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Gondolas and Crab Cakes in the Middle of the Desert

April 9th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

gregs pic With the pop of a champagne cork, the gondola set off into the glossy water. Ducks were frolicking, music was playing, guests were laughing, and I was sipping bubbly near the bow.

It was a pretty normal day at the lake, except for one thing: this voyage began in the lobby of a hotel, in the middle of the desert.

My getaway to the city of Palm Desert and the Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa was highlighted by the boat ride and by an incredible eclectic dinner at the Cork Tree Restaurant.

The adventure began when a friend and I checked into a luxurious seventh floor room, overlooking the four-star resort’s 450 acres of lushly landscaped grounds and lagoons. One of 884 deluxe accommodations (including 51 suites), the room featured a private bath with separate tub and shower, mini-bar, a Sony CD player, big flat screen television, Internet access, and private balcony.

From the balcony we could see the giant crystal blue swimming pool and watch ducks and birds play in a murky pond below. We could also see golfers swing on an 18-hole championship golf course, while taking in the majestic beauty of the Santa Rosa Mountains. But this was only part of what the resort has to offer.

Besides two Ted Robinson-designed golf courses, the sprawling property offers 11 eateries, including the renowned Mikado and Ristorante Tuscany. There is also a state-of-the-art full-service spa; fitness room, tennis courts, nearby hiking and biking, and 53,000-sq-ft of meeting space.

One of the most interesting features of the hotel is the 8-story-high lobby, which is designed like a Venetian waterway with lake and waterfalls. From the lobby guests can take a gondola ride to one of the restaurants or just tour the property. We took the tour and relaxed to the sounds of music, wild birds and waterfalls, while drinking champagne.

After the sunset cruise, we drove a across the street to the Cork Tree Restaurant for dinner. Here we met chef Herve, a Frenchmen whose eclectic Californian creations have become legendary in the desert.

For an idea of what the Cork Tree serves, here is what we had in one delicious sitting. We began with two appetizers: Mini Duck Confit Tacos, with frisee salad, kefir cheese and chipotle sauce; and crab & rock shrimp cakes, with oven dried tomato compote, fennel -citrus salad and champagne beurre. The cakes were meaty and incredible. They were probably the best I’ve had.

For our main course I enjoyed a seafood duo of pan-seared Lake Superior white fish, with squash and clam chowder sauce, and paired with lobster tail with mustard tarragon butter, asparagus and green beans. My friend had center cut veal chop with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus.

Desert Springs, A JW Marriott Resort & Spa is conveniently located at 74855 Country Club Drive, Palm Desert, CA 92260. For more info and reservations, call (760) 341-2211 or visit: www.desertspringsresort.com. For more info on Cork Tree Restaurant, call (760) 779-0123 or visit www.thecorktree.com.

By Greg Aragon

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