Spencer’s Restaurant – Palm Springs, California

Spencer’s Restaurant in Palm Springs

Dean Beck: What do you have against preachers?
Clay Spencer: It’s what they preach against I’m against.
Dean Beck: I’m afraid I don’t understand?
Clay Spencer: They’re against everything I’m for.
They don’t allow drinkin’ or smokin’, card playin’, pool shootin’, dancin’, cussin’ –
or huggin’, kissin’ and lovin’. And mister, I’m for all of them things.
~Spencer’s Mountain

In the family-centric 1963 movie Spencer’s Mountain, hard-drinkin’, hard-lovin’ Clay Spencer (brilliantly portrayed by Henry Fonda) dreamed of building his wife Olivia (the stunning Maureen O’Hara) a beautiful home on a piece of land he inherited on Spencer’s Mountain.  My dream was a bit less ambitious.  My dream was to take my Kim to Spencer’s Restaurant at the Mountain, “one of the all-time great restaurants in the city” according to The Infatuation, an online recommendation service.  To be named an “all-time great” bespeaks of Spencer’s longevity and to the sustained love the Palm Springs dining public has for this treasure set in the historic Palm Springs Tennis Club area at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains just a few blocks west of downtown Palm Springs.

The dog-friendly patio in which The Dude held court

Named after the owner’s dog (an award-winning 110-pound Siberian husky), it stands to reason that Spencer’s would be dog-friendly and indeed it is.  In Palm Springs, our “dog-friendly” experience has come to mean friendly diners making a fuss over our debonair dachshund The Dude.  He could probably run for mayor and win (it would help that he’s almost the same height as Sonny Bono, a former Palm Springs mayor).  No candidate would ever kiss as many babies (or adults) or garner as much bipartisan support (plus, his honesty is refreshingly impeccable).  Two patios–one enclosed by glass but no roof–provide an outdoorsy feel with towering ficus and fig trees providing shade and natural beauty.  Even without our Dude, there’d be no better place to dine at Spencer’s.

Though categorized as a fine-dining restaurant, Spencer’s is synonymous with stylish elegance and comfortable informality, self-described as “Featuring Four Star American Cuisine with a French – Pacific Rim Influence in a Casually Elegant Atmosphere.”  Locals have recognized Spencer’s for having Palm Springs’ Best Sunday Brunch, Best Outdoor Dining, Best Power Lunch, Best Wine List, Best Chef, Best Caterer and Most Romantic.  They’ll tell you “Spencer’s is Palm Springs’ “it” place for any occasion.”  On an average week, Spencer’s draws more than 2,000 guests.

Spencer’s Hot Appetizer Sampler

Lest, I be remiss, Spencer’s serves the very best cup of coffee we’ve ever had at a restaurant, a fragrant blend of pure indulgence and sinful pleasure.  Brewed by Douwe Egberts out of the Netherlands, it’s a combination of strong Robusta beans and aromatic Arabica beans which come together in a symphony of flavor that swaddles you in a cloud of aromatic delight.  Two carafes weren’t nearly enough.  Though Douwe Egberts is available online, we were apprised that Spencer’s has a special (translation: expensive) brewing machine which makes the perfect cup every time.

With  appetizers ranging in price from $12 to $32, Spencer’s Hot Appetizer Sampler is practically a steal–three appetizers for thirty dollars (as of the date of our visit).  We’re not talking about bottom-shelf stuff, here.  This is a winning troika: Chinese Style Kung Pao Calamari tossed with a cilantro sweet and spicy chili sauce, Sauteed Crab Cakes (Maryland blue crab meat with heirloom tomato, lemon butter sauce, capers and tiny greens) and Coconut Shrimp.  Never have we had calamari as tender and fresh.  It was wholly devoid of the rubbery quality some calamari has.  Only one thing was wrong with the sauteed crab cakes and that was that there were only two of them.  Only in Corrales at the home of Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, will you find crab cakes this good.  The coconut shrimp was a bit on the unremarkable side, but the same could be said about virtually all coconut shrimp.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Long-time readers of Gil’s Thrilling…are probably tired of my ad-nauseum whining about the scarcity of life-altering risotto, the type of risotto which elicited a carnal response from one of George Costanza’s girlfriends.  Most risotto is passable at best, but more often than not, it’s as boring as an Al Gore speech.  Spencer’s gluten-free wild mushroom risotto (Aborio rice with sautéed wild mushrooms and Parmesan cheese) with grilled shrimp is the best risotto we’ve ever had that didn’t include lobster or some other ocean-based protein.  When prepared well, risotto has a rich, creamy and slightly chewy texture, with each individual grain of arborio rice standing out clearly and having a hint of a bite, rather than being soft or mushy.  Perhaps because preparing risotto can be a complicated process requiring painstaking monitoring, not many restaurants prepare it well.  Spencer’s version is terrific!

For me, “any other white meat” is preferable to a steak.  That’s especially true of pork chops.  Deciding whether to order Spencer’s honey-brined center-cut pork chops or the wild mushroom risotto was a delicious dilemma.  Fortunately, my Kim preempted me by ordering the pork chops which meant that with sufficient pleading, she’d share a bite or six.  Considering she declared this one “the best pork chop I’ve ever had,” she was surprisingly generous in sharing an inch-thick chopped sitting on a pool of red wine demi-grace and topped with a pineapple-mango chutney all served with  mashed potatoes and asparagus.  Where to begin?  The pork chop was moist, tender and devoid of sinew and fat.   I would gladly shampoo my hair in the red wine demi-glace just so its aromas would linger.  The pineapple-mango chutney prevented me from just grabbing the chop by its “handle” and devouring it like a troglodyte (or Philadelphia Eagle).

Honey Brine Center Cut Pork Chop

Spencer’s Restaurant on the mountain certainly earns its billing as an all-time great restaurant.  From an experiential standpoint as well as a culinary revelation, it’s a restaurant we’ll long remember and one to which we hope to return.

