Dining in the Desert

The historic La Quinta Resort & Club opens a new signature restaurant

By: By Deborah Dimond

Morgan’s in the Desert main dining room // © 2010 La Quinta Resort & Club

Morgan’s in the Desert main dining room // © 2010 La Quinta Resort & Club

Palm Springs, Calif.’s, La Quinta Resort & Club was made famous as the playground of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but its recently opened restaurant is luring guests and taking a new spin on an old classic. On Jan. 29, Morgan’s in the Desert, the resort’s signature restaurant, celebrated its grand opening.

Named in honor of the resort’s founder, Walter H. Morgan, the new restaurant has stayed true to La Quinta’s well-known Spanish hacienda style. The venue’s architecture is flush with rustic wood-beamed ceilings; graceful arches; cozy alcoves; and an impressive oversized fireplace. Reservations are a must for those wishing to dine in the 82-seat dining room or al fresco on the 32-seat patio. There is also a private 38-seat dining room that can be reserved for special events.

While Morgan’s in the Desert might look as if it is steeped in vintage glamour of days gone by, its menu has a thoroughly modern twist. Executive chef Jimmy Schmidt, a nationally renowned chef, cookbook author and founder of the award-winning Rattlesnake Club restaurants in Denver and Detroit, has applied the pioneering farm-to-table movement to the new menu. Schmidts took his inspiration for the menu from locally grown, high-quality products of the surrounding Coachella Valley.

Executive Chef Jimmy Schmidt // © 2010 La Quinta Resort & Club

Executive Chef Jimmy Schmidt
// © 2010 La Quinta Resort & Club

My meal began with cocktails at the venue’s new piano bar. There, guests can saddle up on a stool at the u-shaped bar or nestle into a large leather couch and enjoy live jazz before their meal. As I looked around the room, I spied what I first regarded as a collection of coffee table books; under closer inspection, however, I discovered this hefty, beautifully published hard-bound book was actually the resort’s cocktail menu. Each page focused on one of the many delicious hand-crafted cocktails the bar mixes. It was a an amusing little surprise when I found a collection of Post-it notes tucked into the pages of one of the books. Like an expedition party, a recent group of guests made an impressive attempt to drink their way through the lengthy menu and noted each drink that they tried. With a multitude of contemporary cocktails and an impressive wine list, the meticulously blended vintage beverages — with names like the Mary Pickford, the Brandy Alexander or the Pink Lady — were the ones that caught my eye.

Charred Ahi Tuna Pepper Steak, Braised Baby Fennel and Pomegranate Salad // © 2010 La Quinta Resort & Club

Charred Ahi Tuna Pepper Steak, Braised Baby Fennel and Pomegranate Salad // © 2010 La Quinta Resort & Club

After a couple signature cocktails it was time for diner. The preparation of the restaurant’s dishes focused on traditional cooking styles such as slow roasting, open grilling, braising and curing and each of the items on the menu are prepared in a healthy rustic fashion. For starters, I ordered what only I could describe as a religious experience involving a ginger and butternut squash soup. While the rest of my entrees were honestly very good, I truly could have ordered another bowl for dessert. Highlights of the menu also include: Porcini Crusted Angus Filet With Grilled Mushrooms, Comte Potato Gratin; Slow Roasted Breast of Duck and Foie With Caramelized Two Apple Salad; Seared Maine Diver Sea Scallops With Ginger Pumpkin Risotto; and Slow Braised Angus Short Rib With Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower.

Dinner can conclude with either a sweet treat from the dessert menu, which included seductive favorites like Sour Cream Short Cake with Madison Strawberries and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, or from an extensive menu of artisan chesses.

Morgan’s in the Desert is open from 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily and the bar is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday, and until 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Live music is played from Wednesday to Saturday, from 7 to 11 p.m. Main entrees are reasonable priced from $15 to $38.

Morgan’s in the Desert