Recently we visited our “local” Pechanga Resort & Casino.I was anxious to see the completed multi-million dollar renovation and experience the newest of ten distinct restaurants on the property. The hotel lobby has been transformed into a “wow” statement, with a rain-curtain water feature. Rivaling Las Vegas, three cascading eight-foot chandeliers provide a breathtaking light show of color and water.
Pechanga has arrived to claim its position as the largest resort/casino in California, larger than any single Las Vegas resort. I was impressed from my first step. Moving through the transformed area, I noted one of my favorite restaurants was still there. Only Blazing Noodles no longer looks like a glorified food court. Curtained partitions now define the space as a restaurant with a more secluded and intimate dining experience. Our destination came next. Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar has sprung from the shell of the former Seafood Grotto. Gone are the dark floor to ceiling rock walls, replaced by a full cocktail bar in the front with a three-sided sushi bar inside, surrounded by comfortable booths and tables. The restful color scheme immediately reminded me of shiny sea glass. I was immediately transported from the bustling, high-energy casino floor to a relaxing oasis of calm elegance.
Umi which translates as “the sea,” offers an innovative selection of soups and salads, small plates and big plates featuring seafood but balanced with a sprinkling of foods from the land as well. Chef de cuisine, Damian Stanley, has created an exciting fusion of Japanese and South American flavors, combining cutting-edge surprises with comfort food We sampled a variety of Small Plates, none of which were pedestrian. Hamachi Tiradito featuring yellowtail with spicy jalapeño was followed by a milder Tataki Tuna with hearts of palm and avocado. Fried Shishito Pepper (piquant not so spicy) led to a piece of Chilean Sea Bass in a bed of Peruvian corn, glazed with miso and soy. I could have made a substantial meal of just small plates but the big plates (entrees) were to follow.
I had a hard time choosing my Big Plate. There were choices of gumbo, jambalaya, bouillabaisse, salmon and sea bass. More traditional chicken, strip steak, king crab legs and lobster rounded out the menu. By far the most flashy presentation was the Crispy Red Snapper, an entire fish elegantly plated. I opted for something I had never seen before – Seafood Pan Roast, a delicious combination of scallops, shrimp, oysters, crab and clams in a creamy tomato lobster broth served with steamed rice. It was a fabulous blend of flavors that actually represented a comfort food to my palate. I ate slowly, savoring all the distinct flavor pairings. At some point I looked around the room and remarked, “We could be anywhere. ” I had almost forgotten we were at a giant casino. I should have added – anywhere progressive and modern with a big city ambiance, the freshest of ingredients artfully prepared but with a friendly, dedicated staff , making the entire experience warm and local. I drifted out of Umi, not quite ready to resume casino life. Luckily Pechanga has opened another new venue, Blends Coffee & Wine Bar. I’ll take you there in the near future.