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.

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