Series Finale! Excellent edible adventures in California

By / Food / August 27th, 2020 / 4

Ed. Note: We appreciate that Quench readers will likely not be in a position to visit California anytime soon. Realizing this, we have conscripted a cadre of knowledgeable, experienced, and extremely expensive Hollywood scriptwriters to craft a witty and whimsical “virtual gustatory visit” through the southern part of the state. Though written in a style that suggests a work of fiction, all places, events, and actions (and even a few of the characters) are real. TS Epicure (TSE) is a moniker for an actual and (still) living Quench writer.

Previously, on Excellent Edible Adventures: TSE eats the stars & TSE in Palm Springs.


Episode 3: Desert springs, Arbour Unions & Destroyers

Cast of Characters:
  • TS Epicure - Erudite, astute, and accomplished in the ways of the world; bon-vivant; man-about-town; gourmand of international acclaim; black belt in beverages; of indeterminate age (read: old-ish)
  • Narrator - Columbia College Hollywood BFA graduate; a bit of a strange fellow; inexperienced but willing to work cheap for “cred.” Dresses in black (“Until something darker comes along.”)
  • Director - Legendary Hollywood player; famous for award-winning food-themed films like Babette’s Feast II: The Diet Years and the avant-garde (and utterly incomprehensible) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover, The Somm, and the Guy Who Wheels Around The Cheese Trolley; has worked (without the whole thing degrading into a screaming food fight) with TSE in the past.

JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, California
JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa
TT Kitchen, JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, California
T&T Innovative Kitchen

JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, Desert Springs

TSE voiceover

As the “foodies” and I head out of Palm Springs to the Palm Desert area, it dawns on me that with the huge variety of things to experience in Southern California, one thing visitors definitely shall not experience is boredom. In fact, it’s actually possible to hole up in a place like the JW Marriott Desert Springs and have almost infinite things to do….

Narrator: [Off script] Like get busy with some of those hotties we passed coming in…?

TSE: [off script to Director] Might I suggest a new Narrator? All I saw were flamingos. Is he a bit twisted in his, um, predilections?

Narrator: I said sorry! Sheesh!

Director: [Sighs] I’m not getting paid nearly enough for this. Take 2…and, Action!

Narrator: Ahem. The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa greets our ramblers with palm trees and flamingos. Essentially a self-contained city unto itself, here you have the choice of doing, well, basically whatever you want. Like, for instance, get jiggy… sorry! Got carried away again! Golf, tennis, shopping, swimming, spa treatments … you name it, you got it. Of course, this lot came to eat. The place has as many restaurants as an average downtown city block. Having just returned from cocktails at The Pink Cabana restaurant in the nearby Sands Hotel, the peckish lot heads back to the JW Marriott Desert Spring for dinner at the T&T Innovation Kitchen in a mildly euphoric haze.

TSE voiceover

As the name suggests, the T&T Innovation Kitchen (Ts standing for “taste” and “temperature”) is going for a bit of spin on the “typical” dining experience. There’s no set menu, and the five-course menu changes nightly on the whims of the chefs involved (who also guide diners through each course). The experience is immersive, impressive, and delicious. Imagine a lit candle fashioned (inexplicably) from olive oil. That was just the start. Octopus in a squid ink tortilla; a large scallop nestled in pomegranate “air”; a duck “cigar”; and a fall-off-the-bone short rib with kimchi and mushroom risotto. All perfectly matched with excellent sommelier-selected wines. It was, like most of my California experiences, memorable, exciting, and blissfully over-the-top. With the warmth of the final wine - a 10 Year Broadbent Malmsey Madeira - lingering pleasantly, I’m off to slumber. Breakfast in a few hours…

Director: Cut! Take and wrap! Just a few more scenes, TSE, and we’ll have this whole buffet well done! See what I did there!? I’m really starting to get the swing of this “food filming” thing!


