Agua Caliente Casino Resorts

Sweet Springtime

When warmer days begin to become the norm again, seasonal indulgences at
 Agua Caliente Casino Resorts cool things down.

Lizbeth Scordo Current Digital, Restaurants

Agua Caliente Casino Resorts
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NEIL HUSVAR/FOOD STYLING BY KATE ANDERSON AND RIANN STONE

We all have our go-to orders at our favorite restaurants — an entrée, dessert, or drink we keep coming back for again and again … and again … and while we’re all for tried-and-true standouts, sometimes you want to mix things up a little.

At Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs and Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage, one way to do just that is to try something seasonal created with local ingredients ripe for the picking. At both locations of the fine dining restaurant The Steakhouse, the menus get a refresh four times a year to reflect the season’s best. “I look forward to the changing of the seasons because I get a new crop of fruits, vegetables, even proteins that people associate with that time of year,” says Spa Resort Casino Executive Chef Kieran Fleming. “Here in the desert we have access to so many different types of local produce. We’re lucky. While taste is paramount, looks matter, too. The colors of spring and summer really do brighten up the plates.”

Seasonal ingredients also shine on the creative cocktail menus at both properties. “We rotate our drinks and create monthly cocktail specials based on what guests are asking for,” says Spa Resort Casino Beverage Manager Brandon Rood. “The ones that get the most traction, we’ll keep for the season.”

The bartenders rely on mounds of mint in the summer, for example. Since it’s easy to grow, area farms end up with a bounty of it in warm-weather months. It’s also a sturdy herb, Rood explains, so it doesn’t easily wilt and can stand up to lots of different drinks.

It’s front and center in one of the season’s most craveworthy cocktails — a mojito, the authentic Cuban drink made with rum, sugar, and soda water, served over ice. “It’s light and refreshing, and that’s the route we go with most of our drinks since it’s hot here so much of the year,” he says.

To help you cool off when the temps rise, we’ve rounded up a few of the super fresh seasonal ingredients the bars and restaurants are ready to transform into the ultimate spring and summer indulgences.

Squash Blossoms

If you have never tried a squash blossom, you’re not alone. The gold-and-orange edible flowers of certain squash plants are often used in Italian and Mexican cooking but rarely seen on menus in these parts. “It’s a short growing season for them locally, and they don’t last long because they wilt very quickly,” says Fleming, who, in late spring, adds Stuffed Squash Blossoms to the menu. He often fills them with goat cheese spiked with pancetta. Then the blossoms are coated in a tempura batter before a quick dip in the deep fryer and, finally, a drizzle of local Killer Bee honey, making for a sweet-and-salty starter. “The sweetness of the honey works really well with the tartness of goat cheese and the saltiness of the pancetta. They’re not available for very long, but guests love them.”

Agua Caliente Cocktails

Summer Cocktails

Lemon Drop Martini

2 ounces vodka

1 ounce triple sec
splash of sweet and sour
splash of lemon juice
splash of sprite

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a sugar-coated martini glass.

moscow mule

1  ounce vodka

½ ounce fresh lime juice
splash of sweet and sour ginger beer

Squeeze lime juice into a Moscow Mule mug. Add ice and then the vodka and splash of sweet and sour. Top off with ginger beer.

mojito

3 ounces light rum

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons sugar
splash of club soda
fresh mint leaves
lime slices for garnish

Combine the rum, fresh mint, lime juice, and sugar in a cocktail shaker. Shake well and pour over ice. Top off with club soda.

garden bramble

3 blackberries and a teaspoon of sugar muddled in a bucket glass

ounces gin

1 ounce fresh lemon juice
soda water
Sprite
fresh thyme for garnish

Rub the rim of a martini glass with the thyme. Combine muddled blackberries, gin, and lemon juice and shake over ice. Strain into the glass and top with soda water and Sprite.

Cucumber Basil Cooler

½ ounce gin

½ ounce vodka

½ ounce St-Germain liquor splash of sweet and sour
Sprite
bay leaves for garnish
sliced cucumber for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the bay leaves. Add gin, vodka, St-Germain, and a splash of sweet and sour. Stir. Top off with Sprite. Serve over ice and garnish with cucumber slice and fresh basil leaves.

Summer Berries

Chef Fleming sources blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries from around Southern California to make The Steakhouse’s classic Berry Cobbler. For the East Coast native, who spent summers in upstate New York, berries bring back a bushel of memories.

“That berry cobbler just reminds me of summer — that freshness, that sweetness,” he says. “As a kid, we would pick berries, and my grandmother would make jams and pies, and that’s what I associate it with. It’s just summer on a plate.”

Berries

He and his team also churn out a Strawberry Sorbet at the Oasis Buffet each summer. Since water-based sorbets contain less fat than ice cream or gelato, they’re the perfect light dessert to top off a meal when the thermometer soars past 100 degrees. Chef’s tip: Get your strawberries at one of the valley’s many farmers markets, where vendors usually let you taste before you buy. “You want the berries to be pretty firm and almost entirely red,” Fleming shares. “If there’s too much green, it means it was picked before it was completely ripe.”

At the Spa’s main bar on the casino floor, bartenders concoct an array of specialty drinks with a berry twist including the Garden Bramble, mixed with gin, fresh lemon, cane sugar, blackberries, and fragrant thyme and garnished with a skewer of seasonal berries. “It’s a great way to showcase what we source locally, and the thyme balances out the fruit,” Rood says.

Summer Citrus

“To me, key limes have a mellower flavor and not so strong of a bite. They lend well to The Steakhouse’s key lime pie,” Fleming says. The tradeoff? A lot of squeezing. Yes, they’re juicy, but since they’re small, the kitchen goes through tons of them a week. (Though the end result is well worth the effort!) Fleming compares the pie filling’s consistency to the creaminess of a crème brulee, surrounded by a homemade graham-cracker crust and topped with a fresh vanilla whipped cream and a little lime zest for a vibrant pop of green. Rather than a traditional large pie cut into slices, the kitchen whips up miniature individual versions to amp up the wow factor. “Everyone gets their own, and they just look gorgeous,” says the chef.

Key Lime Pie

All of the bars at both properties take full advantage of citrus season as well, using the juice of conventional limes in cocktails like a traditional Moscow Mule, stirred with vodka and ginger beer. “It’s really popular, and it’s one of those drinks that our bartenders will often recommend if someone’s not sure what they want,” Rood says. “If you like vodka, you’ll probably love it.”

A Lemon Drop Martini is also a hot — or rather, cool — drink come spring and summer. Bartenders shake fresh lemon juice with vodka and a touch of simple syrup and strain it into an ice-cold martini glass with a sugar rim for the perfect, slightly sweet sophisticated summer cocktail.

This story originally appeared in MeYah Whae, The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Springs/Summer 2019. To read the current digital edition, click HERE.