You might wonder why I would choose to spend a long weekend in Palm Springs in 108 degree temperatures. Well, because Phoenix was predicting thunderstorms, and the surface of the sun was all booked up. We headed out on the 10 Thursday morning. We decided to have lunch at Farmer Boy’s to see why the Mayor was always crowing about it. We pulled into the franchise in Ontario near Truck City. You could watch trains pass by from the widow, so that probably factors into the Mayor’s prediliction. I ordered the Farmer Boy, and Bob got a regular hamburger. I added on fried zucchini, then when I noticed a stacked cone of giant onion rings on another diner’s table, I called back to Bob to get them too. I didn’t realize he had also ordered fries, so when our tray arrived there was a mindboggling array of fried goodness.
I have to say, though, it was kind of greasy, and the onions had lost their bite. But the hamburger...wow. It was fantastic. And huge. I can see what all the fuss is about. I would definitely return for that burger if we lived nearby. I had worried that the guacamole and thousand island-style sauce would clash, but all of the flavors melded perfectly. The patty was nicely charred, which is the make-or-break factor for me.
Although it was not table service, the counter person appeared twice to make sure our food was satisfactory and to refill our drinks, which was a nice touch. I have to confess that the explosion of country charm was a bit much for me. Which is strange, because I grew up visiting my relatives' farms in the summer. I thought back to my aunts' houses and all I can see are bare wood floors and bare wood tables. Kind of like Ma and Pa Kettle. I looked up at the luxurious chintz valances, and I realized my aunts couldn;t afford chintz. And they didn;t have time to waste carving bonneted geese out of wood.
When we hit Cabazon, we stopped at the Hadley Fruit Orchards. It was like snackers paradise. They sold all manner of dried fruit, nuts and candies, as well as every single wine mentioned in the song “Wine Spo-de-o-dee”. Then, just in case you were not already impressed by the endless selection of nuts, there was a refrigerated section containing ostrich eggs the size of cantaloupes.
We left with bags full of Jordan almonds, sesame-coated peanuts, dried apricots, banana chips, and sugar-free toffee. Cabazon has turned into something of a boom town with the arrival of the Morongo Casino. The Wheel Inn used to be a lone oasis in the desert, but now a row of outlet stores has joined the casino, the Burger King, and the cartoonishly named Mega Burger, which surround Claude Bell's dinosaurs.
We stopped in for some pie, and were surprised to see that all of the employees have been outfitted in Flinstones-style caveman uniforms. I wonder how that staff meeting must have gone. Anyways, I ordered my usual peanut-butter pie...the pie of the gods, and Bob ordered peach cobbler. It is amazing how they manage to keep the crusts so crisp, with no filling seepage whatsoever – even in the cobbler. They must serve them so fresh the crusts don’t have a chance to get soggy.
When we got to the hot springs, we were too tired to do anything but have a long soak. The impeccable landscaping of the grounds gives each hot tub complete privacy. We were relaxing in a secluded two-person jacuzzi when a little girl walked over and just stood there staring at us.
Finally Bob said, “Hi.” (Translation: “Why are you standing there staring at us?”)
“Hiiiii.” (Translation: “Please go away. You are making us uncomfortable.”)
“Do you know where the pool is?”
“Oh. It’s over there.” (Translation: “Whew. She had a valid reason for wandering over here to stare at us.”)
“Oh, I know where it is. I just wanted to know if you knew where it was.”
For dinner, we hit the Sunshine Café in the affiliated Desert Spa next door. The service was insanely slow as the teenage workers kept getting into squabbles with each other and power struggles with the chef. When we finally got our pasta dishes, they were OK. There was really nothing wrong with them. They were OK. But I felt like I had squandered my precious appetite, an appetite which could have been put to good use eating good food. I started wondering if maybe there is something wrong with me. Something that separates me from the average person who is perfectly happy eating Applebee’s and Lean Cuisine. “OK” just doesn’t cut it with me.