Spencer’s Restaurant
701 West Baristo Road
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-3446
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Chinese Style Kung Pao Calamari, Sautéed Crab Cakes, Coconut Shrimp, Wild Mushroom Risotto, Honey Brine Center Cut Pork Chop

Spencer's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheeky’s – Palm Springs, California

Cheeky’s, the most popular breakfast restaurant in Palm Springs

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is widely credited with the aphorism “England and the United States are two nations divided by a common language.”  My Kim and I had no idea just how different the Queen’s English is from the English spoken by the colonists until we were assigned to Royal Air Force Fairford.  As part of the newcomers orientation, we were required to attend a course in which those vast differences were explained.  Many of those differences were rather comedic, but we were warned, “if Yanks aren’t careful, we could perpetuate the dreaded “ugly American” stereotype widely held in some parts of Europe.”

We learned, for example, that if an American serviceman walks up to an English lady and introduces himself with “Hi, I’m Randy,” he’s likely to get slapped in the face.  Randy has an entirely different connotation in England where it means “frisky.”  Similarly, we were instructed that if we were to hear an English citizen declare “I’m going to suck on a fag,” we shouldn’t take offense or feign being shocked.  It actually means he or she is going to smoke a cigarette.   For us, the term “shag” described a cheesy carpet found in the back of a van.  In England, shag is a verb which (as Austin Powers later taught us) meant “to  have sex with someone you don’t know.

Our server shows off his “cheeky” shirt

As we discovered over time, a one-hour course isn’t going to cover everything.  For example, a  friend of mine coaching a youth soccer team once told the English mother of a promising player “your son has a lot of spunk,” a statement she found extremely offensive.  My friend couldn’t understand her agitation until someone explained that in England “spunk” actually means er, uh…you’d better look it up.  I experienced a more harmless misinterpretation after asking a grocer where I could find napkins (for wiping hands and face) and was directed to the feminine products aisle.

Two of the terms we found perplexing (until we figured them out–long before Michael Myers introduced the terms on Saturday Night Live) were “cheeky” and “cheeky monkey.”  Cheeky means “disrespectful in speech or behavior” and a “cheeky monkey” is someone who acts in a way which shows they don’t take a situation seriously; they’re monkeying around.”  We had thought cheeky was an adjective to describe the posterior (derriere, buttocks or booty, if you prefer) and wondered why mothers would refer to their children as “cheeky monkeys.”

A flight of bacon

When restaurant impresario Tara Lazar was asked why she would name her uptown Palm Springs restaurant “Cheeky’s,” she replied “obviously, because I’m a smart-ass.”  That irreverence is only one of the reasons Cheeky’s is widely considered the very best restaurant for brunch in the Palm Springs area.  It’s reflected in an avant-garde menu so unlike the menu at other area restaurants which have held on to the past seemingly because to do otherwise would be to tarnish the era of Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and other denizens of the desert.  It’s even reflected on the shirts in which wait staff are attired–shirts which depict monkeys monkeying around, doing what monkeys do.

Cheeky’s has a no reservations policy.  It’s strictly first-come, first-served.  Place your name on a list and wait.  For fifty-minutes in our case.  We generally don’t want more than ten minutes, but any restaurant for which hungry patrons queue up in uncharacteristically cold sixty-eight degree weather at nine in the morning, bears exploring.  Our debonair dachshund The Dude didn’t mind.  He held court for his many admirers, some of whom had come even further than we had to partake of this unique brunch restaurant.  Others were locals who regaled us with their gushing tales of Cheeky’s unbelievable brunch entrees.

Duck Confit Hash

Cheeky’s is open from Wednesday through Monday and only from 8AM to 2PM, serving breakfast all day and lunch after 11:30AM.  The menu is changed weekly which might mean if you fall in love with a dish, it may not be available the next time you visit.  The breakfast menu is a bit irreverent, too.  Departures from the conventional aren’t wholesale (no deep fried chicken feet parmigiana, for example (thank you, “8”)), but you will find many of the “usual suspects” aren’t prepared the way you’re used to having them.  Buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, for example.

One “must have” item according to the coterie of Colorado travelers we befriended on line was the flight of bacon.  It’s similar to a “beer flight” in which a number of small beer glasses are presented to cerevisaphiles, each holding a different beer.  A flight of bacon is worthy of an Erica Jong novel as it would cure any fear of bacon you might have.  Our flight–five strips of beauteous bacon–consisted of Beeler Apple Cinnamon (Rachael Ray’s favorite), Eggnog (it was Christmas season, after all), Buttered Rum (ditto), Jalapeño (with a pronounced bite) and Nodines smoked (from Connecticut).  All were quite good, but for our money, the honey-chile glazed bacon from Albuquerque’s Gold Street Caffe remains the undisputed, undefeated champion bacon of the world.

Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Our server’s most enthusiastic recommendation was for Cheeky’s duck confit hash with white Tillamook Cheddar, mushrooms, potatoes and two poached eggs.  The duck confit (cooking the meat at low temperature in its own fat) alone made this hash different.  What made it special was the mellifluous melding of ingredients.  This wasn’t a thrown-together jumble of stuff.  It was a contrived attempt to put together several items that go well together, very much reminiscent of French preparation.  Success!  This was easily the best hash dish we’ve ever experienced though the little devil over my right shoulder persisted “if only it had a bit of green chile.”

My Kim isn’t always as willing to take as wide a departure from her favorites as her mad scientist of a husband.  There’s no way, I thought, she won’t send back scrambled eggs that aren’t crispy on the bottom–despite the menu forewarning of “custard” scrambled eggs.  Custard scrambled eggs are much more “creamy” and soft than conventional scrambled eggs.  To the uninitiated they may even appear underdone.  Call these eggs decadent, absolutely delicious and addictive with cheesy notes reminiscent of Southern cheese grits.  The custard cheesy scrambled eggs are served with maple sausage (or three slices of bacon) and Deb’s cheddar scone.  The scone is magnificent–light and flaky yet substantial and beckoning for the housemade strawberry jam.

Buttermilk and Fresh Corn Pancakes

Though we both ordered an entree, there was no way we could pass up sharing the buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, the type of savory and sweet entree we love.  On reflection, we agreed the combination is a natural.  Corn may be a vegetable, but it’s got glorious sweet notes that should marry well with pancakes and the Vermont maple syrup on our table.  The corn didn’t make just a perfunctory appearance on the pancakes.  It was plentiful and it complemented the syrupy, buttery buttermilk pancakes very well.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver would love these pancakes, easily some of the best we’ve ever had. 

England and the United States are indeed two nations divided by a common language, but Cheeky’s is a great unifier, bringing together breakfast and lunch items together in a spectacular manner.  Cheeky’s is a wonderfully irreverent restaurant.

