Steak & Sinatra

We like living near the desert. Within a couple hours, we can be amongst the roadrunners, big horn sheep, ocotillo and old folks in golf carts. We enjoy navigating the endless tract housing subdivisions with romantic aspirational geographic names like Andalucia, Piedmont, Monticello and Puerta Azul (not a blue port for counties, by the way), set behind impressive walls and hedges on long stretches of grapefruit-tree-lined desert road. And always, looming majestically  behind, the gorgeous spindly peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains.

On the road out to visit my wife’s relatives, passing enormous concrete dinosaurs, forests of windmills and curious circles of decapitated palm trees evoking some desert homage to Stonehenge, I’m thinking about food. Dining in the Coachella Valley can be an interesting experience. And I’ve had the good, the bad and the ugly. In a land of hundred-year-old date farms, where every mini-mall has a taco joint or two, each likely better than the last, there are upscale restaurants catering to wealthy retirees and tanned celebrities like Robert Wagner. We like the Tommy Bahama restaurant on the chic El Paseo main drag in Palm Desert. Try the crab bisque and tortilla soup, and the Bungalow Salad is an excellent riff on Cobb. Bet the rib rack is good. And they’ve got a real Key Lime Pie. The other best dessert in the desert is probably the Hula Pie at the Cliff House in La Quinta — not quite the same as eating it at sister restaurant the Hula Grill on the beach in Kaanapali, Maui, but nonetheless… (Also a good place, if you’re single and so inclined, to meet guys in shiny shirts and cowboy boots and silicon-enhanced platinum blonds on a Friday night after work.)

Pointing the way to dates

Last time we met my sister Andrea and her hubby, Steve, out from Scottsdale. They’d lured us with links for the Indio Tamale Festival, ranked in the Top 10 “All-American Food Festivals” in the nation by Food Network. We tasted eight or ten tamales, more or less indistinguishable from one another. I love tamales, but I find them to be one of the world’s more invariable food products. One stand had a long line, maybe theirs were significantly better. I don’t know. Afterward we got steaks, a Dungeness crab and some wine, went back to the hotel and grilled by the pool. Which, I think, is the best way to eat in the desert.

Our last night in the desert this trip. I’m cooking dinner for my wife’s mom and aunts Pat and Marilyn, husbands Bob and Dennis. If I’d have been firing on all cylinders, I might’ve cooked something interesting with local dates. Instead, in a tip of the hat to the country club set and a nod to Sinatra, I once again go surf n’ turf. “Even better than at the clubhouse!” I promise. Two 3-inch cowboy ribeyes on the bone and crab cakes. Heck, I even peel the fat asparagus! “That’s the best crab cake I’ve ever had,” says Dennis. And he’s been around!

Speaking of Sinatra, we once went to a friend’s wedding at Sinatra’s Twin Palms house in Palm Springs, where it’s rumored Garbo and Dietrich made out in the piano-shaped pool, and where you can still see the chip in the bathroom tile where Frank once chucked his scotch glass at Ava Gardner in a rage. Fittingly for such a beginning, our friends marriage didn’t end well. But it was cool being at that house.


The tamale festival is in early December, if you can swing it. A nice time to be in the desert. Be sure to check schedules before you go; you might catch Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler,” at the Indian casino. If it wasn’t for the beard, you’d hardly recognize him.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ben
    Mar 01, 2011 @ 00:39:39

    This post was “tongue in cheek” . . . Right? Kind of like a culinary “Waiting for Guffman”?


  2. monica
    Mar 01, 2011 @ 17:44:03

    I loved the post! But where is the crab cake recipe 😉


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