Gluttony knows there’s nary a reason to ever travel outside of Rancho Mirage city limits to nourish your inner foodie. That’s because my hometown has restaurants of every stripe. Every cuisine. Every price point. Every atmosphere.
All that said, I must admit that I recently ventured to Palm Springs come dinnertime. I did so to experience a meal prepared by the Palm Springs Valley’s only Michelin Star-rated chef. Said Michelin Man is Italian-born Giacomo Pettinari, whose interest in food dates back to his time as a bambino in Loreto on the Adriatic Coast watching his Mamma cook in their home cuccina. By 14, the boy had enrolled in the Panzini Culinary School, one of the foremost epicurean academies in Italy, graduating at 19. By 20 the man was a Londoner working alongside Chef Fabio Trabocchi in the two-star Michelin-rated Floriana. From there it was on to Barcelona to cook under Ferran Adria (the father of molecular cuisine, considered one of the best chefs in the world) at El Bulli. Then to Bangkok to learn the art of sushi. At 26, Giacomo came to Los Angeles, cooked one night for restaurateur Piero Selvaggio, which got him hired at Valentino. Within two years, the gifted young chef had earned that eatery its first Michelin Star.
I should perhaps take a moment to say more about the Michelin star system, which boasts denominations of single, double, or triple. About.com describes it thus: “The term ‘Michelin Star’ is a hallmark of fine dining quality, and restaurants around the world tout their Michelin Star status. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay cried when the Michelin Guide stripped the stars from his New York restaurant, calling the food ‘erratic.’ Ramsay explained that losing the stars was like ‘losing a girlfriend.’”
I should also perhaps take a moment to tell you, dear readers, that Giacomo, now 36, came to the desert courtesy of SO.PA (as in South Palm…), the stellar signature restaurant of the newly refurbished L’Horizon Resort & Spa. He did not come directly from Valentino, but from Via Alloro in Beverly Hills. “I think I am a guy that really loves challenges,” he told me. “When it was presented to me, that Steve [Hermann] wanted to open a restaurant in a great location where there isn’t much going on food-wise, and really wanted to do something different, I was, like, ‘Let’s do it!’”
On the night I visited as a single dinner, I was first struck by the dramatic beauty of the exterior space. Yes, the restaurant’s entire dining room is al fresco. There are heaters (and blankets) for season, and in summer there will surely be misters. Trust me. The outside factor is not an issue—it only adds to the experience.
With every bar syrup made in house, and all fruit juices freshly squeezed, I had to start with one of SO.PA’s craft cocktails, one named for me (I wish!): The Perfect Gentleman. The faultless melding of bourbon, house-made blackberry cordial, muddle mint, simple syrup, and a champagne float was intensely divine. Indeed, freshness makes all the difference.
My first course, the Black Quinoa salad, consisted of roasted hazelnuts, cranberries, seasonal apples, celery, scallions, arugula, extra virgin Kalamata Greek olive oil, and IP8 beer vinegar. Topped with tiny edible flowers, and lighter than expected, its combination of textures and flavors felt like it was melting in my mouth.
While I thought my chosen mid-course of Arancini (a fried risotto ball whose center is molten Val D’Aosta Fontina cheese) on a red pepper purée might fill me up, not so. It, too, was deliciously buoyant. Don’t pass it up.
I then enjoyed the Confit Durham Ranch Poussin, a supremely prepared young chicken served with seasonal apple purée, red wine gastrique, baby artichokes, and celery salt. The moderate portion made for a perfect third course.
Coming in fourth—but first-rate in all aspects—was a five-spice Medjool date cake with brownie clusters and a butterscotch sauce.
Oh, and lest I forget, it must be said that the wines I chose to accompany my meal—a Napa Valley Miner Chardonnay and an ‘Overlook’ Pinot Noir from Landmark Vineyards just off Sonoma Creek—could not have been more ideal.
As I look back on my gastronomic experience at SO.PA, I think to myself: Am I pleased that the Palm Springs Valley—a star-strewn spot if ever there was one—finally has a Michelin Star chef? Does said heavenly body make a difference, truly? Will I be back to sample more of Giacomo’s magnificent menu? The simple answer to this triumvirate of queries is a resounding “Yes!”