If you are acquainted with any budding mid-century Desert Modernism Architectural Enthusiasts
or Retro Hipster Rat Pack followers than chances are you have heard about the many charms of Palm Springs. Rated one of Travel + Leisure’s most romantic winter destinations in the US, Palm Springs is quickly exchanging its tawdry golf-and-nap reputation for a hip new, ‘destination’ image.
A slew of trendy new hotels (the Ace, the Hard Rock) have opened in the past few years, and rumor had it that the Mondrian was to open on South Palm Canyon, formerly an upscale shopping complex, gloriously anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, now an empty, boarded-up desert of a deserted lot. But alas, it was not to be. Keep heading down Highway 111, and the Ritz Carlton is refurbishing the former Four Seasons on the aptly-named and retro Frank Sinatra Drive in Rancho Mirage which opened mid-May providing lots of luxe to choose from. Those mid-century architectural Motel designs once met with sarcastic Lucille eye-Ball rolls, and until 10 years ago relatively derelict, have now been revived with a spritz of modernism and a twist of kitsch, attracting a stylish, new clientele. Yet there’s still an affordability to all this coolness—the newly arriving hipsters haven’t yet priced out the city’s private motel resorts, and some motels have gone semi-hip (like the Monroe, starting as low as $119, the legendary Del Marcos, 2 guests, 2 nights at $498) without getting too expensive.
Where the city was once the playground mostly of weekending Southern Californians, an increasing number of Canadians are choosing Palm Springs as both a vacation spot and investment option and now find magazines, real estate agents and the Tourism Board pushing their products to the visiting Snow Birds. Then there is the peace of the desert right outside the city limits with hiking, walking and exploring Joshua Tree National Park or a picnic lunch and climb through Indian Canyons. And for the Duffers among us, there are a wealth of obligatory Golf Courses a short putt away.
Here is a run-down on our unusually chilly, feasting week in Palm Springs:
First Night Dinner at TRIO
Listed as a Zagat 2013 “local favorite’, TRIO Restaurant, located in the heart of the Uptown Design District, is ‘where Palm Springs eats & drinks’. Operating partner Tony Marchese and Executive Chef/co-owner Mark Van Laanen, offer us their take on American Contemporary Comfort food covering everything from steak, shepherds pie, burgers, that ‘apparently on every Palm Springs menu’, Iceberg Wedge Salad to Lamb Shanks, Yankee Post Roast and a Mac ‘n 5 Cheese ‘a la TRIO’. John starts with a Roasted Baby Beet Salad with mixed greens, pecans, blue cheese, citrus sections topped with a citrus balsamic vinaigrette. His main is a simple Bowtie Pasta Primavera, served to abundance with snow peas, tri-colour peppers, zucchini, yellow squash and onions in a light garlic butter herb sauce. I dig into the one of the evening’s specials: pan roasted Mahi Mahi ‘Cajun Style’ with hints of lemon brandy glaze and smoky paprika and toasted cumin. We wash this down with a lovely Malbec ‘Las Nubes’ from Argentina. Welcome to Palm Springs!
A Chilly Cheeky’s Breakfast
Part of the Birba complex on North Palm Canyon, Cheeky’s is a must stop for breakfast, lunch or their fresh baked goods and is definitely a step above the diner-esque bacon ‘n eggs of retro Palm Springs. They change their mostly organic menu on a weekly basis and prep all of their batters, sauces, and dressings themselves. I tuck into some Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs, Maple Sage Sausage and one of Deb`s Famous Cheddar Scones for a very reasonable $9! Throw in some sides of herb ‘taters, a pancake, some fresh squeezed blood orange juice and a cup of java and the price definitely jumps. Service is a bit rushed but hey, it is a small room and when you can’t sit outside in the chilly December Palm Springs weather, you have to turn those tables!
Lunch + Takeaway at Palm Greens Cafe
We kept returning to this wonderful restaurant just off the downtown core that offers an organic menu that is high on flavour and low on price. Situated in a strip mall, it is easy to miss Palm Greens Cafe but those who are diligent about finding this little gem will be rewarded with a Vegan, Organ and Gluten-free, Vegetarian, ‘Wild caught’ fresh menu. Breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are available as well as ‘Healthy Libations’ including smoothies and fresh squeezed juices. We both savoured the Marvelous Mushroom Burger on our first visit that included a patty made from tons of mushrooms, onions, egg whites and mozzarella, gluten free grains topped with more mushrooms (sauteed this time), your choice of cheese, lettuce, tomato all on a sunflower bun. Nice selection of wines and organic beers as well. Open 7 days a week, we enjoyed Palm Greens several times during our stay: twice as takeaway by our hotel pool.
