Well I am back from Indian Wells and here is my report on restaurants. I stayed at the Renaissance Esmeralda Hotel for two nights and decided to try both their restaurants. At their "zagat rated" Sirocco I had a poor eating experience..... It was awful...the "seater/greeter" was not nice, the service was bad and so was the food. The next day at the Esmeralda, I ate at Cava Restaurant which had wonderful atmosphere/scenery, and good food. Their prime rib buffet was excellent and breakfast the following morning was super. The next few nights I stayed at the Hyatt Champions Resort but only ate at a banquet dinner at the hotel. The meal was very good and the filet mignon was excellent. One night I went to Cuistot on El Paseo where I found the food, service, and ambiance to be excellent. If you go, definitely have their Mushroom Soup and Grand Marnier Souffle. Another night I went to Corktree Restaurant which I enjoyed. The service was personable and the food very creative. Some people I met liked the restaurants Pacifica and Desert Turtle.
1212 Coast Village Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93108
El Paseo Restaurant
10 El Paseo, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
72595 El Paseo Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260
CorkTree in Palm Desert--next door to Indian Wells. I liked this place. Very good service--not spectacular but without exception very good. Food excellent. This was lunch. I had a warm vegetarian salad on iceberg lettuce and brie-topped olive foccacia. The vegetarian salad was excellent--each component was obviously prepared individually and perfectly with a great vinaigrette (no idea of specific ingredients but base was probably a white balsamic). OK, the iceberg lettuce was filler, but the rest of the salad was ample and so good I'm not about to quibble about some throwaway vegetation. Spouse's salmon wrap also very good. Desert sampler ranged from very good (something like a a chocolate mousse) to mind-blowing great (bing cherry sorbet). It's not a destination restaurant, but if you're in the India Wells vicinity, it should be a satisfying choice. I don't recall the entire wine list well enough to comment on it, but was pleasantly surprised to find A-Z Pinot Gris by the glass, at a modest price.
ROC's Firehouse Grill definitely fits the bill as a neighborhood type place - http://www.rocsfirehouse.com/index.html
My partner and I found ROC's this past March, when we were in town for the BNP Paribas Open. It's actually in Palm Desert, about six miles from your hotel. Has a great sort of neighborhood sports bar feel, and served some killer baby back ribs. The portions are HUGE - we're both pretty good eaters, and neither of us could finish our meal - a full rack is more than enough food for two (we each ordered our own, and had leftovers for two more meals. And their beer-battered fries were absolutely addictive. Can't speak for anything else on the menu, as we both ordered the same thing. But the place was packed when we were there, and that's always a good sign.