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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

When I lived in Palm Springs, the Esmeralda in Indian Wells was always one of my favorite places to go out for drinks and music (Melvyns was my other favorite nightspot). Since the Esmeralda is now owned by the Marriott hotel chain, there are spectacular deals in the summer which include a daily $50 resort credit and a free breakfast for 2 night stays. I HATE resort fees, but their $25 daily resort fee actually pays for daily fitness classes, two bottles of water in the room, free in-room coffee and tea, and wifi (ask them how to access it) so our entire stay for two nights only cost us about $120 each! They offer Valet parking for $12 a day, but you can self park for free (in a covered lot).

They are in the middle of a renovation, but the lobby is already remodeled and very comfortable.

The only element in the lobby and terrace that remains from the former resort is the magnificent staircase connecting the two levels.

As I walked to the front desk to check in I saw these complimentary containers of cool water infused with pineapple, cucumber, and strawberry. A wonderful thoughtful touch anywhere, but especially here in the desert where outside temperatures were hovering around 118F.

The spacious rooms were clean and modern with great beds and linens.

The bathroom was spacious and had a separate toilet area. Spa robes, soft fluffy towels, and Aveda products gave the resort an upscale feel. Thoughtful touches meant a lot, like a clothesline attached to the wall of the bathtub so you could dry your swimsuits over the tub, and the bathroom had a door to the closet so you could get dressed in the bathroom.

Rates for the summer are so low that the hotel was full of families enjoying the three pool areas; although the kids were well behaved, I still longed for an adult pool area. The poolside servers impressed me more than any other pool I have ever been to, including all the five star pools in Las Vegas; no matter what area I was seated in, someone always came by (more than once) to ask if I wanted either food or drinks! The menu is simple and the selections were reasonably priced, but it was too hot to stay outside for long or I would have ordered and enjoyed lunch by the pool. As with the in room touches, the pool area also had thoughtful touches like water containers and cups at several locations so you could serve yourself water.

The sandy “beach” area was full of small kids and fairly quiet.

The waterfall area was the loudest with screaming kids jumping in and out .

The view from the balcony of our room was tranquil and beautiful.

This view was also from out balcony but looking down instead of out. The small “river” with waterspouts alongside our building snaked around the side of the resort and is the view from the Stir Lounge as well.

Next post will be on the food, which was not as spectacular as the hotel, but the service was impeccable:)

Two Bunch Palms is truly an oasis hidden in the dessert. As a former hideout for Al Capone, this retreat for the famous and the infamous offers naturally heated odorless mineral water in two pools. It is one of the few resorts in Southern California to offer body treatments that range from traditional massage to water therapy.

Even though the summer temperature in the desert may reach 115, it is a dry heat, and most of us who have lived in 80 degree heat with 80% humidity would choose the higher temperature and lower humidity any day.

They are renovating the resort from August 14-25th and offering a special summer rate of only $99 (plus $15 resort fee & taxes) for select dates throughout the summer when rooms and studios usually go for upwards of $200 a night. The $99 special also extends to select 60 and 90 minute body treatments as well, so you can have a spa mini-cation only two hours from LA for the regular price of just a room.

Nights in the desert are wonderfully balmy and starry, and with a rate like this they can be magically restorative.

An unplanned trip to Palm Springs this week meant that I got a chance to revisit Zini Cafe Med for their delectable tapas (see my previous post here).

Since the temperature was about 108 Farenheit, I wanted something cool, so I decided to order the chilled baby octopus salad, with cherry tomato, cucumber, red onion, and a mustard vinaigrette ($5) instead of the hot octopus I had last time. I liked this version nearly as much as the hot version except I would have ordered the salad dressing on the side since the strong mustard vinaigrette was a bit strong on the tender organic greens.

The spicy lime drizzled shrimp were my favorite of all the tapas I tasted. For $6, the four medium sized shrimp were perfectly cooked and the garlic infused spicy lime sauce was good enough to drink; thankfully there was yeasty and warm sourdough bread to soak up the sauce.

