By Aaron Ramson
On the lower level of the Palm Springs Arts Museum is a cozy bistro that I never knew existed until last week. It operated for a decade with little fanfare, serving prepackaged sandwiches, bagged chips, and canned sodas in the same aggressively cafeteria-like fashion as middle schools, county hospitals, and county jails (no offense to our county jails, I’m sure the shit on a shingle is cooked fresh every Friday). But now under the creative eye of culinary auteur Art Vasquez, the little café inside the art museum has a new look, a new menu, and a new name, the Persimmon Bistro.
Art might be best known as the driving force behind the success of Babe’s Brewhouse from 2003 to 2018, guiding the restaurant to win many local awards for its food, and multiple international awards for its beer. Although he may have developed a reputation as a beer guy, it’s Vasquez’s love of both California’s central coast and wine country that is prominently displayed at the new Persimmon Bistro. A tour of the cozy café displayed all the Mediterranean flair of California’s wine country in both Persimmon’s ambience and menu, successfully bringing the vibe of Santa Barbara County to Palm Springs. “The Los Olivos Wine Merchant Café is one of my favorite places to visit while on the central coast,” said Art in an interview, “It definitely had an influence on my menu.”
Paninis, wraps, toasts, and baguette sandwiches with bread from local artisan bakeries will be offered, as well as house made focaccia bread to be served with salads and dipping oils. Flights of olives, artisan cheese plates, charcuterie boards, and house made tapenade are all presented daily. The selection of international olive oils from Greece, Turkey, Israel and Spain not only allows patrons to taste the differences in flavor and consistency, but those with discerning palates can ask for custom made hummus created with the oils of their choosing. “The menu will always include a new hummus of the day,” says Art. When asked what his favorite dish on the menu is, Art shares that it’s the Nicoise Salad that he’s made. The Nicoise salad has been stated by Gordon Ramsay to be the finest summer salad of all; Persimmon Bistro’s take features grilled albacore, Nicoise olives, haricot verts (thin green beans) and the traditional chopped egg. Art says that “Cooking here is like being able to feed people at my house, this is the food and drink I enjoy at home.”
As the new managing co-owner, Art has personally hand picked every item on the wine and beer list, and much as was his style at Babe’s, the focus is on California craft. The bright flavors of the Mediterranean inspired menu call for the pairing of craft lagers, IPAs and Belgian ales to compliment the palate. Beachwood, The Bruery, Stone, Thorn, and Almanac are all offered, as well as radlers, hard ciders, and hard kombuchas for those looking for something beside beer and wine. A draught system is currently being installed, which will greatly expand Persimmon’s craft beer selection, and local favorites La Quinta Brewing Co will have a place on the tap list.
It’s no coincidence that the Palm Springs Art Museum now houses a bistro with such a bourgeoise feel, Art says that he spent a considerable amount of time studying and researching the eateries of renowned museums to make sure that Persimmon Bistro is on par with the best and brightest experiences in the country. French jazz played in the background as I toured the kitchen and dining room, adding to the ambience and relaxing atmosphere.
The relaunched café will host a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, June 6th, from 5-7 pm, and it is free and open to the public. A cocktail party in the art garden will allow attendees to enjoy the California beer and wine offered on the menu, and celebrate the arrival of a sophisticated craft eatery that compliments the art of the museum perfectly.