Cheeky’s
622 North Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-7595
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Buttermilk and Fresh Corn Pancakes, Duck Confit Hash, Flight of Bacon, Custard Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Cheeky's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery – Palm Springs, California

Sherman’s Delicatessen and Bakery, a Palm Springs Mainstay

Not everyone appreciated my friend Bob’s stark honesty as much as I did.  For nearly twelve years, Bob was my most trusted source for information on the Santa Fe dining scene.  He was also a huge advocate for my writing, even when his reaction to one of my particularly “long way around” missives was “what?.”  From a style perspective, he was a “get to the point” guy while your humble blogger sometimes (okay, okay, always) takes a circuitous, raconteur’s route to get somewhere.   Bob often chided me for not liking cumin on New Mexican food, once telling me “when you fault a place for cumin it immediately moves up on my list of places to try.”  Perhaps because of the scarcity of just-off-the-boat seafood in our landlocked state, he frequented Pappadeaux which I told him for my tastes should be renamed “pappa don’t.”  For years I tried getting Bob to submit comments to the blog (“to elevate the dialogue” I pleaded), but he preferred our one-on-one conversations.

Our differences of opinion extended far beyond restaurants.  A former executive at Universal Studios, Bob couldn’t understand my high regard for the irreverent comedy Blazing Saddles.  His tastes were far more artistic and less sophomoric.  We didn’t always agree on which candidates for political office were the lesser evils, but concurred that the lesser of two evils is still evil.  One thing upon which we always agreed was the dearth of real New York style delis in the Land of Enchantment.  It’s a subject about which we commiserated frequently.  Having lived in both Los Angeles and New York, Bob missed the piled high pastrami and behemoth brisket sandwiches offered by delis at both conurbations.   When we last broke bread together (he finally talked me into joining him at Pappadeaux), he confided his desire to escape Santa Fe’s winters and move to Palm Springs which he told me had a number of authentic delis, the type of which he loved and knew I would, too.  

The Perpetually Busy Main Dining Room

My friend Bob made it to Palm Springs six months before I did.  He passed away in June, 2017.  When we stepped into Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, I told my Kim “Bob is here and he’s happy that we’re here, too.”  I missed my friend and wished we were enjoying the pastrami together…although it’s a given we would have disagreed on something, perhaps whether or not caraway seeds have a place on rye bread (I’ll take the pro to his con).  Despite our differences of opinion, Bob and I were both, in his words, “your mileage may vary” guys.  We liked and respected one another so much that our differences just made for more interesting conversation.  

It’s unlikely we’d get much conversation in at Sherman’s. For one thing, it’s a very loud, very crowded restaurant. Both the interior dining room and outdoor, dog-friendly patio are rather on the noisy side. Besides, who wants to talk much when you’ve got a mountainous meal in front of you?  Were I able to get a word in, I would probably have mentioned that a framed photograph of him should have been hanging on the walls beside the numerous glitterati (Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Barry Manilow, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rita Hayworth, Red Skelton, Marilyn Monroe and countless other celebrities) who have frequented Sherman’s. His retort would probably have been to remind me that his role wasn’t “star,” but “star-maker.”

Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef

Sherman’s is an old-fashioned kosher-style Jewish deli to which savvy patrons pilgrimage from all over the world.  Sherman Harris launched his eponymous restaurant in 1963 when Palm Springs was the playground for Hollywood icons.  Harris himself became a Palm Springs institution for his restaurant and philanthropic endeavors, earning a star on Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars on Palm Canyon Drive.  Today, Sherman’s is owned and operated by his children Sam Harris and Janet Harris who have carried on the famous Sherman’s legacy of great food and great customer service.  While Bob, an old friend, was the first to tell me about Sherman’s several years ago, confirmation on its greatness came from Loren Silver, big brother to my friend Sr. Plata.  Loren raved about the freshly baked breads and breakfasts.

When Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri roared into Palm Desert in his signature red hot Camaro for a taping of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (the episode first aired on May 12, 2017), one of his three area destinations was Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, albeit not the original, but a satellite just a few miles from the flagship.  In an episode entitled “Turkey, Taters and Dogs,” “Triple D” showcased Sherman’s turkey pastrami and latkes (more on these treasures below).  Fieri raved about Sherman’s delicious rye bread, up to 100 loaves a day baked  in-house.  He also helped prepare the turkey pastrami, a two day process (24 hours of brining followed by 24 hours wrapped up in spices, followed by it’s final destination: the smoker).

Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey with Cole Slaw and 1000 Island Dressing

Having been privileged to serve as a judge for the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souperbowl (the next event will be held on Saturday, January 27th, 2018  from 11 am to 2 pm.) on eight occasions, I’ve enjoyed some of the very best soups prepared and served by many of the Duke City area’s very best restaurateurs.  One soup never served to our esteemed panel has been sweet and sour cabbage with beef, a Jewish staple for generations.  It’s long been one of my favorite soups though I didn’t have a bubbie to prepare it for me.  Sherman’s sublime version is served hot and in plentiful portions.  Shards of beef, tender white cabbage, pearlescent onions and endless delicious define this elixir about which Sherman’s says “this outstanding soup is one that has made our reputation what it is today.”

Another soup not yet featured at the Souperbowl is an old-fashioned matzo ball soup, often considered the quintessential Jewish comfort food.  Made with chicken stock and matzo balls, a type of dumpling made by mixing chicken fat, matzo meal, water, and spices to taste, it’s a popular choice for Passover, but some of us like it all year-long.  Sherman’s matzo ball soup is served in a swimming pool-sized bowl and arrives at your table steaming hot.  It’s a soup so good you’d order it on one of Palm Springs’ many sweltering summer days.

Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye

You might think there’s a shortage of beef across the Land of Enchantment considering the parsimonious portions of meats with which New Mexico’s restaurants adorn their sandwiches.  Clara Beller’s “where’s the beef” lament should be the battle cry of diners who have got to feel cheated by meats folded over so as to give the appearance of more meat.  A typical sandwich at Sherman’s has several times more meat than most sandwiches in Albuquerque.  The #17 (corned beef, pastrami and turkey with cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing on buttery, grilled light rye), for example, is a skyscraper-sized behemoth with perhaps as much as three-quarters of a pound of each of the three meats.  It’s really three sandwiches in one.  Understandably, my favorite was the pastrami which is sliced thin and brined beautifully with caramelized edges. 

