By Judith Salkin
It’s the week foodies across the Coachella Valley circle three times in red on their calendar!
Palm Springs Restaurant Week 2015 begins tomorrow (May 29) and runs through Sunday, June 7, with more than 70 restaurants from Desert Hot Springs to Indio participating in the promotion that offers three-course prix fixe dinner for $26 or $38.
Now in its eighth year, Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week has become one of the valley’s most popular end-of-season events. It offers locals the opportunity to try one of the fine dining spots that they’ve wanted to try but might be out of their normal price range or a recently opened eatery that looks good but with no established reputation.
“It’s also heavily marketed in L.A., Orange County and San Diego,” said Tony Marchese, President of the Palm Springs Restaurant Association which started the event. Marchese is also co-owner of Trio, which has participated in Restaurant Week since its inception and the two-year-old Purple Room, both in Palm Springs. “And we get a lot of traffic from those markets on the weekends.”
Contributing to the influx of weekend guests that Restaurant Week attracts, Marchese added, are the hotels with special room rates or weekend packages and local attractions such as The Living Desert, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Desert Adventures Jeep Tours, offering discounts on admission or tour prices.
“We know that we’re getting a significant number of people coming in from those markets, but we don’t have a way of (quantifying) the numbers,” Marchese added.
This year there is a great mix of restaurants, long time favorites such as Wally’s Desert Turtle
Whether it’s locals or visitors, the whole reason for the week is eating – either at favorite restaurants that you shy away from because of dinner crowds during season or trying a new place or 10 (if you hit a different restaurant each night).
This year’s list of participating restaurants offer some interesting new names from the Tap-In at Whole Foods and Clementine in Palm Desert, bb’s at The River in Rancho Mirage and Mr. Lyons in Palm Springs. Long-time restaurants on the list include Copley’s On Palm Canyon, Spencer’s, Rio Azul, La Paon and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
“This is a chance for restaurants to give a great value and for new places to show off what they have to offer,” Marchese said. “Tara (Lazar) of Mr. Lyons knows this is a great way to introduce her new restaurant.”
While the original rules stated the restaurants offer three starters, entrees and desserts, most offer four or more choices for appetizers and entrees.
Mindy Reed, owner of Alicante and Zin American Bistro in Palm Springs, is one of the original 30 restaurants that signed on for the first Restaurant Week in 2007. Both restaurants are offering $26 menus for the week.
“The first year the idea was to offer a way to thank our regular customers and hopefully to bring in people from across the valley,” Reed recalled. “Then we opened it up in the second to restaurants across the valley and it changed. It took a while but in the last couple of years we’ve seen more people coming out to try the Palm Springs restaurants.”
Reed’s original restaurant, Zin American Bistro, offers up signature cantaloupe gazpacho and Zin Bites mini wellingtons as choices on the starter course, grilled Portobello mushroom, ribeye steak and roasted duck breast for entrees.
At Alicante, she has the popular Mediterranean chicken soup (“Everyone said I had to,” she said) and roasted beet salad as two of the starters, Basa fish and paella on the entrees and the banana walnut bread pudding as a dessert choice.
“It was easier to hit the $26 value at Alicante because our regular prices at that restaurant,” she said of the menus that were created by her chefs. “It’s a little harder at Zin because it’s a generally higher price point, but I really wanted to give people value for their money.”
The Tap-In at Whole Foods in Palm Desert is truly a different venue for Restaurant Week – it’s the first café in a major grocer to join the event. “For Whole Foods, this is a great way for us to get people in to see what we offer,” said Nalani Hernandez-Melo, assistant manager of the Tap-In.
Since the store opened in September, the café has offered events like beer tastings and taco nights, “but there are still a lot of people who don’t know what we have to offer,” said Tap-In Team Leader, Matt Young.
The menu will introduce some new dishes for the café like the chicken and waffles with maple syrup and corn and arugula salad and the vegan favorite Maui Taro burger. Rather than wine flights some restaurants offer as a pairing for the dinners, try one of the local craft beers on tap at the bar. Or top off dinner with the beer float made with Russian Imperial Stout.
Clementine, owned by Christophe and Jennifer Douheret, celebrates its third anniversary of the café, bar and take-away foods shop. It’s located in a shopping center at the southwest corner of Highway 74 and El Paseo. In addition to the anniversary, “This is the first year we are staying open for summer and thought this would be a wonderful way to let our regular customers know about it,” Jennifer said.
Just because the owner is French, it doesn’t mean the menu is. “We say the menu is from ‘The Countries of the Sun,’ from Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, and other countries along the Mediterranean,” she said. “There are so many amazing flavors from those countries.”
The $26 menu includes a fattoush (a Middle Eastern salad similar to an Italian panzanella) for a starter; Spanish fried chicken, crispy fish and chips or the musabaha Moroccan beef dish with hummus and garbanzo beans.
Like Mr. Lyons, bb’s at The River only opened for business this spring, and for owner Jack Srebnik, “It’s a chance for us to get people in to see what we have to offer.”
Srebnik also owns several other restaurants in the Valley but bb’s is only one participating in Restaurant Week. The $26 menu, taken from the 17 Street Café in Santa Monica that he closed last year, includes the tuna tartar and Korean kalbi ribs for starters; a fork-tender pot roast and balsamic grilled Atlantic salmon on the entrees; and an airy tiramisu on the dessert menu.
“It’s a great way for people to try our food and see the value we offer for their money.”