By Judith Salkin
There’s a good side to being restaurant writer and that’s getting the gossip on what’s going on in the local restaurant scene before everyone else finds out.
Even when you’re sworn to secrecy.
That’s what happened this past spring at the annual Restaurant Week Kick-off party when I sidled up to Eric Morcus of Kaiser Restaurant Group.
“We’re closing Chop House in Palm Desert after Restaurant Week,” he confided. “And reopening it as Kaiser Grille in August, in time to be ready for season.”
That was a significant piece of news. The Chop House had been a part of PD’s restaurant scene for more than a decade and was known for its prime quality meats and seafood and the old boys’ steakhouse atmosphere and décor.
And in truth that was also the reputation of the original Kaiser Grille that has started the Morcus family business in the Coachella Valley back in 1992 just a couple of blocks east of Chop House’s location in the historic Desert Magazine building.
“It’s time,” Morcus said. At the time, KRG had also recently closed Hog’s Breath Inn in La Quinta and he hinted that there might be some cross-over between the two popular dining spots.
In what seems like an incredibly short time span, Chop House quietly closed in June and in just about eight weeks, Kaiser Grille reopened.
Gone are the dark wine red awnings and draperies, carpets and most of the trappings of the old steakhouse. And what now shines in its place is a brightened cross of industrial and history that looks like a restaurant you’d find in the Meatpacking District in New York City or downtown L.A.’s revival.
“This used to be such a classic steakhouse, which is what everyone expects,” Morcus said recently sitting in the KGPD’s bar. “I wanted it to be more inviting.”
For this redefined space Morcus researched everything from which colors for the awning and linens to use for warmth and to invite interaction between the restaurant and its customers to the flooring (polished and sealed concrete) and cut sandstone bricks that now cover some of the walls. It’s a clean, inviting look.
He chose a bright orange, “it was going to be red,” Morcus said. “But I came across orange and it was a happy color, which is what I wanted.”
More than color and décor, what Morcus wants his clientele to remember is the food and it’s here that the new Kaiser Grille menu makes some departures from the old. While the company is known for its menu of prime meats and top-grade seafoods, “We’ve all become more conscious of what we eat,” he said. “I know I don’t eat the same way I used to.”
The menu is blend of Kaiser Grille favorites and some from the now-closed La Quinta Hog’s Breath Inn. “It’s more varied and inclusive and there are more options,” he said.
The new menu includes “something for every taste,” Morcus said. “Not everyone wants a steak.”
Using as much local and naturally grown products as he can, “But I can’t get everything locally,” he said. When it comes to meats, he’s using San Joaquin Valley Pitman Farms’ Mary’s chickens and some meats from RR Ranch in Loomis, Wash.
The stone hearth pizzas, burgers and rib eye steaks are from the Hog’s Breath Inn, while the seafood and Prime Rib (available on weekends) are from the Kaiser Grille menu.
Morcus sees this menu as something that will grow to meet the tastes of his customers. “Everyone’s tastes change,” he said. “If we find something isn’t working, we’ll listen to what our customers have to say and adjust.”
And when it comes to what his guests have to say, Morcus wants to be the one who hears it first-hand. He knows that a restaurant can have a great menu and service, but if it doesn’t respond to what the guests want, it won’t last.
“One of the things I love about the restaurant business is talking to guests,” he said. “This business is all about people and I want to hear what they have to say.”