Co-worker: Where are you going during your time off?
Me: Palm Springs.
Co-worker: That’s great! Do you golf?
Me: No. Why do people keep asking me that??
Palm Springs is apparently good for golf (not just good, fantastic), outdoor swimming pools and eating. For us, it has a great central location and we had our pick of going to LA, Vegas or San Diego for a road trip while being based in Palm Springs/Desert. Of the three activities, despite our best effort at getting to a pool, we only got around to the eating. Lots and lots.
Sherman’s Deli’s Palm Desert location is really close to where we were staying. It was an immediate reminder of how Americans go big when it comes to food. Even for a late lunch, the restaurant was full and we waited for a table while ogling the cake display with towering tortes and getting a feeling for the demographics of the city.
I was utterly torn for what to get because honestly, I’m not a big fan of deli meats. I find corned beef too salty and pastrami sounds good but not when stacked thick. I wanted to have latkes and their macaroni and potato salad and their homemade chicken soup and hot & sour cabbage soup…! The “lighter lunch” combo did fit my undecided bent where I could have chicken noodle soup, half a sandwich and, pleasantly, a salad served with it.
The soup was salty but hearty and rich with herb flavours. The potato salad was creamy and had a great texture of softened potatoes and something like potato puree holding it together. And I was very pleased with my selection of meat which was New York style hot pastrami – the meat was marbled and the fact it was hot made it better.
Other orders around the table included raw roast beef and swiss, a Philly cheese steak and the corned beef sandwich with latkes instead of bread pictured below. Indulgent!
We reacted to the large deli lunch by having a conservative dinner at the house were were staying it. After a trip to Trader Joe’s followed by Walmart, we had plenty of food and made a dinner of steamed vegetables, pasta in Alfredo sauce and Trader Joe’s Japanese Style Fried Rice (with edamame, tofu and hijiki seaweed).
The next day, we set out for Joshua Tree National Park and Jo suggested when we prudently made a stop for gas before driving 60 miles through the park that we could pick up Subway sandwiches. It was a brilliant idea and we enjoyed our subs in the picnic area near Hidden Valley Trail and had the energy for an afternoon in the blazing desert sun.
After a day spent in Joshua Tree National Park, it just fitting to stop by a brewery to break up our drive back towards the city. The brewery is bright and new and their beers have music and musician derived names. I thought their branding was slick and ties in nicely with the annual music festival that for whatever reason has now reached my radar. Their beer line-up is IPA heavy, especially what is available on tap. I spied some “black label” bottles in the fridge that included stouts but we left empty handed.
I had a bit of hesitation to go to The Cheesecake Factory. We go every trip! While the selection is diverse and we like what we like there, it’s a bit … boring, haha! So, I made do and ordered salad sides (Warm Asparagus Salad and Fresh Kale Salad) to complement NPY’s Pasta with Chicken in Scampi Sauce and felt some kind of health halo such that we could order cheesecake to go.
When we were in the US last November over (US) Thanksgiving, we spied the Lemon Meringue Cheesecake but definitely did not have the room for it. This time, we wised up and ordered it to go and they have special takeaway containers with a wedge-shaped compartment for a slice of cheesecake and a circular compartment for dollop of whipped cream. The cheesecake was deliciously light and fluffy and worth the wait.
After I found out about The Donut Man and his strawberry donut, I think I was most looking forward to it this all trip. KCET proclaims it as LA’s Iconic Dish. It is one of those over-the-top items well worth the praise. We stopped by the shop which is conveniently open 24 hours a day on easily accessible Route 66. We selected three donuts to be shared among the four of us with Americanos on a Starbucks patio just down the street.
It was a good thing we had one small chocolate dipped cruller to offset the larger and heavier items. It would have been more sensational to have gotten the excessively long “Long John” but NPY put the brakes on that. The berry cream donut was topped with cream cheese whipping cream which I do enjoy. And the strawberry donut was just the right amount when you have less than one half. Each strawberry was perfect and glazed and the flaky glazed donut was a good accompaniment.
Baccali Cafe and Rotisserie [Yelp]
Our next stop before getting into LA was in Alhambra for a HKSC (Hong Kong Style Cafe) meal. I was aiming to eat in San Gabriel Valley, the “new” Chinatown, but this was close enough. During their lunch rush, they were busy but we got a booth in a corner right away. It was the second day of the new Lunar Year, a day of feasting and I saw several tables splurge on a lobster dish or two. The point of the Day 2 meal is to “open the year” and have so much food that there are leftovers signifying having plenty during the year. So we each ordered a dish.
