Thanks to a couple of local 'hounds, we've had a couple of great meals today.
Gaa: thank you for the description of and directions to (if not the name of) Guillermo's, the rather authentic Mexican on the western tail end of El Paseo in Palm Desert just west of 74. We tracked it down for lunch: a fabulous, chunky, obviously freshly-made guacamole to start. Tremendous sopes (thick grilled corn tortilla rounds, almost like Salvadoran pupusas) of beef and chicken with fresh pico de gallo. Friendly service, a great bargain, a real find. The only odd note was the hot "salsa" (more like spicy Prego from a jar) that accompanied the excellent corn tortilla chips before the meal. Did I mention it was a bargain?
Torta Basilica: another big tip of the 'hound hat for the recommendation of Romitti's, an obviously locals-only place that really delivered. I had the veal chop, my gal the chicken piccata, both with perfect al dente linguine. Soup and salad not remarkable, bread forgettable, but the complimentary upfront raw veggie crudites, the friendly service, the $18 bottle of homely Chianti -- and especially those really lovely, soulful entrees -- more than added up. Only regret is that I didn't try the sand dabs as a neighboring table did: they looked gorgeous (and were obviously enjoyed), and we don't see those back East.
Compare these with the dinner we had last night in our hotel, at the Sirocco. Pretty good, slightly creative Italian, but hardly the extraordinary experience some less reliable sources have described. I'd call the food merely good (mediocre starters, quite good pastas), with only the usual hotel premium on price, but more-egregious-than-usual gouging on wine (4X retail on forgettable table wines). The hostess was an undertrained idiot, the waitstaff much better: they were hustling all night to overcome obvious understaffing. Nothing could compensate for the plain awful mid-level business-traveler's hotel-dining-room ambience. A useful contrasting example of what newspaper reviewers and concierges will steer you to vs. what Chowhounds will.
More reports to follow. Thanks again, locals! Hope we can return the favor sometime on the Boston and New England boards.