We visit the Palm Springs area every year in April, and have tended to visit the same few restaurants out of habit and tradition (our children have been coming here since they were babies, and there are a few things they insist we do on every visit, including dinner at Kobe). This trip, though, we wanted to branch out a bit. A careful scan of TripAdvisor revealed Catalan as a top choice in Rancho Mirage. Once again, TripAdvisor shoots and scores...
We arrived at about 7pm on an Tuesday evening in late April and asked to be seated in the bar area (the $22 Pre Fixe menu is available all evening in the bar), and were immediately settled at a corner table for five. The host -- I later figured out he is also the chef-owner -- was evidently warm and solicitous, and we immediately felt at home. Nice touch. We were served by the bartender, a young woman who fell distinctly on the "casual" side of the service fence, but who knew and truly loved the food, and gave us good advice when we asked questions. I'll take knowledge and enthusiasm over starched service any day.
We enjoyed the small plate of amuse-bouche, which included fruity olive oil, a chicken liver pate, and herbed olives, all delicious. All five members of our party went with the pre fixe menu, which represents a great value and offers a great range of options. Here's what we had:
- Calamari with squid-ink aioli -- light and delicious preparation
- Chicken livers with polenta -- mild flavored and beautifully presented
- Romaine salad -- a deconstructed version of a Caesar -- good not sensational
- Spaghetti, Pancetta, and Fried Farm Egg -- essentially, a deconstructed Spaghetti Carbonara. Delicious and simple, my daughter really enjoyed this.
- Seared Scallops -- simply prepared and presented. My wife and her aunt really enjoyed them
- Grilled Veal Skirt Steak -- beautifully presented, with two generous portions of steak grilled and rolled, then topped with a salsa verde (perhaps most like a chimichurri in my experience). My son substituted roasted potatoes for the gratin, and wasn't taken with the roasted peppers, which I had later and thought were fine if not sensational. He did like the steak very much, however.
- The Catalan Paella -- my dish, and really an excellent choice. Rich, dense with calamari, shrimp and chicken, very tasty.
The desserts of the night were similarly interested and flavorful. I enjoyed a glass of the Dos grenache-syrah from the wine list, as well.
The bar area where we sat was pleasant enough, though acoustically a little on the hard side. The courtyard area would have been very nice on this late spring night; I didn't look into the main dining room, so I can't comment on the space.
Catalan was a great find for dinner in the desert -- creatively conceived and prepared food, beautifully presented and (with the pre fixe menu) remarkably well-priced. The service was friendly and knowledgable, and the overall flow of the evening was just about perfect. Next time you're in the Palm Springs area, branch out a bit.
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