Dining in the Desert Cities
Leah Walker June 20, 2012

I’m no foodie. I can’t detect the hint cardamom or cumin, but I know something good when I taste it. And in my recent trip to the Desert Cities in Southern California, I sampled countless scrumptious dishes.

Blessed with great timing, my trip to the Desert Cities coincided with Restaurant Week. Cities across the nation have this event throughout the year, sometimes twice a year, with most lasting longer than an actual week (Houston’s is three weeks). Mid-priced to upscale restaurants create a three to four course menu with options for each course. The price is fixed and often is a wonderful value. It’s a fantastic opportunity to try new restaurants or revisit favorites. The Desert Cities also host a pre-Restaurant Week event called “Uncorked” that pairs each course with an alcoholic drink. I was more than eager to sample what the desert was serving up.

Johannes

“Johannes Restaurant in Palm Springs features the cuisine of Austrian born Chef/Owner Johannes Bacher brilliantly prepared with a Global Twist. The cuisine is inventive, the decor inspired, the service exceptional, and the atmosphere is warm.” –Johannesrestaurants.com

My first night in Palm Springs, Mr. and Mrs. O and I ventured to downtown Palm Springs for dinner. I’d read great reviews about Johannes and was excited to try Austrian food and wine. The sleek and clean vibe of the space was a stark contrast to the vintage vibe that is Palm Springs. We quickly settled into a corner table for our four-course meal.

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First course:  Roasted sweetbread with asparagus tips and truffles, paired with a rose wine from Austria

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Second course:  Fish cakes with curry and braised English cucumber, paired with a white Austrian wine

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Third course:  Grilled marinated beef tenderloin, roasted potatoes, asparagus tips, junge karotten, shallot red wine reduction, field lettuce pesto, paired with a red Austrian wine

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Fourth course:  (Near) Apple raisin bread pudding, vanilla rum sauce (Far) Fruit and cheese plate, both paired with sparkling wine

Overall, Johannes was a wonderful dining experience; it was certainly worth the $85 fixed price. It was all tasty and the wines complimented the flavors in the foods. What did I most enjoy? The company of Mr. and Mrs. O, of course.

3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro

“The 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro is a restaurant revolution…Need a bottle of wine for dinner? Our wine shop offers a great selection from the world over. With over 800 wines to choose from, The 3rd Corner offers a wide selection of wines for every budget… Whether it’s a bite to eat or that perfect anniversary dinner, our menu offers a wide variety of delectable choices for the most discerning palate.” –The3rdCorner.com

The 3rd Corner wasn’t participating in restaurant week, but Mr. and Mrs. O sang its praises. I quickly learned while visiting the Desert Cities that the prized restaurant reservation time isn’t 8:00. No, it’s much earlier, which must be the result of its large retirement community. When we walked in shortly after 8, we practically had the place to ourselves. The waitress told us that things were crazy at 5. 🙂 This made me giggle.

Famished from a “hard” day at the spa and pool, Mr. and Mrs. O, Lola, and I were dying to eat. But what’s a meal without wine? We were in the right place. With over 800 varieties, it was hard to decide, but Mr. O found the perfect red. We each scoured the menu filled with pastas, seafood, flatbreads, and meats.

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Starter:  House salad with marinated tomatoes, olives, Parmesan, and basil vinaigrette

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Starter:  Flatbread pizza with heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and roasted garlic

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Main:  Shrimp arrabbiata with linguine, shrimp, bacon, tomato, garlic, capers, and chili flakes

The casual atmosphere of 3rd Corner was just we needed after a long, hot day in the sun. The food was fresh, simple, and hit the spot. Lola picked up a bottle of red for the road and we called it a night.

Roy’s

“Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion® Cuisine promises to make for one of the most unique fine dining experiences available. Nowhere else will you find Roy’s Classic Hawaiian Martini, Yamaguchi Sushi®, Misoyaki Butterfish and Chocolate Soufflé all at the same table. So escape to paradise, and experience the world’s finest cuisine deliciously wrapped in a Hawaiian state of mind.” –RoysRestaurant.com

Friday night’s dinner took us to Rancho Mirage and Roy’s. Normally when I have a special dinner in mind, I eschew chains. I was assured that this was no ordinary restaurant chain.

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The four of us entered into a lively scene and were escorted to our table swiftly. Our waiter, John, was entertaining and more than happy to let us have our fun, too. Cocktails were our first order of business. Considering it was still triple digits outside, we couldn’t get them fast enough. John delivered our cocktails and with them, the Restaurant Week menu.

