After a luxurious sleep in, I roll over and read a few chapters while Rob takes a bidness call, we hop in the KIA and head up to Palm Desert and the Palm to Pine Highway. This winding roadway will take us up three thousand feet past spectacular views of the Coachella Valley at our feet. Further on there will be views of the snowy peaks of San Jacinto and Santa Rosa, and beyond that, lunch awaits at the Paradise Valley Cafe.
Palm to Pines highway is a well maintained, slightly harrowing climb through mountain passes with spectacular views. Don’t look Rob, just drive! We pull into a few turnoffs (which allow faster traffic to pass) to take photos before we come to the main vista point overlooking Coachella.
The views of the Coachella Valley from this vantage are spectacular, marred only by douchebag cretins who think nothing of tossing their trash over the barrier and in the parking areas. The view of the Valley below and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains is a symphony of pastels beginning with the azure blue of the clear sky, the pinks, buffs, greys, apricot, rust and mocha of the rocky peaks to the green sage dotting the rock faces and crevices in a bid for a foothold. Teddy bear cholla cactus, agave, century plant and octillo make their home below the 3000 foot elevation. These plants become more sparse, giving way to pinion pines at the higher elevations, where we get the best views of St. Jacinto and Santa Rosa. We left the towering, stately, royal palms at the base of our climb.
After an hour drive to conquer 24 miles of twisting, rising roads, we come upon the Paradise Valley Cafe.
They are only serving lunch by 11:30 which is fine. They are known for their burgers and Rob orders The Harley Davidson, with a whole green chili and cheese. It was a great, homemade angus burger with fresh toppings. Definitely fit the burger jones he was feeling.
I went with the chicken burrito, spying spumoni ice cream on the menu…maybe later. The burrito comes out the size of a football. It is stuffed with rice, chicken and refried beans, smothered in cheese and enchilada sauce, accompanied by both red and green salsas, each of which have quite a bit of heat.
Back at the Ace for a little photo work and cocktails! Three Desert Facials (vodka, pineapple, cucumber, and mint) in and I decide it is a good time to play some ping pong. Best of three! I won’t say who won…ok I won but it was uncomfortably close. The man has a wicked back spin.
This evening we are headed a short drive from our hotel to dine at Rooster and The Pig, a contemporary vision of Vietnamese cuisine. Not much to look outside and nestled into a small strip mall, there is a small crowd waiting for seats. We get on the list and are seated within minutes. By 6:45 there is a large crowd waiting. The house front staff, wait staff and from what I can see of the kitchen staff, are not Vietnamese. The resto is sparsely decorated with small mementos from Vietnam and a few favorite cookbooks. Clearly this is a labour of love of Vietnamese food.
The house is full of 40 and 50 year old diners with the exception of two twenty somethings beside us. In Vancouver this place would have a younger vibe, but Palm Springs is an old town and this crowd is “young”.
Our server brings us a amuse bouche of a spicy rice porridge, speckled with a little shredded chicken, scallion and roasted garlic. A delicious way to quick up your appetite for more spicy food. This kitchen as we found, was not afraid of garlic and chilies!
The menu is not very large and that in itself is different than most Vietnamese places. There are starters, mains to be shared and “autumn rolls” which are the same as summer rolls, delicious things wrapped in rice paper and dunked in noc cham. The Rooster and Pig offers a number of fillings in their rolls, all of which are inspiring and unique. We chose one with lemongrass pork, date, cucumber, carrot and daikon glass noodle. Fresh and delicious. Other rolls came with wood ear and green papaya and I wish I could have sampled them all.
Next up we tried the charred brussel sprouts, an unusual ingredient on a Vietnamese menu. Sauteed in tons of fresh garlic and fish sauce and tossed with thin slices of a pepperoni like Asian sausage, they were a standout.
Mains took a really long time to come out but as we were in no hurry, it was nice to have a little down time to digest our starters. We ordered three mains to share which was a bit ambitious now that I think of it.
First up was a crispy beef and noodle. The thin egg noodles were very well dressed with scallions, onion and soy, and tossed with delicious morsels of crisp fried beef. The perfect noodle dish. Full on umami.
The shrimp poppers were well thought out menu item but missed the mark somehow. Delicate cups of a well made bean custard and pieces of shrimp are folded into lettuce leaves with a little red cabbage and noc cham. The noc cham overpowered the delicate custard. Maybe a little citrusy sauce would have been more complimentary.
Our third main was a more classic dish of spicy garlic shrimp and green beans bok choy, onions and chanterelles in a very spicy chili sauce. The shrimp were perfectly cooked but overpowered again by the chili sauce. The green beans however, were the star of this dish and really stood up nice to the chilis.
Rooster and the Pig is an inspired take on Vietnamese cuisine, incorporating classic dishes with new and fresh ingredients. I could return there daily for the sprouts, autumn rolls and the crispy beef noodles.