A Palm Springs Restaurant Week Culinary Extravaganza
May 31 through June 16 might just be the hottest time to be in Palm Springs, but it has little to do with the climate and all to do with the 83 restaurants, 11 attractions, eight spas, and 12 hotels offering locals and travelers incredible deals to explore their menus and venues for Palm Springs Restaurant Week. Besides discounted rates at hotels, spas, and local attractions, restaurants offer delicious three-course, prix fixe meals for either $26 or $38. Most also serve their regular menu or à la carte items for diners who prefer, however, the savvy restaurant explorer would find it difficult to pass up a three-course meal, usually consisting of an appetizer, a main course, and dessert, for such a reasonable price.
Our host, the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, gave me the option to choose which restaurants I wanted to try. Having been to most of the larger, high-end chain restaurants I elected to dine at two local and one small chain restaurant during my brief 18-hour, overnight stay in the greater Palm Springs area.
On the first day, we had dinner at Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage. Donald W. Callender created Babe’s in 2002. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Mr. Callender’s family created, owned, and operated the Marie Callender’s chain of restaurants. Babe’s, however, was Don’s passion, and he worked there often until his death in 2009. At Babe’s, the mission is to consistently provide excellent barbecue and comfort food. The manager, Walker Langford, teared up when he described Don’s “culinary baby” and how important it was for him (Walker) to carry on Don’s legacy. That commitment shows in the staff as well, particularly with our server Fernando.
For Restaurant Week, diners can choose from an iceberg wedge salad, sweet baby green salad, N’awlins barbeque shrimp on creole pilaf, or applewood bacon-wrapped local dates stuffed with Maytag blue cheese. Main entrees include a choice of baby back ribs, short ribs, NY steak, salmon, or tri tip, and dessert options were fresh apple crisp, crème brûlée, or house sorbet. As a food writer, I got to sample almost everything on the Restaurant Week menu—and even a few items from the regular menu as well.
This restaurant did not disappoint. Not only were the portions HUGE, but every dish from the sauce to the sides was homemade. My favorite dish was the 18-hour beef short rib. Huge, tender pieces of meat with a tangy glaze covered a mountain of fresh mashed potatoes and lightly sautéed green beans. Babe’s website lists the many awards the restaurant has won, including best barbeque restaurant, best outdoor dining, and best cocktail. I can’t wait to return to the area to get more of those insanely delicious short ribs.
On our second day, we had lunch at Tommy Bahamas Restaurant & Bar. Although there are approximately 15 compounds—also known as retail stores with restaurants—I had never been to one and was excited to try the island-style contemporary dining experience. For Restaurant Week, we were able to choose between chicken tortilla soup, crab bisque, bungalow salad, or coconut shrimp to start. We ordered the crab bisque first, which was divine; the sherry and cream complimented the rich crab stock and lumps of blue crab. We were next served the restaurant’s famous coconut shrimps, which knocked my socks off! The crispy coconut around tender prawn sat bathing in papaya-mango chutney and was served with a delicious, light Asian slaw. Our wonderful server Jenessa described how the shrimp is dipped in coconut flour and coconut milk before taking its final dunk in the freshly toasted coconut shavings and fried.
We shared the Blackberry Bramble and Hibiscus Key Lime fresh market cocktails while the chef prepared Parmesan-crusted Sanibel chicken, grilled baby back pork ribs (yes, I had them twice in 18 hours), filet mignon, and macadamia nut-encrusted snapper. All of the dishes were delicious, but the snapper, made with Hawaiian red sea salt, wasabi soy butter, almond rice, and asparagus, rose above the rest. The crisp macadamia crust with the tender snapper paired perfectly with the (very lightly flavored) wasabi soy butter. And the almond rice was divine! We ended the meal with the key lime pie, the crust of which was one of only two items (including the crown rolls served at the beginning of the meal) not made from scratch. But, one would never know, and it was so delicious. This meal was such a value at only $38 for the appetizer, choice of main dish, and dessert.
We enjoyed our last meal during our stay in the Coachella Valley at Johannes Restaurant. Owner Johannes Bacher channels his Austrian roots with a contemporary flair at this twelve-year-old gem in downtown Palm Springs. When you walk into this restaurant you will be amazed at how modern yet soothing the décor is. The restaurant was recently remodeled by the chef’s brother, and the stunning blond wood, stainless steel accents, warm colors, eclectic art, and even the strategically placed Granny Smith apple centering each table all invite the diner into another culinary world, one that many restaurants only dream of venturing into.
Our meal at Johannes was first-class. For both my husband and me, all courses arrived and were cleared by separate servers at the same time. New, appropriate cutlery was gently place tabletop prior to each course arriving. The server checked on us frequently, and our water glasses remained filled for the entire meal. We enjoyed and reveled in the fine European dining and service experience we had at Johannes.
The Restaurant Week menu offers guests many delicious selections of fresh starters, mains, and desserts, however, given our short trip, we wanted to try a more traditional flight of dishes. This included the wild mushroom soup with tarragon crème fraîche and white truffle oil; escargot baked with garlic, breadcrumbs, and green herb butter; cheese spätzle; Wiener Schnitzel with roasted parsley potatoes, cranberries, lemon, and cucumbers in a dill sour cream dressing and topped with a caper and lemon sauce; and seared kangaroo.
It is difficult to choose one dish over the next because they all were so delicious, but what stood out for me was the quality of the ingredients—most fresh, many organic—with real tastes and textures. The delicate blend of mushrooms in the soup, the green herb butter with tender snails, the juicy pounded veal of the Wiener Schnitzel, the herbs and garbanzo beans in the spread for the fresh bread at the beginning of the meal, and the mix of the fresh dill and sour cream with the cucumbers all reminded me how important fresh local ingredients are to a high-end establishment such as Johannes. And, of course, the apple strudel was the best I have ever had. For $38, the Restaurant Week meal was a steal! But I would go back and pay much more for such a fine meal, especially those traditional Austrian favorites such as spätzle and Schnitzel.
To tie Restaurant Week up in a bow, we stayed at Spanish Colonial-inspired Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa, which has 444 guest rooms and 22 deluxe suites. The French doors of our hotel room opened to a private balcony tandem to a green garden with citrus trees. We felt pampered sleeping on the premium mattress, draped in a plush down comforter, custom duvet, and cotton-rich linens. Along with spa-quality bathroom essentials (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and soap), our guest room was equipped with dual-line phones, data ports, high-speed Internet (included with the stay), television with cable, in-room coffee and tea service, a mini-bar and fridge, a safe, newspaper delivery, and a hair dryer. Not to mention we also had access to three pools, Splashtopia (a water park on the premises), ballrooms, a conference center, four dining areas, four shops, a spa, a salon, and three golf courses.
The mani/pedi I received from Dennice with a Watermelon Basil Vodkatini was absolute heaven! Dennice massaged a strawberry sugar scrub into my arms and legs that reminded me of the fresh strawberry fields of Oxnard in the summer. This time of the year, when it is so hot outside in Palm Springs, the resort offers premium deals for traveling families including breakfast, lunch, and dinner packages for $32 to $39 per meal for a family of four and access to Splashtopia at no additional charge. Of course, Restaurant Week is a perfect time to test-drive the resorts and spas to find the one perfect for you. For those of you living in the desert, try a stay-cation and let them make your bed and do the towels!
I just loved my 18 hours in the greater Palm Springs area. I am convinced Restaurant Week is a great time to try out all those restaurants on your to-do list. It is a super value and a chance to sample the best of what great restaurants in the area have to offer. Plus, spas, resorts, and attractions are available at rock bottom pricing during these two weeks as well. What’s not to love!