Celebrate The Holidays at La Quinta

IMG_0128.jpgA dear friend of mine comes to La Quinta with a group of twenty friends annually to stay in a historic casita clustered around one of the 41 pools.

Some play golf on the PGA West golf courses, others play tennis on one of the 23 La Quinta tennis courts.

Kids ride Razor scooters around the 45 acre grounds, while parents take turns watching them and then sneaking into the 23,000 sq. ft. luxury La Quinta Spa for a massage, facial and quiet time.

Since my family has had a home in the desert for over 20 years, I’ve never stayed at La Quinta or any of the wonderful desert properties. Last year, we finally sold the family home, and now “homeless,” we reserved two nights just before Thanksgiving to see what everyone is raving about.

IMG_0124.JPGFirst of all, La Quinta Resort is a Waldorf Astoria (Hilton Hotels) property. Walking into the historic entrance with conquistadors on each side of the door, you feel as if you have been transformed into an Old World era.

There are a multitude of 620 California hacienda-style casitas and villas with different floor plans. Some offer patios, others offer pool views and the Starlight casitas are up a flight of beautiful Mexican paver tiles to a balcony patio with a large conversational couch, table with four chairs and outdoor fireplace. One can sit out on their private patio, flip on the electric fireplace with dazzling blue glass, recline on the couch and count hundreds of stars at night. While the weather is warm, this area is inviting to sleep outside, since you have a private and locked gate at the patio entrance.

In the morning, this area is visually stunning as the sunrise bathes the Santa Rosa Mountains and verdant green palm trees.

I learned that La Quinta’s fine dining restaurant Morgan’s in The Desert is one of the top Open Table reservation destinations, just behind French Laundry.

(Sommelier Lisa Tussing at Morgan’s in The Desert) Photo by: Jill Weinlein

The Executive chef Jimmy Schmidt offers a themed three-course prix fixe with wine pairing twice a month with Morgan’s Sommelier Lisa Tussing. She is the youngest female Level 2 sommelier in AZ and one of the best in the desert. Together they created a one-of-a-kind Heirloom pear and Artisan duck menu, that I had to try.

Our servers Erik and Sal were extremely professional, friendly and informative about each dish. Sal shared with us his favorite dishes on the a la carte menu and recommended the soup of the evening – a fennel soup infused with roasted red peppers, cipolini onions and dazzled with chive oil. There was no cream in this elegant, purely vegetarian warm goodness.

IMG_0086.jpgWe started with  housemade garlic rolls with French Plugrá European-style Butter that is a slow-churned to create less moisture content and a creamier texture, before the soup and my first core of  Bosc pear and shredded crispy duck confit salad arrived. With a little Mache and frisse, Schmidt tossed the ingredients with a pear cider dressing and topped it with a flash fried duck oil egg. Visually it was interesting, taste wise- it was exquisite with the sweetness of the pear, savoriness of the egg and wonderful flavors from the duck. Schmidt cooks the duck slowly and for a long time to get this confit so tender. It was paired with a glass of 2013 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France that was light with a fruity essence.

(Chef Jimmy Schmidt knows how to prepare local ingredients into spectacular dishes. Photo by Jill Weinlein)

The main course was pear cider cured sliced duck breast that was pan roasted and served with an elevated vegetarian dish that looked like ravioli, yet was made purely with caramelized pears stuffed with a French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola. It was beyond good and should be a staple on the menu with or without the duck. The dish also had a savory grilled leek, shallot and red Bosc pear salad. The chef and sommelier paired this with a red 2013 Federalist Zinfandel wine from Lodi, Ca. Tussing felt this Zin was light and offered more to this dish than a Pinot Noir.

The Mahi-Mahi my husband selected was dusted with coriander seeds and served with a mild chopped celery root and roasted leeks with lots of microgreens. Coriander is the dry seed from cilantro. It offers a pleasantly sweet and lemon essence to the fish.

(Fresh corn cut from the cob with coconut milk and ginger – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

The two side dishes we tried included the ginger scented Indio sweet corn sliced off the cob and intensified with coconut milk and crispy ginger. The Brussels sprouts are amplified with Wagyu beef bacon. Not pork, but beef bacon from the belly of the cow. It was better than any pork bacon I have tasted. Not as fatty as pork bacon, Wagyu crisps up beautifully, yet offers a delightfully chewiness. There were also some exquisite Pearl onions complementing this side dish.

(Popcorn flavored ice cream with salted caramel Cracker Jack style popcorn on top- Photo by Jill Weinlein)

We ordered a trio of desserts. My favorite was the pear sorbet on top of the red pear galette with a pomegranate caramel. The most visually spectacular dessert was the butter popcorn ice cream parfait served in a parfait glass with salted caramel house made Cracker Jack popcorn. Our server Sal told us that at 4 p.m. the restaurant smells like a movie theater with popcorn popping. It’s heightened with bittersweet chocolate fudge and sea salted caramel.

The last dessert was too sweet for me, after enjoying the first two sweets. The twisted S’mores of chocolate offers house made fire kissed marshmallow ice cream and an almond brittle that was like an Almond Roca on steroids.

Since we were one of the last to close down the restaurant, Tussing took us into the extremely clean kitchen to give us a tour. We tasted the house-made ice cream kept in freezer drawers, walked into her wine storage closet and had the opportunity to thank the chefs.

It was an evening of fine dining that I will never forget. Outstanding service, food and culinary experience at Morgan’s in The Desert. If this peaked your interest, Morgan’s in The Desert is offering a special Thanksgiving and Holiday menu that features some of the dishes I enjoyed, plus a few extras.

Make your reservations by calling (760)564-4600 or go to Open Table.







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