Since our last survey of the valley's new restaurants, we have identified a fine new slate of dining venues to delight your senses. Here are our favorite restaurants that opened in 2011. BON APPÈTIT!
Birba brings a cosmopolitan vibe to Uptown Palm Springs late-night dining, with gourmet pizzas and exotic cocktails, such as the popular Heated Snake. Owners Marco Rossetti and wife/Executive Chef Tara Lazar, who also own the adjacent Cheeky’s, have a passion for quality, outof- the box, locally produced food and drinks. The menu features the Butcher’s Block of Fra’Mani salumi, San Daniele prosciutto, parmigiano, warm olives, and seasonal fruit; eggplant Bolognaise; braised and rotisserie meats; locally produced salads and woodfired pizzas; and chef-made desserts, such as hazelnut chocolate cake with thyme ice cream. Gluten-free options are also available. The menu uses the on-site citrus trees and garden-grown herbs. The ambiance is outdoor, comfortable, and fire lit, with tables or romantic banquettes always accompanied by lively locals and friends-to-be from across the globe. Open from 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, serving until midnight Friday and Saturday. Happy hour 5-6 p.m. and 9-11 p.m.
2 CAFÉ EUROPA PALM SPRINGS
This hip café/bistro in The Corridor with vistas of the San Jacinto Mountains is owned by Mike Stoltz, who divides his time between France and Palm Springs. His Mediterranean menu features nitrate-free meats, and most of the natural and organic produce is sourced locally. Breakfast scrambles and omelets contain farm-fresh, organic omega-3 eggs, with a wide choice of additions. Lunch specials include the Café Europa Salad, French onion soup, and grilled cheese Gruyère panini. Glutenfree dressing is available for leafy salads. The bar offers international beers, wines, specialty drinks, and Japanese soju mixed drinks. The After- Dark Tapas menu includes hot and cold tapas, soups, antipasti, sliders, and desserts. The ambiance is casual but upscale, with a front patio for people-watching and glass walls opening to the relaxing view of San Jacinto. The menu is affordably priced for both Americanand European-sized portions, and Stoltz personally tapes soothing background music. Open 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday and from 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
3 DICKIE O’NEAL’S IRISH PUB
Michael Farber, born in Ireland, invites you to “get your irish on!” at the authentic pub he oversees, creating a fun vibe to north Palm Springs. Tourists join locals for a family-friendly time. Dickie O’Neal’s offers traditional Irish dishes and much more. Farber works hands-on with Chef Refugio Gonzalez and servers, making sure his guests are happy. Specialties are Mum O’Neal’s Corned Beef Hash and Eggs with several sides; Grandma Rose’s Macaroni and Cheese, corn beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, crab cakes, chicken wings, brick-oven pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and “End of the Rainbow” desserts: Irish Volcano Molten Lava Cake and Milseog Desert Wontons. The casual atmosphere features hardwood floors, a dartboard, 12 TVs for sports fans, a digital jukebox, free Wi-Fi, nightly events, and live entertainment on holidays. A pet-friendly patio features a fire pit and view of Mt. San Jacinto. Open 7 a.m.-2 a.m. daily (breakfast all day).
4 LA BRASSERIE BISTRO & BAR
Executive Chef Emmanuel and Kara Janin opened La Brasserie Bistro & Bar in the spring, enjoying a successful summer with community support. They transformed an existing building in La Quinta into a distinctive French brasserie. Keeping the brass ceiling, dark wood pillars, and tile throughout, the Janins remodeled the dining rooms with beige tapestry on banquettes, sheer curtains, copper chandeliers, brass and copper accents, and dark wood tables with black napery for dinner. The popular patio is misted and heated. An extensive menu of meat, seafood, and chicken items with a French flair includes onion soup gratinée, baby leaf spinach salad, La Brasserie Tarte Flambée, steak tartare, Fillet du Perale Dover Sole Niçoise, and warm pear tart with almonds and salted caramel ice cream. Homemade honey from a family farm is used in menu items. The bar features international beers and wines, and there is soft jazz and contemporary entertainment on Friday and Saturday. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, happy hour 4-6 p.m.