My Kim’s choice, another wonderful sandwich was constructed with pastrami and corned beef with cole slaw on grilled rye bread.  Sans turkey, this sandwich better showcased the sweet tanginess of the cole slaw, a moist, creamy version.  It also gave us the opportunity to better appreciate the light rye with the caraway seeds my friend Becky Mercuri appreciates on New York rye.  Sherman’s rye comes unadorned, but you have your choice of mustard–either Beaver brand deli mustard or honey mustard.  Both are terrific.  Because Sherman’s sandwiches are so large, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to open your mouth wide enough to enjoy them as you would other sandwiches.  These are best enjoyed with knife and fork or deconstructed.  That pastrami is heavenly…where my friend Bob is now enjoying his.

Latka with Sour Cream and Applesauce

If the term “latka” conjures images of the television sitcom character Latka Gravas, you need to visit an authentic Jewish kosher-style deli…and soon!  Latka (more commonly spelled “latke”), traditional Jewish potato pancakes often served during Hanukkah, are a specialty of Sherman’s (which graciously shows how they’re made on this video).  Sherman’s latkas are the very best we’ve ever had!  Served with apple sauce and sour cream, the latkas are absolutely addictive, so good you won’t want to share them.  They’re crispy (almost caramelized) on the outside and fluffy and light on the inside.  Sherman’s thinks so highly of their latka that they offer a specialty sandwich in which a generous serving of Corned Beef or Pastrami is made into a sandwich with two homemade potato latkes in place of bread.  We had our latka on the side, but could easily see the appeal of latkes in place of bread.

My Kim jokes that my favorite part of “adultery” (her wordplay for adulthood) is not having to wait until after a meal to have dessert.  Indeed, it’s not uncommon for me to have dessert before enjoying any savory fare.  The temptation to do so was certainly rife at Sherman’s which has one of the most alluring dessert cases we’ve ever seen with slabs of beauteously frosted cakes, pulchritudinous pies, craveable cookies and sumptuous specialty items such as bobka, cannoli, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls and Boston Cream pie (which I blame for my “freshman fifteen” after having lived in the Boston area for two years right out of high school).  Sherman’s rendition is as good as many decadent cake slices I enjoyed in Boston.  Layered with custard and topped with chocolate ganache, the Boston cream pie is as moist and tender as any in the Bay State.

Boston Cream Pie

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery is an old-fashioned kosher-style deli, the type of which my friend Bob and I would wander in the desert for forty years to visit.  It’s an outstanding deli and bakery.

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery
401 East Tahquitz Canyon Way
Palm Springs, California
(760) 325-1199
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Corned Beef, Pastrami, and Turkey Sandwich; Corned Beef, Pastrami & Swiss on Light Rye; Latka; Homemade Sweet & Sour Cabbage With Beef; Boston Cream Pie

Sherman's Deli & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lulu California Bistro – Palm Springs, California

Lulu California Bistro in Palm Springs, California

How many times have you heard a transplant to the Land of Enchantment say it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without snow?  Some of you expats dream of a white Christmas, just like the ones you used to know back when you lived in Siberia, the North Pole, Greenland and other similarly snowed-in states that aren’t as beautifully balmy in winter as is New Mexico.   It’s not enough for you that winter temperatures across the Land of Enchantment occasionally drop into the forties and you sometimes have to wear long pants outdoors.  You hardy, masochistic northerners are accustomed to mountains of snow being one of the defining elements of the Christmas season.  You want to wash your hands, your face and hair with snow, snow, snow

In the immortal words of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, “I say thee nay!”  Any more than the one- or two-inches it takes for the city of Albuquerque to declare a “snow day” is too much snow.  Who needs it!  My dear friend Becky Mercuri who lives just south of Buffalo in the lake-effect-snow-belt traumatizes me with reports of storms dumping two- to three-feet of snow at a time.  The Buffalo area averages some 94-inches of snow a year.  That’s 94 glorious snow days (no work or school) for those of us in Albuquerque, but for Becky it means digging herself out from under snow drifts taller than she is in temperatures twenty degrees colder than her freezer.

Site of our 2017 Christmas dinner

The more geriatrically advanced my Kim and I get, the more our blood thins.  We’re avowed wimps who don’t like driving in snow, walking in snow or even thinking about snow.  Brrrr!  So, why such antipathy for snow?  Well, my Kim grew up in Chicago whose lake-effect snows are legendary.  I grew up in Peñasco where I once walked six miles in two feet of snow to return a penny after being undercharged for a Snickers candy bar.  Yes, we’ve shoveled snow.  We’ve felt snow’s insidious presence and have shivered at its icy touch.  Snow is no friend of ours.

In past years, the threat of some malevolent snowstorm potentially ruining our travel plans has kept us home over the Christmas holidays.  All our favorite “get away from snow” travel destinations require traveling through potential snow magnets such as Flagstaff to reach the warm climes of our dreams.  Then came 2017.  With consistent 50-degree forecasts between Christmas and New Years, 2018 (thank you, Kristen Currie), we decided to give each other a shared Christmas present and spend a week in Palm Springs, California.  Yes, that Palm Springs–the one where you can swim outdoors in December and snow is just ground-up Styrofoam used in movies.

Carrot Curry Soup

For the first time since we lived in Mississippi, we were able to enjoy al fresco dining, albeit on an “unseasonably cool” Palm Springs day when temperatures dropped to 72-degrees.  Never once did we complain “it doesn’t feel like Christmas.”  Never once did we lament about how much we missed doing the dishes.  Our host was Lulu’s, a downtown eatery often described online in such glowing terms as  “Palm Springs hippest restaurant,” “funky and modern,” and “vibe that embodies the spirit of Palm Springs.”  OpenTable has named Lulu’s one of the “Top 100 Dining Hot Spots in the U.S.” and has repeatedly  honored  Lulu  with  their “Diners Choice Award.” Next to the hostess station, you’ll espy a veritable tower of plaques naming Lulu the “best” in the valley in virtually every conceivable category–from best breakfast, Sunday brunch and outdoor dining to best margarita and martini (to name a few). 