If I go back for a meal twice in the same day (as I did for La Petite Creperie in June), you know I love a place, and I did that here. For my second round of food I started with one of the same plates I chose last time, the Tuna Carpaccio, served with Citrus, Balsamic Pomegranate Drizzle, Spanish Olive Oil & Caper. The $6 plate was every bit as delightful as the one I ate last year.

The grilled calamari stuffed with Spanish chorizo, fried parsley and capers was a bit rich and salty, but a very hearty bite for $6. This was my least favorite of all the tapas I tasted, but even so, it was still good enough to recommend to people who like rich, salty sausage bites.

I don’t know if I was really hungry or simply intrigued when I ordered the grilled artichoke, asparagus, fried egg egg, Serrano ham, and Machego cheese plate for $6. It was like a mini-breakfast and my idea of comfort food. The perfectly fried egg was done to perfection with enough runny yolk, yet no runny white, the Serrano and asparagus were great complimentary flavors, and the artichoke and cheese were nice highlights.

Finding places that are still wonderful a year later makes my stomach and face smile with delight. To add yet another surprise, wines average only $6 for a good selection of red, white, rose or bubbly, by the glass, and their happy hours, which begin at 4pm and go until 7pm most nights, offer specials like a pitcher of Sangria with a platter of snacks for only $21. It may be 108 outside, but it’s cool inside Zini.

Zini Cafe Med on Urbanspoon

Want a last minute getaway before the end of the year? Palm Springs is only a 2 hour drive, but it feels like you’ve gone to another era in the deco inspired Movie Colony Hotel. Prices from now until Dec 31, 2010 are only $99 for ANY available room you book by calling them at 760-320-6340 and mentioning that you saw this email promo. Normal rates here go to $229 a night on week-ends, and they are easy walking distance to the heart of downtown Palm Springs.

They have accommodations with a pool, terrace, and fireside views, as well as a two level townhouse, so call them now if you want to end the year that could save you more than half off on a room that may save your sanity during this holiday season.

My friend Ruth is the oldest person I know, but her lively spirit keeps her young and she has trouble finding anyone her age (87) to keep up with her. I go out to see her in Palm Springs whenever I can, and we always try to go to a new place so she can have a new experience. This time we went to the Palm Springs national Golf and Country Club, near the Indian Canyons. She loves the view from the clubhouse and the staff seems to all know her by name.

Ruth is a very picky eater and the only thing she wanted was a fresh fruit salad with cottage cheese. The plate was so big (at least 12″ diameter) that she could only eat about half of it before packing the rest to go.

I tried the daily special of blackened chicken breast on top of a romaine, tomato, red onion, and roasted corn salad, dressed in a green goddess dressing. The chicken was moist and spicy without being overbearing and the salad was nicely crisp and not overly dressed.

Both our entrees were under $15 and we had a view of green grass and fountains of water in the desert as we ate, so you could say we paid for lunch and got a priceless view.

To round off Palm Springs Restaurant week, Zin was our final stop.

I chose to make my lunch a raw meal, starting with the Kumamoto oysters (mkt) and choosing as my main course the beef tenderloin tartar ($12). Both were done very well, with enough accompaniments to make it interesting and not so many as to overpower the clean fresh quality of the ingredients.

Cindy chose a spinach, tomato and cheddar cheese omelet with fingerling potatoes ($12) which she also described as fresh and one of the best she has ever tasted. She said given a choice between this one and the one at Little Next Door, Little Next Door would win, but not by much (see my previous post).

Fellow foodie Phil (say that three times fast) chose the Angus Beef Stew Braised in Belgian Beer Haricots Verts & Frites($12). He said the flavor was rich and the meat was tender, but not falling apart, a good rendition of a comforting classic.

He admitted that he ordered the stew mainly because he wanted the frites which were double fried (as they should be) and served with a trio of dips which ranged from plain mayo, pimento (our favorite of the three), and aioli (garlic mayo).