5 LEGACY CHINESE CUISINE
Master Chef Chai Butrlakorn and his wife, Ally, opened Legacy Chinese Cuisine in Palm Desert to bring authentic dim sum to the desert in a com-panion restaurant to Legacy Thai Cuisine. Dim sum (“to touch your heart”) is an ancient culture of rare delicacies with the tastes of ginger and garlic that linger in your memory. Legacy’s madeto- order gourmet dishes come without the gourmet price. Chef Butrlakorn and Executive Chef Javier Coronado present specialties such as chili crab in season with steamed jasmine rice, whole catfish in Trio Sauce with fresh basil, roasted half duck bone-in with sweet plum sauce, stir-fried Szechuan eggplant, and fried banana with a trio of ice creams. Dim sum is served à la carte and includes mini spring rolls, shu mai, spare ribs, shrimp dumplings, pork buns, eggcustard tarts, mango pudding, and more. Imported and domestic wines and cold, unfiltered sake are served. A cozy ambiance with attractive lighting and an exhibition kitchen is inviting. A rear patio overlooks Highway 74. Open at 11 a.m. for lunch and dinner. Free local delivery after 5 p.m. (minimum order: $25).
Legacy Chinese Cuisine
73030 El Paseo Palm Desert, CA 92260
6 LULU CALIFORNIA BISTRO
The owners of Acqua Pazza at The River at Rancho Mirage, Jerry and Barbara Keller, thought Palm Springs should enjoy the same popular California cuisine. General Manager Willie Rhine oversees both eateries, and Executive Chef Arturo Casillas is making it happen. Lulu serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night dining, and Sunday brunch, inside or outside. Breakfast includes a variety of eggs Benedict, omelets, and French crêpes. Lunch and dinner includes lobster salad, salmon in parchment, paninis, pizzas, burgers, steaks, and a scandalous flourless triple chocolate cake. There is a full bar, and the wine list offers international and California selections. The restaurant was renovated in a midcentury mode and the interior designed with bright colors, heavy fabric draperies, and dramatic chandeliers from The Ritz-Carlton, wrapped in colored acrylic for a modern effect. Open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m.- 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
7 PIZZERIA VILLAGIO ITALIAN KITCHEN
This moderately priced, upscale family restaurant in Palm Desert is a place where Old World tradition meets New World freshness. The abundance of California agriculture offers opportunities to reinvent, and this is what General Manager Matt Christopher and Executive Chef Anthony Spinella are doing. Pizzeria Villagio serves a mixed menu of classic New York-style and California- Italian dishes, ranging from freshly made specialty pizzas, pastas, and salads to traditional favorites using Old World recipes. House specialties are calamari fritti; pan-fried mozzarella; eggplant or chicken Parmigiana; roasted salmon stuffed with red peppers, garlic and spinach; fettuccine Alfredo; and chicken Marsala, with many side choices. Desserts include New York cheesecake with chocolate syrup and a fresh strawberry and tiramisú. A full bar with handcrafted microbrews on tap add to your pleasure. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Happy hour 3-6 p.m.
8 RIO AZUL MEXICAN BAR & GRILL
Owner and Chef Ernesto Gastelum’s dream of owning a restaurant where he could introduce his original and distinctive interpretation of Mexican food has come true. His passion for his culture inspired him to create a menu containing many family recipes. He challenges your palate with exceptional tastes at his Palm Springs location. Some specialties are Abuelita’s Albondigas Soup, Tia Maria’s Green Corn Tamales, enchiladas ranchera, chimichanga, and carne asada burrito. Try huevos rancheros for breakfast and a tostada grande for lunch. The décor is colorful, with dark wood tables and chairs, cozy booths, and tile floors in the dining room and lounge. The fully stocked bar features imported and domestic beers, cocktails, and house wines. Try the house margarita and other specialty drinks, along with tacos, chips, and salsa. Breakfast and lunch 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, dinner from 5 p.m. daily. Happy hour 5-7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday.
