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A Sweet Spot

Comfort and creativity greet you at Sweet Basil

By Lauren Del Sarto
El Paseo patio at night
El Paseo patio at night

Since they opened in November, I’ve been eyeing Sweet Basil California Eatery. As you cruise down El Paseo, the brilliant white building with teal blue lettering beckons the casual diner with a cozy welcome as if to say, “Stop in. We’ve been expecting you.”

Grilled “naanwhich”
Grilled “naanwhich”

I’ve now returned numerous times. Meeting friends for lunch one day, I was pleasantly surprised at their healthy offerings. My husband and I returned for a delightful date night on the patio under the twinkle lights, and my third visit to finally try the cauliflower “naanwich” inspired an even greater love.

Roasted beet and quinoa salad
Roasted beet and quinoa salad

Sweet Basil is the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine with friends or a romantic evening with that special someone. The air is relaxed, the staff friendly, and the pace calm. While many restaurants these days are eager to turn tables, Sweet Basil invites you to relax and enjoy yourself.

The modern eatery is the second restaurant from Chef Sally and her husband, Martin, who ran Sweet Basil Bistro in Big Bear for 13 years. Too many cold winters sent them searching for the perfect spot for their second establishment in Palm Desert. They signed the lease on the prime location just before quarantine, giving them “quality time” to design and build out the space themselves. Reclaimed wood with wine box inlays adorns the walls; wine barrels hold tabletops and bottles, and fresh flowers serve as décor throughout.

Chef Sally’s healthier shrimp and grits
Chef Sally’s healthier shrimp and grits

“It was a labor of love, and we had a lot of fun,” says Sally on their summer spent building their new dream. “Since we had time, we did all the woodwork ourselves, refinishing wood from a friend’s fence and buying wine cases and other special pieces.” The City of Palm Desert was very helpful in making things work during the challenging time. “What a beautiful place to live,” adds the consummate optimist. “None of us knew what to do and we were all doing the best we could. They were so generous with their guidance and resources. I have so much love and respect for this city.”

Chef Sally’s motto is “simple and clean,” and her enthusiasm, love and creativity go into her dishes. Lunch offers a variety of colorful starters, salads, sandwiches and a build-your-own pasta selection; main courses are available after 5 p.m. Sizzling garlic shrimp and grilled artichoke stand out as the healthiest starters, while the eggplant cigars (deep fried with sausage, goat cheese and tomato basil sauce) are a tasty splurge.

Sand dabs on cauliflower rice
Sand dabs on cauliflower rice

Salads come in two sizes, large or small, with the option to add grilled or blackened salmon, grilled shrimp, marinated flank steak or grilled chicken. I love the roasted beet and quinoa salad uniquely seasoned with mint and pistachios. Ingredients are locally sourced when possible but not organic to keep prices reasonable, which they are.

Gluten-free and missing sandwiches? Sweet Basil serves theirs on grilled naan bread with the option of a cauliflower crust version. The alluring selection includes grilled portabella mushroom, Tuscan tuna and chipotle and maple pork tenderloin, to name a few.

They just added gluten-free pasta as well to enjoy with one of Chef Sally’s homemade sauces (tomato basil, creamy pesto and simple olive oil and garlic are light options) along with your protein of choice.

The evening mains include comfort foods like country meatloaf and lobster lasagna, along with healthier options like the sautéed sand dabs and grilled or blackened salmon on cauliflower rice (a welcomed substitute to rice or potatoes). Being from the South, I had to try the shrimp and grits, which didn’t disappoint; lighter than Southern-style and certainly healthier with sautéed arugula, tomato basil relish and a smaller portion of polenta.

While none of the “Sweet Endings” are sugar-free, gelato, which typically has fewer calories, less sugar and lower fat content than ice cream, would be the most wholesome choice. Of course, you’d have to pass on the mini donuts with dipping sauces and chocolate lasagna!

Valley diners have been supportive and Sally says she feels blessed to be doing better in their first year than they ever thought possible. Put Sweet Basil California Eatery on your list of local restaurants to support, enjoy and return again.

Sweet Basil California Eatery is located at 73655 El Paseo and is open Wednesday – Sunday for lunch 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Reservations are recommended by calling (760) 610.1698. Full menu is available online at www.sweetbasilpd.com.

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