The next morning we ordered room service. Miracle Springs has excellent room service. As usual, the eggs benedict and biscuits and gravy were perfect. Maybe I am not so difficult to please after all. We spent the better part of the day soaking in the hot springs. I had a fantastic massage, relaxed for awhile in their not-too-suffocating-not-too-hot-just-right sauna, and then sunk into my very own jacuzzi with a cold Fiji water and copy of “A Cook’s Tour.” Life could not get any better. It was the perfect day. And I knew we were going to have a perfect evening. We had reservations at Cuistot.
After Le Vellauris disappointed us on our last trip, I started researching French restaurants in the Coachella valley. I chose Cuistot in Palm Desert, just East of Palm Springs (and this time I made sure East was East). Their chef, Bernard Dervieux, serves highly lauded California/French cuisine inspired by his native Lyons. The ambiance is simultaniously homey and impressive, with high cathedral ceilings and an imposing fireplace. But best of all was the aquarium-like glass wall looking into the kitchen. While we waited for our table, I unabashedly stood at the glass, staring at the chefs as if they were a television set. I watched one chef cut cute little teensy chops, then he pulled out a huge, meaty chop and set to work carving. I knew what I was having for dinner. Once we were seated, they brought out amuse bouches of goat cheese in puff pastry, a nice touch. For appetizers, Bob ordered a crab gratin, and I ordered the foie gras with apples and Calvados. The sommelier proactively offered me a Sauterne to pair with the foie gras. I don’t like wine. It is just too tannic and vinegary for me. I am a champagne afficianado. Now, let me just say that three of my brothers are relentless wine snobs (the fourth drinks nothing but Coors silver bullets). For years my brothers have been making me taste the most expensive wines they can find, thinking they can change my mind. One of them even bought me a 1966 something-or-other since that is the year in which I was born. The sommelier was exceedingly charming and had already shown his psychic powers by bringing me one of my favorite champagnes after only listening to a description of my preferred characteristics. So I said, “OK. If you think you are the one who is going to succeed in turning me out after all these years, bring it on.” I swirled, sniffed, swished and admired the legs. It was cloyingly sweet and not too tannic. It could work. The foie gras was as good as the foie gras I had in Paris, which is an amazing feat. The sauce was generous, and quite sweet, which rendered the Sauterne redundant. But if there had not been any sauce, the wine would have been a perfect foil for the foie gras. Bob’s crab was delicious if a little intense for me. The sommelier had suggested a Pinot Noir from a small winery called Westley for Bob, and he was falling madly in love with it, frequently saying things like, “I just want to fall into this glass.” And “I want to live in this wine”.
Our main courses arrived - a filet mignon for Bob, and one of those giant beef chops for me. I always knew there were pork chops and lamb chops. I don’t know why I never realized that there would be beef chops as well. The filet was delicious and dense, as dense as liver. It must have been seriously aged. My chop was just heaven. Pure heaven. Both dishes were accompanied by fresh farm vegetables, and mine arrived with a surprisingly delicious celery root puree and some sharp watercress to cut the richness of the beef. We split their signature dessert, a raspberry feuillette, which was a heavy custard sandwiched between homemade puff pastry. Raspberries and caramel were an unusual pairing, but it worked. At the end of the meal, as we were leaving, the chef was standing behind us and bid us goodnight. I caught him off-guard, and maybe frightened him a little, by squashing him with an impulsive and aggressive bear hug.
We awoke on Saturday with a half-hour to check out of the hotel. We were having such a nice holiday that we decided to call the front desk and reserve an extra night. We headed into downtown Palm Springs for a little shopping. Bob needed another shirt since he hadn’t packed for three days. We drove by Sherman's Deli, but it is closed until September 26th. We checked out a few boutiques and were absolutely floored. Sticker shock does not begin to describe it. Men’s shirts averaged 180 dollars!
We decided to hell with the shirt and went to Tyler’s for sliders. Tyler’s is in the center of the Palm shopping center. There is a small dining area inside with stools, and lots of seating outside on a terrace. I got two sliders instead of one regular-sized burger...because they were cuter.
