Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ristorante Tuscany - Desert Springs Resort

Someday I will go to Italy.

I will have a boyfriend/fiance/husband/lover who will join me on an adventure to discover frescoes, fine wine and the romantic songs made for gondola rides. We will labor over hours-long meals punctuated by the fruits of the earth, all while watching the sun go down into the sea.

Until that time comes, though, I am just as happy to go to "Tuscany" with dear friends.

Sweet and I decided to enjoy a leisurely meal Saturday evening at the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs resort in Palm Desert, CA. The resort comes with all of the trappings you'd expect at a luxurious, sprawling complex complete with golf courses, pools (there are nearly 20 of 'em on the property) and other luxurious amenities. We decided to take advantage of the gondola ride to make the "long" journey from the hotel to the Ristorante Tuscany.

(editor's note: this photo shows me this strapless dress needs far more minding than I realized).

I did a bit of recon on the restaurant prior to our reservation and discovered it was Restaurant Week in Palm Desert/Palm Springs. Score! I was anxious to sink my teeth into some top rate dishes for (not quite) a pauper's price.

We were ushered to a beautifully appointed table in the middle of a dining room complete with trickling fountains, beautiful drapery and windows looking out onto the "lake," swaying palm trees and expansive golf course. The walls are covered in trompe l'oil, depicting frescoes and other luxurious painting.

The tricked out surroundings were just a taste of what was to come.

The dining room was staffed by a fleet of people who were charged with appeasing our every whim. More prosecco? Coming right up. Another slice of the black olive bread? But of course. The bread was dense with a hard crust and full of bits of black olives, a spot-on flavor to enjoy when sopping up the EVOO and 25-year-old aged balsamic vinegar.

Both Candace, er, Sweet and I chose the fresh mozzarella starter for our Restaurant Week 3-course meal.

A huge piece of fresh mozz was drizzled in Tuscan EVOO and the same aged balsamic vinegar we enjoyed with our bread. Heirloom tomatoes and micro basil greens sat atop two slivers of crustini. In the photo above, Hawaiian Pineapple on the left, and Cherokee Purple on the right. The tomatoes popped with the salty, seasonal flavor you expect during the height of summer.

But, wait! You say. Summer's not even here yet. It's still spring.

Well, yes. But in So Cal, summer and it's sweltering heat have definitely arrived.

I went back to Tuscany to dine a second night and ordered the same fresh mozz appetizer, discovering the crustini wasn't as crisp as I enjoyed the first time around, making me wonder whether these tomato/crustini pieces are pre-assembled during the kitchen's afternoon prep time. If that's the case, it's a bit disappointing as tomatoes-and-crustini is a simple thing to make as each diner orders.

When it came time to choose our entree, I ordered something I'd almost NEVER choose. Chicken. To me, chicken is pedestrian, bland, the-dish-on-the-menu-for-picky-people-who-never-order-anything-exotic. Knowing my dining companion was going to choose the salmon, and also knowing I had absolutely no interest in the third option (a glorified spaghetti bolognese), I decided to pick the chicken and pray I'd find a surprise on the plate.

The chicken far exceeded my considerably lowered expectations. Topped with oyster mushrooms, alba clamshell mushrooms and shitakii mushrooms in a marsala demi glace, served with gorgonzola polenta and two asparagus stalks, the chicken pulled apart easily - releasing its juices upon the first bite.

I typically find chicken to be pretty bland, but was quite impressed this piece of organic meat soaked up the wine-y flavors of the marsala glaze and paired mushrooms. The star of the plate, though, was the gorgonzola polenta. Creamy and refined, it didn't have the gritty consistency of other polenta I've enjoyed. The gorgonzola flavor subtly punctuated each bite, not overpowering the corn, cream and other ingredients in the dish.

Candace went with the salmon dish -slightly crusted in semolina and topped with the most delicious tomato marmalade. The fish was centered on steamed spinach and arugula, the entire dish awash in a lemon goat cheese sauce and ringed with yellow and red grape tomatoes.

After her first bite of one of the tomatoes, Candace said she thought it tasted like squirts of ketchup. I enjoyed this dish during my second go-around at Tuscany, and agreed the grape tomatoes packed the sweetness they promise to deliver. The salmon carried though with the sweetness theme - I swear mint was used at one point during its preparation. The lemon goat cheese sauce was gentle on flavor, but a perfect accompaniment to the already-moist fish.

For dessert, I went with the classic tiramisu.

The marscapone mousse and pistachio creme anglaise were served up in a huge martini glass, dusted with cocoa powder and topped with candied pistachios. Light, creamy, it was heavy on the cheese/cream flavor but was a little light on the espresso flavor I prefer with my lady fingered cake.

Candace went with an assortment of gelattos, served in a cup made of sugar and with fresh, seasonal berries.

I didn't get a taste of the gelatto, but on my second night at the restaurant, I went with a trio of creme brulees - banana, nutella and vanilla. To say that I was tasting heaven would not be an overstatement.

I came to love creme brulee while spending several years working at The Wharf Restaurant in Madison, CT. I loved firing up the blow torch and melting the sugar granules into a glassy, caramelized layer coating the custard. The creme brulees at Tuscany didn't have the thick layer I've come to love, but the outstanding flavors more than compensated for that shortcoming. I am now determined to find a recipe for nutella creme brulee, knowing full well I won't be able to reproduce the flavors and the moments of our "time in Tuscany."

But like I said, Italy is for another time and another place in life.


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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Denae said...

Love this review - I am so hungry for good food! Looks like you are having a blast. Palm Springs is dreamy.

caltraveler said...

The Palm Desert Marriott is the scene of the best salmon I've ever had. It was horseradish encrusted and wonderful. It's been 10 years since I was there, but I still remember it to this day. All of the food at all of their restaurants was great and the resort was wonderful, too. This is also where I had my first professional manicure.