Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sunshine Therapy in Palm Springs

I didn't go to Palm Springs to eat. I went for the sun and heat, and for my friend's 30th birthday. But I was surprised find many tasty things in that desert oasis, surrounded by shockingly magnificent mountains and date farms.

Upon arrival, I discovered that the date shake is the requisite liquid refreshment in Palm Springs. We tried a healthy version at Nature's Health Food and Cafe, which was more of a date smoothie made with hemp milk, but I preferred the thick vanilla milkshake version at the Ace Hotel, which I bought as a palliative measure to soothe myself on the ride to the airport.
Who am I kidding? The official beverage of this trip was the cocktail, in many shapes and forms (poolside, under trees, on patios, in restaurants, in manicured hotel gardens and in rat pack piano bars).  My favorite of the weekend was a Lemongrass Ricky on the shady patio at Birba. Tart and refreshing, I loved the visual effect of the muddled lemongrass, lime and cherries in the glass with gin and ice (on the right, above). The owner of Birba, and it's sister restaurant Cheeky's, gave us a tour of the property and its adjacent secluded boutique hotel, Alcazar, which looked so peaceful and Mediterranean, it instantly jumped to the top of my list for a return trip. They also own Jiao, an Asian fusion cafe at which a group of us shared probably every item on the menu. I thought that the vegetarian dishes (stir fried eggplant, red cabbage and grapefruit salad and the congee with egg) served to start were the most unexpected and refreshing.
Back at our hotel, I was impressed by the freshness of the food in the diner-style restaurant, King's Highway. It's open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Stumptown espresso, and most everything is house made and quality sourced (the Ace's Portland influence is evident). Get the kale salad. We took the hotel's bikes and rode down to Nature's for lunch, where we found a seemingly bottomless menu of fresh smoothies and juices, and the ultimate California-style sandwich (sprouts and avocado!) that I can't seem to find in Portland.
The biggest flavor bomb of the trip was a late night fish taco at Shanghai Red's, a dive in an alley behind a seafood restaurant. I think the (perfectly) fried fish was cod, topped with shredded lettuce, sour cream sauce and salsa. Such a satisfying meal at the end of a day laying in the sun. I could eat a plateful of them right now.

My Palm Springs top five:
  1. Fish tacos at Shanghai Red's - 
  2. Veggie sandwiches and fresh juice at Nature's Health Food Cafe -  
  3. BBQ dinner at Pappy & Harriett's in Pioneertown, an hour away (for the awesome* live music and atmosphere, not necessarily the food, but dinner gets you a prime seating and the chili fries are ridiculously good) - 
  4. Cocktail hour in the elegant gardens at the Parker Hotel (go for just one or expect to break the vacation bank) - 
  5. Any meal at King's Highway - 
Wish list for my next trip, which I wish was next weekend: stay at Alcazar, visit a date farm, have brunch at Cheeky's, and explore Joshua Tree National Park.
*I use the word "awesome" here with the most genuine intention: I was blown away by the quality of the band that played the night we were there (Sunday), with musicians seemingly coming out of nowhere to join the band and play a few songs. They were the "Pappy and Harriett's Allstars," fronted by Victoria Williams.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

I landed in New York with a packed schedule and a horrible cold, and the weather forecast was something like 38 degrees and raining. My sickness lasted all week, but the rain let up, and so did the work I was there to do. With what was left of my sense of taste and smell after a week of blowing my nose, I enjoyed good food and great company at hot spots like ABC Kitchen, the Marrow and Jeepney. But the meals that really left an impression on me on this trip in New York were my version of comfort food, which apparently comes down to eggs and pasta. I highly recommend these dishes and the restaurants that serve them...

1. Perfectly baked eggs for brunch, served over the cult-status kale salad (lacinato kale, aged cheddar, sweet potatoes, pecorino and almonds) at Northern Spy in the East Village. It seems that they do simple food really well -- my friend was talking about how good her porridge was all day.
2. I've always wondered what it would be like to eat ramen at a noodle bar in Tokyo, and I think I got a little taste of it at Totto Ramen. It might have been the hour+ wait at 4:30 in the afternoon in the cold vestibule outside of the restaurant (tip: buy a huge hot tea around the corner to sip while you wait), but this was possibly the best ramen I've ever had: the chicken paitan ramen broth was rich and concentrated, the straight noodles cooked perfectly chewy, and we asked for rayu (spicy sesame oil) on the side which added a peppery flavor and refreshing heat to clear our heads.
3. I had just watched this video of Cathy Whims making cooking gnocchi look so easy, and was lucky to soon satisfy my immediate craving for the pillowy dumplings during a business lunch at Union Square Cafe. The restaurant has been around for a while, but the food there is so solid, which I think is really highlighted in their use of produce and house made pastas. The two were beautifully combined, along with duck confit, in this half portion of gnocchi.
4. And last, but definitely not least, my friend and I were wandering around looking for another great brunch spot on Sunday, and without settling for less (we even sat down in one place but got up and left when we looked around and saw that none of the diners were finishing their meals), we stumbled into  Tertulia when the restaurant was almost completely empty! I imagine that it still may be tough to get in for dinner, so brunch is a great time to go, and I recognized some of the dinner menu items available during the day. I ordered this incredibly flavorful lamb stew with tomato and peppers, with eggs baked into it, and crispy olive oil toast to dip inside.
Despite my run-down state and the chilly weather New York, as always, embraced me with open arms and fed me well. My chic room at the Ace Hotel, with its cozy Pendleton blankets, big windows and daily doses of Stumptown espresso served right downstairs definitely helped with that.