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
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.

622 North Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-7595
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 December 2017
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
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
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!

664 North Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, California
(760) 327-4400
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2017
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Citrus Cake, Lobster Roll, Hangar Steak and Eggs Sandwich

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

Butters Pancakes & Cafe – Scottsdale, Arizona

Butters Pancakes & Cafe: A patio view from the nearby water fountain

Spread your tiny wings and fly away
And take the snow back with you
Where it came from on that day
So, little snowbird take me with you when you go
To the land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow.”
~ Anne Murray

Every autumn, gaggles of geese, flocks of ducks, kettles of hawks and  constructions of cranes begin their long, arduous migration from the continent’s northern regions to warmer climes in the South.  They fly in formation to more idyllic and much warmer locales such as the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico.   Similarly, large numbers of pasty-skinned human migrants from Canada and the northern tier of the fruited plains leave behind the rigors of snow shoveling, sub-zero temperatures, dark winter nights and bitterly disappointing fall television schedules. They journey by every motorized conveyance known to man  to the southern United States and Mexico, toting their golf clubs, swimming trunks, SPF-400 suntan oil and bags of money. In polite company, we call these heat-seeking seasonal migrants “snowbirds.”  Many of them, especially the blonde ones of the XX chromosome pairing, seem to favor Scottsdale, Arizona.

Cheese Blintzes with Lingonberry Sauce

We had thought the concept of snowbirds applied solely to migratory avian and human refugees from winter, but during our visit to Kim’s brother Tim and sister-in-law Lola at their Avondale home just west of Phoenix, we wondered if every Chicago area restaurant was making like a snowbird, too.  From purveyors of butter burgers (Culver’s) to paragons of casserole-thick pizzas such as Giordanno’s, Gino’s East, Rosatti’s Pizza (which had a short-lived dalliance with Albuquerque) and even Lou Malnati’s, they’re all in the Phoenix area. So, too, are hot dog empire Portillo’s and Italian beef giant Luke’s along with several other lesser-known Chicago favorites.

After Tim and Lola moved from Chicago in June, 2017, it didn’t take them long to discover Butters Pancakes & Cafe which,  it turns out, also has its roots in Chicago.  It’s the younger sibling of Butterfield’s Pancake House which has been serving some of the best breakfasts in the Windy City since the year 2000.  Featuring gargantuan portions of high-calorie, carbohydrate-laden breakfast and lunch favorites, Butterfield’s has sustained many a denizen of the City of Big Shoulders (and big pancakes, big omelets, big French toast and big crepes).    Now, if only Carson’s Ribs and Topolobampo would move to the Phoenix area.  We might even follow suit.

French Toast with Nutella and Bananas

How can you not love Butters, a restaurant whose ambitious goals include being the “best breakfast and lunch cafe in Arizona—and the world.”  Butters is a detail-oriented restaurant, one which pays attention to the little things–the difference-makers such as freshly-squeezed orange juice.  Moreover, Butters executes the big things very well, especially consistency meal-after-meal.  Tim and Lola, who can be fussbudgets about breakfast, told us they’ve never had a bad bite at Butters.  That’s bite, not meal.   Fittingly, Butters espouses all the ideals modern diners seem to appreciate: being responsible shepherds of the environment, limiting its carbon footprint, sourcing organically-grown ingredients from local farmers, giving back to the community and sourcing from local small butchers and artisinal bakers as much as possible.

It’s a virtual certainty that the Swedish lingonberries used on some breakfast entrees aren’t locally sourced.  You’ll never accuse the lingonberry of being a “snowbird.”  These hardy berries thrive in cold weather climates from New England to Minnesota.  Bring them South and they won’t survive the heat.  Okay, so you can’t get locally-grown lingonberries on your pancakes, French toast or crepes in the Phoenix area, but the lingonberry sauce topping the cheese blintzes is the next best thing.  Resembling the taste of cranberries, only just a tad more tart, lingonberries are a perfect complement to the Ricotta-cottage cheese blend with which the blintzes are stuffed.  A little confectioner’s sugar imparts just a bit of sweetness.

