Episode 2: Excellent edible adventures starring TS Epicure & the Travelling Foodies
By Tod Stewart
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.
Episode 2: Next Stop, Palm Springs
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.
On Interstate 15 heading out of San Diego International Airport en route to Palm Springs.
Narrator: San Diego greets TSE with a warm breeze and bright, sunny skies. Well, bright-ish, anyway. It’s hard to say whether the slight haze on the horizon is the result of smoke from wildfires that have been raging steadily to the north, or whether it’s just the infamous “LA fog”. In any case, California in November seems infinitely more inviting than Ontario in November, so he utters no complaint.
Though his “accomplices” seem rather young, and far too good looking and energetic (and hungry) for TSE’s immediate liking, he’s willing to give them a chance on the assumption that the @visitcalifornia people likely did something of a background check prior to inviting them in order to verify their expertise in things culinary.
Though the trek following the Yellow Brick Michelin Road would eventually take us to some pretty fancy digs, it seemed de rigueur to stop for lunch at an establishment that’s decidedly less “up market” than those. On the road to Palm Springs, we veer off I-15 to sample some of the wares offered at one of the almost 400 In-N-Out Burger locations that dot the American Pacific coast and the Southwest.
I am still at a bit of a loss to explain what the allure is here. I mean, this chain does burgers. Decent burgers, perhaps, but nothing that would make me necessarily bloody-well detour very far to get one. However, the company’s insistence on family ownership, above-standard employee treatment (I mean, seriously?), and loyal fan base of both “regular Janes and Joes” and, well, people like me, has elevated its status to that of an institution. Something like Tim Horton’s in Canada, I suppose. In any case, it’s always good to sample a slice (or patty) of American pop culture, I suppose. This “patty” is indeed moist, though. And warm. Tender, too. And, and, oh so very, very…gasp! (abruptly exits set).
Director: Cut! Take! Fabulous, TSE! Just great! Such…emotion! I felt the tenderness, I really did! You okay?
Arrive at ARRIVE Palm Springs Hotel, Palm Springs.
Narrator: TSE’s first impression of Palm Springs is (not surprisingly) of an affluent, laid-back, architecturally eye-catching, upstanding city, a place where he could see himself settling down at some point. Certainly not the sort of place he’d expect to find himself enthusiastically participating in an orgy at a later point…
Director: Cut! Cut! Cut! Quit making things up! Especially things like, well, what you just said. This is a family-friendly narration, right? Just stick to the script…and, Action!
Narrator: Okay, maybe not in the script as given. But your “star” told me he did some very questionable stuff…
The ARRIVE Palm Springs hotel, in keeping with the overall architectural stylings of the city, hugs low to the ground. I’ve parked my luggage and am spending some free time stretching my legs at this rather cozy, friendly, and (as the youth would say) hip 32-room boutique respite located in the Uptown Design District.
Narrator: Later, TSE and his travelling companions indulge in canapés and wine at The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn. Built in 1924, the Willows was the winter estate of Samuel Untermyer, a renowned New York attorney. The villa has since been meticulously restored to its original grandeur, refinement, and elegance, and now serves as a fashionable, luxury hotel. “It would be a fine place for an orgy”, TSE thought….
Director: Cut! Damnit! Cut! Will you stop that! Stick to script! Take 2…and, Action!
Narrator: [Sticks out tongue] While their primary mission is to eat their way through Southern California (or “Caloriefornia,” as one wag in the group dubbed it - such wit!), there are plenty of other distractions keeping them entertained between meals, like a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The world’s largest rotating tram car carried them over four kilometres along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon, setting them atop the pristine wilderness of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park, severely testing the resolve of acrophobics in the group. Luckily, it also got them back so they could enjoy an Agricultural Jeep Tour with Desert Adventures, during which they got a first-hand look at the land around the Greater Palm Springs area that feeds a large portion not only of the state, but of the country.
Visitors should not leave Palm Springs without checking out Wabi Sabi Japan Living for a little hit of East Asia in the California dessert. Owners Darrell Baum and Osamu “Sam” Sagara make regular pilgrimages to Japan to source everything from knives to tableware, tea to sake. If you have not yet been introduced to sophisticated, premium sake, let Baum take you through a flight of some of his delicate, floral, and captivating Junmai Daiginjo styles.
