By Rick Riozza

Tennis & wine have always enjoyed each other’s company. In moderation, both are very healthy endeavors. But for these next two weeks—drop the “moderation” stuff, we want as much tennis and wine as we can get!

Having played tennis competitively most of my life on bad knees continually, my healthy heart still goes out for that great game. At Indian Wells Tennis Garden this week and next, the BNP Paribas Open, which brings to our valley the best professionals on the planet, is engaged for action. It’s the largest ATP World Tour (men) and WTA (women) combined two-week event in the world.

Previously, we certainly frequented the Wine & Beer Bar on the tennis grounds and enjoyed the thirst quenching libations, albeit, from a limited beer and wine list. This year with the $70 million expansion which includes a new 8,000 seat Stadium 2 tennis court to accompany the huge Stadium 1 court, spectator tennis has moved to a new plateau of complete culinary love: Yes—that’s how you win in tennis—with love, and put an “e” on win and you have wine!

Three top-notch restaurants situated on the concourse level overlooking the court action in the new Stadium 2 are bringing it on! The internationally acclaimed Nobu Japanese with their desert match: Nobu Pop-Up; Owner Piero Pierattoni (of Palm Desert’s Ristorante Mamma Gina and PizzaVino) is serving up his pizze napolitani to Piero’s PizzaVino Indian Wells; and, owner Lee Morcus/Kaiser Restaurant Group has hit a Grand Slam with the new Prime Chop House.

And where there is great food—we’ll usually find great wine: now that’s a doubles match!

On any given evening in our valley, an abundance of diners are enjoying the restaurants under the helm of my friend Lee Morcus—restaurateur par excellence. The Morcus family has been creating unique restaurants in the CV since 1992. The Kaiser Restaurant Group has built, owned, and operated multiple eatery concepts from casual to fine dining.

All you vacationers and travelers may well know, the legendary Hog’s Breath Inn up in Carmel California (made popular by prior owner Clint Eastwood) is now in the Kaiser Group stable and continues at its “Desert Hog” location here in La Quinta, where their Saloon Bar serves as a gathering & watering hole for the south side of the valley.

Jackalope Ranch, acquired in 2008 from Don Callendar, founder of the Marie Callendar chain, is located on 6.5 acres on the La Quinta/Indio border. At a building cost of $36 million, the 21,000 square foot, multi-faceted lodge with three kitchens is surrounded by beautiful manicured grounds, gardens, water features, and art.

In Palm Springs, Kaiser goes high-tech Sports Bar with the signature grass-fed Tasmanian Beef at the Grind Brgr Bar, where milkshakes (some spiked) and Martinis entice guests to “unwind at the Grind.” Further down the boulevard sits one of the family’s original Kaiser Grille restaurants, opened in 1998.

And of course, one of the most respected steakhouses in town—known for its in house butchering—is the Prime Chop House, with locations in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and as we’ve just alerted you readers, here at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden!!

Featuring ALL NATURAL Premium Angus Beef, USDA Prime aged steaks & chops, fresh seasonal, sustainable fish and shellfish, and California’s freshest seasonal vegetables while enjoying a fine array of fine wine and catching a tennis match is an event.

Bring an appetite and have fun playing the tennis Grand Slam wine game where you select and enjoy a wine from one or more of the Grand Slam tournament countries: Australia, France, England, and the U.S. For instance, you can order the wine cocktail, the Pink Peach Bellini, made with the French Sparkling Rosé wine—Le Grand Courtage Brut Rosé (which was one of my recent Valentine Wine picks) and Fresh Peach purée.

For an Australian, look for a rich Shiraz, for U.S, they’ve got plenty of California whites and reds, and for England—well at Wimbledon, the Brits enjoy a lot of Champagne, so you can do the same!

Now if there is a lull or should you wish to take a break from the tennis action, about five minutes away—right down the road on Washington Street, is Lee Morcus’ up-close-and-personal venture: the beautiful and fabulous Figue Mediterranean 760.698.9040. This restaurant celebrates the foods he ate growing up in a large Lebanese family. Famed Chef François de Mélogue is on hand in preparing traditional and progressive Mediterranean fare—French, Spanish, and Italian with Moroccan and Greek influences.

Talk about a wine list—its stellar! Sommelier Joe Mascari is one of the most personable and friendly wine guys around, if you have a question or wish a recommendation please make a point of speaking with him. Further,The Bar at Figue features wonderful robust new food and beverage offerings at ridiculously low prices – all evening, every evening beginning at 4 p.m.

The fun connection between Figue and the Prime Chop House at the Tennis Garden is that they have the same combination wood and charcoal rotisserie. It’s the most expensive and best cooking equipment in town. So treat yourself!

Tennis Anyone? Cheers! & Bon Appétit!