highway 111, Palm Desert

How much: $12

Info: 442-666-3296; www.boucheecafeanddeli.com (menu out of date)

Why: The cheese ties everything together.

Breakfast is my favorite meal … when it’s done well, that is.

When it’s not done well, breakfast can be boring—or even off-putting. We’ve all ordered a basic “American breakfast” at a restaurant before, and instantly regretted it when we received a piece of dry ham, greasy and uninspired potatoes, and underseasoned eggs.

But when it is done well … wow.

The breakfast I recently enjoyed at Bouchée Café and Deli was, indeed, done well. Never mind that the croquet madam is actually on the lunch menu; seeing as this delight includes classic breakfast ingredients like ham (which is decidedly not dry), cheese (imported Gruyere!), egg and bread, in addition to Dijon mustard and a mornay sauce (more dairy!), this is a breakfast dish. Right?

All of those ingredients combine to make a sandwich-ish thing that is both soft and crispy at various points; flavorful yet packed with subtlety; and bright yet somehow earthy at the same time.

The thing that ties all of these ingredients together is the cheese: When it’s cooked like it is in this dish, it manages to go perfectly with all of the other ingredients. The saltiness allows it to stand up to the ham, for example, while its softness manages to complement the bread and the egg, and the sharp flavor of the high-quality import matches nicely with the mustard.

After eating the croque madam and the simple yet pleasant side salad, you won’t feel full—but you will feel satisfied.

That is, you’ll feel satisfied until the next morning, when you stare at your breakfast, whatever it may be, and realize it isn’t going to taste as good as yesterday’s croque madam did. Sigh …

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The No Name 2, as Part of All-You-Can-Eat Sushi

Where: No Da Te, 73655 El Paseo, Palm Desert

How much: $35 during our visit; $9 for just the roll

Contact: 760-340-3698

Why: Sometimes it’s good to splurge … responsibly.

On a recent visit to San Francisco, we decided to try an adorable little Japantown sushi restaurant. Its shtick: All of the customers sat around a little moat that had miniature boats with sushi on them constantly floating by. You could grab whatever you wanted; you knew the cost based on the type and color of the dish.

It was cute. It was fun. And it was fiscally dangerous: One particularly ravenous member of our party wound up racking up a $75 bill. On lunch.

This is why I prefer all-you-can-eat (AYCE) sushi joints: You walk in; you find out the price; and you can enjoy all the yumminess that you want without worrying about receiving a crazy-stupid bill at the end.

This is not to say that AYCE sushi is necessarily inexpensive; for example, when I walked into El Paseo sushi joint No Da Te for lunch recently, I paid $35, which is far more than I’d normally spend on lunch. However, $35 is a lot less than $75—and if I would have paid for everything I enjoyed separately, I would have spent closer to $75 than $35.

The food I had at No Da Te was fantastic across the board, but my favorite item was the No Name 2 roll—shrimp tempura, avocado, crab, egg and freshwater eel, all lovingly wrapped in soybean paper, and drizzled with just a touch of sweet eel sauce. It was splendid.

I recommend calling ahead to No Da Te to find out how much your AYCE meal will be—prices vary—but you can rest assured: Whatever that cost is, that’s all you’ll pay, as long as you stick to the AYCE menu. Relax; eat; savor; enjoy.

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: The Opera Cake

Where: Pastry Swan’s Fix, a Dessert House, 73580 El Paseo, Palm Desert

How much: $8.50

Contact: 760-340-3040; www.pastryswan.com

Why: It’s a dessert with a lot going on.

Epicurious.com tells the story of opera cake like this: “Many believe that Louis Clichy was its creator because he premiered the gâteau (cake), with his name written across the top, at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. It became the signature cake of Clichy’s shop on the Boulevard Beaumarchais. However, another pastry shop, Dalloyau, sold a very similar dessert, known as L’Opéra (in honor of the Paris Opera), and some claim that theirs was the original.”

I don’t know who deserves credit for inventing opera cake, but I do know this: The version served al El Paseo’s Fix, a Dessert House, is pretty freaking incredible.