Sense in Palm Desert is an exciting contemporary American restaurant with an innovative chef who dazzles with his ever-changing, eclectic menu. Owner/Chef Robert Douglas and co-owner Ben Nance are mindful of sustainable trends and use locally grown and organic ingredients from the farmers market. Sense has acquired a loyal clientele of an educated, hip, and in-tune-with-the-world crowd who love to experiment and enjoy a casually elegant buzz and fantastic food. It’s pricey, but worth it. Specialties include Chop Chop (bacon, tomato, onion, Dean’s feta, avocado, cucumber, basil, baby chard, and house vinaigrette). Sopa d Cruda (chipotle bisque, charred local corn, cheddar, and cilantro), and The Lord of the Rings, The Precious (short ribs, grilled onions, Jarlsberg, black garlic aioli, date walnut bread, and dressed greens). A seasonal wine list perfectly pairs with the menu. The crisp, sleek, black-andwhite ambiance with tasteful artwork and lively conversation set the tone. Open from 5 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday.
10 THREE SIXTY NORTH LOUNGE + RESTAURANT
A whole new restaurant has been created in the former Tormé’s location in downtown Palm Springs. The décor is reminiscent of ’50s and ’60s supper clubs, featuring live entertainment changing nightly. Customers clamor for the dinner and lounge menus devised by General Manager Morgan Santillanes and Executive Chef Sergio Paredes. Specialties include New York strip steak with a signature demi-glaze, fresh seasonal vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes, and a choice of toppings; ovenroasted rack of lamb with sweet chutney glaze; and shrimp scampi. A three-course prixfixe menu is available Tuesday and Wednesday from 4 to 10 p.m. The lounge menu features garlic and truffle oil flatbread served with pesto olive oil; panko-battered calamari strips with wasabi oil and chipotle mayonnaise; and burgers with cheese fries. Desserts to savor are New York cheesecake, topped with maple cranberry sauce and whipped cream; baked chocolate lava cake; and crème brûlée. Friendly, attentive service, a full bar, and an ample wine list of imported and California wines complement the food and the fun. Open 4 p.m.-midnight Tuesday-Sunday, serving dinner until 10 p.m. (11 p.m. Friday- Saturday). Happy hour 4-7 p.m.
11 THE VENUE SUSHI & SAKE LOUNGE
Owner Engin Onural is an executive sushi chef and sake sommelier presenting an outstanding menu of gourmet sushi and sashimi and accompaniments of soup, salads, soybeans, and desserts. Specialties at The Venue in Palm Desert include The Experiment Roll (snow crab, mango, avocado) and The Mediterranean Roll (spicy albacore, tempura asparagus, and avocado), both with unique toppings. Every roll is special, and Chef Onural considers this his art. He serves vegetarian and gluten-free dishes with finesse, but sushi is king and sake rules. As a youngster in Turkey, Onural envisioned owning a sushi restaurant. He earned his credentials in Los Angeles and posh desert resorts. Now, still young, he hosts a high-end, chic establishment on El Paseo drawing a clientele of sushi aficionados. The atmosphere is fun. The long granite sushi bar is a showpiece with a tempting array of freshly made sushi in progress. All tables are granite, and the décor is black, white, and red. Onural chats across the bar and excites diners when he uses a blowtorch to sear salmon. He considers his staff as hospitality ambassadors, ensuring top service. Moderate prices and the vibe lure you back. Open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
12 WOODY’S BURGERS
Woody’s burgers were voted Best of the Best by Palm Springs Life readers and KPSP Local 2 viewers, and a stream of repeat customers agree. Owner Wayne Woodliff came out of retirement with a novel idea and with his two sons, Johnny and Jimmy, created a gourmet burger and beer eatery in the former Greyhound bus station on Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. As you step in the door, you see a sleek counter with friendly servers to take your order for a menu of 100 percent Angus burgers, fries, hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken wings, salads, and sides made to order. Go into the back room and you find yourself in a candlelit bistro with a jukebox, pool table, and a stage filled every night with the best live rock, blues, jazz, and swing. Thursdays bring wine tastings from 6 to 8 p.m. Specialties include a blue cheese burger and Hawaiian jalapeño burger. Portobello, turkey, and veggie burgers also are available. For a lighter meal, try a slider version of any burger. Delicious sides include caramelized onions, sweet potato fries, and coleslaw. Open 11 a.m.-midnight daily.
Photography by Jon Edwards