We also ordered coleslaw, fries, a small chili and a root beer float. Bob went with a vegetarian burger because the copious amounts of beef I was devouring was starting to get to him. He said it was a great veggie burger. The chili was interesting – it was made with beans, then pureed so it looked like Cincinatti chili. The spices were well-balanced, but it was a topping. Great on top of a hot dog, not as good in a bowl. The coleslaw was sweet and creamy and perfect. The fries were good. But the sliders were a revelation. I heard angels singing. Or maybe it was the sound of my arteries slowly clogging. The patties were thick and juicy and delicious. The buns were light and fluffy and brushed with a little oil. Wow. Go there. Now.
We noticed a banner for the Palm Springs art museum. We weren’t sure there would be much to it, but I figured a town full of rich retirees probably makes for some nice donations. As expected, there was plenty of “Old West” and native art, plus a few desert landscapes. What I was not expecting was to see a Lichtenstein in the Old West area. As I walked up the stairway to the second floor’s Mesoamerican art exhibit, my eyes were hijacked by a huge glass sculpture on the third floor – Dale Chihuly! One of my favorites! I headed straight for it.
At the top of the stairs we were greeted by a Borofsky figure monotonously intoning, “Chitter chatter chitter chatter chitter chatter...” It was a great collection, with big pieces of glass that I had fun taking pictures through. On the way out I decided we should check out a painting of the number 4 on the landing. An old couple had been sitting in front of it the entire time we were there. So there must be something to it. As I approached, the old couple did not stir, so I realized that they were sculptures. But as I turned my head to look at them, the woman blinked. I stopped dead in my tracks. Bob gestured to a sign that said: DO NOT DISTURB THE OLD COUPLE. They were definitely an art installation. But I have seen art installations that included live people, so I just kind of backed away. They definitely gave me the willies, which is all you can really ask of art. On the way out, I asked the guard about it. He said that they were made from molds of real people, but that they were just inanimate objects. I asked if they were animatronic or something. He said they do not move at all, but that visitors always insist to him that they do. He said their realism makes him wonder when androids might walk among us. After a few minutes of deep conversation, I realized, “Oh no. I have gotten myself into a conversation about robots taking over the earth and I have no idea how to extricate myself from it.”
On our way back to Miracle Springs, we spotted a Ross and ran in to get Bob a couple of 14 dollar shirts. In your face, 180-dollar boutiques! We read and took long baths, then headed back into town to LG’s Prime Steakhouse. I was on a roll. I had found a theme – burgers and steaks. From the moment you enter their ceiling-high wooden doors, you are transported into a world of old-school charm. The servers are solicitous yet unobtrusive as they fill your water, remove extraneous silverware and clean crumbs from the table. I immediately fell in love with our funny and charming waiter, Troy. He took my every picky little need extremely seriously. He was only happy if I was happy.
The warm sourdough rolls that appeared in the flurry of our arrival tasted homemade. Bob, having had enough of my beef-fest, ordered crab cakes and shrimp scampi. Their two-step aging process (wet, then dry-aged) looked good, but I got the wet-aged filet mignon with crab legs surf-and-turf. Everything is a la carte, so I ordered a small side of fried potatoes and a large side of green beans. The crab cakes, made with dungeness and snowflake crab, had a very different taste than the blue crab I am used to. It was not seared and crispy, more of a crab “loaf”, rich with crab, in an intense red bell pepper sauce. My crab legs were fine...it’s kind of hard to really make them shine, or really screw them up. The potatoes were good, and the green beans would have been good if not for an overzealous hand with the crushed red pepper. Although Bob preferred them with a little kick. Later my server, Troy, noticed that I hadn’t eaten the green beans and was aghast that I did not tell him right away so they could have made me another batch. Don’t you love him too? The scampi was interesting. It went beyond the usual garlic and butter with the generous addition of ground chili spices. Bob and I thought it was delicious, but I know my mom would have raised hell if she had ordered scampi and gotten that. I save the best for last. The steak. Oh my God, that filet! As my knife glided through it, I thought, “It’s just like butter.” Then I thought, “Geez, just like butter? How clichéd can you get? There must be another simile out there somewhere.” But I couldn’t think of one. It was like butter. That steak says, “Now THAT is why LG’s is in the Top Ten Hall of Fame Steakhouses!” Slap a blue ribbon on that filet! As we waddled out, my new favorite person, Troy, recommended that we come back to try his fantastic tableside Caesar salad and gave me a brochure with the recipe.
