BY RICK RIOZZA
Congrats Coachella Valley for yet another solid season of eats and greets. I particularly found the desert’s culinary scene to be enlightening with many various venues to wine & dine. And for this wine beat, we’ve found more happy hour and comprehensive wine bar menus than ever before in our realm.
This column has recently reviewed Palm Desert’s AC3 and is looking forward to covering the scene over at The Springs—that beautiful Country Club restaurant in Rancho Mirage that is now open to the public. I can’t wait to get over to the Coachella Winery at The River to uncover their wide range of wine activities. And what’s going on at the Draughtsman in Palm Springs?
But casually speaking, there are a couple of wine haunts I’d like to highlight, where grabbing a nice glass of wine and some fun eats is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Although Acqua California Bistro has just accomplished their first year of operations, it kind of feels that the venue has been around for a good while. And for good reason, we all remember the Acqua Pazza for so many years at The River, and this past season the restaurant re-emerged itself with its new name: quit the “craziness” (“pazza” in Italian) and replace with “California Bistro”.
Most foodies in town already know the restaurateur family, Jerry and Barbara Keller are the owners of LULU California Bistro and Acqua (past and present). LULU is as popular as it comes in Palm Springs. We’ve enjoyed some excellent meals at great prices there and have absolutely enjoyed their stellar winemaker dinners.
So as one would expect, the “new” venue brings the food and flair of LULU and revitalizes the past menu of old Acqua Pazza. A win-win situation, especially for those enthusiasts who’ve been hankering for Acqua’s return to The River.
But what I remember at the “old” Pazza”, and now, enjoying as well at the new Acqua, is the Happy Hour at the Bar. The fun and the action are back again, but this time with a full wine list to choose from. Actually, their entire beverage list of cocktails, beer and wine is as sizeable as their food menu. It goes on and on, but we’re here to recommend some refreshing wines by the glass:
A brut Cava from Spain—a nice bubbly to start things out, Opera Prima, at only $4.99 a glass or just $18 for the bottle, is one of the best deals in town; Echo Bay Marlborough New Zealand Sauv Blanc, tasty and brisk at $8.99 a glass; Hess Chardonnay, Monterey County, $7.99 a glass; Gerard Bertrand, Rosé Lanquedoc France, $8.99 a glass, and the Bex, Riesling Germany at only $6.99 a glass.
As you foodies could imagine, I truly enjoyed some phenomenal cuisine in my recent travels to Italy. So coming home with that Italian glint still in my eyes and Italian appetite still in my gut, where else would I wish to rest my culinary desires but at Palm Spring’s most famous Italian eatery: Johnny Costa’s Ristorante.
“Family owned and operated”—we know the story: Founder, Johnny Costa, born in Naples Italy, has been a chef and restaurant owner in the Palm Springs area since 1976. Frank Sinatra himself was a regular at this Italian restaurant, where the chairman’s two favorite dishes, the Steak Sinatra and Linguine Clams—are still on the menu. For as fancy as the place is, their dishes and entrées are some of the most reasonably priced for such high-end cuisine. johnnycostaspalmsprings.com
Johnny’s son, Head Chef Vince Costa continues the family tradition, perfectly executing the family recipes as his brothers and cousins assist him in running the restaurant. And, the restaurant design, ambiance, and romantic setting itself is the epitome of Palm Springs Cool. Even though the Rat Pack has dearly departed, I would think the local diners would neither skip a beat—nor a swallow, if they saw an apparition of Ol’ Blue Eyes or Dino himself walk by their table offering a casual salute.
And what so many of the locals know—and what visitors should be aware of—is
the charming and inviting wine bar just to the left when entering the restaurant. I remember a few years back when Johnny himself was regularly at the restaurant, practicing my Italian with him, I ask what was his favorite white wine. Expecting to hear an esoteric Italian from Umbria or some place like that, he simply said, “I like a California Chardonnay!” Fun stuff!
Perhaps that’s why we can find two tasty California Chards by the glass: Round Hill Vineyards Napa Chardonnay at only $8, and Raymond Vineyards Napa Chardonnay at only $9. Of course for those jonesing for some Italian delights will find a Caposaldo Pinot Grigio or Chianti for $8; and, probably the best deal in town for an Italian super Tuscan red wine, Costello di Volpaia “Citto” at only $9. a glass!!Andiamo! See you there! Cheers!
And note to self: Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week® is a 17-day dining event taking place at restaurants throughout the Coachella Valley. The event showcases a wide variety of culinary experiences, and participating restaurants offer special menus at set prices with lunches available for $15, $20 or $25 and dinners for $29, $39 or $49. Check out on-line: www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com