Vicki Arkoff discovered that working up a tan can make a girl awfully hungry, so left her poolside lounge long enough to sample Palm Springs’ choicest cuisine.
I’ve long ago given up starving myself for a perfect bikini body, so on my annual trips to soak up the sun in the Palm Springs area, I keep my sights set on something far more important: the great restaurants of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirages, Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Indian Wells, and Indio.
With 365 days of sunshine, any time’s a good time for a visit, but there’s no better excuse to go than during Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week. The weather is perfect, the hotels offer special packages, and nearly 100 restaurants prepare special three-course prix fixe menus for either $US26 or $US38 per person.
Locals are now calling the endless feast “Eat. See. Stay.” because local attractions — including The Living Desert and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway — and some very cool hotels have gotten into the swing of things too, offering special deals, room rates, upgraded in-room amenities, and spa specials during Restaurant Week. As luck would have it, the lodgings include two of my favorite boutique hotels on the planet, let alone Palm Springs: the romantic boho-chic Korakira Pensione, with Moroccan courtyards and peaceful ambiance; and the always cool, party vibe of the retro-mod Ace Hotel with DJs by the main pool and turntables in all the rooms. For the added amenities of a large golf property, there’s Indian Wells Resort Hotel, established in 1957. Among its features is the largest Presidential Suite in the desert: the 4,500 square foot, 4 bedroom, 5 bath personal hideaway of the hotel’s original owners, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
So that explains the event’s new motto, but I’m not sure why the event is still called restaurant “week,” however, since it now lasts for a tasty 17 days. It’s also grown to include more than 70 participating restaurants, including newcomers like Dish-Creative Cuisine in Cathedral City, Workshop Kitchen & Bar in Palm Springs, plus the recently opened Mastro’s in Palm Desert, and Cork & Fork in La Quinta. Restaurant Week favorites like Circa 59 at Riviera Palm Springs (a personal favorite, thanks to Executive Chef Jesse Souza’s inventive seasonal menus, and a serendipitous night when I was a lucky guinea pig for a new menu tasting), Copley’s on Palm Canyon, Sirocco, TRIO, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Cello’s Bistro, Kaiser Grill. A full list of participants with menu links is available at: www.palmspringsrestaurantweek.com/eat/. For a full list of places to stay and play, check out: www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.
In addition to Circa 59, the finest dining experiences I’ve personally had over the years include the garlicky Steak Sinatra at the charmingly old-school Johnny Costa’s Ristorante; the lightly-exotic Chilean Sea Bass at Tropicale Restaurant & Lounge; a never-fail assortment from the extensive tapas menu at Alicante, casual Spanish Mediterranean cuisine; a classic Lasagna Bolognese with homemade pasta at Piazza Triluzza Ristorante; and some of the desert’s best Mexican food at Las Casuelas Terraza, where margaritas on the patio is a people-watching must on warm evenings.
For lighter mid-day meals, I’ve discovered that you can’t go wrong with any of the organic and artisanal options served by King’s Highway at the Ace Hotel (in an old Denny’s space, of all things – no Grand Slams here, thank God, just grand options and a chill vibe); Cafe Des Beaux-Arts for Chef Chino’s egg dish of the day or classic ham and cheese crepes with Bechamel sauce; and the freshly-updated classics at Escena Lounge & Grill, perhaps the best golf club food I’ve ever had in the desert, and definitely the coolest, thanks to its modern lines and sweeping view. You may find it difficult to stop eating the complimentary house-hade potato chips, so make sure you order a cucumber-infused Escena Martini to wet your whistle.
What’s on my Palm Springs restaurant bucket list? The chef’s tasting and wine pairing at Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Tinto restaurant at the colorful Saguaro; any of Chef Michael Beckman’s artful creations at Workshop Restaurant & Bar; a classic rack of lamb at the venerable Vicky’s of Santa Fe, especially if there’s a special guest like Sally Kellerman performing in the lounge; cioppino at the friendly community table of Cello’s Bistro in Cathedral City; a return visit to sexy Circa 59 for a dirty martini and second helping of mushroom stroganoff with seared scallops; Copley’s on Palm Canyon to dine on Oh My Lobster Pot Pie and herb ice cream (!) while seated in Cary Grant’s old desert hacienda; tamales and baby back ribs from the Jackalope Ranch smokehouse in Indio; Seafood Napoleon and a wine flight at Cork & Fork; Chef Jean-Paul Lair’s house-smoked salmon at Le Vallauris, Palm Spring’s French cuisine landmark; and a table for two at Hog’s Breath Inn La Quinta with owner Clint Eastwood. A hungry girl can dream, can’t she?