Our desert playground is a wonderful vacation spot in the summer. The mornings are glorious, the nights like a balmy Caribbean island; but the best part is that the hotels are heavily discounted, and most of the fine restaurants offer prix fixe dinners that are worth the 2-hour drive from L.A.

It’s not too late to take advantage of the specials, as many of these menus will continue through October (3rd Corner Bistro tells us that they will probably have their menu all year). When it heats up, prices go way down, but the quality is steady.


3rd Corner Bistro
73101 Highway 111
Palm Desert, CA 92260
(760) 837-9600

3rd Corner opened a few months ago and already has the crowds flocking there; especially on Sunday night when they offer the most value priced prix fixe in the desert: $25 for three courses, which also includes three wine pairings.

It’s a unique offering: a wine market with only a $5 corkage fee on whatever you choose (if you wish to supplement the wines that are provided with the dinner). We dined on a unique corn pudding to start (a exclusive preparation which the Dining Duo had never experienced). It consisted of blue cheese and tomato and a simple, yet tangy salad on the side. This blend of flavors was impacting and tasty. We were reticent at first, but they had us after the first bite. This course was accompanied by Zolo, Torrontes, from the wine country of Mendosa, Argentina. It was bursting with flavor and well chilled, which we appreciated on this 92-degree evening.

Our second course was clearly the winner, Pan roasted wild salmon, yes we said “wild”, just like our Scottish Terrier when he’s chasing a rabbit in our yard. Offered at this price, it’s an extraordinary offering. Scott found the salmon overly salted (especially after telling the waitress “no added salt”) but Michael, who is not a salmon lover, thought this was amongst the most flavorful he has ever tasted. The side dish of summer squash and zucchini salad was superb. This main course came with a very pleasant, Pinot, Balleyana, Firepeak, 2008 that suited the dish, but was a tad wimpy in breadth for the Duo.

Our only disagreement was on dessert. Michael loved the unique lavender panna cotta with melon salsa and black pepper, while Scott didn’t get the flavors and thought it was just this side of gross. In any event, it was bold to see chef Matt, cutting his chops on something so unusual for desert fare. We enjoyed the Rolling Hills German Riesling that was served with dessert, and speaking of rolling, it’s what they had to do to us when we left.

Open until an unprecedented 1:30 AM every night, we highly recommend that you also roll into 3rd Street for this deal, but be prepared for inconsistent and unsophisticated service, as they’re still new and working out the kinks.


Cork Tree Restaurant
74950 Country Club Drive
Palm Desert, CA 92260-1948
(760) 779-0123

As the stand out for the best food and variety on a prix fixe, Cork Tree is clearly the winner. We love this restaurant. They do almost everything right; great service (ask for Carol, the perfect professional at her craft), tastefully warm ambience, and unique dishes. Managers Larry or Forrest greet you with welcoming smiles, forecasting the experience to come.
We applaud Chef Herve for changing his tasting menu every week, which is terrific since some restaurants in the desert have the same offerings for as long as they’ve been opened. We’re never disappointed here. One of our favorites included chilled asparagus leek soup to start, topped with cool cucumber and a light garlic crème fraiche. Michael is a huge fan of soups and particularly chilled summer soups. There are three choices to start on Cork Tree’s tasting menu and two choices of wine, continuing their theme of variety.
We devoured our second course of their tender Opakapaka with an extraordinary
lobster smoked risotto. The fish was as fresh as we get in Maui and was accompanied with grilled avocado as well. Our main course was served with a glass of Groth Sauvignon Blanc from Napa, and Carol described each wine with the same excitement and verve as the menu.

Perhaps their only shortcoming—and it’s a small one—is the desserts. The dessert always seems to consist of a unique cheese course and this one included marinated brie with the skin removed with French vanilla-apricot chutney. Scott tasted the pear cobbler, which was adequate, but we were craving chocolate and chocolate doesn’t seem to ever appear on the prix fixe menu. The food selections are always creative and top notch, but we would suggest they bring in a pastry chef to match Chef’s course selections. That said, with comfortable booths, live music many nights, billowing curtains, and friendly, on the mark service, we always look forward to going back to Cork Tree.


72595 El Paseo
Palm Desert, CA 92260-3344
(760) 340-1000

Cuistot is, unquestionably, one of the most beautiful restaurants in the desert and Chef Bernard, Sommelier Fred, Waiter Claude and all the staff, always make you feel like you’re coming home; coming home to a beautiful, stone farm house that you’d find in Provence. Cuistot is now closed until Labor Day but they offer a sensational “off-season” value for upscale country French food right here in the desert.
Their tasting menu varies by night but I think our favorite started with fresh cauliflower salad (and we do mean nearly out of the garden). Michael, who is a real veal lover, feasted on very tender veal placed in an apple cider sauce. Scott loved the sole and salmon in a truffle sauce. We both prized the large towering cream puff for dessert.

There are several seating options that are terrific depending upon your taste at the time of your meal. We like the patio for lunch or a warm night. It boasts a gorgeous view through a two-sided fireplace into a desert and water scene. On cool, snuggling nights we find irresistible the “living room”, with it’s majestic vaulted ceilings and enormous wood beams, centered around a giant stone fireplace and discordant pendulant contemporary chandeliers. And for “private affairs” there’s the table all to itself, with a pull-around curtain for privacy. The truth is that we would like to live in Cuistot, especially when Bernard parks one of his collectible cars inside the restaurant.


Fleming's Rancho Mirage
71800 Highway 111
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
(760) 776-6685

We can’t finish our piece without mentioning, one of our favorite year round “go to” eateries. Fleming’s is conveniently located in the River at Rancho Mirage, which makes it opportune for a run-in, or after-movie meal.

Fleming's offers some low priced alternatives year-round, including their $39.95 prix fixe, consisting of three courses. Their present menu includes one of our favorites, cedar plank broiled Barramundi or their traditional Beef Flemington, both are tender and flavorful, one of the best entrees we've experienced at Fleming's. It even includes their delicious Key Lime Pie for dessert. There’s plenty of warm tasty bread, the booths are comfortable, and the service is friendly and efficient. You can always try their burgers at the bar for a variety of burgers including the Ahi burger.
One the things we love about this place is that there doesn’t seem to be a “no” answer for any request. If you feel like changing out something, just ask, and they’ll accommodate you with pleasure. On a warm night, ask for the patio seating and enjoy the people watching.

John, the co-owner & Patrick, the sommelier, make you feel extremely welcome!

Ristorante Donatella

71-511 Highway 111
Rancho Mirage, CA 92275
(760) 773-6434
We can't forget about Ristorante Donatella; a charming Italian restaurant directly across from the iconic Elephant Car Wash on HWY 111 in Rancho Mirage. We were pleasantly surprised with their $24 summer prix fixe. More to follow about this smart hideaway, with it's gracious owner Donatella, and her husband, owner-chef Pietro.
Come enjoy some great food at great prices in the desert.  The Dining Duo loves it here.

Posted by The Dining Duo | 8:46 PM | , , , , , , , | 0 comments »

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