In With the New
By Ashley Bennett
Oh Palm Springs. How I enjoy your warm sunny days that set behind Mt. San Jacinto, bringing chilly but pleasant evenings of people watching. Your wide expanses of desert are refreshing compared to the noise pollution of inner-IE civilization. But most of all I love the food. Very few Palm Springs restaurants fail to impress me with gourmet ingredients and out-of-the-box menus. Jiao, the new Asian fusion restaurant on the block, totally makes my list of discernible desert cuisine.
The restaurant comes from the owners who also opened Cheeky’s (a popular breakfast joint) and BIRBA (a casual and creative pizza eatery), leaving Jiao to live up to its name in terms of hype and expectancy. Fortunately neither Cheeky’s nor BIRBA specializes in Asian cuisine, leaving Jiao to throw caution to the wind and fuse traditionally Asian food with new, reinvented flavor.
The Stir Fried Japanese Eggplant is a vibrant appetizer, presenting alternating colors of violet skin and caramel-brown slices of eggplant topped with sesame seeds, red bell-pepper and cilantro. The slices are tender to the bite, infused and rolled in a perfect soy sauce (you can’t get much more traditionally Asian than that). Of course the most familiar of the appetizer menu is the Imperial Rolls. It might be a less adventurous choice but Jiao’s rolls are bursting with hot, steamy flavor. Each roll has a thin, delicate fried coating that’s slightly transparent, revealing the savory veggies mixed with pork and shrimp within. Dipping it in a side of fish sauce adds an addicting, salty quality.
Aside from Jiao’s helpful heat lamps that prepare for the inevitable evening temperature drop, try the Spicy Butternut Squash Soup for a light, soul-warming meal. The soup’s main ingredient of squash isn’t quite relative to Asian roots but the use of coconut milk and kaffir lime makes this cream soup mildly spicy which helps it fit the restaurant’s theme.
As for the main entrees though, the Miso Black Cod was probably my favorite meal from my visit. The Asian flare of this dish comes from the lightly sweet coconut rice and a few slices of baby bok choy, the texture of which still remains crunchy after being cooked. A pair of handy chopsticks will tear through the thoroughly cooked cod with ease. Tender fish complimented by a side of sweet and a side of salty; this meal has just a little bit of everything.
Dessert at Jiao is especially interesting too because the pastry chef is given free rein to explore new, creative dishes. Two warm chocolate squares make up the Caramel Apple Cake which is layered with apple bits and chocolate while topped with a piece of caramel popcorn. It’s warm and gooey, even if the presence of apple and chocolate throws you off at first (as does the side of silky, sweet corn ice cream). The Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch is also addicting. Each bite full of chocolate ending in a bottom-layered crunch. Each of these comes with a scoop of ice cream but if ice cream is all you crave, flavors like raspberry, green tea and a very powerful passion fruit are definitely enticing.
Jiao doesn’t do away with the old, traditional Asian foods represented on the rest of its menu but certainly adds some extra flavor with new, exciting combinations.
Jiao, 515 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Ste B-10, Palm Springs, (760) 321-1424; www.jiaops.com. Wed, Thurs, Sun, 12pm-9pm. Fri-Sat, 12pm-10pm.