One of my top 10 views is the one coming off the peak on Highway 74 to Palm Desert.
It’s an E-ticket ride with its figure eight, two-lane highway that seems like 1½ lanes with the shear mountain walls on either side. Once on the Palm Desert side, you’ll want to find the nearest wine bar and toast your driving skills.
Palm Desert is one of my favorite get-a-ways with its other-world look and feel. Sipping a Cabernet with a dish of risotto and fresh Italian bread, gazing at the Santa Rosa Mountains that look like you could reach out and touch them, is my idea of relaxation.
There are 125 hotels and resorts and many of them can boast that feature.
Plants and flowers are year-round drought tolerant. They have to be — only about 5 inches of rain falls on Palm Desert.
The city has about 48,000 residents but that goes up by about 31,000 in the winter as “snowbirds” fly in from the north and Canada to warm up with the warmest winters in the western U.S. at an average 75 degrees. There are over 348 days of sunshine for the year.
Yes, it does get up to 108 degrees more often than not in the summer, but it’s a dry heat, and with air conditioning around every corner, you can forget about the heat outside. Shopping and dining are my two not-to-miss pastimes and both are spent on El Paseo, the pristine, sophisticated avenue with over 150 shops and restaurants.
The biggest names will show you the desert fashions that you’ll want to be wearing the next day.
At the center of the El Paseo action is Mastro’s, the classic steak house for locals, visitors and celebs. I like to call Mastro’s the Maestro of fine wine and dining in Palm Desert.
The music, the atmosphere and the steaks sizzle nightly in the bar and dining rooms.
Yes, one of the first things I noticed and loved was the number of semi-private rooms with lots of room between tables so the chefs can roll out the entire entourage of food at the same time. The night our group was there, the menu selections included: smoked salmon, French Onion Soup, an 18-ounce bone-in filet that was shared and a Mediterranean Sea Bass that was called “Branzino” with skin and tail in coated sauces that allowed for consuming the skin, which I found surprisingly delicious.
When you go, be sure to order the dessert that Mastro’s has become famous for. The general manager, Natalie Stern, who has been with the restaurant group for some nine years, and who helped open this location three years ago, swears that customers come in just to feast on the warm dessert butter cake with whipped cream and powdered sugar.
California Cabernets dominate the wine list with no finer selection in the desert. Names like Bryant, Opus One, Joseph Phelps, Dominus, Pahlmeyer, Caymus, Silver Oak and many more are in abundance. If your passion is for exotic drinks, try the Apple-tini with dry ice. It’s smokin’ good!
To learn more about this elegant place to dine, visit mastrosrestaurants.com or dial up (760) 776-6777.
Il Fornaio, with two locations in San Diego County, is presenting the special food and wine of Lombardia, Italy now through Jan. 24. It’s the original land of Il Fornaio, which began in Italy in 1972. A favorite is the Filetto di Blue al Gorgonzola. Restaurants are in Coronado and Del Mar.
Firenze Trattoria in Encinitas welcomes Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles for a wine dinner, Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. Meet Andy Miner, president of Niner, and enjoy wines like the 2011 Fog Catcher with Short Ribs al Cabernet. $85 per person. RSVP at (760) 944-9000.
Wiens Family Cellars in Temecula Wine Country has a Wine Blending Party Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. You’ll be blending and tasting four different varietals of wines. The experts at Wiens will be there to coach you and you’ll be bringing home your own blended bottle. Light food will be served. $100. Club members pay $80. Find out more at (888) 98-WIENS.
San Diego State University will be holding an open house for its Certificate in the Business of Wine program Jan. 25, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Splash Wine Bar, 3043 University Ave. in San Diego. Meet instructors and students. To RSVP this no-charge event, call (619) 594-1138.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View his columns at tasteofwinetv.com, and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook.