Spring ushers in al fresco dining and fresh, seasonal foods

By Kimberly Cooper

Springtime brings more than a spray of brightly hued flowers to the valley floor. Restaurants open up their patios for glorious al fresco dining experiences and many resorts and casinos begin to trot out new menus offering fresh, local, seasonal fare. Whether looking for a quaint lunch under the sun, a pint of ale and a bar snack, or a mighty steak and night on the town, desert patrons will find something to please any palate.

Blue Ember at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa
Springtime dining around the firepit at Blu Ember provides not only inventive spins on California New American cuisine, but also offers glorious views of the desert’s spectacular mountains and lush fairways. The swanky eatery features meats hot off the grill, Cali street tacos and a bevy of bowls such as the Sonoran spiced chicken or Korean barbecue shrimp. Of particular note is the Moroccan stir-fry, an addictively savory stir-fry of meatless chicken, freekeh, arugula, peppers, chickpeas, raisins, charred lemon, toasted almonds and harissa pesto. (41000 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760.862.4581; omnihotels.com/hotels/palm-springs-rancho-las-palmas)

The Steakhouse at Agua Caliente Casino
A Wine Spectator consecutive winner since 2007, The Steakhouse at Agua Caliente Casino pairs fine wines with the perfect protein. Think sushi grade ahi tuna, Loch Duart salmon, Australian lobster, Colorado lamb, giant white Mexican shrimp and USDA prime beef accompanied by classic sides. Special favorites include the jumbo lump crabcake caviar, and seafood on ice. For Easter Sunday, a $63 holiday Champagne menu will be offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Cahuilla Ballroom. After the meal, you can walk off the calories with a stroll around the casino and perhaps win back the cost of dinner. (32-250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888.999.1995; hotwatercasino.com)

Joy Asian Cuisine at Fantasy Springs Casino
Open Table’s “Best Asian Restaurant in the Coachella Valley,” Joy presents a plethora of influences from China, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand and a menu steeped in traditional delights with creative flair. You’ll find traditional dim sum, pho, curries, bi bim bap and wok-fried noodles. But for the ultimate dose of late-night comfort food, opt for one of the congees. The standard rice porridge comes with various toppings including preserved egg and pork. Don’t forget a Chinese fried donut to dip into all that goodness. (84-245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760.342.5000; fantasyspringsresort.com)

O’ Caine’s Irish Pub
Fittingly, over St. Patty’s Day weekend, O’Caine’s Irish Pub opened its doors to a desert crowd hungry for the artisanal flavors of Ireland. Far more than your average pub, the menu features gourmet renditions of old standards like scotch eggs, tartan-cut potato chips with Bloody Mary ketchup, corned beef sliders, British lamb chops and Shepherd’s Pie. For dessert, grab a tug of Jameson to go with the incredible Cranachan, a Gaelic dessert of whiskey whipped cream, raspberries and toasted oats accompanied by lemon syllabub, all layered like a trifle. (36101 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760.202.3311; ocainesirishpub.com)

Looking for a place for an elegant outdoor brunch? FARM offers farm-to-table Provençal fare at historic downtown Palm Springs La Plaza on the garden-inspired patio of a former, charming architectural home. A romantic ambiance permeates the tucked-away space where the best crepes in town are found. Try “The Complete,” a buckwheat-wrapped paradise of jambon de Paris, gruyere and a sunny side egg accompanied by a sherry spritzed pile of perfect greens. The brie sandwich with pear, date jam, arugula and walnuts served on warmed bread is the perfect bite for lunch, washed down with a tangy mimosa. (6 La Plaza, Palm Springs; 760.322.2724; farmpalmsprings.com)

Mezzo Mondo Trattoria
Like many desert denizens, Chef Elio Cavallari is a transplant. After running his successful Italian restaurant in Los Angeles for 23 years, he moved to the desert for a peaceful life only to get the hospitality bug anew. Fortunately for locals, this means Mezzo Mondo, his new cozy joint featuring handmade pastas, fresh salads, a great wine list and world-class gelato. Some notable menu items include the ravioli burro e salvia with spinach and ricotta cheese with butter and sage sauce, and the porcini pappardelle in white sauce. Port or sweet marsala wine is offered with almond biscotti for dessert. (73850 Highway 111, #A, Palm Desert; 760.636.0575; mezzomondopd.com)

AC3 Restaurant + Bar
Hooked onto Hotel Paseo, AC3 Restaurant + Bar represents the wonderful collaboration between beloved valley restaurateurs Andrew and Juliana Copley and Tony Marchese. Diners find delight on the tres chic patio while sampling menu highlights such as the lobster and shrimp pot pie, a marinated pork loin schnitzel, fresh seafood catch and spot prawns or the always superb sesame-crusted tofu for the vegans in your bunch. A daily prix fixe menu is offered from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. featuring newly concocted items from per person. (45350 Larkspur Lane, Palm Desert; 760.340.6069; ac3palmdesert.com)

Kimberly Cooper is a staff writer with Desert Golf & Tennis

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