Going on vacation is always a pleasure, but finding mediocre food dampens my joy, and unfortunately the food on my latest trip to Palm Springs/Indian Wells was so mediocre I had to go back to my old favorite Zini Cafe to eat something that made me smile (see my previous post here).

When I lived in Palm Springs, one of my favorite places to eat was Al Dente. Their pasta and seafood were always fresh, deftly prepared, and well presented. I decided to stop there for lunch and was heartened when their tapenade arrived and was a perfect rendition of pungent olives, garlic, spicy red pepper flakes and a luxurious olive oil. I didn’t want to spoil my meal by eating just tapenade and bread, so I controlled myself and only ate two servings. I would have been happier of I had made a meal of tapenade instead of my salad.

I ordered the Caesar salad with grilled shrimp. Looks can be deceiving; the shrimp were over cooked and the salad was over dressed with a bland sauce. It was sad to eat alone (I was the ONLY diner in the entire restaurant at 12:30pm), but it was even sadder to realize that one of my favorite places had changed for the worse. The glass of Pinot Grigio I had was as refreshing as the service from my waiter, who was in remarkably good humor despite the 118F weather and having only one diner. Considering lunch was under $20, I left a healthy 30% tip, hoping that would show the waiter I appreciated his work, and hoping the lunchtime chef was just having a bad day.

Upon arriving at the Esmeralda in Indian Wells, the last thing I wanted to do was drive anywhere for food, so I had their bar menu of four tacos for $10, ordering two shrimp tacos and two carne asada tacos. My server suggested the Luna Pinot Grigio ($8) from Cava restaurant, and then he went out in the 118F heat to get me a glass from the restaurant! I wish the food was as good as the service. The shrimp were nicely done (thankfully not overcooked), crispy and tasty, but the carne asada tasted as if it was boiled in water, and the tortillas were obviously industrially made tasteless discs.

My friend Cindy wanted sushi, so we got a platter of Spicy tuna roll with avocado, yellowtail, white tuna, albacore, and mackerel for $40. Cindy liked it, but I thought the fish was not quite fresh enough for the price.

Our final meal in the hotel was lunch at Cava. We both chose the chopped salad with turkey, avocado, tomatoes, corn, and mixed greens for $12. It was fresh and lightly dressed, but I was disappointed that the turkey was cubes of sliced turkey and the waitress disappeared after we were served (we had to ask the hostess for our check and paid at the hostess stand because our waitress never reappeared).

Sometimes old favorites change for the worse, and new finds are mediocre, but great places like Zini Cafe that continue to excel are the reasons I love to eat in the Palm Springs area.

Cava Restaurant on Urbanspoon