The Upper Eats Side

A once desolate food desert has blossomed

Raoul Hausmann Restaurants 0 Comments

 

Just over 20 years ago, a friend loaned me her house in Old Las Palmas for the winter. It was amazing to have unlimited solitude in which to write during the day and the space to cook elaborate meals for myself at night.

Bliss lasted 17 days. The lack of external stimuli began to wear me down. I didn’t need much, just a few chattering voices at adjoining tables while I munched my way through a cassoulet. And so, one evening I strolled down Via Lola to North Palm Canyon to see what I could find.

 

Photo by John Paschal

Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs

 

There wasn’t much. Sorrentino’s and Denny’s. And all I’ll say about the latter is that they’re still serving the Grand Slam breakfast, an instance where constancy is not comforting. Sorrentino’s was a beloved institution that had replaced a legendary joint called The Doll House. The food wasn’t exactly bad, but let’s just say the Steak Sinatra no longer sang.

Still, I loved the booths, and the atmosphere was always convivial. Like Hollywood’s Musso & Frank, it wasn’t a place you went strictly for the food.I tried to expand my radius, but without success. When a Las Palmas neighbor suggested we go out for sushi one night, I considered having him charged with attempted murder. I tried to console myself with forays to Jensen’s where I would stock up on delicacies for the grill. It wasn’t any use.  I missed the bustle of a good cafe. I even missed waiters telling me their names.

On a recent fall evening, I set out down Via Lola to see what I could find in 2015.

 

photo by neil husvar

Grown Up Grilled Cheese from Trio Restaurant in Palm Springs.

 

What a difference a couple of decades make.

My wife and I began our tour with an Ernest Gantt Original 1934 Zombie at Bootlegger Tiki. Two Zombies would have ended our Uptown tour. As many know, the team responsible for the adjacent Ernest Coffee (named after Ernest Gantt — founder of Don the Beachcomber, a restaurant that once stood on the site) created this wonderfully dark and romantic cave of a bar. I’d be tempted to make it a second home if bar booths were sold like condos.

A short stumble away, we visited Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge, the new addition to Uptown dining by John Paschal and Willie Rhine. The extraordinary décor is like French Empire meets A Clockwork Orange. The fantastic onyx bar is a magnet for thirsty travelers like us who’d trekked so far afoot. Luckily, we were rewarded with a ginger peach spritzer, a Kentucky Tiki, and an appetizer of Southern Fried Bacon, about which I can only say four words: Must. Have. More. Soon.

 

photo by neil husvar

Duck Fat Fries and a Sidecar at Workshop Kitchen + Bar.

 

Hands down, Trio would have been my go-to eatery back in the ghost town days. Tony Marchese, the warm and easygoing owner, is always a delight to see, and Dominic, sometimes our server, always remembers our names. On one particular restaurant-crawl evening, my wife went for the chile relleno appetizer while I changed my mind five times and then, as usual, got the wedge salad and the addictive Trio Mac and 5 Cheese. They should have a special program at the Betty Ford Center for it.

A friend of mine in Los Angeles regularly dines at Jar and The Grill, so it’s not surprising that when he visits here, we always go to Copley’s. It’s sophisticated, understated, and elegant. The steak is perfect; the duck breast is sublime. I could eat their Hawaiian Ahi Tacos every day of my life. The same friend and I will sometimes work up a pre-lunch appetite flipping a Frisbee around as we walk the west-side neighborhoods. Moments before starvation, we duck into Jake’s for a Monte Cubano or sausage Reuben sandwich. We have to do quite a bit more Frisbee-tossing to work off those bites.

Though my wife and I love nothing better in Uptown than to dine alfresco at Birba on the ricotta gnocchi and mandili pesto with haricots and potatoes, sharing a bottle of Barbera d’Asti, we left Trio with a ponderous gait and knew we only had one stop left in us. Despite much love and appreciation for Cheeky’s (for brunch), El Mirasol, John’s, and Dish, we chose to end our evening at the restaurant that for us epitomizes just how far Uptown dining has come since Bob Hope hosted his ’96 Chrysler Classic VIP dinner at Mary Sorrentino’s.

Yeah, Workshop Kitchen + Bar’s décor is gorgeous and spare and hip and perfectly lit. Yeah, their Sidecar is the best version I’ve had since I was ejected from The Peninsula bar in New York, and, yeah, the polenta with fennel, the pizzas, U-10 scallops, and Korobuta pork loin and belly are all scrumptious. But there’s one thing that tops all of them: the fries. In duck fat. We had an order in lieu of dessert.

Incredibly, as we turned back on Via Lola to waddle the last few yards home, we weren’t remotely tempted by the Grand Slam breakfast. It’s nice to know that some things will never change.

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