We ordered XO seafood fried rice and black pepper beef chow mein which were solid. We ordered a baked fish filet in creamy cheese sauce that was really tart to the smell and I thought off-putting. And since rotisserie is in the name of the restaurant, I ordered a half-chicken with a side of Hainan rice. The half chicken was a good deal and the meat was roasted well and still tender in the white meat portions. The “Hainan rice” was a bit of a cop out and we routinely enjoy far tastier at one of our favourite restaurants in Vancouver. It’s what happens when you don’t know yet what is truly good in a city you’re visiting.
We were so delighted to see a small jug of condensed milk served with our milk tea and happily treated ourselves during this special New Year meal.
After lunch and after visiting Santa Monica Beach and Pier and Third Street Promenade, we were down for having dinner and originally wanted to go to K-Town. But a check with Google Maps and we were floored it would take over an hour to get there, just 10 miles away. And nearly an hour if we wanted to just rest up at the hotel. We hadn’t encountered such heavy traffic our last trip, so we just decided to go somewhere closer, to the UCLA area. Maybe we would eat dessert before heading for KTown dinner, haha. But we ended up picking up burgers at In-N-Out Burger, Chris and Jo’s first In-N-Out so I was happy to acquiesce and save a bit of money and appetite for …
Visiting Chilly Ribbons has been on my list for so long I wasn’t all that exited about it. In a bright shop reminiscent of those numerous self-serve froyo places, the ice block was described to us. Something about it containing pure juice and it was shaved into a cup after I selected my size and which flavours (mango and strawberry). The cup with shaved ice was weighed and I was off to the toppings bar where I didn’t quite know what toppings suited fruit-flavoured ice. Certainly not the candies and chocolates. I stuck to popping boba beads, a cube of grass jelly for NPY, a cube of coconut jelly and red bean. They container was weighed again and I was charged my final total and then told I could go nuts with the syrups! Just a bit of condensed milk.
The queue for Diddy Riese wasn’t too crazy right at dinner time although it was a Friday evening. Since I was having shaved ice, only NPY and Jo got ice cream sandwiches and were roundly impressed with the quantity, novelty and the experience. :)
Our thing now is to seek out breweries when we visit different cities but it can be a little difficult to me because I’m guessing at what NPY would like. I’ve heard of Washington and Oregon breweries but none of the California ones (in LA and Palm Springs) struck me as familiar. So, I was selecting ones to visit based on location and our hotel was closest to El Segundo. As we drove down a very industrial stretch with Chevron Refinery on one side, I was apologetic for what area I had directed us to but we turned onto Main Street, we were back to civilization and a happening corner of El Segundo.
The brewery is half underground and busy two hours before it would close for the evening. It was totally casual and everyone was happy. NPY and Jo ordered a flight each and some of the samples had nearly double the usual alcohol content! It was a completely different and very welcoming environment from the first brewery we visited (which simply needs to mature some and visit at a busier time) and a great spot. Rant Lifestyle ranked it third on its top 10 list and had said about El Segundo, “Do not, under any circumstance, skip this brewery.”
The next morning, we were back at the LA Farmer’s Market and The Grove where the latter, for me, is a constant disappointment. I thought the meals might be a redux of last year with the visit bookended by meals at Veggie Grill and Umami Burger. It would just be Veggie Grill.
This time around, I tried the Savory Kale Caesar and stuck with the Buffalo Chick’n Mini Wrap. The Kale Caesar was tasty and I chewy the tempeh “bacon bits” wondering what taste it reminded me of. Something Chinese and slightly musty. Which meant to me it wasn’t bad. The wrap was spicier than I remember and a disappointment in light of seeing Jo’s mac ‘n’ cheese that was an option for my combination. Split between NPY and me, we would have enjoyed the mac ‘n’ cheese which was unexpectedly good and unique with a touch of coconut milk.
Jeon Ju Restaurant [Yelp]
We capped off our two-day visit to LA with dinner in KTown at a restaurant well-known for its bibimbap. Well, our expectations were raised. We were there for a pretty early dinner so it wasn’t busy yet. We each ordered a bibimbap and NPY selected a tofu soup and Chris and Jo got a japchae.
Shortly before our food arrived, the banchan appeared. I was intrigued to see some dishes I hadn’t before encountered including the chive pancake, marinated celery (yech), cold chili mini octopus (yech!), kimchi daikon in cold broth (not pictured) and warm kimchi napa and noodles in broth. I especially like the warm banchan.
From what we got to taste, the japchae was fragrant and delicious and wonderfully al dente. NPY was disappointed with our kalbi bibimbap which wasn’t hot enough or intense enough in flavour – Jo and Chris enjoyed their bulgogi beef bibimbap more. And when the server brought to us our soybean tofu stew, we caught a whiff of what seemed to be like b.o. like that coming off a big sweaty jock. We identified that smell from our stew and it was a little scary – I guess soybean paste can differ quite a bit from one brand to the next! I didn’t taste at all like the smell and I got accustomed to the smell. We did enjoy the stew more than the rice.
When we were last in New York (in 2011), Bonnie introduced us to Norma’s in the Parker Meridien. She was bringing all of her visitors there where the creations were crazy and portions were crazier. So I was excited to go again upon learning there is a Parker Meridien Palm Springs with a Norma’s. I neglected to refer to our 2011 meal there to avoid ordering the same dishes, haha. So, brunch at Norma’s on Sunday was the one NPY and I arranged as a “thank you” to our hosts, NPY’s aunt and uncle who let us stay in their vacation home.
The Parker Palm Springs is a quite different from the Parker hotel in New York which was fancy and elegant. As fitting Palm Springs, the Parker there was funky and the restaurant was practically outdoors. It was because I had suggested the whole affair that I was worried.
We were given shotglasses of the smoothie of the day which was prepared with berries while we perused the menu and weighed which brunch or lunch dish to order. Everyone was torn between at least two choices!
Aunt and Uncle went with lighter fare, “Rabbit Food”: Rock Lobster and Mango Salad and Charlie’s Chopped Cobb Salad (not pictured, rather, it’s in the background of the other salad). These were colourful creations and the lobster I tried was fresh and excellent for rock lobster.
NPY got Norma’s Eggs Benedict, of course. To my delight, Jo ordered the Claw’s and Chip’s Gone Fishing, a version of fish and chips with lobster and Chilean sea bass.
I got the Waz-Za? which was familiar from the last time for its berry content and to provide NPY with something sweet to eat after his eggs Benedict. I really enjoyed the yogurt as waffle syrup and it all tied together to nicely who would think fruit, yogurt and waffles could be so decadent?
Our aunt and uncle’s recommendation was Okura in La Quinta and they way they described it, we were completely on board: all-you-can-eat beautifully plated good quality sushi. We were unfortunately late arriving for dinner, dashing back from the outlet mall in Cabazon but aunt and uncle could check off a pile of items to get us started and handed it to the server as soon as we arrived. They bring all of their visitors to Okura so they knew which items were especially worth trying.
Tempura vegetables and shrimp: the bottom piece was an onion! It was an unpleasant surprise but then was a bit like an onion ring, heavy on the onion though.
Dynamite Rock Shrimp: lovely presentation in these cute goblets – the shrimp were small but plump, fried and drizzled like ebi mayo.
Chicken Robata skewers
Nigiri: chopped scallop, masago, tuna, unagi, tamago
Two bottles of this “Aladdin bottle” were imbibed.
Serrano Hamachi carpaccio
Baked Scallop – California Roll topped with baked scallops, a miso glaze and eel sauce. I especially liked this one because the baked scallop was especially tasty.
Crunch – Shrimp tempura, avocado and tempura flakes
Red Dragon – Shrimp tempura, cucumbers, spicy tuna and avocado
California – Crab with avocado
Hotate – Spicy scallops with green onion and tobiko
Robata grilled spare ribs
Mochi ice cream in strawberry and mango flavours
Chocolate and creme brulee
Matcha ice cream
Not pictured but ordered and ingested: a second round of nigiri including salmon, gyoza dumplings, miso soup, sashimi salad, wasabi Caesar salad, seaweed salad, Sonomono “Cucumber” salad,
One more meal before we hit the road (rather, before our flight). We suggested Elmer’s Restaurant or the cool-looking Lulu California bistro in downtown Palm Springs. Aunt and uncle countered with Elmer and Grill-A-Burger so we settled on Elmer’s. They have plenty of locations in Washington and Oregon so I wanted to try it out in case it becomes a go-to restaurant when we make our day trips state-side.
I was kind of advocating that NPY get the impressive German pancake topped with breakfast items like eggs and sausage while I was sticking to a BLTA sandwich and salad combination but he didn’t take me up on it and got a decent chicken-fried steak sandwich. The soft bun with my sandwich tied it together well, surprisingly. Uncle ordered potato pancakes which were a nice and savoury turn.