WORKSHOP KITCHEN + BAR
AS GOOD AS IT GETS IN THE DESERT
There are lots of reasons why people like to head to Palm Springs to escape the rat race that is Los Angeles…the sun, the heat (go figure), the cheap deals to be found because of the heat, the pools and don't forget the lavish pool parties. Palm Springs has always been about fun in the sun but I never really associated it with fine dining, but my how times have changed.
During a recent visit to the desert, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Workshop Kitchen + Bar in the heart of Palm Springs. Housed in the historic El Paseo Building on North Palm Canyon Drive, Workshop Kitchen + Bar (WKB) quickly became one of the most popular destinations in the city for food and drink after its opening in 2011. Helmed by Chef/Owner Michael Beckman, WKB features a market-driven menu comprised of seasonal food highlights harvested from local farms and offers a bar program unlike any other desert establishment.
A winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Design, WKB was the only SoCal restaurant to take home a James Beard Award this year and is the first Palm Springs restaurant to ever have won one.
"We are so excited to be bringing a James Beard Award home to Southern California," said Workshop Chef/Owner Michael Beckman. "Our vision for Workshop has always been to deliver a stellar food and cocktail program in a uniquely beautiful setting. To be recognized by such a prestigious organization for our efforts is truly amazing and we're humbled having been selected out of such a great group of our peers."
While the setting may seem somewhat industrial with lots of concrete abound, the restaurant space was a former church and takes advantage of the high ceilings to create a chic and cool (temperature wise) setting. Seated and relaxed in the cool yet chill setting, it only seemed natural that cocktail or two were the way to start. And bar managers Dave Castillo and Michelle Bearden, both formerly of 320 Main in Seal Beach, run a fantastic cocktail program. Their drink menu consists of classic libations like the Hemmingway Especial, a lovely white rum concoction, to the French 75, Sidecar, and Ward 8. Their Original drinks, which are seasonally based, included during our visit the M-80, a fine reposado tequila and mezcal mix that is potent and tastes like a smoky margarita, as well as the Ancho Libre (reposado tequila and anchor reyes!), and the Palm Springer—a vodka drink that is both sweet and complex. I fell in love with a drink called Rouge with Mezcal Vida, Suze, Giffard Fraise Des Bois, grapefruit oils, and one cube served in a weck jar. This was the bar's desert take on a White Negroni "with a little softness around the edges." I found it to be a lovely Negroni.
A great way to start if you're sharing is with small plates such as the Octopus Carpaccio cooked sous vide with pickled cauliflower fleurettes, peppers, cilantro, lemon + olive oil. Another favorite of ours was the Wood-fired Pizza, which was a white pizza with truffles during our visit. This was one incredibly savory pie. There was just so much going on—all in a good way.
A special dish this night was the Foie Gras Cobbler with duck confit and cherries. This was, hands down, the best use of foie offered order it without hesitation. The complexity, the richness, the damn good taste combined to make a truly special moment. Meals can't always be an event but this was just that.
For our entrees, we went with the Korobuta Pork-Loin + Belly with bourbon barrel-aged maple, Anson Mills grits and spring greens along with the Colorado Lamb Two-Ways with schawarma spice-marinated chop grilled over wood and housemade merguez fregola sarda, charred onions, and braising greens. This was meat galore!
The big plates aren't cheap at WKB but they are quite spectacular. It's best to have the attitude that you're on vacation or at least away from home and that this meal is something pretty special. If you opt to share several small plates and bowls then you can get away pretty unscathed. And if you're sharing with a pretty ravenous group, you can always share the 22oz Iron House Ranch Rib-Eye for $74, which isn't too bad. I can't say which entrée I was a bigger fan of as they were both solid, hearty dishes. These were paired with a fine glass of red wine that I let the bar choose and a great dinner was made even better.
And since you're out of town and away from your diet (lets be honest) do save room for dessert in the desert. We had the Red Winter Wheat Olive Oil Cake with Harry's strawberries, strawberry eau de vie, and pastry cream. I'll be honest, this one was very nice but not great. The greatness was saved for the Local Goat Cheesecake with macerated apricot and cherry. The best word to describe this bad boy is rich. But that's what you want when you're throwing caution and common sense out the window. It was just a great way to end a fantastic meal.
Between the drinks and the fine fare, especially that foie gras cobbler, my time at WKB was one of the best meals I had in a very long time. I heard the hype and didn't know what to expect and walked away satiated, thrilled and a big fan. They're really crafting and excelling in the wonderful workshop in the desert.
Workshop Kitchen + Bar is located at 800 N Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Call 760-459-3451.
Story by Jose Martinez
Most Photography Courtesy of: Workshop Kitchen + Bar