A bright new wave of eateries of all kinds have opened in the 12 months since we last surveyed the desert’s restaurant scene. Here are the best based on cuisine, service, vibe , and value.
75200 Classic Club Blvd., Palm Desert, CA 92211
Located in the Classic Club, with views of the Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and Little Chocolate Mountains, Bellatrix offers lunch and dinner in an elegant, comfortable environment with friendly and knowledgeable servers.
Executive Chef Gregg Monette was trained in France and honed his skills in New York and Pebble Beach. He has collaborated with many of the world’s finest chefs, including Roy Yamaguchi, to fine-tune his contemporary world menu. He combines only the freshest ingredients, allowing the flavors to harmonize naturally. Specialties include a starter of ahi poki (pickled ginger and cucumber salad with wasabi tobiko caviar) and USDA Primegrade, barrel-cut filet mignon with grilled jumbo shrimp over spinach, peas, asparagus, lump crab, and lemon-butter risotto. For simplicity, try the Bellatrix Burger with crisp garlic fries.
The extensive wine list offers California vintages and boutique wines, many sold by the glass. The attractive wood-paneled bar offers an appetizing menu, and the adjacent lounge invites with its fireplace and views.
2249 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
A popular addition to Uptown Palm Springs, The Blue Pear serves fresh Tex-Mex for lunch and dinner. Four hands-on owners ensure you enjoy yourself. Executive Chef Russ Olden, known locally for his catering, serves up the specialties: grilled shrimp tacos on warm homemade blue corn tortillas with borracho pinto or black beans and ranchero red rice (served with all specials of the house), grilled or slow-roasted beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp, and the ample Blue Pear House Salad that can serve as an entrée. Soups, salads, and desserts are varied and delicious. The fine Mexican and traditional Texan specialties, plus the vegetarian menu, make for a well-rounded and palate-pleasing adventure.
The indoor and outdoor bars boast The Blue Pear Margarita, among others, plus a pool table. The adjacent Pool House, a six-room inn with crisp blackand- white modern décor and matching cabanas, surrounds a swimming pool — already a popular setting for weddings. The moderately priced menu, with no item over $10 — plus the fun and friendly atmosphere — encourage repeat visits.
35943 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City, CA 92234
Caterer Bonnie Barkley and her husband, Tom, found a kitchen to prepare orders for their clients’ events and suitable for dining. Bonnie had a vision for an American bistro and many recipes in mind. She and Executive Chef Herb Parrott created a menu of American favorites with cosmopolitan flare. Parrott hails from Cincinnati and worked at Viceroy Palm Springs. Specialties include appetizers such as crab Napoleon, (lump crabmeat and avocado salad served with crostini and drizzled with chile oil) and smoked trout with watercress and apple salad with crème fraiche horseradish dressing. A house specialty is onion soup fondue. Salads to whet your appetite include Cello Salata, plus Caesar, a wedge, and shrimp Louie. The signature entrée is chicken caprese. Italian treats include eggplant cannelloni and cioppino. Also consider the steak, liver and onions, pork, ribs, and the fresh catch of the day with chef specials. Entrées range from $18 to $30.
The dining room seats 18 and the patio 31. It offers jazz on Mondays, and the artwork throughout depicts lemons (a huge bowl of lemons sits on the full bar). Tom loves to make limoncello from locally grown lemons. It became so popular that he was named Tommy Cello (hence Cello’s). The “it” factor here is the friendly ambiance.
Renaissance Palm Springs
888 Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262
1-760-322-6000 or 1-800-228-9290
Named to reflect the Coachella Valley’s rich date industry, which traces to the 1920s, Date Restaurant unfolds in the remodeled Renaissance Palm Springs (formerly Wyndham Hotel). Classically designed, the warm, inviting restaurant offers an eclectic, contemporary Californian menu, created by Executive Chef Juan Leon, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Campus.
Leon — who was sous chef at Bistro Gardens in Studio City and for the Patino Group, assisting noted Chef Joachim Splichal — brings his passion for modern American and Californian cuisines. Specialties include blue crab cakes with broccoli slaw and citrus aioli; Cajon-seared sea bass with shiitake risotto and spinach with chardonnay, saffron, and fennel sauce; and Coachella Valley date cheesecake. The menu is divided into Small Taste, Big Bowl, Bigger Bite, and Dessert categories. Entrées range from $7 to $23, and the wine list is extensive.
The lavish Rocks bar and lounge is perfect for pre- or after-dinner cocktails and features entertainment. The open-air design with floor-toceiling windows faces the pool, patio, and fireplace.
Escena Golf Club
1100 Clubhouse View Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
1-760-778-2737, ext. 111
Located at Escena Golf Club, the midcentury modern-designed Escena Grill captures the essence of Palm Springs with views of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains and Jack Nicklausdesigned golf course. Several elements celebrate this lifestyle, including abstract martini glasses and spun-steel swizzle sticks.
Executive Chef Oscar Ayola and Food & Beverage Director Elise Arouh collaborated on an American menu with ethnic touches. Ayola brings his expertise in North and South American cuisines and Arouh blends a substantial menu with complementary wines. Dishes include buildyour- own omelets and huevos rancheros for breakfast; Meyers Ranch burger on a brioche bun, and Escena Club Sandwich (turkey, applewood-smoked bacon, and avocdo on sourdough) for lunch; and Dover sole, filet mignon, and prime rib (Saturday night only) for dinner. For dessert, try the Chocolate Wipeout Cake. The wine list includes French Champagne. Dinner entrées range from $17 to $24, and Sunday brunch costs $17. The full bar is popular before and after dinner. The Grill hosts many private events in the meeting room and restaurant and on the patio.