For dessert we were all tempted by the espresso gelato, so we got one order with three spoons.

Like all old friends, we will meet again, restaurant week or not, this is a great find for a casual meal with very good service.

Zin American Bistro on Urbanspoon

I love old movies, like the ones with Clark Gable and Cary Grant, when going out to dinner meant that men wore tuxedos and women wore feather boas. It is fun to go to a place that has ties to that era, like Copley’s in Palm Springs which used to be Cary Grant’s Estate. It is even better when the food is excellent and the ambiance makes you want to linger on a warm desert night.

Taking full advantage of Palm Spring’s Restaurant week, my friend Cindy & I went to Copley’s for a delectable 3 course meal for only $36 each last week. There were many of us partaking of the specials that night including a celebrity performer from Las Vegas who was seated next to us on the terrace, and a birthday party celebration. The spacious grounds and fountain centerpiece made it seem like we were on our own private property. Service was friendly and although the hostess and bartender were very efficient, our waiter was not always attentive.

We came for the food and we were happy. Cindy chose the Roasted Beet and Warm Goat Cheese Salad, made with Micro Greens, Poached Pears, Candied Walnuts, and a Honey Mustard Dressing. She like it well enough to eat it all, but she ended up liking my appetizer more.

I chose the Hawaiian Ahi Tacos, made with Tuna Tartar, Avocado, Green Onion Tossed in Ginger Soy Dressing, Presented In A Sesame Miso Shell, and Topped with Tobiko Caviar. It was so fresh, perfectly seasoned and balanced with nuances of texture that I could have easily made a meal of a few more of these.

For our entrees, we chose specialties not on the menu (but included in the restaurant week price). I chose the New York Filet with portobello mushrooms, baby broccoli and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. I was relieved to find it actually came rare as I had ordered it and the sides were robust flavorful accompaniments, but I was disappointed to find the steak needed more oomph (I ended up adding salt).

Cindy chose the Lobster Pot Pie which was so marvelous that this time I was the one who had plate envy. The sauce was infused with a depth of shellfish stock that was rich without being too creamy or heavy, and the chunks of lobster were so tender and juicy that they literally made my mouth water. After I ate a few pieces of my steak, I ended up eating her dish!

Luckily we saved room for dessert, mainly because we chose our desserts when we ordered our meals. Cindy had the Lemon & Lavender Scented Pound Cake with Fresh Berries and Basil Ice Cream. It was light, slightly sweet and had a fresh twist with the lemon and lavender.

I went with the Warm Apple Crumble, which was served with Cinnamon Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce. I was happy with it, but honestly I was too full to finish it after a few bites.

We headed out for a long walk around town after dinner as we tried to work off at least a bit of what we had eaten before continuing our food adventure. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode at Zin’s.

Copleys On Palm Canyon on Urbanspoon

My friend Cindy & I met in Palm Springs years ago and although we are both very happy to live by the ocean now, we decided to spend some time in the old town which holds so many happy memories for us.

Her favorite place is the Korakia, where she also shot the exteriors for her fashion website Not Just A Wish. In low season (Summer) the rooms range from $223-$292 per night and include breakfast, bicycles, and free Wifi, all without any “resort fees”. The Inn is tucked behind the main street, but within easy walking distance to everything, the main entry and side gate both welcome guests with a Moroccan inspired style. There are actually two parts to this hotel, one being Moroccan and the other more Mediterranean which is connected across a side street. We stayed on the Moroccan side.

The side gate allows direct access to the pool area.

There is a nice courtyard behind the main gate where they serve breakfast at outdoor tables which surround the fountain. The check in area is like a foyer with a huge container of complimentary citrus and mint flavored water for guests. They also serve (cold) tea in the afternoon.

The pool area is directly behind the lobby with a nice fountain adding the gentle sound of flowing water to the ambiance. It is a wonderful place to meet fellow mellow guests like the couple Pam & Steve, with whom we talked about our shared interests of food, music, and travel.