The Fix opened in 2011 and serves the yummy goodies produced by Pastry Swan, long one of the valley’s top bakeries. However, The Fix doesn’t just offer yummy baked goods; it also serves full meals, including pizzas, sandwiches and salads. Plus there’s a full bar!

However, let’s put aside the booze and entreés for now, because The Fix is most renowned for one thing: desserts. It’s in the restaurant name for a reason, after all.

Desserts are exactly what we were looking for on El Paseo one recent afternoon, and The Fix gave us, well, our desired sugar fix. Everything we had was yummy, but the opera, well, took the cake: The almond sponge cake with chocolate, coffee and marzipan notes was fantastic. This dessert is not for the faint of heart: It has a lot going on thanks to all of the varied yet complementary flavors. It’s also quite rich: After devouring a piece of opera cake, you won’t want a second piece right away.

However, you probably will want another the next day. Bon appétit.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The capricciosa pizza

Where: Piero’s PizzaVino, 73722 El Paseo No. 1, Palm Desert

How much: $15.90 lunch; $18.50 dinner; $8.90 happy hour

Contact: 760-568-2525; www.ppizzavino.com

Why: Amazing quality and a low price.

It’s often said that pizza is like sex: Even when it’s bad, it’s good.

Well, I strongly disagree. I’ve had some baaaad pizza before that was in no way good. (As for bad sex … well, that’s a discussion for a different column.) After enjoying the capricciosa pizza at Piero’s PizzaVino, I disagree even more: This pizza is so excellent that it makes almost all other pizza worse by comparison.

The folks at Piero’s PizzaVino take their pizza seriously: The menu and placemats emphasize that all the pizzas here are baked at 800-900 degrees for 60-90 seconds or so in the imported “Marra” Neapolitan wood-burning oven. Furthermore, the pizza-makers use only San Marzano tomatoes grown near Naples, Italy; they use only Doppio Zero flour, which has a higher protein content than most flours; and they use only house-made Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese.

Combine all of this with excellent toppings on the capricciosa pizza—ham, mushrooms, artichokes and kalamata olives (the menu incorrectly says black olives), in addition to tomato sauce and mozzarella—and … wow. I would have stood and applauded the pizza right there in Piero’s bar area if that would not have caused a scene.

Why was I dining in the bar area, you ask? Well, Piero’s offers “happy hour” there all day, every day—from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.—and the deals are pretty amazing: The pizza pictured here cost just $8.90. Yeah, it’s a little smaller than the regular-menu pizzas, but it’s certainly large enough to satisfy any hungry diner. Add a glass of nice house wine ($5) to that pizza, and you really have something: one of the best meals per dollar you’ll find anywhere in the valley—on ritzy El Paso, no less. Who’da thunk it?

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Drunken Noodles

Where: Blue Orchid, 73030 El Paseo, No. 102, Palm Desert

How much: $11.95

Contact: 760-776-6610; blueorchidpd.com

Why: The soft noodles and the fresh flavors.

On the west end of El Paseo in Palm Desert, near the semi-convergence of El Paseo, Highway 111 and Highway 74, good Thai food is in abundance. We’ve extolled the virtues before of Le Basil, and now we’re extolling the virtues of Blue Orchid—and specifically, Blue Orchid’s drunken noodles.

With these drunken noodles, the noodles really are the star of the show—they’re soft, yet not too soft, and you can sense the care the folks in the kitchen put into making them. Add red and green peppers that pop with freshness; just enough fresh basil to make its presence known with every bite; crispness-contributing lettuce; flavorful scallions and onions; and a subtle yet complementary sauce, and this plate sings. While there are two peppers next to the dish on the menu, signifying “spicy,” never fear: The drunken noodles are not too spicy, and what spiciness there is in no way detracts from the flavor.

The drunken noodles can be ordered with chicken, pork, tofu or (for an extra $2) shrimp, and this leads us to the one quibble we had with the dish: We selected chicken … which was rather lackluster. It was OK—it was tender and acceptable—but it could have been better, especially in the flavor department. It didn’t sing.

Therefore, the next time we go to Blue Orchid, we’ll be getting our drunken noodles with pork or shrimp. But make no mistake: We will be going back, and we will be ordering this dish again. Those noodles left us wanting more.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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