Johannes has even segmented his menu into clever sections: The Starters (soups and appetizers), The Main Thing (entrées), and "Von da Hoamat", or "A Bit of My Country." This latter includes entrée specialties with an Austrian twist.
We started with Mushroom Soup drizzled with crème fraiche, roasted shallots, and truffle oil. Other starters are equally interesting: Oven Roasted Red Beets with crumbled goat cheese, grapefruit, baby greens, and a creamy fig and aged balsamic dressing; Curried Lump Crab, Apples & Celery wrapped in cucumber with a peanut and ponzu sauce and cilantro oil; and Ahi Tuna & Avocado Tartare, with crispy won-tons, wasabi, soy mustard, and Austrian pumpkinseed oil.
"It's a Bread Mousse," explains our waiter Riley, a tall, slim, young man with an easy grin. He serves a dish of artichoke, garbanzo beans, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper that is the spread for the bread.
Main Things include continental favorites like Herb Marinated Australian Lamb Rack, Nori & Spice-crusted Bluenose Sea Bass, Sliced Beef Tenderloin Steak, and Crispy Atlantic Salmon. For the vegetarian there are Seasonal Vegetables served with North African Cous-Cous, wild mushrooms, herbs, tomatoes, an old red wine vinegar syrup and truffle oil.
But once you've seen Johannes' version of dishes from Austria, your choices become even more mouth-watering and complicated. There's Smoked Salmon with green beans, red beets, and a blood orange coulis; Sautéed Veal Liver with onions, apple & Calvados brandy glaze, crispy bacon, broccolini and mashed potatoes; and Smoked Trout with sundried tomatoes and a sherry and truffle vinaigrette. The motto at the bottom of the page reads, "Quality is Priceless. Eat Well, Live Better."
Johannes' décor is cheerful, with colors of pomegranate and saffron under an aqua ceiling; floors are textured concrete in a citron hue, and the architecture has a retro feel. There are just 24 tables inside and on an enclosed sidewalk patio. A single Granny Smith apple is the centerpiece on a cream linen tablecloth. The music is contemporary jazz.
On any Saturday night, Johannes will be so crowded you can find the front bar, which only seats about four, full of single diners. Nothing is hidden here. Johannes' kitchen is open and you can watch Chef de Cuisine, Luis Vega, and his staff of four, prepare all the delicious dishes from the menu.
Wine Director John Kulikowski oversees approximately 300 wines and selected aperitifs from Provence and Italy. Each month there is a featured wine; for April 2004 two wines were selected from Stolpman Vineyards in Santa Barbara: a 2002 L`Avion (white) and a 2001 Rhone Ridge Cuvee (red). For the past four years, Johannes' "cave", a wine cellar kept constant at 58 degrees, has garnered the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
The martini list is as creative as the menu, with names like Apple Strudel, Raspberry Tart, Sake & Peach, Wild Zone, White Choc-Rasitina, Le-Van-Ho, Sake To Me, and Perfect 10.
Johannes' desserts are Austrian in flavor, and all sorbets and ice creams are made in-house.
The North American Restaurant Association bestowed its 2004-2005 Award of Excellence on Johannes Restaurant in downtown Palm Springs for its eclectic food, contemporary ambiance, impeccable service, and extensive libations. Hostess Jessica tells us Johannes has been providing this sophisticated adventure in creative dining in the Palm Springs area since 1999.
"Guten Appetit!" says Johannes.
Photos and feature by Carolyn Proctor, Jetsetters Magazine Las Vegas Food and Wine Editor.