Southern California’s food critic renaissance is happening now, as evidenced by yesterday’s New York Times piece on La Copine out in Flamingo Heights. The greater Yucca Valley spot plays to the locals, weekend travelers, and hip-kid transplants sprawled in and around Joshua Tree, but writer Tejal Rao also believes that there’s something bigger happening in the high desert.
The restaurant itself doesn’t present as much when coming off the roadway, writes Rao, but don’t let the sun-beaten and wind-swept building deter. What’s inside is “the kind of seasonal, reassuringly confident food that appeals to both brunching families and retreat-seekers on a cleanse, in an inclusive dining room run with joy and exuberance” thanks to owners Nikki Hill, the chef, and partner Claire Wadsworth. The two have championed a slower pace to restaurant life, with multiple days off and chunks of time spent away from the property during the blazing summer. They bought the place for just $30,000, apparently, so it’s easy — and important — to be able to step away.
As for the food at La Copine, Rao loves the “burly and satisfying” salads and the fried chicken thighs, and there’s a lot to embrace about the concise wine list and the staff’s “charming, almost goofy energy.” Even the miscues have their place:
Not everything at La Copine hits the bar that its best dishes set: The warm, sugar-dredged beignets can be on the tough side, with a too-tight crumb. And the banh mi was, on one visit, heavily oversalted. These missteps may be overlooked when you’re seated in such an effusive environment.
Ultimately, writes the NY Times, La Copine is “a model for outsiders putting down roots in places where they find beauty, changing and complicating a community as they become an essential part of it.” That can be hard to come by in the smaller communities that occasionally take on the weekend tourist or former city dweller eager to leave the city. No wonder the restaurant is so beloved, even landing a spot on last year’s Eater list of Essential California restaurants.
La Copine. 848 Old Woman Springs Rd., Yucca Valley, CA.