The uniquely architected restaurant boasts of two floors of indoor seating and the best people-watching-patio in the city.  That patio is where we spent Christmas, 2017 with our debonair dachshund The Dude.  Imprinted on the sidewalk next to our table were several stars honoring the many Hollywood luminaries who have lived, loved and played in this beautiful desert oasis.”  You’d think The Dude was the biggest celebrity of them all considering all the attention he garnered.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted to pet our little boy.  Hmm, wasn’t this the way Marilyn Monroe was discovered?

Wild Mushroom Soup

The 2017 Christmas menu featured four courses of palate pleasing choices we would have enjoyed any time of year.  As with Christmas feasts at home, an after-lunch comatose state was assured.  The first course was our choice from four superb soups: curry carrot soup, classic corn chowder, wild mushroom soup and minestrone.  Predictably, my choice was the curry carrot soup, the best I’ve ever had.  Served hot so that its fragrant emanations wafted upward to my very happy nostrils, this pureed elixir is rich, creamy and satisfying, a perfect blend of sweet, earthy carrots and floral curry.

January is national soup month.  While that makes sense for most of the fruited plain, we wondered if perhaps cold soups would be a better bet for places such as Palm Springs and Phoenix where January feels like May almost everywhere else.  That notion was quickly dismissed when we reviewed the soup options.  Hot soup is wonderful all year long!  For my Kim, the gluten-free wild mushroom soup beckoned.   It’s a rich and hearty blend with a pronounced earthiness and an invigorating freshness you don’t find with domesticated mushroom soups, especially those from a can.

Sonoma Mixed Greens

Our second course was salad with my choice being Sonoma Mixed Greens (with toasted walnuts, raspberry vinaigrette and goat cheese).  It’s long been our experience that salad greens just taste better and fresher in California than anywhere else.  They seem to have a recently picked freshness and flavor (not the out-of-a-bag staleness of some salads).  Such was the case with these mixed greens lightly drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette.  Predictably, we split the single wedge of mild goat cheese instead of crumbling it onto the salad.

For my Kim who turned up her nose at the notion of blue cheese just twenty years ago, the petite iceberg wedge (with hickory-smoked bacon, red onions, tomato slices and Roquefort cheese dressing) is indicative of how far she’s come.  Roquefort cheese is sour, strong, ripe, sharp, pungent and absolutely delicious who love our fromage as fetid as it can be.  This blue-veiny cheese goes so well with the hickory-smoked bacon, the best Palm Springs pairing since Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Petite Iceberg Wedge

Perhaps because technically it’s a roast, not a steak, prime rib is one of my very favorite cuts of beef.  In the past few years, my Kim and I have eschewed more traditional Christmas dinners in favor of prime rib, cut into a slab Fred Flintstone would appreciate.  While not cut as thick as either Fred or I like, Lulu’s version was a good fourteen-ounces of rich, juicy prime rib prepared at medium rare.  An accompanying horseradish cream provided a great counterbalance, imparting an eye-watering contrast to the beef.  Horseradish on prime rib isn’t for everyone, but it is for me.  Red skin potatoes, baby carrots and beans are nice sides, but it’s the prime rib that steals the show.

12-Ounce Prime Rib

My Kim is much more of a traditionalist in every way.  Plus she’s from the Midwest which means she was weaned on meat and potatoes.  For her, Christmas (and Thanksgiving, Halloween, Independence Day, Mothers’ Day and of course Guy Fawkes Day) is all about oven-roasted turkey and all the trimmings.  Ironically, she doesn’t like one of those trimmings and always shovels the stuffing into my plate.  This was some of the very best chestnut stuffing I’ve ever had.  Chestnuts have a very distinctive flavor (plus Northerners use them to warm their hands) and they’re so much better on stuffing than boring old cornbread.  A generous amount of turkey with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes were terrific, too.

Oven Roasted Turkey

Legend has it that a fourth “wise man” brought the gift of fruitcake to the infant Jesus.  Had it been more warmly received by the Holy Family, perhaps it would be more beloved today.  As it is, the best fruitcake takes a distant backseat to warm bread pudding, a timeless dessert and very much a Christmas favorite.  Lulu’s version is rich, sweet and decadent–three characteristics which make it such an endearing and beloved dessert.  If I may offer a small criticism, it’s that the lightest touch of salt would have made it even better.

Warm Bread Pudding

Lulu California Bistro was a holiday haven for us, a home away from home.  It’s about as far away from snow as we could find, but even in warm weather, this is a happening place to which we hope very much to return.

Lulu California Bistro
200 South Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-5858
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Prime Rib, Roasted Turkey, Apple Crisp, Warm Bread Pudding, Carrot Curry Soup, Wild Mushroom Soup, Sonoma Mixed Greens, Petite Iceberg Wedge

Lulu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jake’s – Palm Springs, California

Jake’s of Palm Springs

Now i lay me down to sleep
And pray the Lord my soul to keep
If i die before i wake, feed Jake
He’s been a good dog
My best friend right through it all
If i die before i wake, feed Jake.”
~Pirates of the Mississippi

On one hand,” my Kim tells me, “you’d make a great politician.”  “You maintain a perfect deadpan expression while telling the biggest whoppers.”  She had just watched me convince a gullible millennial that the Jeff Bridges character in the movie The Big Lebowski was named for our debonair dachshund The Dude.  Never mind that our Dude was born sixteen years after the 1998 comedy hit.  “On the other hand,” she corrected herself, “you’re much too honest to ever run for office.”  Only a few people, my Kim being one of them, can recognize when I’m using my “gift” of mirthful mendacity.  It’s a gift I employ only to lighten the mood, not to exploit gullibility.

The Dog-Friendly Patio, an Excellent Brunch Milieu on Christmas Eve When It’s Only 75-Degrees

We were standing in line in front of Jake’s, one of the most famous and popular restaurants in Palm Springs, when the opportunity for my duplicitous act presented itself.  The Dude, as usual, was the center of attention.  Virtually everyone in line with us stopped to coo at our little boy, commenting on how soft his fur is and what a handsome (he takes after his dad), well-behaved little guy he is.  Of course, everyone wanted to know what our paragon of puppyhood (or is it puppyness) was named.  They all concurred that “The Dude” name fits very well.

It was fitting that my canine caper transpired at Jake’s, a classic American bistro named for a West Highland Terrier who crossed the rainbow bridge in February, 2016, a month before we lost our beloved Tim.  Regulars with whom we made small talk told us all about Jake, a peripatetic and much loved presence at the restaurant named for him.  If it’s possible for the spirit of a dearly departed dog to infuse a locale he loved, you could certainly feel Jake’s presence.  That’s especially true near the restroom where walls are festooned with his smiling countenance.

