With more than 120 golf courses, country clubs, and resorts, Palm Springs—along with its adjoining Coachella Valley neighbors: Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Indian Wells—offers a quick and easy getaway for Bay Area residents who want a respite from our cold foggy summer.
Old and new Hollywood love the desert climate and glamorous atmosphere. Restaurants are much less crowded in the summer months and more accessible than during the busy peak winter season. It’s easy to go on the spur of the moment, thanks to daily direct flights next time the summer mist rolls in.
Located at 701 West Baristo Road in old Palm Springs is the very popular Spencer’s Restaurant. It’s nestled at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains next to the original Palm Springs Tennis Club. The main dining room is very elegant, with linen-covered round tables, dark wood chairs, and a grand piano. The place to see and be seen, however, is the outdoor courtyard, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served year-round thanks to the perfect weather. Oak trees provide comfortable shading and—when it’s very hot—patio misting provides natural cooling.
The kitchen is headed by executive chef Eric Wadlund, who has worked at many esteemed restaurants, including Azur by Le Bernardin, The Occidental (situated next to the White House), The Rattlesnake, and Terra Cotta. The menu is an eclectic mix of classic American fare, using exceptionally sourced ingredients. There is a daily changing three-course pre-fixe menu for lunch but, if you’re ordering à la carte, consider the beefsteak tomato tartare (shallot, tarragon, capers, ricotta cheese, parmesan crouton, olive oil) or the unusual lobster pot stickers (with a ginger mint jalapeño vinaigrette and chili aioli). Open daily for breakfast, 8 a.m. to 11a.m.; lunch from 11a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Palm Springs without a doubt has some of the most meticulously manicured golf courses and private clubs in the world. To access most of these you need to be a member or an invited guest of a member. The Indian Wells Golf Resort is no exception—except that they also have a clubhouse and restaurant (IW Club) that is one of the few open to the public. It is housed on the 36-hole golf course at 44-500 Indian Wells Lane. The building itself is a spectacular multi-story complex with two large balconies for al fresco dining with views of the greens. Executive chef Chris Olson has crafted a seasonal and constantly changing menu. He makes all of his stocks, soups, sauces, jams, preserves, desserts, and pasta in-house. To up the ante, and in preparation for rolling out a more diverse and sophisticated fall menu, he recently brought on chef de cuisine Cale Falk (Surf and Sand Resort in Laguna Beach and Casa Laguna Inn).
What to order? The Mediterranean octopus with micro greens, a blood orange reduction with a hint of chili oil, and baby white beans is glorious in its clean flavors. The Spanish piquillo pepper stuffed with golden raisins, goat cheese, and honey with balsamic caviar is rich and fun in its flavors and texture. More traditional items are all excellently prepared. Two top favorites are the green chili pork tostada (black beans, shaved lettuce, tomato, olives, sour cream, queso fresco, arbol salsa) and the sesame ahi burger (baby spinach, sweet & sour onions, sriracha aioli, brioche bun, IW chips). Open daily for lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Located at 73-405 El Paseo (the “Rodeo Drive” of Palm Desert) is the recently opened Mastro’s Steakhouse. Though there is no shortage of steakhouses in this desert valley, Mastro’s is one of the most elegant and refined. It has a bustling and very happening bar scene with live music nightly. The steaks are exceptional and expertly prepared. Open Sunday through Thursday for dinner, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. The lounge and bar are open daily from 4 p.m. until 12 a.m.
Also located on El Paseo, at 73061, is the Daily Grill. Opened in 1994, it is now a Palm Desert institution. Serving classic American fare in a comfortable and clubby atmosphere, the Daily Grill is the place to go for locals, celebrities, and visitors, alike. The food is well prepared with very friendly service. Count on the best burgers and fries you’ve had in a long time. Open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
James Stolich’s CookWithJames.com provides regional Italian and Spanish dishes for all occasions. He has been featured in UrbanDaddy.com, AgencySpy.com, and Jenn Garbee’s intriguing book, Secret Suppers, about rogue chefs and their little known culinary lives.