BY RICK RIOZZA

For many of us, the last time we enjoyed the created cuisine of food artiste Brandon Testi—now the Executive Chef at the newly opened AC3 Restaurant +Bar in Palm Desert—he was taking the honors as Top Chef in the valley’s famed Crater Lake Chef’s Challenge.

For those who sampled his delectable delights, they were privy to partaking of Crater Lake distilled-themed dishes such as Crater Lake Rye Whiskey Cold Smoked Duck Breast, CL Whiskey Drunk Brussel Sprouts, Crater Lake Gin Infused Seafood Sausage “Faux Mortadella” prepared with salmon and scallop, pistachio, baby root vegetables, and, CL Ginger Vodka Pumpkin brûlée, to name a few bites.

And of course, side by side to his inventive cookery is presentation, such as when he staged his Crater Lake Vodka Heirloom Tomato Caprese, with local heirloom tomatoes, balsamic caviar, CL Vodka vinaigrette, tomato and CL Pepper Vodka foam, mixed micro basics, and nitrogen basil snow and burrata, all layed out smoking on a sheet of slate!  We saw his Crater Lake Pepper Vodka Egg Benedict Deconstructed and served on a crafty carved piece of wood; and how about when he presented a glass lid on a tree bark charger filled with smoke, when lifted, revealed the beautifully presented rib eye, sliced and surrounded by pearled barley, black trumpet mushrooms, bacon, kale lollipops and more.

At that time, Brandon was the Chef de Cuisine at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas bluEmber.  I recall interviewing and getting to know him just before he and Executive Chef Robert Nyerick put on one of the year’s tastiest winemaker dinners featuring the famed Santa Rita Hills wine of Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards.

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Chef Brandon’s star value soon prompted him on the auction block at one of the valley’s celebrated charitable events: Chef Auction for the Pendleton Foundation which assists cancer patients & families.

As things go with the busyness of the culinary scene, the next thing I hear, Chef Brandon had headed off to Austin, Texas.  I kept in touch with him on Facebook, following his aims at Second Bar + Kitchen at The Archer Hotel and Snap Kitchen.

The day after AC3’s Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, my side-kick sommelier, Jenna Lepper, and I sat with Chef Brandon for lunch to catch-up on things.  As the foodie cognoscenti is quickly finding out, AC3 Restaurant + Bar is a collaboration of two of the valley’s best restaurants, Trio Restaurant and Copley’s On Palm Canyon.

I asked Chef Brandon about this collaboration and his involvement with Chef Andrew Copley and Restaurateur Tony Marchese.  “Yeah—I got to know Chef Andrew during those Crater Lake throwdowns, and he told me then that we’d be doing something sooner or later.”  Well—that brain-child has just come to fruition.  AC3 sits within the purview of the new Hotel Paseo, Palm Desert’s newest luxury boutique hotel located on Larkspur Lane, right across from the iconic Gardens at El Paseo’s open-air mall.

It’s pretty telling about Chef Brandon’s professional character and integrity by the fact that he headed out to Austin, when he was riding high in these parts. He really had no previous Texas ties but he went on an adventure to join in on the resurging Austin City Limits culinary scene.  Among the other traditional and stylish cookery trends that Chef delved into over there—he learned well: it’s about the “smoke” as evidenced by his smoked citrus butter, salt, jalapenos, apple bacon and other up-coming “smoke influenced” menu items.

Well—coming full circle, I’m certain all this experience has added to Chef’s ever-increasing repertoire.  “It’s been inspirational!” Chef comments, “Collaborating with Chef Andrew on this new menu has been a dream come true.  Here, I’m given the opportunity to create and display what I enjoy: melding light with the bold, working with bright and desert nuances, keeping things simple but with complex favors and varied textures—this excitement I have is real!”

“I look forward to establishing signature dishes, for sure. At the same time, the Coachella Valley produces diverse and wide-ranging ingredients to keep things fresh and invigorating.  Our menu is definitely an ‘American-themed cuisine with twists’.” 

No doubt the restaurant team’s plate will definitely be full in their resolve to bring breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour for both locals and tourists alike.

Here’s a look at some of the dishes we tasted: For Starters, we recommend the tasty and lively Lobster Mac ‘N Cheese.  Not a heavy dish at all, but every bite continues to entice another with the 3 Cheese Sauce and Buttered Topping.  And a glass of chilled Ruffino Prosecco with the plate was wonderful.

For a luncheon salad, I had none better than Chef’s Tuna Nicoise.  The freshest filets of rare-pan seared tuna amidst mixed greens with Kalamata Olives, Onions, Anchovy and more, make this an immediate signature salad in the desert.  We enjoyed this plate with a glass of chilled SAVED Rosé: The perfect pairing!  We’re coming back to try the Lobster Cobb salad, Crispy Iceburg, Apple Smoked Bacon, Roasted Corn, Tiny Tomatoes, Chèvre, Egg, and Avocado Dressing, and next perhaps the California—Grilled Shrimp, Spinach, Orange, Grapefruit, Pomegranate, Cotija, Almonds and Herb Vinaigrette.

After the Nicoise salad, we only had room to share the medium-rare AC3 Burger—Kobe Beef, Meltged Onions, Smoked Cheddar, Local Greens, Tomato, on a Toasted Brioche Bun.  And would you expect any other accolade other than: whoa! that is one delicious hamburger!  Should we say—de rigueur in the desert! (Enjoy with the Diseño Malbec.)

For dinner, Chef recommends especially the Berkshire Pork Schnitzel, the Striped Bass (served with that smoked citrus butter!), and the Braised Beef ShortRibs served with White Cheddar Grits, Tobacco Onions, and Scallion Salad.

The nice thing for your readers is that you can check it all out: menus, beer, wine & cocktails lists and much more info at www.ac3palmdesert.com.

Congrats Chef! Great checking in with you and best regards to your lovely family.  Cheers!

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