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First course:  Tempura crusted spicy ahi roll with dynamite sauce and grilled Szechuan spiced pork ribs smoked & glazed in Roy’s original Mongolian sauce

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Second course: Roy’s roasted macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi and Maine lobster essence

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Second course:  Ginger onion grilled Hawaiian opah, roasted sweet potatoes, and chili tomato beurre blanc

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Third Course: Roy’s melting hot chocolate soufflé with raspberry coulis and vanilla bean ice cream and macadamia nut and banana bread pudding

Pacifica Seafood Restaurant

“Seafood is our passion. Pacifica Seafood Restaurant features the freshest seafood in the desert. Our innovative dining menu showcases a variety of fresh seafood and flavorful steak dishes, complemented by our International Vodka Menu and award-winning wine list. Pacifica Seafood Restaurant is just minutes from Palm Springs, near shopping and resorts, in the heart of Palm Desert, California.” –PacificaSeafoodRestaurant.com

Our final night in the Desert Cities was spent in the El Paseo district of Palm Desert. Known for it’s fabulous shopping, El Paseo also has some of the best restaurants in town, too. With the sun going down, we were escorted to the balcony of Pacifica. Although it was still hot, misters helped keep us cool and comfortable.

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Mr. O took the liberty of ordering the wine while we drooled over the delicious-looking Restaurant Week menu. Seafood dominated, of course, but meat options were also available.

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First Course: Dungeness crab and shrimp pot stickers with spicy peanut sauce, sweet and sour cucumber, and daikon radish

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Second course:  (Far) Nori wrapped sea bass tempura with flat noodles, lemon grass broth, stir fried veggies, and Thai cucumber salad

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Second course:  (Near) Grilled flank steak with mushroom spinach stuffing, broccolini, shallot confit mash, and veal demi

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Third course:  (Far) Adult milk and cookies (Near) Blackberry peach crisp with vanilla bean ice cream

Pacifica was the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. I never would have thought that the desert would be such a great food destination, but I was pleasantly surprised. And by stumbling upon Restaurant Week, we were able to get great food for a tremendous value. Add that to the good wine and great friends and a fantastic time was had by all.

Leah Walker

Leah’s a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that’s in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah’s thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don’t extend to speaking French. Yet.

37 Comments

    1. Oh, Jody, I know. I just ate oatmeal and it was disgusting. I tried to imagine it as something else. That didn’t work.

  1. I am delighted that you liked the places we went to. When we first went to the Desert Cities, we were so surprised with the options available, I can’t tell you! And this was just a little taste. It is now almost 4pm, and I am starving – the photos are great 🙂 And I miss you ladies, can’t believe it has been 3 weeks!!

    1. I’ll just have to go back next year to try out more places. Of course, #iamsimon will have to be my sommelier. I can’t believe it’s been three weeks. It seems like a lifetime!

  2. Wow, this is food porn all the way! Johannes sounds really good – especially cool to pair some of their food with less-known Austrian wines (I greatly enjoyed sampling Austrian wines in Vienna). That hot chocolate soufflé is calling my name. Great list of dining options!

    1. Thanks, Raul. I’d never tried Austrian food or wine, so that added to the experience. I found it similar to German food but not quite as heavy.

    1. Hello?!? The title should be the disclaimer. Did you think it was going to be Arby’s roast beef sandwiches? LOL!

    1. See? I have no clue about flavors. If it’s not basil, mint, or rosemary, I can’t place it. I know you’re a big foodie. I love your Food Friday posts. I gain weight just looking at them.

  3. I, too, am deeply intrigued by seafood restaurants in the desert! I can tell you, though, that right now I’d kill for the “Dungeness crab and shrimp pot stickers with spicy peanut sauce, sweet and sour cucumber, and daikon radish” from Pacifica. All of your photos and descriptions are wonderful. Incredible detail!

    1. The adult milk and cookies belonged to Lola, but I got a little sample. It was a milkshake with some liquor in it. I can’t remember what kind though.

  4. You know that food + Palm Springs is a touchy subject for me… So let me just say that I wish I had gone to the places you wrote about instead of the one that landed me in hospital.

    That bread pudding looks delicious.

    1. Oh, I wish you’d not eaten at that place as well. I guess I should have gotten the name of it before I went. Oh well, I managed to get out alive and no worse for the wear. Everything was phenomenal.

  5. So…much…foodporn…saliva gland malfunctioning….seriously, I don’t even know where to start with this.

    OK, that’s a lie, with the flank steak, but after that…the flatbread and the tenderloin.

    Served with a side of chocolate souffle.

    1. That sounds like a great combination, Tom. I think I’d sub one of the bread puddings for the souffle though. Although, you can never go wrong with chocolate.

  6. My folks have a vacation condo in Palm Desert, so I’ve been there many times. Some fantastic places to eat…Roy’s is a favorite. Did you do any other activities while you were there? For example, the aerial tram? The airplane museum or perhaps the Living Desert? Lots of fun stuff, and in the winter you can’t beat the weather. Here’s a video I did at the Living Desert if you’re interested: http://www.mikesroadtrip.com/the-living-desert/

    1. Very cool, Mike. I did do the aerial tram and loved it. It was the perfect escape from the summer’s heat. I’d not heard of the Living Desert, but will check out your video. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Yeah, that tram is so cool! It’s amazing how different the climate is up there. I went in the winter months and there was a ton of snow. If you get back to the area, you have to check out the “Living Desert,” it’s part zoo, part botanical garden. Neat place.

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