Desert Delight at Desert Willow
At Desert Willow, the Terrace Draws a Crowd for all the Right Reasons
The City of Palm Desert’s Desert Willow Golf Resort dishes 36 killer holes, practice facilities that could easily accommodate the needs of a PGA Tour or USGA event, and, at the far western end of the range, the Palm Desert Golf Academy, with its many teaching, diagnostic, fitting and fitness offerings.
But the complex also draws non-golfers — a LOT of non-golfers — who come to chill and take in one of the Coachella Valley’s best eateries and drinkeries. Plates and pints come courtesy of the Terrace.
A welcoming, tiered indoor/ outdoor space overlooking what is best described as a desert arboretum wrapped into and around Desert Willow’s Firecliff Course, the fare is familiar on the surface, but rendered oh-so-interesting by touches such as the brine of the Atlantic salmon salad, the creme brulee-ing of the French toast or the hand-trimming of the strip loin that becomes the steak sandwich.
“We cater to golfers, non-golfers and the community,” explains Derek White, Desert Willow’s general manager. “When we design menu items, we want them to be broadly appealing but with flair. It needs to be something a guest remembers.”
“When I work up the menu I listen to our guests, and I work with my meat and fish providers to best use seasonal items when market price and quality make sense,” adds Executive Chef Francois Gaertner. “We have a big portion of regular customers who come for the same dish all the time: Lobster Louie, Asian salmon salad, Monte Cristo and Reuben sandwiches. I have the opportunity to bring in the fun with the weekly specials, too, and to be creative with special menus.”
Navigating the menus is a pleasure, and there aren’t any wrong turns. On one visit, the chipotle-and-jalapeno bacon burger might be in order; the next, it’s crab-cake sliders with pineapple relish. At breakfast, consider the aforementioned French toast-with-a twist or the house-made hash. Egg-time service runs 7 – 11 a.m. daily; lunch starts in right after and goes to 4 p.m. (6 p.m. Friday and Saturday).
“We love it when people ask, ‘Is this private, can I be here?’ ‘Of course, you can,’ we happily reply,” says White. “We make it that type of experience, make it their country club. We have Olympic Club members who come here, and there are those for whom this is the best golf property they’ve seen. And because we’re city-owned, we also want our residents to utilize and enjoy the golf, the restaurant, the bar and the clubhouse. We cater to all.”
The formula seems to be working, as 70 percent of business at the Terrace comes from non-golfers. Beer support runs strongly to local and regional, as should be the case in our craft-mad world: La Quinta Brewing and Coachella Valley Brewing, 21st Amendment and Pizza Port. The limited but representative wine list draws from California’s best appellations — Paso Robles, Napa, Russian River — and accessorizes those by going past the borders to pick up, say, a crisp grassy/herbal New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
As Food and Beverage Director Gabe Griswold says, “We want golfers and guests to come here saying, ‘I know I can get that here,’ whether that’s a favored pilsner, IPA or spirit. We strive for uniqueness. We want to offer items that people might not be able to get just anywhere. That’s part of Desert Willow’s role as a destination.”
“The setting is amazing,” White says, perhaps understating the case. “One of our primary tasks is to just stay out of the way of that view. Golfers or not, we want them to enjoy their day, not rush them through their day or their vacation time.”
Sit a spell with a bite and a drink, whether you played 18, all 36, or have never snap-hooked a driver in your life. The northeastern orientation of the Terrace, indoors and out, provides a panoramic view of lake, greens and fairways, a riot of flora — bougainvillea, palm, mesquite, palo verde, willow —and the Little San Bernardino Mountains and Indio Hills on the horizon. It’s an oasis that offers far more than just dates and an upwelling spring for sustenance.
This ain’t granddad’s muni.