By Reagan Richter
Kitchen-86 + Bar on El Paseo has hit the ground running, bringing exciting and unique offerings to Palm Desert in an ambient and welcoming atmosphere. Reagan Richter sat down with Owner Robert Laster to learn more about his concept, what he’s most excited about serving and how the restaurant came to fruition.
Laster: “As a long-time resident of the desert, I feel like we are in a place where we can support and sustain new restaurant concepts. I saw a real need for a place that served exciting food and was open late. Not just for a younger crowd, but for all residents with a desire for something a little different. People are excited for ramen and elevated late-night food. We would go to San Francisco three times a year, really just for Dim Sum, because in the desert we really only had a limited offering. Now you’ll be able to enjoy house-made Ramen and dumplings at midnight!”
Richter: “I keep hearing about a cheese wheel pasta?”
Laster: “The cheese wheel pasta is another example of things we get to see on TV but don’t have access to here in the desert. Plus… who doesn’t want their food finished off table-side in a giant cheese wheel? Our menu is ever-changing and always fun and exciting.”
Richter: “And your bar is quite impressive! What can you tell me about the process in creating your cocktail menu?”
Laster: “Johnny Catti is the driving force behind our bar concept. He has such a creative passion that really sets us apart. He recently traveled to popular destinations all over the country, researching what works and what doesn’t work at some of the hottest spots. He appreciates a good craft cocktail but not making you wait for 15 minutes for it and treating you “less-than” if you have a question. We took a trip to New Orleans and he became totally obsessed with The Sazerac. He has been tinkering with it and is really quite the coinsurer. We have a Japanese Wama cold brew maker and we make different varieties of infused liquors, launching with a serrano and rosemary infused tequila. We are serving both high end and low-end options, so you’ll get to choose from happy hour prices and rare tequilas. We don’t specialize in any one thing so there is something for everyone. Whether you want to spend $20 or $200, there is an option for you.
Richter: “It’s so refreshing that there is finally somewhere in Palm Desert that is open late! Tell me about your motivation to offer extended hours.”
Laster: “When I was a kid growing up here, we had Friday’s that was open late. Nothing has ever filled that void. We need a place for everyone to enjoy, regardless of their work schedule or budget. If you’re serving at a restaurant until 10pm, you’d have nowhere to eat when your shift ended. Now they have a place to go without sacrificing quality and variety.”
Richter: “I know you appreciate and enjoy all types of cuisine. How did you decide what direction to take with Kitchen-86?”
Laster: “I know this may sound funny, but it’s honestly inspired by Netflix. I’d see a dish that looked incredible, but it’s out of my reach as nowhere around here offers anything like it. And I love a story behind the food I’m eating. And we want to bring our guests some history to accompany their meals.”
Richter: “With a rotating menu with so much variety being offered, did you have a hard time choosing a chef?”
Laster: “No, I knew who I wanted my Chef to be so that was an easy choice for me. Chef Abel Gonzelez is who I was dead-set on bringing on board, and I’m so grateful he was also excited about the concept. He is classically French trained and has since been Head Chef at Sea Food, Asian, Mexican and Italian restaurants. He is a Saucier, so he looks at the bases first, which is really the foundation. He’s incredible and we are so lucky to have him.”
Richter: “Has opening a restaurant always been a goal of yours?”
Laster: “My first job was making and serving pizzas in downtown Palm Springs, in a pizza place where NYPD is now. Joe Morano has always been my mentor in the restaurant business. He moved to the desert from to Las Vegas in the 80’s and opened Mama Lucci’s. He later brought chopsticks and chin chins to Palm Springs. He did well for a long time, and then when Palm Springs went a little dormant in the years after the spring break ban, he moved to Orange County and continued on his path. Joe inspired my love of food and was a father figure to me. I would go spend summers with him in OC and we would listen to talk radio about the restaurant world and I would work for him in the kitchen. He happened to be here when planning to move forward with Kitchen-86, and I asked him to be a part of it. He is now our GM. I always knew I’d open a restaurant. It was originally my retirement plan, just to have a small Bistro down the road, but the opportunity presented itself earlier than anticipated and I couldn’t pass it up. My incredible girlfriend, Kerry Uher, has been instrumental in the launching of Kitchen-86. She has handled all of the challenging behind-the-scenes hurdles and really made it all come together.”
Richter: “What’s the story behind your name, Kitchen-86?”
Laster: “Using organic and locally-sourced ingredients is so important to me. When something is not available fresh, we take it off the menu. Its “86-d.”
See you on the patio!
Kitchen-86 + Bar is open daily from 11:00 am – 1:30 am with a Happy Hour from 3:00pm-6:00pm at 73130 El Paseo, Palm Desert CA 92260