Monday, April 20, 2009

And I never even got in the pool.

Me and my gang headed to Palm Springs for yet another Coachella Music Festival last week. Older, wiser and still big fans of so many bands we decided to go in style. Mind you, we've stayed some pretty fancy places, the Parker, the Korakia, a few million dollar villas (we used to host events for DKNY in other peoples mansions :-).

However, this time we decided to take it down a notch and kick our heels off at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club. We LOVED this place. It is full of unassuming, indie charm and just enough undeniable effort to fit in nicely with say, South Congress Blvd in Austin or Silver Lake in LA or Nolita in NY, there are already Ace Hotels in Portland and Seattle. It’s visually appropriate for Palm Springs. Low, flat, white-washed rectangular buildings cut perpendicular designs across a patch of reservation flatland which is butted up against steep, jagged hills. Palm trees jut out of the landscape at odd angles moving to a steady breeze that you don’t much feel on the ground. There are two pools, both open to everyone. The front pool just behind the restaurant, lobby and bar is loaded with young, sexy hipsters wearing mismatched bathing suit, primary color plastic sunglasses, tattoos & shaggy asymmetrical hair styles. Most this weekend looked lifted from an American Apparel billboard. But hip or not at all hip you can still enjoy sipping an agave (no salt) King's Margarita in a big goofy hat, nodding to the excellent alt rock mixes poolside or tucked into a corner low backed booth in the tiny, dark bar sandwiched between the lobby and the pool.

The real treat here for me of course was the food. The menu is well done. It’s fresh, smart, location appropriate food and while it hovers between comfort and classic diner fare with the occasional regional dish thrown in for balance everything is done with a fresh take. Salads have jicima, sliced kumquat, shaved fennel and vinaigrettes that don’t over or under whelm. Homemade thick cut white and wheat toast, peppered fat strips of bacon and roasted tomatoes accompany breakfast. Homemade sweet pickles accompany the stinky grilled cheese in ½ pt mason jars. We have had every meal this weekend here. We’ve over ordered every time and licked our plates clean. We have repeat ordered a few things. The list of yummy’s so far; the mezza plate (crisp herbed pita, homemade hummus, babaganoosh and tablueh with a mason jar of marinated feta), the veggie pot pie, the fish tacos (have made it on every order), handmade flat bread with white bean puree, sautéed greens and generous chunks of moist smoked trout, a smoked salmon (cooked) salad of nothing but shaved fennel, tender green beans and cured black olives, hand cut fries with a garlic herb sprinkle and today I had a semolina cake (olive oil cake) so moist and light and rich I could not believe it, with roasted nectarines in a red fruit coulis and a dollop of whipped crème fresh - extraordinary.

The food at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club is cared about. Everything comes out with pride and love. It is simply undeniable and puts every meal you’ve had out recently to shame. While I may have had some higher end food (whatever that means) I have not had any meals out in quite some time where I felt through the the table setting, the mood of the staff, the ambiance but mostly through the actual prep, portioning and assembly of a plate that whoever put this meal together for me really cared about what they were doing.

They've only been open for 3 months so there were, naturally kinks to be worked out. At breakfast on Sunday we waited a long time for our table after being told by our hostess that it would be 20 minutes. It was actually an hour and ½ before we sat and another 45 til we ate but Linda made it worth it several ways til Tuesday. And here is how

Linda is a petite woman, in her mid 60’s I’d guess, good posture, solid confidence, an ageless social sensibility that enables an easy exchange with everyone. She’s not overly eager to please but takes a personal interest that we are all taken care of. At one point she simply said, I don’t know how long it will be but I’ll let you know when I know. Delivering a line like this to a crowd of hungry show-goers may invoke defensive or even controlling tendencies with so many types of personalities but not Linda. She can deliver that straight and unburdened and easy to hear. Ok, we said, we’ll check back. After being seated we felt very well taken care of by a bevy of servers all pleasant and competent. At one point Linda asked the entire buzzing room of grumbling stomachs for our full attention. She was clearly someone comfortable commanding a room. She had our attention immediately. This may be in part because we were all looking for an excuse to just stare at her. Linda, out of an earlier era in Palm Springs, sports darkly lined lips filled with frosty pink lipstick and red hair. This foxy broad also hosts the most spectacular large frame, gold rimmed wrap around glasses circa 1981 that I've seen yet. Her jewelry matched. She looks like she came from a bridge game of wealthy retirement community ladies who lunch. Walking around the dining room, belting and crooning a Hit Parade classic, she had us all rapt and in love within minutes. As a distraction from our displeasure it worked, as soon as the applause died down the chatter and hum of the room lifted and the mood shifted. The food came eventually with smiles and apologies and many concerns for our happiness.

Wiping the last of my egg yolks up with a hand torn chunk of fluffy toast I asked in all seriousness if they were hiring. I kind of just didn’t want to leave.

1 comment:

christina said...

we were thinking of going there for our long overdue honeymoon in may (couldn't decide between ace and the korakia, a favorite), but this review is tipping the scales in favor of the ace...