Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Desert Déjà vu at Europa

It’s always a little strange for me to visit the Coachella Valley as someone who doesn’t live there anymore after spending three-fourths of my life there completely entrenched in the arts and non-profit communities. It was a place where I couldn’t walk down the street in the morning without seeing someone I knew. When I left, I extricated myself from that kind of familiarity in return for the anonymity of Los Angeles where I could hide my head in the sand, focus on my art and writing and not have to socialize for work anymore but rather spend my spare hours on foodie adventures in a strange, new land.

So I found it very amusing when the Cute Gardener and I went to the desert for a friend’s birthday party last weekend and had a quintessential case of desert déjà vu while dining at Europa Restaurant in the charming and quaint Villa Royale resort in Deepwell, which remains one of my favorite non-disturbed neighborhoods in Palm Springs.

I had only eaten there once before about ten years ago, treated to a meal by a well known donor in the gay community who I worked with closely on a yearly humanitarian awards gala. Funnily enough, the moment we were seated, in walked this same man who had introduced me to the place all those years prior with a new party of people to introduce to the restaurant. And even funnier, I knew each and every one of those people too as they had been people I had either worked with or had been clients of mine when I lived there. I chuckled inwardly at the fact that I couldn’t get away from these people or the desert in my blood if I tried but that I was really happy to be causally dining next to them as a visitor from my new life rather than feeling that old feeling of the impetus to network instead of enjoying my meal.

Over enormous Hendrick's gin martinis, the déjà vu continued with the meal because Europa represents an ambiance that is customary to old school valley cuisine. There are certain characteristics of this culinary genre like expensive classic dishes from the archives of a glamorous yesteryear perpetually served and rarely updated for the times, dim golden lit living room type settings, the excessive usage of seasoning and sauces, beefed up manly cocktails and the last bastion of above average service.

So of course, I ordered the escargot to start given all of these particulars and it was an odd variety of four mealy little nuggets served on top of a hard sourdough bun cut down the middle and swimming with lemony, thick marsala sauce. All of the elements were tasty albeit a little strange as the snails seemed to have lost their sense of chewy that I am used to, instead breaking down in the mouth like a wet meatball would.


The Cute Gardener’s beef tartare came in a huge portion seemingly shaped by an antique deviled ham can and was speckled with an overdose of capers. Again, the dish was perfectly tasty, but a little odd and served with a generous smattering of bread slices.

For dinner I had the tipsy Sardinian pasta. True to its moniker, it started out looking really good: a hearty pile of linguine sauced with a saffron cream vodka sauce that was surprisingly spicy and large meaty shrimps and scallops. But as the dish had time to sit in the sauce and get drunk it turned loose and greasy, as sots tend to do and became a little too much. There was also something off about the scallops texturally to the point of not being finished off by the CG who never leaves anything left on my plate untouched.

His risotto was very good in my opinion, full of mushroom flavor and made with quality Arborio rice. I am used to chefs in Los Angeles naming plates “risotto” and then serving glorified pilafs or other versions of less starchy rice.

And of course, everything was stuck with little trees of parsley just like in the old days.

As we were leaving I glanced at a few more tables that had filled up alongside us and noticed more people whose faces I knew. The sense of déjà vu followed me throughout the evening as we mingled with old and new friends who had merged into a larger circle of my same old life and I knew that no matter how much I left; there was a part of me that would always be back.

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