Arbour Restaurant, Pasadena
Union Pasadena Restaurant
Union Pasadena Restaurant
Union Pasadena Management Team
Union Pasadena Management Team

The Arbour restaurant and Union Pasadena restaurant, Pasadena

Narrator: Pasadena has its roots as an agricultural citrus-growing community and is now famous worldwide as the home of some of the best-known New Year's Day celebrations. And, perhaps as importantly, famous worldwide as the birthplace of the band Van Halen. After a walking tour to explore some of the city’s landmarks, the group enjoys a hands-on cooking demonstration (the upshot of which was it became lunch) with Chef Ian Gresik at his The Arbour restaurant. The butternut squash risotto starter poses no issues for TSE, being a black-belt risotto crafter for some time. The Dover sole, however, proves a touch more challenging. The term “butchering” is used during lunch prep to describe what TSE had known as “filleting” through most of his piscatorial forays. Yet, somehow “butchering” seems to best describe what TSE is actually doing…

TSE voiceover

Stupid (expletive) flatfish! Why do they have to be such a (expletive, expletive) to try to clean!? And why are you so, um, flat!? And why am I even (expletive) doing the cooking? This is a restaurant! I demand (expletive) service! This. Is. So. Humiliating.

Narrator: In the end, his Dover sole, looking as though it had been prepared using a blasting cap as opposed to a knife, nonetheless tasted outstanding - fresh, flaky, and delicate. And after calming his frayed nerves with several glasses of outstanding California chardonnay, TSE was sedate enough to thoroughly enjoy lunch before settling into his room at the Hotel Constance Pasadena. First opened in 1926, the place has undergone significant renovations while still retaining its original historic feel. It suited TSE perfectly, and he was able to spend some “quiet time” (napping being for older and far less energetic types) before joining up with the kids for dinner at Union Pasadena.

TSE voiceover

I must admit, as a mature gentleman, I’m having great fun here at Union Pasadena tonight with the young ‘uns. Marie Petulla’s 50-seat Italian eatery manages to be both intimate and lively… and by the looks of things, it’s also extremely popular. We’re perched around a long communal table where pretty much everything on the menu has been laid out: squid ink lumache with Maine lobster, fennel, lemon, truffle butter; torchetti with Calabrese pork ragù, house ricotta, fried rosemary, and peperoncini; sweet and piquant spaghetti alla chitarra; burrata with pesto rosso and mixed herbs on crostini; pork meatballs with San Marzano tomatoes, caper berries, and chilli…more, and more, and more. I’m in Pasadena! I’m in Italy! I’m in heaven! More wine! More, more, gahhhgh….

Narrator: The din of the clientele rises as copious wine is poured and diners become more lubricated. TSE has reached a certain “plateau” - a point where his persona resembles a mashup of Mario Batali, Caligula, and Mr. Creosote from that rather disgusting Monty Python sketch. Best we take our leave….

Director: Cut! Take and wrap! Congratulations, Mr. Narrator, for showing restraint in the face of what must have been an overwhelming urge to throw in some pithy ad-libs. TSE? TSE? T!!?? Medic!


Destroyer Restaurant
Destroyer seeded rye bread
Seeded rye bread is a staple on Destroyer's menu.

Destroyer, Culver City

Narrator: The final morning of the Great California Culinary Conquest sees the group (possibly weary; possibly heavier than when they first arrived; evidently - and unbelievably - still hungry) gathered for breakfast at Destroyer (probably not intentionally named after the best album KISS ever made…but who knows). Michelin Chef Jordan Kahn’s daytime restaurant features futuristic dishes, putting a modern twist on breakfast and lunch. Calling the decor “minimalist” may minimize the actual minimality of the place, but it does set the stage for Kahn’s twist on things like oatmeal with redcurrant and almond milk, beef tartare with smoked egg cream, and the ubiquitous avocado toast. The names seem straight-forward. The dishes, typically, are not, and often sport a distinct Nordic nod. Our star, TSE, hasn’t exactly “bounced back,” but he does have a pulse and other vital signs….