A Hustle, Bustle, People Watching Dinner at LuLu California Bistro
Voted ‘Best of” in many categories by the readers of Desert Magazine and one of the ‘Top 100 Dining Hot Spots in the US by OpenTable, LuLu California Bistro is a hopping hot spot for breakfast, lunch, a late Sunday brunch or dinner with a popular 12-hour Happy Hour as well. LuLu offers typical California Bistro fare covering everything from the seemingly menu-must, Iceberg Wedge to oysters, sandwiches, pizza (large gluten free options) burgers, pasta and traditional surf and turf. We are greeted by Jason at LuLu’s front of house and sip a glass of chardonnay in their bustling, people watching front bar while our table is being prepped. Even for a Monday night, this joint is jumping! I start with Chef Arturo’s wild mushroom soup with white truffle oil finish, garnished with slivers of spicy chives. John chooses a Pear Salad with mixed baby greens, walnuts, dates and a scattering of blue cheese in a pear vinaigrette and balsamic glaze. Yearning for some comfort food, we both opt for the ‘Meatloaf a la LuLu’, a red glazed Angus beef meatloaf topped with a tangy tomato sauce with traditional sides of smashed red-skinned potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
A Surprising Lunch at Spencer’s Restaurant at the Mountain
I must admit I was skeptical of booking a table at such a traditional, ‘clubby’, Palm Springs restaurant but the name Spencer’s is synonymous with Palm Springs’ classic style and its historically significant mid-century charm offers a stylish elegance and comfortable informality that apparently is not to be missed. Rated ‘readers choice’ by Desert Magazine for Breakfast, Outdoor Dining, and Romantic Dinner, the summer air-cooled and winter propane-heated, patio is legendary with the stunning surroundings matched by great food and unobtrusive yet attentive service. Spencer’s also offers an extensive and surprisingly not California-focused wine list that won’t disappoint. I start with a robust lentil soup that seemed befitting of the chilly, lunch time air and follow with a beautiful Ahi Tuna Nicoise Salad, grilled to perfection. John, feeling vegetarian, begins with a beautiful Beefsteak Tomato Tartare with shallots, tarragon, capers, ricotta and a lovely single parmesan crouton and moves to a wonderful Roasted Portobello Mushroom in a soy-ginger sauce and toasted sesame seeds nestled on some crisp garden vegetables. Perhaps our best meal in Palm Springs.
A Former Opera Singer Serves Dinner at Workshop Kitchen + Bar
A surprising new entry into the PS dining scene, Workshop Kitchen + Bar pushes the foodie envelope with their Farm to Table approach. Owners Michael Beckman and Joseph Mourani have realized a contemporary, somewhat austere Modernist industrial design in a beautiful Colonial building which offers a compelling staging point for their ‘Americana’ style of food, offering everything from wood-fired pizza, sous-vide offerings, duck rillette, pan-roasted scallops, black truffle risotto, to Large Format Plates that are great for a ‘family service’ style evening of shared food and conversation. And this is exactly what we ordered: Whole Grilled Organic Chicken Diavolo, served with two sides of Kabocha Squash and Red Sage Quinoa. Not understanding portion sizes, we include a Beet and Quinoa Salad with wild arugula, citrus and ricotta salata and craving some winter veggies, a shaved brussel sprout salad graced with toasted hazelnuts, persimmon and pomegranate, splashed with some aged balsamic and oil and a dusting of pecorina romano. We left feeling well fed with plenty left on the wooden groaning board if we chose to doggy-bag it.
The Retro Rat Pack Supper Club Ambiance of Purple Room
The ghosts of Dean, Frank and Sammy are obviously present as we motor out East Palm Canyon to the former Rat Pack hang out/Supper Club of the Purple Room at Club Trinidad, which has been lovingly restored to its 1960’s glory by TRIO owners Tony Monsanto and Mark Van Laanen. This intimate, 140 seat room is no longer all purple but still maintains that secluded hide-from-the-paparazzi look that made the original so attractive as a hangout for stars trying to escape a fan-crazed Hollywood. We choose a high-top table for full bar/dining room people watching and are serenaded by the wonderful Michael Holmes Trio while we scan the menu which includes both bar-type food and actual sit-down dinner fare. Craving a taste of the ’60’s, I opt for, wait for it, the 1000 Island Wedge Salad that comes perfectly chilled and crisp and adorned with Blue Cheese, Bacon, Tomato, Pine Nuts, Bread Crumbs and a splash of house-made 1000 Island Dressing. My main is a marinated and grilled Skirt Steak with a piquant chimichurri sauce, served with crispy sweet potato fries. John, feeling New Zealand-ish orders the herb-crusted and roasted Rack of Lamb, adorned with ‘baby reds’ potatoes and seasonal root veggies. Rat-Pack Cats like Frank and Dino may have quaffed several dry martinis with their dinner, but we opt for a lovely 2012 Argentinean Malbec to compliment the meatiness of the meal.
Dinners at TRIO, LuLu’s and Purple Room were generously sponsored by the management of all three restaurants. We’d also like to thank the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism for their assistance with making several introductions and recommendations for our visit to Palm Springs.
Airlines, including Westjet, fly direct from Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, so you no longer have to drive out from L.A. to live like Bob Hope. United, as part of the Air Canada/ StarAlliance group, has connecting flights from Toronto and Montreal via Chicago, LA and San Francisco.
707 N. Palm Canyon Drive,Palm Springs, CA 92262
Phone: 760.864.TRIO (8746)
622 N Palm Canyon Dr.Palm Springs, CA 92262
tel (760) 327-7595 fax (760) 327-7597
Palm Greens Cafe
611 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264
Lulu California Bistro
200 S. Palm Canyon Drive Palm Springs, CA 92262
T: 760.327.LULU (5858) F: 760.327.9898
Spencer’s Restaurant at the Mountain
701 W Baristo Rd, Palm Springs, CA 92262
Workshop Kitchen + Bar
800 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262,
Purple Room Palm Springs
1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive Palm Springs, CA 92264