Stick with the Asian theme and enjoy lunch at 533 Viet Fusion Restaurant. Chef Chad Gardner’s ingredients are ultra-fresh and local. Interestingly (and most welcome for those - like myself - watching their salt intake), Gardner’s recipes swap gluten-free Tamari for soy sauce. Every bit as tasty and much healthier. It was a curious study in palate refinement watching the group split into two distinct ingredient camps: pro-cilantro (let’s call this group - my group - “The Highly Refined Palates”), and anti-clilantro (let’s call this group “Ewwwgrossittasteslikesoapnoteatingitnoway”).
Director: Cut! Take! Outstanding, TSE! Outstanding!
Providence restaurant, Hollywood
[TSE engages one of the young foodies (which, surprisingly, he’s come to like) in a classic wine/food match at the end of an incredible gourmet feast.]
Narrator: Providence, in Hollywood, is a (mainly) seafood establishment that has earned a reputation as one of California’s preeminent dining destinations. The group’s visit to California just happened to coincide with the kickoff of Italian white truffle season, and the table was treated to a small fortune’s worth of the earthy, almost naughtily aromatic …
[Director shoots a warning look.]
… fungi as the 10-course (not including several amuses-bouche) debauch at Providence progressed. Each glorious serving ramped up the intensity. Thinking that nothing could follow the truffle dish, TSE was stunned to find a meltingly sensual (ahem) mini-slab of a5 Wagyu beef (an incredibly difficult cut to source and felt by some to be superior to the famous Kobe beef) placed before him. With the cheese course now served, TSE turns to the guest beside him, an avid gourmand-becoming, though still earning his “drinking legs.”
TSE: “Time for a classic wine and food pairing, m’lad.”
Guest: “Sure, man. What?”
TSE: “We have been presented with the 2012 Landa Vineyards ‘Anabe’ Late Harvest Viognier … [sniffs, sips] … a balanced but intensely-flavoured dessert wine. And here we have a slightly creamy, blue-veined…”
Guest: “Um. Blue cheese really isn’t my thing. Man.”
TSE: “Take a bite of the cheese. Then a sip of the wine. And prepare to see God.”
Narrator: Reluctantly, and sporting an “if I barf, dude, it’s on you…literally” look, the youth complies. A look of rapture, of complete gustatory bliss, of almost orgas…(sorry; that wasn’t in script!)…of almost ecstasy washes over the face of the young Foodwalker as TSE, the Jedi matchmaster, tents his fingers and bows his head, content in the knowledge that he has (again) imparted lifelong - and life-altering - wisdom. “I’m starting to like these kids,” TSE muses.
Director: Cut! A bit much, maybe? Ya think?
Narrator: It’s in the bloody script! Fine. [Huffs; throws down script] You narrate then!
Director: Stop sulking. Take 2…and, Action!
Providence earned two stars in the 2019 The MICHELIN Guide California…and as far as I’ve tasted tonight, it’s an extremely well-deserved recognition. The meal I’ve enjoyed (and “enjoyed” is putting it very lightly, I dare say) ranks with the best I’ve had. Anywhere.
Narrator: [Off script] Oh, and let me tell you, he’s had things, he has! All sorts of things! And in all sorts of places, with things that would make you…
Director: Cuuuuuttt! Will you please, please shut up? You’re seriously affecting our star’s concentration. You’re doing amazing, TSE. Really carrying the scene! Take 3…and, Action!
[Raises eyebrow at Narrator] Where was I? Oh, yes: Inexpensive? Not a chance - the truffle portion appeared as a separate item on the cheque so we could see exactly the financial carnage it caused. Be warned, MICHELIN stars do not come cheap. [Looks to the audience, improvising] My friends….
Director: Cut! Take! TSE, what can I say? You hit that one right outta the park! “My friends!” Loved that bit! Way to improvise!
Episode 3 airs August 27 at 11:30 am.
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