(Johnny and Frank, photo palmspringslife.com)
Bar/Restaurant: Johnny Costa’s Ristorante
Established: 1976 (in a different location)
Area: The south end of downtown Palm Springs (South Palm Canyon Drive)
Typa Joint: Italian Restaurant
Signature Cocktail: The Costapolitan
If you have been keeping up with me in Palm Springs, you know I have two major goals: 1. Bent, of course; and 2. Soak up as much Sinatra as I can. Like Lord Fletcher’s and Melvyn’s, I killed two birds with one stone by visiting Johnny Costa’s.
Now, Frank never visited this restaurant, unlike Lord Fletcher’s and Melvyn’s. He and Johnny met in Hollywood in the 1960s at the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood. Johnny was a sous chef there and made one of Frank’s favorite dishes – “Steak Sinatra.”
Johnny moved to the desert in the 1960s, where he was the chef at Club Trinidad, a favorite hangout of Steve McQueen and the Rat Pack. He had also cooked at the Sands Casino in Las Vegas, where Sinatra performed regularly and owned a portion of the casino. In the 1970s, Johnny opened his first restaurant in Desert Hot Springs. Around that time, Frank hired Johnny as his personal chef at the estate in Rancho Mirage. More on THAT story when you read my review of Club Trinadad/The Purple Room.
Johnny’s restaurant was located in Desert Hot Springs, then Cathedral City, and then finally this downtown Palm Springs location. Johnny retired at the age of 83, but the restaurant is still being run by his sons and nephews.
From the restaurant’s website, Johnny and his family today:
I visited the restaurant with my local friend Mary, and with two new friends I met through this blog. Rick and Christian currently live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. When Rick found my blog in June he invited Nellie and me to park at his 1950’s diner and classic Cadillac showroom, The Classic Garage. As Rick put it, “We’ll throw out a power cord and serve you breakfast.” I liked him immediately. When I blogged about the Constant Companion, Rick mentioned that Christian is a gastroenterologist, suggesting an appointment when I visited Eau Claire.
My heart was full. Here were these two complete strangers, who found me on the Internet, so generous and kind, even though we had never met! Well, when Rick and Christian were in Palm Springs for the first time for a few days, we just had to get together.
I was a bit apologetic to my friends about the restaurant. Rick and Christian had been busy going to all the hot spots in Palm Springs, and I wasn’t sure if they would be burning one of their precious dinner cards at a flop. There are so many Italian restaurants in the Coachella Valley, and perhaps Johnny’s was just another one. I had certainly not read any raving reviews about it.
We started in the bar for happy hour cocktails, where I had the $5 “Costapolitan,” an average Cosmopolitan with a clever name.
Then we moved into the restaurant for dinner. The place was bustling even on a weeknight. I of course ordered the Steak Sinatra. Rick ordered the veal, and Mary had the prawns. I can’t for the life of me remember what Christian ordered.
The Steak Sinatra was superb! The dish is usually prepared with strips of steak, but the waiter wisely advised to order it as a filet mignon. It was charred on the outside, succulent on the inside, and smothered in bell peppers, mushrooms, and garlic in a wine sauce.
Rick said the veal was the best he had ever eaten. I was so relieved!
Yes, there are many Italian restaurants in the Coachella Valley, but not many right in downtown Palm Springs, and no other with the Sinatra cachet the Johnny Costa’s offers. I’m so glad I went there.