Hangar Steak and Eggs Sandwich

Smiles come with the territory when you dine at Jake’s which has been recognized as one of the top “100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants in America,” and by eater.com as  “one of the top seventeen Palm Springs restaurants for 2017.”  More importantly, it earned a perfect five bones rating from BringFido, the trusted online dog travel directory.  “Bone apetit” commented several reviewers.  Aside from its dog-friendly ambiance, Jake’s is renowned for its amiable servers, decadent desserts and for its weekend brunch.  The brunch menu is wholly unlike the seemingly standard brunch template of pancakes, omelets and similar fare.  The Christmas Eve brunch had some of those, but it also had some of the most tempting sandwiches and salads we’ve seen.

As usual, my Kim ordered a sandwich superior to the one I ordered–a hangar steak and eggs sandwich, a stellar lunch meets breakfast which exemplifies why brunch is so beloved.  A ciabatta roll is the canvas for one of the most delicious breakfast sandwiches we’ve ever had, a sandwich which will kick any McMuffin in the teeth.  Picture two eggs over medium, sliced hangar steak prepared at about medium, Gorgonzola cheese, pico de gallo, avocado slices and chipotle aioli.  My Kim tells me I pay more attention to the nuanced elements of the most complicated sandwiches than to their star ingredients.  In this case, my attention (and affection) centered on the chipotle aioli, a smoky, piquant smear that made this sandwich coalesce into a delicious whole, not jumble of ingredients.  Sure, the hangar steak was as tender as the murmur of a spring drizzle (and would make wondrous fajitas), but that aioli made it.

Lobster Roll

My own choice, the lobster roll (tail meat lobster, Old Bay remoulade, preserved lemon, heirloom tomato and Romaine lettuce on a long brioche roll) wasn’t quite as satisfying.  My preference has always been for knuckle and claw meat, not meat from the tail, but still I ordered this because, well…it’s a lobster roll.  Sure, it wasn’t constructed on a split top roll as were the boatloads of lobster rolls I enjoyed while living in Massachusetts, but, well…it’s a lobster roll.  At minimum, that means it’s a great sandwich.  The degree of greatness of Jake’s lobster roll may not be as high as the greatness you’d ascribe a lobster roll from Maine, but this was a lobster roll.  That means it’s pretty great.

Take the term “great” and multiply it by an infinite order of magnitude and you’ve got the citrus cake, an incomparable brick-sized slab of absolute deliciousness my Kim described as the “best cake ever!”  As our server toted it over to our table, she attributed the size of his formidable, rock-hard “guns” (seething with jealousy here) to having to carry such weighty desserts all day.  Size was far from its most definable quality.  This colorful beauty is three layers of fresh, natural citrus flavors demarcated by a date buttercream frosting.  Each layer of citrus–sweet Meyer lemon, tangy lemon and bright orange–is replete with the flavors of freshly picked citrus fruits, not some artificial flavor.  We thought there would be no way we could finish it all, but finish it all we did…and we’d do it all over again.

Citrus Cake, the best we’ve ever had…ever!!!

Jake’s lives up to its billing.  It’s truly one of the very best restaurants in Palm Springs, but how could it not be.  It’s not just a dog-friendly restaurant.  It’s a restaurant named for a four-legged family member.  Those tend to be the best!

Jake’s
664 North Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-4400
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Citrus Cake, Lobster Roll, Hangar Steak and Eggs Sandwich

Jake's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Geoffrey’s Malibu – Malibu, California

Geoffrey’s Malibu, one of the most spectacular restaurants in California

The walls at Geoffrey’s Malibu are festooned with copies of whimsical framed “doodles” created by Hollywood celebrities and movie stars who have dined at the posh seaside restaurant. Most are tongue-in-cheek self-portraits which probably speak volumes about the glitterati themselves–and not just whether they lack or are blessed with an artistic talent beyond their particular medium. Thematically, all the portraits include a heart.  That’s because Harvey Baskin, the restaurant’s previous owner asked the artists to donate originals for publication and sale in support of a charity for children with heart disease. 

Jane Russell’s heart forms her shapely derriere at the terminus of legs which would otherwise go on forever.  George Burns’ bespectacled heart puffs on one of his beloved cigars.  Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but at Geoffrey’s Malibu it reputedly spans the Brooklyn Bridge.  Geoffrey’s neighbor Johnny Carson, obviously knowing his limitations, drew a simple heart and signed his name beneath it.  Woody Allen was clearly in his trademark dispirited disposition when he drew a broken heart

The view from the patio at Geoffrey’s Malibu

The fact that guests can dine at Geoffrey’s Malibu and not even notice the celebrity caricatures is a testament to the spectacular beauty surrounding the cliff-side restaurant which overlooks the churning Pacific.  In essence, Geoffrey’s is a curvilinear patio carved out of a Malibu hillside.  There’s an actual restaurant beyond the patio, but most diners want to imbibe the breathtaking scenery while enveloped in idyllic marine weather.  Virtually every table on the premises has unobstructed views of the ocean (unless it’s obfuscated by fog).  

There’s much credence to the argument that the drive to Malibu is even more jaw-dropping than the destination, especially if your route takes you through the Santa Monica Mountains on Kanan Dume Road. Even while the precipitous, winding road demands caution, you’ll ogle rocky promontories, verdant vineyards on steep angular hillsides and palatial estates rivaling French palaces.  You’ll drive through a series of double tunnels cut into the very rock itself.  You’ll marvel at every turn.

Caricatures of some of the many celebrities who have dined at Geoffrey’s Malibu

While the trek to Geoffrey’s Malibu may call to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote “life is a journey, not a destination,” the destination itself is absolutely magnificent.  Geoffrey’s is located mere feet from the Pacific Coast Highway which traverses the city affectionately nicknamed “the Bu” by locals.  It may as well be miles away from the rest of civilization.  Geoffrey’s has the preternatural ability to transport you away from your cares and toward a better self.  It’s al fresco dining at its very finest, a venue to be shared with loved ones. While our oft-recalcitrant dachshund child Tim dined with us, our good friend Sandy couldn’t make it.   

