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Sirocco Restaurant, Indian Wells, CA: A Mediterranean Oasis in the Desert

fresh pasta and vegetables, Sirocco Restaurant, Indian Wells

Authentic Mediterranean food, attentive and authentic service at Sirocco.

If you like Italian food, you will adore the Italian cuisine at Sirocco Restaurant, the upscale restaurant in the Renaissance Esmeralda Hotel & Spa in the tennis- and golf-crazy resort town of Indian Wells, California.

“Italian food exquisite beyond imagination” is what Sirocco does best. The menu is largely the creation of Chef Gregorio Calderin. After graduation in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales University, Chef Gregorio moved to Italy for an extended stay. In Italy Chef Gregorio practiced his culinary skills and developed a deep love for making salamis, prosciuttos, and other Italian specialties. Perhaps his most important discovery, however, was his future wife.

making fresh pasta at Sirocco Restaurant

All the pasta is made by hand at Sirocco and you can tell the difference. Photo REH

Sirocco and Chef Gregorio focus on freshness and using top quality ingredients. Gregorio and his staff prepare all the breads and pastas fresh daily. He has a contract with a local rancher who provides grass feed beef of highest quality and salmon is delivered fresh from Skuna Bay, British Columbia. His sources for shell fish are also carefully selected and produce comes from local producers.

As you enter Sirocco, you are transported into a romantic Mediterranean setting bordered by a lake with magnificent views of the desert and mountains. The main dining room seats 65 and tables take advantage of the views and afford plenty of space for easy conversation and traffic through the dining room. There is also a smaller adjacent dining room for 30 available for regular dining and for special events. Additionally, there’s a dining area for 16 that’s often in demand by wine aficionados, not surprising given the restaurant’s reputation as having the “World’s Best Restaurant Wine List” by Wine Spectator magazine.

elegant surroundings at Sirocco

Food this good deserves elegant surroundings. Photo REH

The restaurant staff was affable, friendly, and ready to answer all of our questions. They are quietly, but obviously proud of the world class quality of their restaurant. Our waiter, Brian, proved knowledgeable about wine and cuisine. He made our dining experience delightful and even instructive.

Classic Italian Style, New World Deliciousness

The menu follows the classic Italian order starting with Le Insalate followed by Antipasti Freddi (cold), Antipasti Caldi (hot), Primi Piatti (pasta dish), Secondi Piatti (meat or fish), and ending with desert and coffee. In order to get a true idea of the offerings, we told Brian we’d like to sample a somewhat wider spectrum of the menu. We asked, for example, for a small portion of two salads instead of just one. We requested the same for the other sections of the menu and Brian helped us make our selections.

Chef Gregorio presented us with a masterpiece of dining delights selected from his palette of culinary choices. He also regaled us with delightful stories about the food and food sources and even shared with us his joy of family and penchant for riding motorcycles. He’s a man who clearly loves what he does and a true artist with a zest for creation and invention.

And the food? Oh the Food! I am a self proclaimed expert on Caesar salad (not the preparation of, but the eating of). I am always searching for a really great Caesar salad. Before dining at Sirocco, my top Caesar salad was at Ernie’s in San Francisco (unfortunately now long gone). I now have to rank Sirocco’s Caesar as number one on my all time list. This may come as a shock because Chef Gregorio’s Caesar has no Romaine! “You can get a Caesar salad with Romaine at a fast food restaurant,” he says.

the lakeside views at Sirocco are unbeatable

The lakeside views at Sirocco make for a relaxing meal. Photo Kirby Griffin

Instead, the chef uses frisee lettuce in his Caesar. Let’s face it, what really makes a great Caesar is the Caesar dressing and Chef Gregorio’s Caesar dressing is GREAT with just the right amount of tangy, brininess.

We also sampled a salad of roasted beets, Maui onions, and herb vinaigrette and it was outstanding. Our cold antipasti included Carpaccio di Salmone, house cured Skuna Bay Salmon, fennel, Pignoli, Navel oranges, and citrus vinaigrette, a wonderful, very fresh salmon dish that I highly recommend.

food at Sirocco made with fresh ingredients

The dishes at Sirocco are made with fresh, local ingredients. Photo REH

We tasted several hot antipasti and all were superlative. Cozze al Pomodoro stands out. This is a preparation of Carlsbad mussels with Marinara sauce and Bruschetta. The flavor of this dish was so outstanding my wife, Karen, wanted to drink all the left over broth.

Speaking of Karen, she loves shellfish. When we go to the beach, it’s guaranteed that she will be out digging clams. Ergo, it’s not a surprise that her “First Dish” favorite was Casareccia alle Vongole e Bottarga, casareccia pasta with Manila clams and Bottarga (dense cured fish roe) in white wine sauce.

For me, selecting a favorite from the “Second Dish” offerings is like trying to choose your favorite child. In fact, the entire menu is packed with fabulous preparations. If I force myself I can pick three “Second Dishes” that are, to my palate, incredibly good: Veal Piccata, Aragosta al Frangelico, and Salmone al Basilico.

Real Bottom Line: Sirocco has a magnificent desert setting with surrounding mountains; a romantic Mediterranean style dining room bordering a beautiful lake; affable, friendly and knowledgeable staff; a world class wine cellar; and a talented and creative chef making delectable dishes.

The only thing missing is me, which I intend to rectify at the very first opportunity. – by Kirby Griffin, RFT Contributor

 

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Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at realfoodtraveler.com.