Just past the sparkling pool of the newly renovated La Serena Villas in Palm Springs, the French-doored dining room of Azúcar summons with the promise of a relaxing, sumptuous meal.
The dining establishment opens to include a few poolside tables when temperatures turn moderate. Moorish mirrors, floral-papered walls, and graphic saw-toothed tiles combine with Frida Kahlo prints and luxurious white-leather barrel-back chairs to transport patrons from hip Palm Springs to costal Spain.
The hotel serves guests breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, but Azúcar is only open to the public Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for dinner. With only 38 seats, plus a few at the bar, you will want to make your reservations early.
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Chef Garret Van de Water uses words like “humility, passion, commitment, and trust” to describe both his cooking and his life. After working his way around Southern California and the Coachella Valley — including jobs at Montage Laguna Beach, The Riviera Palm Springs, and Miramonte Indian Wells Resort & Spa — this 27-year-old has developed a reputation for serving tapas with a California twist.
Humility is a perfect approach to Van der Water’s lemony hummus plate; with purple carrots, marinated olives, and lots of pita, the kitchen lets the ingredients humbly speak for themselves. This is a perfect choice for snacking by the pool, for enjoying with a cocktail in the stunningly beautiful upstairs lounge, or to begin any meal.
PHOTO BY CHARLES DRABKIN
Chef Garret Van de Water has developed a reputation for serving tapas with a California twist at Azúcar.
Ceviche of shrimp, scallops, and red onion is tart and briny. With just enough serrano chili so you know it’s there, but not too much to overwhelm, this dish cools you down in the heat of summer or warms up the passion on a balmy winter evening.
If you are going for dinner, order an assortment of small plates and salads. Start with the ahi bruschetta: crispy toast points with seared tuna, avocado, balsamic reduction, and delicate micro sea-beans.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LA SERENA VILLAS
With only 38 seats, plus a few at the bar, you will want to make your reservations early.
It will remind you of a vacation you took to the Amalfi coast, even if you’ve never been. Sea-beans, a plant that grows underwater in marshy, salty environments really speaks to Van der Water’s commitment to ingredients. “By using unusual foods, I can create memories,” he says about why these little salt bombs appear on the menu. “I love satisfying people with my cooking and I am lucky that people trust me to bring flavorful food to the table.”
The crispy cumin-infused falafel salad over tzatziki-dressed arugula and sheep’s milk feta is another prime example of his flavor-packed plates — pair it with a glass of rosé or share it as part of a meal with friends. Such varied ingredients compel patrons to place their trust in Van der Water’s culinary vision, and I can tell you this dish, like the others, will not disappoint.
At Azúcar, locals and visitors alike are sure to enjoy a relaxing evening of delightful food, combined with a friendly staff that creates memories bound to last. No ticket to Spain required.
Azúcar at La Serena Villas, 339 S. Belardo Road, Palm Springs. 760-832-8044; laserenavillas.com/azucar-restaurant-and-bar