01 February 2007

California PS: Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills & Sea Grille in Palm Desert

I don’t feel like I must review every restaurant I eat at. Most of the time it’s an easy decision which ones to write about and which to not. But sometimes, the decision is not so easy. On our recent trip to Southern California, we had two restaurant experiences that fell into that grey zone. Basically, they were both good restaurants. I just don’t have a lot to say about them.

In Chapter 3, I mentioned that we ate a late lunch in Beverly Hills. The restaurant was Il Fornaio (the bakery). Turns out it’s actually a chain of restaurants and bakeries in California, Nevada, and Washington.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived, so no problem getting a table. We kept an eye out for celebrities, but none to be seen. We ordered a salad and an entrée and shared both. The server was very accommodating and brought separate plates to facilitate sharing (and no extra plate charge). The salad was an Insalata Invernale. It was endive, frisee, radicchio, red grapes, gorgonzola and toasted walnuts tossed lightly with champagne vinaigrette. The pasta we ordered was Cappellacci di Zucca. It consisted of ravioli filled with butternut squash and walnuts, served on a bed of tomato sauce and topped with brown butter, parmesan and crispy sage. We enjoyed both very much.

Apropos a bakery, they served very good bread and bread sticks. The olive oil for dipping was top quality. (I didn’t ask for butter.) We each had a glass of wine – hers a Pinot Grigio Il Fornaio and mine a Barbera Il Fornaio.

After we left L.A., we drove to Palm Desert for a conference. We stayed at the Marriott Desert Springs. Nearly all of the meals there were part of the conference. But our first night was free. We made arrangements to dine with another couple attending the conference.

We had done some research into restaurants in Palm Desert. But we ultimately decided to just stay and eat at the resort. We chose the Sea Grille.

A couple of us had the Caesar salad. It was served with Spanish white anchovies. (Here’s what the Gourmet Food Store says about Spanish white anchovies: “Little white anchovies from Spain are filleted and marinated in olive oil and salt, creating a very mild dish. Fry them, toss them in salads and pizzas or just eat them with some fresh bread. Simple and delicious. Temporarily out of stock.” The salad was good, though I like Caesar dressing a little tangier than this one was. One person in our group had clam chowder.

As you might expect at the “Sea Grille,” most of our group ordered fish – one trout, one ahi tuna, one swordfish. I was the oddball. I ordered lamb chops.

They had a very nice wine list with a lot of wines in the $32-$48 range. They also have a reserve list with more expensive bottles.

The food was good, and we had a very pleasant evening. But when I started to think about my blog entry, I couldn’t come up with much to say.

But I did come up with a theory about a resort restaurant like Sea Grille. With the hotel and the vacation homes surrounding the golf course, I bet they get a lot of repeat customers. If these people are choosing to stay in the resort to eat, they want something that’s reliably good, even if that means it’s predictable. (In this context, ‘predictable’ is not a bad thing.) And you’re not going to spend $80-$100 for a bottle of wine every night, but you might spend $32. So Sea Grille (and I bet the other restaurants in the resort) is positioned as this nice, reliable, good, not-too-expensive restaurant that people don’t mind eating at once a week or maybe even more often.

Anyway, it worked for us. We had a comfortable table, attentive service, good food, good affordable wine, and we enjoyed a leisurely dinner with new friends.

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