Point Happy Center
78430 Highway 111, La Quinta, CA 92253
“Three Worlds, One Flame” is the credo of longtime restaurateurs Gloria and Morris Salem, whose restaurant takes you on a global tour, featuring a Japanese hibachi grill; Brazilian barbecue (churrascaria); and Mix, an American bar and grill. With three cuisines under one roof and moderate prices for all, you can pick a restaurant one night and return for another adventure the next night.
Executive Chef Carlos Alzaga oversees all three concepts, each with its own décor and vibe. Colorful gauchos serve the Brazilian menu, carving rotisserie-roasted meats at your table. This room also features a large antipasto and salad bar.
The dramatic hibachi chef prepares your meal in front of a mural of Mount Fuji. Featured are filet mignon, chicken, salmon, shrimp, and vegetarian choices. All dinners include appetizer, soup, vegetables, rice, and dessert. Sushi is also available.
Relax inside or outside at Mix, which serves a panini special of the day, plus fries and platters with a smoked salmon appetizer, Caesar salad, and vegetable. The full bar encourages a festive atmosphere with entertainment Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Fantasy Springs Resort Casino
84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio, CA 92203
Executive Chef Freddy Rieger presents Asian cuisine in an elegant setting at the former Players Steakhouse at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.
Having catered to international tourists while working on a luxury cruise line, Chef Dayu Zhang, from the Jillin province of China, possesses a passion for cooking in many styles. As executive chef of a vegetarian restaurant in his hometown, he developed 200 ways to cook tofu and bean curd and learned Korean techniques that distinguish his dishes.
The menu includes dim sum; clay pot entrées; noodles; congee (rice porridge); barbecued and roasted duck, pork, chicken, and kalbi Korean beef short ribs; seafood; and desserts. Specialties are honey-glazed walnut prawns, tangerine beef, and snowflake tofu, featuring recipes from Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, and other Asian locales. Most entrées range from $11 to $34. Maine lobster Cantonese-style and Peking duck for two are $47 and $45, respectively. Deluxe sake and Soju (a Korean version of vodka) augment the wine list.
The soothing décor features dim lighting, dark wood, and upholstered booths.
Marketplace Shopping Center
78152 Varner Road, Palm Desert, CA 92211
Aimed at baby boomers, Ed Kelleher’s sports- and music-themed restaurant features a gallery of photographs and artwork of legendary musicians and sports stars.
The décor is sleek, with dark cherry-wood stools around the L-shaped bar and pub-height tables nearby. A half-wall topped with opaque etched glass divides the bar and dining area, with its cozy booths. An exhibition kitchen produces eclectic items unexpected in this casual setting, where all seats have a view of large-screen TVs.
Executive Chef Alen Batzak — a native of Dubrovnik, Croatia, who is ranked with noted celebrity chefs — developed the upscale fare. The continental fusion menu includes dishes with Mediterranean flavors from his Baltic homeland. Specialties include grilled scallops topped with a white truffle sauce; mostaccioli Greco (pasta with shrimp, fresh spinach, tomato, and feta cheese in a garlic-wine sauce); Black Angus rib-eye steak; and crème brûlée.
You can also have a burger or sliders and bountiful salads and soups. Entrées range from $12.95 to $24.95.
The wine list is impressive, and the bar features domestic, imported, and draft beer.
73101 Highway 111, Palm Desert, CA 92262
This retail wine shop/California bistro took over the former Palomino restaurant space in Palm Desert. Owner Ed Moore operates two other locations (San Diego and Encinitas).
Executive Chef Matt Smith, who attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and trained at Michelin three-star restaurants in France and Spain, created the menu. Moore also attended Le Cordon Bleu; and he and Smith present intriguing choices for lunch, dinner, and late-night dining to 1 a.m. (except Monday).
The menu includes an artisan cheese plate with demi baguette, poached pear and duck confit salad, flatbread pizzas, and entrées separated into Small Stuff (i.e., paté sampler and smoked salmon plate) and larger entrées, such as pan-roasted trout, wild mushroom pasta, and short ribs, chicken, pork chop, and New York steak with port demi-glace. The chocolate chip bread pudding is not like momma’s! Entrée prices range from $11 to $22, and a three-course Sunday dinner paired with three wines costs only $25.
The wine shop features about 1,000 bottles that guests can purchase and enjoy at their table for a $5 corkage fee. Wine dinners with special menus are held often.
360 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
This tribute to Mel Tormé fulfills a dream of his daughter, Melissa, and her husband, developer and restaurateur Ed Wald, and sons Steve March- Tormé and James, who entertain frequently, along with local and national stars. The décor, designed by Melissa, is modern, slick, and welcoming.
Executive Chef Vince Guccione — known for his morning appearances on KPSP Channel 2 and as a country club chef and private chef to celebrities — created a contemporary American cuisine infused with international choices. The menu includes tuna poke, Asian spicy chicken salad, and penne Bolognese, plus the finest steaks, lamb, chicken, pork, seafood, pasta, and thin-crust gourmet pizza. Dishes use only the freshest ingredients (the chef includes herbs from his own garden). Entrée prices range from $13 to $34. An extensive wine list complements the menu.
Seating in the main dining room allows for dancing, as does the intimate jazz bar. The vibe from the bar is electric, and The Velvet Fog martini pays tribute to Tormé. Large photographs of the late singer and fellow performers evoke fond memories.