TSE voiceover

Bloody hell. I’m seriously in the worst condition one can be after last night’s fun. That condition being “alive”. Why, oh why, couldn’t I have just taken my leave and ascended to the Pearly Gates? Maybe I am getting too old for this sort of thing. Ah, well, another day, another breakfast. We’ve had a few pretty memorable ones here in SoCal.

There was one at Wexler’s back in the ARRIVE Hotel in Palm Springs (great, authentic Jewish deli fare). Another at Wilma & Frieda in Palm Desert (classic dishes from childhood - but given a bit of a grown-up twist). The Raymond 1886 in Pasadena served us hearty portions of its signature morning dishes crafted using a combination of modern and classic cooking techniques - and a combo of classic and exotic ingredients. And, of course, breakfast on the sun-soaked roof of the LINE Hotel at its Openaire poolside dining oasis that featured a smorgasbord of seasonal, authentically Californian offerings.

These morning refuellings were sometimes required to power us all up for walking tours like the one through Pasadena. The other notable jaunt came courtesy of Avital Food Tours, whose entertaining and knowledgeable guide took us on a MICHELIN food tour of Downtown Los Angeles before cutting us loose to explore the Grand Central Market. Walking through the market was like experiencing the gustatory and cultural mix of all Los Angeles under a single roof.

In any case, in a few hours it’s going to be bon voyage to the warm rays, great food, and never-ending barrage of fun California has to offer. LAX isn’t far from here, then it’s back to the chill of Toronto in late fall…but only for a little over 24 hours, then I escape to Bermuda to check out the food scene there. It’ll have been Barbados, California, and Bermuda practically back to back with nonstop eating. I fully intend to rigorously adhere to a strict bread and water diet when it all winds down. Yes, I also fully intend to skip the bread.



Narrator: [Flips pages to confirm the script has actually run out; throws it on the floor in frustration/disappointment] Aw, c’mon…you’re holding back! What about that, well, you know…that [sotto voce] orgy thing you mentioned? You said you went to the home of some guy named Mr. Lyons and, as you put it so poetically, “gorged until bursting on the pleasures of the flesh.” Isn’t this what everyone does in California? You have to tell us about it!

Director: Um, kinda interested in hearing about it myself, to be honest.

TSE: [sighs deeply; shakes head] There’s a famous line, in a famous film that goes, “What we have here, is failure to communicate.” Apparently, this problem appears here as well. You see, Mr. Lyons is a restaurant we visited in Palm Springs. It’s a steakhouse that specializes in using local meats and other produce. Seeing that we couldn’t decide what cuts to order off the decadently meaty menu, we, naturally, ordered everything. So yes, it was definitely a meat orgy, with the “pleasures of the flesh” being, I think, rather obvious.

Narrator: You didn’t say the meat bit!

TSE: I did. Your lascivious - look it up - brain just didn’t register the meat bit.

Narrator: You didn’t say the meat bit.

TSE: Oh, I most certainly did.

Narrator: I really don’t want to argue…

TSE: Yes, you do…

Director: I’ve had enough of this…

TSE / Narrator: No you haven’t!

Director: Cuuuut! Cutcutcut! Knock it off, guys. Take and wrap! Good work, boys. All this food talk has gotten me more than a bit hungry. Who’s buying lunch?

And with that, the lights go down on the epic, epicurean adventure of TS Epicure and the Travelling Foodies though the gustatory guts of Southern California.


Tod Stewart is the contributing editor at Quench. He's an award-winning Toronto-based wine/spirits/food/travel/lifestyle writer with over 35 years industry experience. He has contributed to newspapers, periodicals, and trade publications and has acted as a consultant to the hospitality industry. No matter what the subject matter, he aims to write an entertaining read. His book, 'Where The Spirits Moved Me' is now available on Amazon and Apple.

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