Cobb Salad with Maytag Blue Cheese Dressing

Now, if you want something as sweet as the song of a snowbird leaving the cold weather behind, try one of Butters’ six types of French toast.  Four of us shared the nutella toast with bananas and were pinging off the walls from the sugar high.  Because the French toast, (two brioche slices sliced thick slathered with sweet hazelnut cocoa and fresh bananas) weren’t enough, someone had the bright idea to top them with the house syrup, an especially sweet and rich elixir.  These are hearty French toast, the type of which Northerners (and wimpy Arizonans who don parkas when the temperature drops below sixty) need to combat the cold.  They’re not only substantial, they’re delicious.

While the rest of us enjoyed our cavalcade of calories (washed down with Diet Pepsi), my Kim had a more sensible Cobb salad, albeit a behemoth bounty of lettuce, bacon, shredded Cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes, grilled chicken, sliced avocados, hard-boiled eggs, croutons and Maytag blue cheese dressing.  Unlike her fetid fromage fanatic of a husband who enjoys a modicum of vegetables with my blue cheese dressing, she applies it judiciously.  Maytag blue cheese is one of the premier blue cheeses produced in America.  Its melt-in-your-mouth tangy, semi-sharp deliciousness is memorable.

Snowbirds who escaped the brutal lake-effect winters of Chicago will feel right at home at this soon-to-be Scottsdale legend.  So will visitors who appreciate good food in large portions.

Butters Pancakes & Cafe
8390 East Vía de Ventura
Scottsdale, Arizona
(480) 629-4333
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 December 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cheese Blintzes with Lingonberry Sauce, French Toast with Nutella and Bananas, Signature Salad with Maytag Blue Cheese Dressing

3 January 2018: As his comment attests, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver enjoyed Butters as much as we did. He shared a few pictures of his dining experience at Butters:

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and his grandson leave Butters quite content (and full) (Photo Courtesy of Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver)

Cinnamon Pancakes (Photo Courtesy of Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver)

Blintz with Lingonberry Sauce, Two Eggs and Extra Crispy Hash Browns (Photo Courtesy of Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver)

HMOP (Ham, mushroom, onion & green peppers) Skillet (Photo Courtesy of Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver)

Butters Pancakes & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Turquoise Room – Winslow, Arizona

The fabulous La Posada

The fabulous La Posada

The concept of “fast food” had a far different connotation during the Southwest’s Frontier days than it does today. This is especially true if one traveled via railroad through hundreds of miles of desolate, open country. In the more densely populated and genteel east there were often several cities between most destinations. This allowed for frequent rest and refreshment stops. Passengers rode in relative comfort in Pullman cars with dining cars.

In the wide open west, only twenty minutes were allowed during each of the infrequent stops. Further, the food was as miserable as the travel conditions. According to Keith L. Bryant’s History of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, “meat was greasy and usually fried, beans were canned, bacon rancid and coffee was fresh once a week.” No doubt it was gastronomic distress that prompted the following ditty documented on the book Hear the Lonesome Whistle Blow by Dee Brown: “The tea tasted as though it was made from the leaves of sagebrush. The biscuit was made without soda, but with plenty of alkali, harmonizing with the great quantity of alkali dust we had already swallowed.”

The welcoming interior of the Turquoise Room

One man, an English emigrant named Fred Harvey was determined to change the deplorable railroad travel conditions in the west. With a background as a restaurateur and later as a railroad employee, he brought good food at reasonable places served in clean, elegant restaurants to the traveling public throughout the Wild West. Historians agree that he also introduced civility and dignity. The Fred Harvey Company’s expansion included hotels, restaurants and lunchrooms throughout the Southwest (Arizona, California and New Mexico) as well as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and eventually anywhere the Santa Fe railroad system had major terminals including Chicago and Saint Louis.  By the late 1880s a Fred Harvey dining facility existed every 100 miles along the Santa Fe line. Meals at a Harvey establishment epitomized the highest standards for cleanliness and fastidiousness. Fine China, crystal, Irish linens, sumptuous portions and great value were hallmarks of a meal at a Harvey facility.