To ensure you’re not winded by a potentially long walk, you’ll definitely want to avail yourself of the valet parking services.  Geoffrey’s parking lot belies its daily guest list; it’s not nearly big enough to accommodate the fleet of BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, Silver Phantoms and the like driven by guests.  If you don’t want to witness the Jenga-like skill of the valets being played out on your vehicle, you can park instead on the shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway.  Some diners even park where signs indicate “No Parking.”

Rosemary bread and butter

Seating is in personal space proximity and the crashing waves a hundred feet away don’t muffle conversations very well. It’s easy to distinguish locals from tourists. Tourists gawk at their surroundings with an awestruck reverence while locals schmooze with the wait staff, an amazingly attentive phalanx of servers at your beck and call. Geoffrey’s is known to be a magnet for the well-heeled: celebrities, politicians, executives and the like, some of whom brandish a copy of the day’s Wall Street Journal and deliberate the financial section.

Shortly after you’re seated and menus are gently placed in your anxious hands, a server uses silver tongs to extricate a single bread roll from its warm repository.  Just out of the oven, it’s a rosemary foccacia from which wisps of steam escape when you cut into it.  The steam is redolent of rosemary, just enough to be discernible.  The foccacia is golden brown on the outside with just enough crust to hold in soft, tender and delicious innards.    It’s served with butter that’s easy to spread.

Sauteed Maine Mussels: Nueske’s Bacon, Whole Grain Mustard and Ale Butter Sauce, Grilled Bread

While no menu could possibly match the venue with its million dollar per square foot views, Geoffrey’s menu will elicit a few oohs and aahs–and not just because of the price point.  It’s an extravagant fine-dining menu even during lunchtime.  Segmented like most menus–Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Salad Entrees and Lunch Entrees–it’s rather seafood centric, fitting considering the milieu.   Just as many elements combine to create a classic restaurant, multifarious ingredients hallmarked by freshness, are needed to form an interesting and inviting menu.  Geoffrey’s has done this.

Save for an artisan cheese plate and baked brie in puff pastry, every item on the eight item appetizer menu showcases fresh seafood.  Sauteed Maine mussels are an outstanding option.  The broth is amazing, an ambrosia of Nueske’s bacon, tomatoes, whole grain mustard and ale butter.  If you’ve never had Nueske’s bacon, you’re in for a treat.  Nueske’s bacon is applewood smoked perfection which might just spoil all other bacon for you.  The salty smokiness permeates the broth and impregnates the briny mussels.  Two slices of grilled bread are available for dredging the broth, but a spoon works just as well.

Maine Lobster Cobb Salad

Nueske’s bacon finds its way into another entree, this one from the Salad Entrees section of the menu.  The Maine Lobster Cobb Salad demonstrates the versatility of lobster which is equally delicious steamed and served with melted butter or served cold as in this Geoffrey’s masterpiece.  A full pound (pre-cooked weight) lobster replete with knuckle and claw meat sits atop an otherwise standard Cobb salad with tomatoes, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, blue cheese crumbles and a lettuce mix drizzled with a honey Dijon vinaigrette.  It’s a beautifully composed salad with elegant twists sure to please the most discerning diners. 

Predictably, my entree featured two of my very favorite items-Maine lobster risotto and day boat scallops.  The term “day boat” indicates boats harvesting the scallops return to shore to at the end of each day, rather than spending days at sea.   It translates to much fresher, more delicious scallops.  Three large sizes scallops are perfectly seasoned and prepared, seared on the outside and medium-rare on the inside.  Characteristically sweet and thoroughly delicious, they exemplify freshness.

Sauteed Day Boat Sea Scallops: Maine Lobster Risotto, Pomegranate Reduction

The lobster risotto is perfectly prepared. A basic risotto requires a round, short grain, high starch rice.  From there, it’s a blank canvas for a wide variety of flavors, among them Maine lobster.  To be honest, there wasn’t much lobster in the risotto, nor was there enough risotto for that matter, but then there never is for me.  Geoffrey’s risotto is superb, but it was encircled in a pomegranate reduction that was perhaps too much of a flavor foil.  The pomegranate reduction’s tangy-sweet profile didn’t complement the risotto very well; a savory or cheesy reduction would have worked better. 

The dessert menu lists seven items including the same artisan cheese plate found on the appetizer menu.  In a rare feat of willpower, I eschewed the warm brioche bread pudding with a bourbon sauce and opted instead for chocolate hazelnut crunch bars with creme Anglaise and strawberry coulis.  It’s a very rich dessert showcasing a creamy wafer-like crust topped with a layer of even richer hazelnut (basically Nutella).  The strawberry coulis provides a tangy-sweet contrast to the nutty, crunchy and cloying crunch bars.

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars With Crème Anglaise and Strawberry Coulis

Dining at Geoffrey’s Malibu is feasting with your eyes in every sense of the term.  It’s one of the most amazing restaurants in California, a true pot of gold at the end of a truly spectacular rainbow.

Geoffrey’s Malibu
27400 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, California
(310) 457-1519
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 24
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Maine Lobster Cobb Salad, Sauteed Day Boat Sea Scallops, Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars, Sauteed Maine Mussels

Geoffrey's Malibu on Urbanspoon

La Super Rica Taqueria – Santa Barbara, California

Two minutes before opening, lines have already formed for the world-famous La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara

Truly legendary restaurants, those which can legitimately be called institutions–and there are very few of them–don’t just inspire return visits; they inspire pilgrimages. Institutions have generally stood the test of time by remaining consistent over time, thriving even against the onslaught of more polished and pristine interlopers.  Institutions are beloved beyond the communities they serve, their fame and acclaim growing with each satisfied visitor, many of whom make pilgrimages from hundreds of miles away. One restaurant which has earned the distinction of being called an institution is La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, California.

Hungry patrons line up half an hour before the restaurant opens because they know that very shortly the waiting time to place an order will be an hour or longer. While they wait, they swap stories about their favorite dining experiences at La Super Rica Taqueria, usually recounting in epiphany-like loving reverence, their first visit or favorite entree.  They talk about how far they’ve come either to revisit previously experienced deliciousness or to find out for themselves if the experience matches the hype.