LG’s Prime Steakhouse Classic Caesar Salad
10 oz Romaine lettuce, chopped in 1-inch squares
1 oz. anchovies (approximately 2)
1 Tablespoon fresh garlic, pressed
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 egg yolk, coddled
½ cup good quality virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons Red wine vinegar
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup seasoned croutons (homemade preferred)
Freshly ground black pepper
Place anchovies and garlic in a wooden salad bowl. Crush into a fine paste with two dinner forks. Add Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce to paste and stir. Add egg yolk and continue to stir.
SLOWLY add olive oil while continuously stirring. Add lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and half the parmesan cheese. Stir.
Place Romaine lettuce in dressing mixture and toss, making sure to wet all sides of lettuce leaves.
Add croutons and the remaining parmesan cheese. Serve on cold plates with chilled forks. Sprinkle with ground pepper to taste.
The next morning we packed up and drove straight to the Wheel Inn for breakfast. We love their breakfast more than any other breakfast in the world. I scanned their menu for beef, since now it was more than a theme, it was a mission. I ordered chicken-fried steak and eggs. I have never been big on chicken-fried steak, it seemed like an exercise in Southern excess. I mean, what could you possibly do to it to make it worse for you? Pipe it full of Twinkie filling and candy coat it? But at least it was steak. And I was on a mission. I took one bite of the perfectly crispy chicken fried steak and thought, “Well, slap my face and call me Bubba. I am a convert”.
Bob went for a simple Denver omelette. Everything was good. As always. And the waitresses were friendly. And the room is cozy. And they have Area 51, the world’s greatest video game. How the truckers must look forward to this stop!
I had a number of possible stops on my agenda for the trip home...the Beaumont Swap Meet, The Donut Man, an interesting little cemetary, but I had to show Bob some mercy. Marriage is about compromise. Somewhere around Rosemead I had to make a pit stop. As we drove around, I saw the coolest sign. For a burger joint. I looked at Bob. He looked at me. I asked, “How far are you willing to go to humor me?”
He hung a U-turn and we went into E&J Burgers. It was a combination burger joint/taco joint, which is really not uncommon in the Los Angeles area. I ordered a small burger, and a carne asada taco.
As we drove off, I offered the burger to Bob. He just looked at me like I was crazy. It was a nice charred patty, if a bit thin, with fresh trimmings and a soft bun. I set it aside and opened the glistening asada taco. That was really what kept them in business. So if you ever find yourself in Rosemeade, E&J beats the McDonalds across the street by a mile, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to hunt it down. Unless you are looking for birria.
As we got closer to home, we knew we would have to stop for dinner. I felt like no burger tour would be complete without a trip to our home-town favorite, Rick’s.
We ordered a burger and fries to split. When the waitress set down our tray, it felt like she was setting down a brontosaurus burger. It had a thin, nicely charred patty, nice bun, and the only really ripe red tomato I have ever seen on a burger. But it is just not the same. I told Bob, “I guess Tyler’s has ruined me for all other burgers. It’s good, but I remembered it as being sooooooooo good.” Bob said, “Well, usually when we come here you’re hungry. The fifth burger is just never as good as the first.”
The Wheel Inn 50900 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, CA 92230. (951) 849-7012
Cuistot 72-595 El Paseo, Palm Desert 92260 (760) 340-1000
LG’s Prime Steakhouse 255 South Palm Canyon, Palm Springs 92292 (760) 416-1779
E & J Burger 9510 East Garvey Ave., South El Monte 91733 (626) 443-0644
Rick’s Drive In and Out 2400 Fletcher Dr Los Angeles, CA 90039 (323) 660-5988