In the 1920s, the Harvey Company decided to build a major hotel in Winslow, the Arizona headquarters for the Santa Fe Railway. Being centrally located, Winslow was thought to be ideally situated for a resort hotel. No expense was spared. Construction costs for grounds and furnishings have been estimated at $2 million or about $40 million in today’s dollars. La Posada, the resting place, was the finest hotel in the Southwest during the railroad era. Today it remains not so much a re-creation of the great railway era, but an accumulation of memories and treasures in the form of exquisite art, history and beauty. Its opulent flow includes arched doorways, hand-painted glass windows, glittering tin chandeliers, Southwestern hand-hewn furniture and whimsical art. It is a magnificent complex, one of the finest hotels in the entire West.

Heirloom Squash Blossoms

Heirloom Squash Blossoms

It is only fitting that a hotel with the grandeur and splendor of La Posada have an elegant area set aside for the finest in dining. That would be the Turquoise room which has been recreated to reflect the ultimate in stylish railroad dining. The Turquoise Room is indeed a fabulous restaurant, viewed by experts as one of the very best in the Four Corners region. The braintrust behind the restaurant is chef and owner John Sharpe, an Englishman like Fred Harvey with a similar commitment to outstanding food and impeccable service.  That commitment was  recognized in 2011 when Sharpe was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the best chef in the southwest.

Sharpe is committed to using only the finest and freshest ingredients possible, many of them grown locally. An avid gardener, he also grows heirloom vegetables and herbs for the restaurant, including the giant squash blossoms that appear on his menu on occasion. Every once in a while Sharpe also pays tribute to the great days of the Fred Harvey Company with retro dishes from the great railway era, but for the most part his cuisine might best be labeled as regional contemporary Southwestern. An even better label would be fabulous!  Several items are menu mainstays: roast prime rib, grilled steaks, fresh fish, pasta, elk, quail, pork, chicken, lamb and a vegetable platter. Desserts are made in-house on a daily basis.

Porterhouse Steak

The Engineer’s Porterhouse Steak

24 August 2008: Sharpe’s giant squash blossoms are things of beauty! Piped into each beer battered squash flower is a tamale-like concoction of corn meal and two types of cheeses topped with a corn salsa and drizzled with fresh cream. You will savor each bite and mourn the last one. It is one of the best appetizers we’ve had in any Arizona restaurant. An excellent pairing with many Turquoise Room entrees is the Don Juan Sangria cocktail made with red wine, port, sherry, brandy, triple sec and citrus juices served over ice. Sliced oranges, lemons and limes float on the sangria and add to its full-bodied, hearty flavor.

If you’ve ever lamented the lack of game gracing menus at restaurants throughout the Southwest, you’ll be thrilled to see several game favorites featured at the Turquoise Room. Better still, some entrees include more than one game favorite. One sure to please entree for the gaming gastronome is the Native Cassoulet with Churro Lamb, Duck Leg and Elk Sausage. Cassoulets are generally rich, slow-cooked bean casseroles containing meats (typically pork, sausage, mutton or goose), but Sharpe takes some liberties with that definition.

Prime Rib au jus

Prime Rib au jus

8 September 2007: Sharpe’s version starts with Tohono O’odham (a Native American tribe formerly known as the Papago who reside primarily in the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest United States and Northwest Mexico) grown tepary (a drought-resistant bean grown in the Southwest) beans cooked with locally raised Churro lamb, chilies and spices. The Turquoise Room’s Churro lamb chop is fork tender and absolutely delicious with nary a hint of gaminess or fat. In fact, the meat is very distinctive for lamb with a subtle wild flavor likely resultant from the Churro breed’s diet of shrubs and herbs in the sparse deserts of the Southwest. This is some of the best lamb I’ve had anywhere!  The duck leg confit is similarly wonderful–a duck leg seasoned and slowly cooked in duck fat. The Turquoise Room’s rendition is sinfully tender and moist with a crispy and golden brown skin.  The spicy smoked elk sausage may surprise you because it actually lives up to its billing. The sausage’s pronounced smokiness quickly gives way to a spiciness that will play a concordant tune on your taste buds. It is slightly coarse as sausage goes, but is tender, moist and delicious.

