The Desert Dawg Blawg

All things California desert: Travel, politics, environment, adventure, offbeat experiences, local hotspots, insider's tips, people and commentary about life in Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley and the California desert region.

Click on the Article Header to read the whole story!

Chef Jimmy Schmidt Brings His Artistry to Morgan’s in La Quinta
By Morgan Craft

When we heard that chef Jimmy Schmidt had relocated to the La Quinta Resort to open a new restaurant there in an old space, we gave it a week and headed down valley. Schmidt had left the Classic Club’s Rattlesnake after its demise (losing the Hope Classic obviously didn’t help), and was offered the operation set to open in La Quinta’s old Azul space.

The dining room and lounge has been given a thorough remodel, and is much warmer and richer than its predecessor, as we were ushered to a cozy table next to the Spanish tile fireplace, which was uncovered in the remodel. The cathedral-like room feels like a combination of Mission and Santa Fe styles. The fireplace is fronted by a wooden bread-carving station, where the restaurant’s homemade artisan breads are on display, four kinds each day. As we’re early, Chef Schmidt stops by to chat, and as we look over the menu, he eagerly fields questions about his food and culinary philosophy.

“I take the food and the operation very seriously, so you don’t have to,” he says. “The room is very comfortable and relaxed, and the menu is simple, but a lot of planning and effort goes into what we do here.”

He makes a point of informing us that wherever he can he sources local product. Artichokes (which are on the menu), local herbs, citrus, lettuce, grapes, figs, peppers, even dairy from over the hill in Anza – and the seasonal list goes on. Fish are wild-caught – often from native tribes with fishing rights – and the meats are antibiotic and hormone-free, sourced from a Nebraska coop that the chef has been doing business for twenty-five years. He’s the only chef in the valley they do business with.

“We are increasingly capable of getting excellent product, and often direct from the farms here,” he says proudly, “and it is often more ripe and fresh that what ends up going to the larger market in LA and to the distributors. Sometimes these guys are pulling up right to the back door in their pickup trucks. You should have seen the local figs I just had.”

He also works with local 4-H clubs to promote education and often gets herbs and produce from them. “It’s kind of a competition among the parents to see whose kids can raise the better produce that makes it onto the menu. It’s bragging rights when they come in to eat with their friends,” he adds.

We set into the bread basket and spread the artisanal Vermont butter that’s so rich it borders on cheese until our first course of soup and oysters arrive. The fennel puree with shaved fennel and chive oil is among the best soups my wife (who’s a soup snob) has ever had. It’s so rich we’re amazed that it’s dairy-free. Oysters are ingeniously topped with an apple and cucumber mignonette with cider vinegar, allowing me to truly taste the sweet Malpeque mollusks.

Next, there are soft local baby artichokes, quartered, lightly breaded and barely fried with a sweet chipotle aioli. A hearts of romaine salad uses lettuce that’s so sweet it barely needs a dressing, which is why the light garlic-Meyer lemon vinaigrette works perfectly.

We’re going big, so our main course does too. There’s sliced roasted duck breast with grilled foie gras and shaved apple salad. The duck is perfectly balanced by the tart apple and salty, rich liver. And a petite Angus filet has been cooked at a high enough temperature that it’s charred on the outside, and running with juices in its middle. Perfectly done, and accompanied by a sea-salt dusted russet potato and sweet, homemade sour cream.

It’s a straightforward menu, caringly stewarded by a passionate chef. The servers are knowledgeable and engaging, and as our evening winds down the room fills with an energetic hum. If you’re a foodie who seeks out quality and ambience, Morgan’s and Chef Schmidt should be first on your itinerary.

Morgan’s at the La Quinta Resort and Club
49499 Eisenhower Drive, La Quinta, (760) 564-7600
Hours: Dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. nightly.
Bar, 4 p.m. to midnight Sunday-Thursday,
open until 1:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday.
Entertainment, 7 to 11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.