When you first enter Morgan’s in the desert, you’re stuck by the elegant, rustic hacienda-style décor of this world-class restaurant and bar located inside the historic La Quinta Resort and Club. Since it’s opening in January 2010, customers have been astounded by the award-winning cuisine of Chef Jimmy Schmidt, who is the only four-time recipient of the prestigious James Beard Award for excellence in the culinary arts. My husband, Tom, and I smiled broadly upon hearing this, and our taste buds salivated with the anticipation of our upcoming meal.Open for dinner only starting at 6:00 p.m., Morgan’s tastefully-priced menu features à la carte selections that change with the Coachella Valley’s local farm growing seasons. This summer Chef Schmidt features savory, wood-grilled, roasted meats and freshly caught, seasonal seafood specialties.
We wanted their Seared Maine Diver Sea Scallops ($32), as an appetizer because upon our arrival at the La Quinta resort, I met Rick Blackburn, the executive director of sales and marketing for the property. Blackburn recommended the scallops for any first-time diner, and he was right. The scallops were perfectly cooked, incredibly tasty and a great way to start our award-winning meal.
But I must backtrack and describe our whole dining experience from start to finish. I started with a pre-dinner cocktail – the Agave Gingerita ($11) made with top-shelf, vintage tequila, ginger liqueur, lime, shaken and served in a chimney glass on the rocks. It was the perfect refreshing drink to erase the tension from a long, deadline driven, hot summer day.
Our five-star server, Salvador (originally from Zamora, Mexico), eloquently explained the menu options and patiently answered all our newbie questions. Being a former waitress, I knew to let Salvador do most of the ordering for us. Because we wanted to share plates, he ordered the Two Peach Salad ($14) to start. It’s was a lovely, and again, refreshing combination of textures and sweetness from the soft peaches and onions to the fresh greens topped with prosciutto and drizzled with a ginger balsamic emulsion. He suggested we eat all three items (peach, greens, prosciutto) at the same time to get the full effect.
We did and my taste buds exploded. Both our eyes widened while we savored our way through salad heaven. This was ambrosia…food fit for the Gods.. I want this recipe or at least want to watch the kitchen staff make it. And speaking of the kitchen staff, turned out Chef de Cuisine, Brian Racor was at the helm in the kitchen. While Chef Schmidt is the architect of Morgan’s cuisine, it was Chef Racor who prepared our meal on this Thursday evening. I’ve got to give proper credit where credit is due.
I don’t eat much meat, but I do enjoy seafood a lot. Salvador chose the Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut ($33) for me, and the Pan Roasted Maple Leaf Duck ($30) for my meat-eating husband. We voted the halibut was the best of the two entrees, mostly because of the super tasty sunchokes and scallions topping the fresh filet which sat on a ragout of chantrelles. It tasted “absolutely fabulous” (and that’s not a British sitcom joke).
My husband was surprised by the large portion of his duck entree. He’s from Michigan and I’m from Pennsylvania where duck entrees are generally smaller, real crispy, and since they’re wild game, are usually a little bit on the greasy side. The Maple Leaf Duck Breast from this kitchen blew that old-school, East Coast stereotype away. Tom’s duck was pan roasted in a Pinot Noir essence with crispy sage then served on a Montmorency tart cherry and cippolini ragout. My husband loves cherries, so this was a perfect pairing.
Also, I love champagne, so I ordered one glass of a Scharffenberger sparkling wine ($11) and thoroughly enjoyed it during our appetizer and salad courses. For our main course, the Wine Director, Jane Benjamin, suggested the Napa Valley, 2009 Trefethen ($15) white wine. Another perfect pairing with my halibut.
For desert, Salvador served three desert items in abreviated portions on one plate, so we could sample more flavors. We loved it all – the Twisted Smores of Chocolate made of fire-kissed marshmallow ice cream and an almond graham crust; a Buttered Popcorn Ice Cream Parfait made from bittersweet chocolate fudge and sea salted caramel; and my favorite, their Blackberry White Chocolate Crème Brulee. We were in gastronomic heaven. If the Gods made anything better than this, they saved it for themselves.
As we were finishing our coffee, our busboy packaged our leftovers and brought them to us. I generally don’t eat breads because, quite honestly, most bread isn’t very good. However, their garlic poppy seed rolls are outstanding, and so good that I boldly asked a few be added to our doggie bag. Our house guest thoroughly enjoyed those five-star leftovers.
If you are going to propose to someone, or celebrate a promotion, or treat someone to a special dinner, make Morgan’s in the desert your choice. Every dollar spent will be worth their award-winning cuisine, and every minute there will be filled with elegant and impeccable service.
If I gave out stars for excellence in culinary art, then Morgan’s in the desert would get them all.
For reservations, call 760-564-7200, or go to www.morgansinthedesert.com. Morgan’s in the desert is located at 49-499 Eisenhower Drive inside the historic La Quinta Resort.