Complimentary pool towels, magazines, and sunscreen are provided in a basket between the pool and the fountain.

There are both shaded and sunlit areas with cushioned daybeds on either side of the pool.

As well as a wall of showers that face a large cushioned seating area.

We chose the Adobe room which was originally the owner’s suite.

The air conditioning was a welcome relief from the 102 degree dry heat outside, and although the bathroom was small, it was clean and offered nice orange blossom toiletries. Besides a nice tub, a nice feature in the bathroom was the window that actually opened to allow air circulation. It would have been great to have some wall or door hooks for the towels, but otherwise everything was functional in the small space.

There was also a nice little kitchenette area with a small refrigerator with an ice compartment which had a filtered water pitcher we very much appreciated having in our room. Oranges were also in a bowl in our room and added a nice refreshing accent to the decor. Quality coffee was a welcome touch, along with a corkscrew and glasses.

Breakfast is included in the rates and served from 7am-11am in the courtyard. Coffees and teas are available in the lobby and once you get your hot beverage, you are served freshly squeezed orange juice and a meal made as soon as you are seated. We had Huevos Rancheros during our stay, and while the eggs were tasty, I can not say I the meal was good. Breakfast was made with obviously store bought beans topped with unmelted cheese and the eggs were not completely scrambled underneath the salsa topping.

It was a friendly, relaxing place with very personalized attention. We were served chocolate truffles and pieces of chocolate at our room as afternoon snacks, and when I brought back used pool towels to the reception area, I was told thank-you, but it is ok to leave them by the pool because they would be picked up from the chaises. The beds were very comfortable and there was absolutely no noise, so it is a perfect peaceful retreat for anyone seeking a small private inn experience without intrusions like televisions, phones, or room service (although they will order food delivered to you poolside for lunch or dinner). Wifi is free but was very weak, so don’t plan on being online during your stay. After all isn’t the point of a getaway to unplug?

I love Dine LA week in Los Angeles where special prix fixe menus are offered at local restaurants for a week or two every year. I also love good timing which made my trip to Palm Springs fall during Palm Springs Restaurant Week (which actually lasts 10 days). The Palm Springs version is relatively new, and because it is a smaller town, there are fewer participating restaurants, but the quality of the meals and participants means both locals and visitors can beat the heat with a cool deal on a meal.

Upon my arrival in the 100+ degree town, I immediately wanted a cool place to sit and a bite to eat, so I headed for Zini Cafe Med in the heart of downtown. They specialize in small bites of both hot and cold plates, but they also offer full meals of salads, sandwiches, crepes, and omelettes. The food is Italian Mediterranean, by a chef trained in Brussels, and this is the sister cafe to the restaurant down the street Zin American Bistro. Their restaurant week deal is $24 for a tapa, a full entree, dessert, and glass of wine, but I was not hungry enough to partake of the deal for lunch, so I chose to have a drink and a few tapas instead as I sat under the misters watching the few heat resistant people meandering on Palm Canyon Drive in 103F weather.

They have a plentiful selection of wines by the glass at great bargains, so I started with a Pinot Grigio ($6) and their Tuna Carpaccio, served with Citrus, Balsamic Pomegranate Drizzle, Spanish Olive Oil & Capers ($6). It was a wonderful way to start a meal with the perfect balance of protein, acidity and luscious olive oil.

I chose the Grilled Baby Octopus, Tomato Hummus Crostini, Sesame & Lemon ($5) as my second bite, and could have easily eaten two orders of these delicately grilled bites of flavor. There was just enough contrast of texture to make the tender baby octopus come to life on its bed of hummus.

Since my friend Cindy & I had dinner reservations that night, I did not venture further into the menu, but it was a perfect way to start off my stay. I will definitely keep this place in mind as a breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner place. This is a perfect location to sit and people watch as you sip some wine and eat some tapas on a warm Palm Springs evening.

Zini Cafe Med on Urbanspoon




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