Summer in Southern California went out with a bang… over the Columbus Day weekend. With the triple-digit temperatures behind us (fingers crossed), the fall mini-Modernism weekend has launched the beginning of the season and it is again time to return to the desert of Palm Springs, where Angelenos have been weekending for the last century. At one time, it was gambling that drew the Hollywood crowd here, but lately the dining scene has been the draw. And as you may only be in town for the weekend, you won’t want to gamble on your dinner options, so with that in mind, here are my tips on the two best bets in town.
For some true decadence, visit Cuistot for dinner. Better yet, come early and have a classic cocktail at their exquisite bar. The wine list is remarkable and the menu is unapologetically indulgent, with starters like Lyon-style seafood quenelles in lobster sauce and baked with gruyère to the exquisite Siberian Black Pearl Osetra caviar served traditionally. Entrée highlights include roasted quail stuffed with sweetbreads and creamy rice in Chablis sauce; and roasted rack of lamb in herbs from the on-site garden.
The space is a French country farmhouse that seats nearly 300 guests, including a magnificent patio and an elegant wine room featuring a grandiose fireplace similar to the one in the home where chef/owner Bernard Dervieux grew up, near Lyon. And, ask anyone, the wine just tastes better in this room, where the sommelier, working from the most decorated wine list in the whole valley, is happy to take you on a dizzying trip through the Loire and Rhône valleys and through the heart of Burgundy and Bordeaux, with vintages of Romanée Conti from the former and, from the latter, Château Cheval Blanc, Château Margaux and Château Lafite Rothschild, among others — more than 650 wines, in fact, with about a third priced under $75.
Your trip to Palm Springs will not be complete, however, without a meal at Catalan Mediterranean Cuisine. The Rancho Cathedral restaurant is arguably the finest example of modern dining in the region, and for finicky diners from L.A., by far the easiest place to recommend. Chef and L.A.-native Drew Davis’ resume, beginning with his education at Hyde Park’s Culinary Institute of America includes stints from the some of the most prestigious restaurants, working alongside the most renowned chefs in New York, Kansas City, Miami and here in California.
Imported Ibérico ham, the finest in the world, is served here by the ounce and should be enjoyed as part of what is an authentic, ingredient-driven Mediterranean meal. A favorite among locals is a salad of arugula and pears with shaved red onions, roasted almonds and queso cabrales (an artisanal blue cheese) in a cranberry vinaigrette. Of course, there is the Catalan Paella, featuring chicken, chorizo, shrimp, clams, peas and saffron over a Valencian rice, which, I understand, a true paella cannot be made without. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the tapas plate: goat cheese-stuffed Piquillo peppers, smoked chorizo, garlic shrimp, sauteed Manilla clams, duck fat potato chips and Spanish blue cheese, harissa and honey-Jidori chicken wings, marinated Spanish mushrooms and skewers that vary by day.
This is Scott Bridge’s second post on Palm Springs. Read more about Palm Springs Modernism weekend.
Scott Bridges is an L.A.-based journalist who has worked as a police-beat reporter, a community newspaper editor, and a food and travel writer. He currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to The Huffington Post and Bizjournals.com, among other sites. He is a native Californian who lives on the Westside.