8 September 2007: Another dinner entree featuring game is aptly named the Wild-Wild-Wild-West Sampler Platter. This entree features grilled quail with prickly pear jalapeno glaze, seared elk medallion with blackcurrant sauce and a cup of chunky venison, buffalo, wild boar and scarlet runner bean chili served with sweet corn tamale and fresh vegetables. Every item on this entree is stellar in its own right, but together they put to shame just about every combination meat platter you can think of.  The seared elk with blackcurrant sauce edges out the grilled quail with prickly pear jalapeno glaze as the best of the lot, but not by much. Both are absolutely delicious, prepared to absolute perfection.

Cream of corn and smooth black bean soup

Cream of corn and smooth black bean soup

24 August 2008: If you’re of a carnivorous bent but don’t necessarily desire an entree with multiple meats, the purist in you might prefer The Engineer’s Porterhouse Steak. This is a one-pound Sterling Silver center-cut Porterhouse you can cut with a dinner knife. That’s how tender it is. It is served with a spicy (perhaps chipotle infused) steak sauce that is actually worth using on this slab of meat.  Prepared to your exacting specifications (medium is my recommendation), it is juicy and delicious on both the larger short loin side and the more tender and flavorful tenderloin side. Some restaurants call this cut of meat the T-Bone, but by any name, it is often a challenge to prepare correctly because of the uneven temperature distribution in preparation. The Turquoise Room obviously has mastered the art of preparing this delicious cut.

24 August 2008: Another fine meat option is the Premium Angus Prime Rib Roast Au Jus served with horseradish cream, a medley of fresh vegetables and a choice of baked potato or red caboose mashed potatoes. This cut is available in an eight-ounce or fourteen-ounce cut. Prime rib is not for the faint of heart. For optimum flavor, it’s best served at about medium rare, a degree of “doneness” which may give the appearance of bloodiness that turns off the queasy diner. Preparing prime rib at anything above medium is sacrilege and detracts from this flavorful slab of meat.  Needless to say, the Turquoise Room knows how to prepare prime rib. Cut into it and the succulent juices (albeit a bit red) flow onto your plate. Bite into it and you’re in heaven. A little bit of marbling goes a long way on this cut of beef and that’s what you’ll get–that and a whole lot of flavor. If you’re an aficionado of prime rib, this one will please you.  You might not be as pleased with the baked potatoes which are on the small side and may not be completely heated all the way through. While most of the potato is tender, some is just a bit tough, an indication of inconsistent baking. Still, you add a little butter and a little sour cream and you’ve got a nice dinner accompaniment.

Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle for Two

Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle for Two

24 August 2008: All dinners include your choice of Caesar salad or the restaurant’s signature soup, a cream of corn and smooth black bean soup served side-by-side in one bowl and topped with a red chile signature. As impossible as it may sound, the chef actually managed to keep separate on a bowl two very distinct yet very complementary soups as warming and comforting as the definition “comfort” soup itself. The Caesar salad is magnificent! It includes roasted red peppers, pumpkin seeds and Parmesan crusted tepee of the restaurant’s red chile cracker bread.

24 August 2008: The restaurant’s desserts are decadent and delightful, none quite as much as the Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Soufflé for Two. It takes 25 minutes to bake this extravagant treat, but it’s worth the wait. A rich dark chocolate soufflé is baked to order and served with whipped cream, dark chocolate Grand Marnier sauce (poured into a cavity atop the soufflé) and whipped cream. It’s a nice way to finish a meal.

Arizona Green Chile Eggs

Arizona Green Chile Eggs

Portion sizes at the Turquoise Room are generous but you’ll still be tempted to lick your plate so as not to waste a morsel or dribble of your entree or dessert. Fortunately dinner is followed by breakfast only a few hours away and breakfast, though not quite the equal of dinner, is an extraordinary event at this terrific restaurant.

9 September 2007: One of the breakfast entrees that makes it so are the Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles–shredded beef machaca with tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices, scrambled with two eggs, smoky red chile tomato sauce, crispy red and blue corn tortilla chips and jalapeno jack cheese. This entree is topped with crema fresca and roasted corn salsa and served with black beans. What a wonderful wake-up call. For most New Mexicans the smoky red chile tomato sauce would barely register on the piquant scale, but that’s okay because this breakfast entree is so replete with flavors competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds. Every ingredient plays on its partner ingredient and the resultant tune is a masterpiece.

Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles

Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles

9 September 2007: The best part of waking up, however, just might be Arizona Green Chile Eggs— creamy polenta in a pool of green chile, tomatillo sauce topped with two eggs, covered in melted jalapeno jack cheese and garnished with roasted corn salsa and diced fresh tomatoes, black beans and served with warm corn tortillas.  I’m somewhat loathe to credit anything in Arizona that includes salsa or chile, but the Arizona Green Chile Eggs have me issuing an apology to the Grand Canyon State’s use of ingredients New Mexico restaurants do best. This is an outstanding breakfast entree! 

22 June 2014:  Perhaps only in Italy is polenta used on breakfast entrees more than at the Turquoise Room.  Chef Sharpe’s rendition of polenta will remind you it’s so much more than “Italian grits” and can be made more sophisticated and interesting than simple coarse yellow cornmeal.  In addition to the aforementioned Arizona Green Chile Eggs entree, polenta also graces a breakfast entree called The Corn Maiden’s Delight, a bowl of warm yellow corn polenta topped with fire-roasted tomatoes, fresh spinach, two poached eggs, jalapeño jack cheese and fresh roasted corn salsa.  The very best qualities of this dish are showcased in the combination of its individual components, the more the merrier.  Alas, there is so little of the roasted corn salsa (onions, green peppers) that you’ll have to use it sparingly.  My preference would have been to cover the entire dish with this salsa.  All breakfasts save for waffles and pancakes are served your choice of La Posada’s blueberry muffin, bran muffin, cinnamon roll, English muffin or white, wheat or sourdough toast.

The Corn Maiden’s Delight

9 September 2007: Traditionalists might instead order something like the Silver Dollar pancake entree which includes two eggs, three pancakes and your choice of bacon, sausage or ham with spicy green chile breakfast potatoes. Rather than have your pancakes with maple or blueberry syrup, douse them liberally with prickly pear syrup. Prickly pear syrup has a higher fruit to sugar ratio than most syrups which is something you’ve got to appreciate if you don’t want a major sugar rush first thing in the morning.

22 July 2012: The lunch menu includes one of the most unique dishes I’ve seen on a restaurant menu anywhere, piki bread with hopi hummus. It’s a dish you might order for the experience of eating something so authentically Native American and uniquely different, but probaly not because someone has told you it’s a great tasting dish. The most unique aspect of this entree is the piki bread, finely ground blue corn blended with burnt juniper berry ash. Ash, in fact, is texturally what the bread resembles. This bread is crumbly (as in blow away light) and won’t stand up to the lightest portion of the bad-dap-suki, the “Hopi hummus” with which it is served. Hopi hummus is also unique, but its greatest resemblance to hummus is textural.

Piki Bread with Hopi Hummus:

22 July 2012: Much more traditional is the crispy pork carnitas platter, large pieces of crispy pork with red and green salsas, white tortillas, black beans and sweet corn tamale.  The carnitas are tender tendrils of pork perfectly made for the smallish corn tortillas.  Add a bit of the red or green salsa and you’ve got very good tacos.  The sweet corn tamale is essentially two scoops of a sweetened corn masa without any of the pork.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner, one of my favorite items at the Turquoise Room is the Late for the Train Coffee, an organic Turquoise Room blend.  It’s a mellow, rich coffee with a delicate roasted flavor.  Since our first visit to the Turquoise Room in 1997, it’s the only coffee we’ve had at home.

Crispy Pork Carnitas Platter: Large pieces of crispy pork Carnitas, with red and green salsas, white tortillas, black beans and sweet corn tamale

Fred Harvey would undoubtedly be very proud of the La Posada Hotel and the Turquoise Room, its fine, fine-dining restaurant.

The Turqouise Room
303 East 2nd Street (Rte 66)
Winslow, Arizona
(928) 289-4366
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 22 June 2014
1st VISIT: 8 September 2007
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Silver Dollar Pancakes, Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles, Arizona Green Chile Eggs, Native Cassoulet with Churro Lamb, Duck Leg and Elk Sausage, Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Soufflé for Two, Crispy Pork Carnitas Platter, The Corn Maiden’s Delight

Turquoise Room (La Posada Hotel) on Urbanspoon

1 2 3 20