The super clean dining room at La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara

You can’t be in line to place your order without someone mentioning that La Super Rica Taqueria was the favorite Mexican restaurant of chef, author and television personality Julia Child, herself a living institution.  It’s one of the restaurant’s biggest draws as well as one of those inane bits of trivia only someone who’s lived under a rock doesn’t know.  It’s the reason most newcomers visit.  We all want to compare our palates with the very pedantic, very sophisticated palate of the legendary French chef–either to validate that we have comparable tastes or to decry her as a fanatic Francophile who didn’t really know Mexican food.

What is more surprising to me is not that Julia Child loved La Super Rica Taqueria, but that someone of her stature–both literally at 6’2″ and figuratively–would stand in line with dozens of other patrons.  Then again, the grand damme was a true gastronome with an adventurous spirit and willingness to experience foods where they are most respectfully and authentically prepared.  I also suspect that Julia may have received special treatment befitting her celebrity and age (89) when she moved to a retirement community in Santa Barbara in 2001. In any case, she enjoyed La Super Rica Taqueria until just months before her death at 92.

The Super Rica kitchen is a very busy place

A relatively nondescript white with teal trim shack, no more than a proverbial hole-in-the-wall belies the worldwide fame of the taqueria it houses.  There is no signage letting you know you’ve arrived.  In fact, where it not for the perpetually long queues of hungry patrons waiting to place their orders, you might pass it by.  There’s also little parking to be found, save an occasional  open space on the mostly residential street.  La Super Rica Taqueria is most assuredly on the map because Julia Child proclaimed its greatness during a 1985 appearance on Good Morning America.  It begs the analogy “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The answer is most resoundingly “yes” because of intrepid foodies who boldly go where normal diners don’t to find the best and most authentic cuisine available.  Foodies like my friend Sandy Driscoll who drives from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara (no easy feat in heavy traffic) every year to visit La Super Rica Taqueria have our own networks of fellow gastronomes with whom we share outstanding new finds.  It’s not likely the taqueria would have achieved its fame without the endorsement of a legendary culinary figure, but rest assured, if a restaurant is worth visiting, the world will eventually find out about it.

Aguas Frescas de Sandia (Watermelon Fresh Waters)

You might assume that because the French food Julia Child loved and wrote about so much is so rich, heavily sauced and seasoned, the food at La Super Rica would also explode with rich flavors ameliorated by heavy sauces.  To the contrary, the food is much more subtly flavored though it can be spiced up a bit with the addition of pico de gallo or one of the complimentary salsas.  By the standards of New Mexico’s piquant Mexican cuisine, La Super Rica’s food is comparatively bland.

There are few Mexican restaurants in New Mexico which prepare and serve tortillas nearly as wonderfully fresh and delightfully delicious as La Super Rica.  Through the windows which you pass by while in line, you’ll have the opportunity to observe the well-practiced hands of a tortillera as she deftly makes easy tortilla by hand, lovingly shaping the masa into a ball, shaping it on a tortilla press then grilling them on an archaic stove.  Each tortilla is as tender as your mother’s heart and has a pronounced corn taste.  Pay special attention as the tortillas are engorged with grilled and lightly seasoned meats.  It’s love before first bite.

Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Tomatillo Salsa and Red Chile Salsa

21 July 2012: These tacos are the antithesis of the Taco Bell travesty on a hard-shell.  There’s no crunch to the tortillas nor will you find oodles of cheese, fields of lettuce and a surfeit of sour cream on these tacos.  They’re straight-forward, simple, uncomplicated…pretty basic stuff, but basic can taste pretty darned good.  Cash poor (the taqueria doesn’t accept credit cards) during our inaugural visit, we managed three tacos each: chorizo, grilled steak and pork carnitas.  The temptation to hold up a bank and return for more was pretty strong. 

While the tacos were memorable, my every instinct as a gastronome told me we (actually my Kim ordered while I waited in the car with our four-legged children) ordered far too safely.  The consequences of unadventurous ordering were a disappointing “so what” feeling that tacos may not necessarily be what this legendary taqueria does best.  During our second visit two years later, nary a taco was on our order.

Top: Frijol Super Rica: Cooked pinto beans with chorizo, bacon and chile. Bottom: Super Rica Especial (Roasted pasilla chile stuffed with cheese and marinated pork. Three tortillas.

19 June 2014: Faithful readers recommended the Super Rica Especial, a roasted pasilla chile stuffed with cheese and marinated pork bound together with three tortillas in a Big Mac fashion.  This is more like it–more of what has made La Super Rica Taqueria an institution.  In terms of piquancy, the pasilla ranks just above the Big Jim, Anaheim and New Mexico chiles with a Scoville index of 1500-2500 units, so it’s not especially hot.  Its roasted olfactory-arousing flavor is very reminiscent of New Mexico in autumn, while the pasilla’s flavor is more subtle.  The marinated pork is porcine perfection.  It’s moist, tender, superbly seasoned and marinated in a heavenly sauce that brings out the salty, fatty flavors of an otherwise mild meat.  Gooey globs of queso and tortillas redolent with the aroma of corn complete the explosion of flavors.

19 June 2014: The sense of smell, more than any of our other senses, influences our ability to recall past events and experience. It’s very well established that aroma is one of the most potent mediums for conjuring up a memory and for tugging at the heart strings. The aromas emanating from the  Frijol Super Rica transported me back to my mom’s kitchen in Peñasco where the most magnificent beans in the universe are cooked.  At Super Rica, the beans are cooked with chorizo, bacon and chile and are so good you might just imbibe the bean juice.

Chorizo Especial (melted cheese and chorizo between three tortillas)

19 June 2014:  The menu offers three “con queso” type entrees, all of them showcasing the grandeur and splendor that is the corn tortillas.  The Chorizo Especial features melted cheese and chorizo between three of those corn-flavored orbs.  For New Mexicans, the chorizo isn’t in ground form as we’re used to, instead resembling chopped wieners.  No matter.  They’re smoky, fatty and delicious, a perfect foil for the melted white cheese.  The Chorizo Especial pairs especially well with the guacamole and the pico de gallo.

La Super Rica Taqueria is a humble, but truly wonderful institution worth a pilgrimage or ten from anywhere in America.

La Super Rica Taqueria
622 N Milpas St
Santa Barbara, California
(805) 963-4940
LATEST VISIT: 19 June 2014
1st VISIT: 21 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $
BEST BET: Pork Carnitas Taco, Chorizo Taco, Grilled Steak Taco, Frijol Super Rica, Super Rica Especial

La Super-Rica Taqueria on Urbanspoon

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