It’s an unusually cool evening in Palm Springs because its newest restaurant, Roly China Fusion, is throwing a thank you party for the Facebook group Palm Springs Eats.
If you are not one of the nearly 6,000 members, Palm Spring Eats consists of foodies, home cooks, bakers and semi-pros/pros who share photos of their creations, recipes, restaurant meals and more. Admins Colin Sowa (an adventurous home cook) and Vic Yepello (a cook and master bread maker), started the page in 2012 as an offshoot of the Palm Springs Neighborhood group. They were focused on healthy cooking, but eventually the format evolved into what it is today.
Over the summer, they were lamenting over the sudden closure of Alebrije Restaurant on the north end of Palm Canyon. Many had gift certificates, and figured they were stuck with them. That’s when James Beard Foundation member and 20-year veteran chef Chad Gardner (owner of 533 Viet Fusion and catering company, Dash and a Handful) dropped in on the conversation. He was opening Roly China Fusion in the space, and get this: he offered those with Alebrije gift cards the opportunity to use them at Roly.
“They've been very supportive of me over the years," Gardner explains. "So, the first people to see the restaurant, the first public, will be Palm Springs Eats.”
The invite was extended to the first 200 people to sign up (capacity is 150). Gardner, chef DJ Cheek (formerly of TAO Los Angeles, TAO Las Vegas, and Joy at Fantasy Springs), and chef Yolanda Cheek, an experienced dim sum chef (and chef DJ's wife), cooked up savory bites from their dim sum menu enhanced by wine and specialty cocktails.
The full menu is a mix of dim sum, classic American-Chinese fare (kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork, beef and broccoli), and some Thai, Hong Kong, and Szechuan dishes, which is where the fusion comes in. The proteins are beef, chicken, a large choice of seafood, and a healthy selection of vegetarian dishes.
A large and open space, Gardner’s team has done a great job making it elegant and comfortable. Soft, blue velvet chairs with pulls on the back are at the tables, and yellow banquettes fill the space in the middle, an unusual location, but it works. There’s a wall straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, uneven bricks that look like if you push one a secret room might appear. It doesn’t — the secret room is in the back.
Chef DJ Cheek whips up items for the restaurant's dim sum menu.
Soft, blue velvet chairs with pulls on the back are at the tables, and yellow banquettes fill the space in the middle.
Just like ordering omakase (meaning let the chef decide) at Japanese sushi bars, Roly China Fusion's chef’s table is at the pleasure of the chef. Let me describe that adventure for you:
Roly strives to accommodate all diners’ allergies and sensitivities. The day before the dinner, guests are emailed to ask if we had any food allergies or dislikes. One of our fellow diners had a gluten sensitivity so her menu was a bit different, but (she is a sharer) just as delicious.
The chef's table has velvet curtains on every wall except the wine room.
Situated between the wine room and the kitchen, the chef’s table has velvet curtains on every wall except the wine room. A long table-clothed, banquet-style table that comfortably seats 12 is the centerpiece, and those comfy blue chairs surround it. After everyone was cocktailed and seated, the curtains were drawn back to reveal our own window into the bustling kitchen.
Our first course was a dim sum assortment with shrimp dumplings, pork pot stickers, and kung pao bao. The flavors were excellent. Our gluten free diner received popcorn shrimp, which was shared and was pretty fantastic. Wine: Rombauer sauvignon blanc.
Our second course, oh my stars, I can’t say enough good things about the lobster dumpling with shitake mushrooms in truffle butter sauce. If I had to pick one word, it would be exquisite. Save yourself the embarrassment of drinking from the bowl and use the spoon you forgot they provided. (The gluten free dish was short ribs.)
Course three was a palate cleanser of chili chao mozzarella salad; course four was crispy coconut shrimp, which was another crowd pleaser. Wine: Etre Chardonnay.
Our fifth course, wagyu beef, was served raw with a hot rock for diners to cook their own. It was served with a tangy asian barbeque sauce, and a ginger yuzu sauce. Wine: Hitching Post pinot noir (from the movie Sideways).
The wine is really kicking in now, and my menu says I am going to experience kimchee with lobster, but they sneak in another mind-boggling dish of deliciousness: miso glazed sea bass with bok choy. While they're usually negative about miso and cilantro, my tastebuds inform me miso is more than palatable in this dish.
Our last course, before our mochi ice cream, was the promised kimchee fried rice with lobster. For those who are not kimchee fans, this dish might just change your mind.
Most of the dishes served at the chef’s table are on the regular menu, so you can drop in for dinner, or for their dim sum happy hour and give them a try. They also have a dim sum brunch on the weekends.
Yolanda Cheek is an experienced dim sum chef.
The name comes from Gardner’s husband, Rolando Carvajal Paz, “...but we call him Roly,” Gardner tells us. “The design and aesthetic of the restaurant is about him because he's very colorful, but very deep. I was telling my designer, Dan (Dan Dan Noodles on the menu are homage to him), every time you make a design choice, just think of Roly; make it whimsical, just like him."
Roly is very proud of his namesake restaurant, so when you go, say hello. He’s the guy with the crown, carrying a big stick, and always wearing a smile.
Chad Gardner with husband Rolando Carvajal Paz, also know as Roly.
Roly China Fusion
Asian influenced and Chinese comfort food with a dim sum happy hour, delicious proteins with an emphasis on seafood. Great atmosphere with some outdoor seating for those perfect Palm Springs days and nights.
Where: 1107 Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, 760-548-0041. rolychinafusion.com
Hours: 11 a.m to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays until midnight, and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays, Happy Hour: 3-6 p.m. with dim sum and small plates.
Parking: Street parking during the week (not hard to find) and valet on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays.
Recommended Dishes: Lobster dumpling, Dan Dan Noodles (named after their contractor), and coconut shrimp.