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24-Hour Party Palate: 3 Palm Springs Culinary Picks

by David  Perry
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Friday Mar 8, 2013
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Yes - we all know about the Palm Springs White Party. It’s loud. It’s lavish. It’s the largest "day dance" festival in North America... and the one place you can wear white after Labor Day and not have Rachel Zoe publicly humiliate you. Maybe.

While four days of men, techno and sexual objectification could fill up anybody’s dance card, the fact remains that at one point, you are going to have to eat. It is with this revelation that you will discover that there is more to Palm Springs than just a party. Who knew?


Trio

"It’s the place where Palm Springs eats," beams Tony Marchese, who with partner and chef Mark Van Laanen created Trio as a down-home homage to California cuisine.

In something of a flashback, like much of Palm Springs, Trio revels in the faux-futurism of midcentury modernism. From Dansk furniture, Formica tabletops and capiz shell chandeliers to shades of orange not seen for 50 years, the décor is as vibrant as the cuisine.

But for all of the Hanna-Barbera inspiration, Marchese and Van Laanen underlay the frills with a firm culinary foundation. The expansive menu is studded with comfort food favorites including crawfish pot-pie ($23), Yankee pot roast ($19), and good ol’ mac-n-cheese ($17 - served as a side but suitable for a guilty pleasure entrée). Capped with desserts like the "Chocolate Pot-Au-Crème," Trio has seduced the locals and critics alike, receiving accolades from The Los Angeles Times and Frommer’s among others.

"My dream is that people come here, relax, and have a great meal," Marchese shares. Trio began, he says, as something he wanted to be passionate about and it shows.


Lulu

I knew Lulu and I had a special bond when I was served a margarita in a glass that most likely began life as a small punchbowl.

"We are known for huge portions," says an unrepentant Willie Rhine, the restaurant’s general manager. A glitter-fabulous downtown anchor, the two-level Lulu is all about the delectable overload.

I formally began with the portabella mushroom tower ($10.99). Stuffed with spinach and set in a dollop of mashed potatoes, this savory intro was so good I made it a theme, and went for the pan-seared Maine sea scallops ($27.99, also served atop a portabella mushroom) as my main course. Clean tasting and complemented by a tart mango sauce, the scallops were plump and cooked to perfection, offset by the crunchiness of the vegetables.

But it was with the bread pudding ($6.99) that stole the show. Not because I’m a sugar addict; indeed, quite the opposite. This interpretation was well balanced and a can’t-miss crowd pleaser.


Workshop Kitchen + Bar

One part Old West, one part Industrial Chic, the relative newcomer Workshop Kitchen + Bar bucks the Palm Springs penchant for mod in favor of something a little more steampunky. The rough-hewn wood beams reminded me that the building wherein Workshop resides was built in 1926, but the wrought-iron light fixtures and concrete seats proclaim co-owners Michael Beckman and Joe Mourani had something else in mind than a typical California bistro.

"The design helps get people in the door," admits Beckman, "but the reason we see the same faces here three, four times a week is that the food is delicious and completely unique."

The crispy goat cheese ($13) was a perfect start, not too tart, but not bland. I’m a burger boy at heart, and Hercules Ranch Burger ($19), chock-full of exotics like truffle pecorino and oxtail, is a perfect example of how to turn a beef patty into an art form. Likewise with the panna cotta ($9) - masterfully done, I get the distinct impression Beckman, also the chef, really does take the time to burn the sugar with a blowtorch, rather than order those candy-disks the wannabes rely on.

Be prepared, however, for a malleable menu. Workshop is all about farm-to-table cuisine and even lists the farms from which Beckman picks and chooses the building blocks for his creations. Dishes vary from season to season and year to year, giving the menu a local flavor and distinctly Californian spin.

It’s topped off by a backlit bar stocked with so many bottles that it looks like a wizard’s laboratory. "Everything shows we put time and thought into the entire production," says Beckman.

As if the taste weren’t proof enough.

For more Palm Springs dining options, visit:
www.visitpalmsprings.com/dine.


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