Before we even walked through the doors of Cork Fire Kitchen at Temecula Creek Inn, we knew the ambiance had changed significantly. A $2.5 million transformation has resulted in a warm, rustic and inviting restaurant and lounge that is both elegant and comfortable.
Temecula Creek Inn seems to have found the type of restaurant that appeals to both locals and hotel guests, combining casual charm with progressive fresh menu items. The menu and atmosphere are clearly designed for all: golfers popping in for a drink and a bite to eat; wine country visitors wanting to enjoy the scenery a little bit longer; and both locals and visitors seeking a unique gourmet dining experience.
The vision for Cork Fire Kitchen is to feature locally sourced artisan fare, based on what is fresh and in season. The bar selections include premium wines and beers and barrel-aged whiskies. More than a dozen signature cocktails enhance the menu. We were promptly ushered into the homey cabin-like dining room overlooking the golf course. For once I could not say “This restaurant reminds me of…” Cork Fire Kitchen sets a mark all its own.
I settled in to peruse the offerings. Executive Chef Igor Krichmar adds a personal touch to a simple menu which includes a daily “Fresh Sheet” that he creates each morning based on what is fresh and in-season. Sprinkled throughout the menu were at least 20 references to “house made” and “local.” Names of local farms and purveyors are mentioned in a half-dozen item descriptions. However, we decided to put ourselves in Chef Igor’s capable hands. He did not disappoint.
We began with a Grazing Board, the Plowman’s Platter, artisanal cured meats, spreads and cheeses featuring house made beef paté and pickled onions. Next I had Local Gold & Red Beet Salad while Tom enjoyed a refreshing Watermelon Salad, both featuring Nikolau Family Farms goat cheese. We had to try something from the “Fresh Sheet” and selected the Bone Marrow. It was absolutely delectable – slow-roasted then finished on an open fire, drizzled with piccata sauce and served with garlic rosemary crostini and pickled red onion salad. Yum!
Throughout our dining experience, the service was impeccable. As writers, we always have lots of questions. Our waiter, Tony, cheerfully answered each one and spoke directly to the chef if he was unsure. I noticed Chef Igor intermingling with guests, exhibiting great sparkle and charm. He is obviously enthusiastic and proud to be executing his vision at Cork Fire Kitchen.
We learned a little more about him when he stopped by our table. He was raised in Chicago by Russian parents. After attending The Culinary Institute of America, he worked at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, supervising their five diamond restaurant. Then he opened the Montage in Park City, Utah. He spoke of his excitement to be working with fresh and local ingredients, embracing a slow food approach to cooking. Chef sees Temecula as a booming area with local farmers and purveyors supportive. He wasn’t the first chef we had met that when offered the job was enthusiastic to come to Temecula and then mad a bee-line to Google to find out where it was.
It seemed to me as if each course set a new standard, building up to the entrée. Although I was getting full, I anxiously awaited the next dish. It was Slow Braised Short Ribs. And by far the best I have ever eaten. The well-composed plate included carrot puree, pommes puree, port-braised shallots and crispy onions. I was more than satisfied.
But wait, there’s more! I anticipated the curiosity of my husband would lead him back to the wine and spirits. We noticed that the bar served at least 4 wines and 5 beers on tap, stored at 62 degrees. There were also over a dozen wines by the stem and a vast array of wines by the bottle. I appreciated that the wine list seemed thoughtfully arranged under headings of: Dry Sparkling Wines and Champagnes, Sweet White/Blush Wines, plus Light Intensity, Medium Intensity and Full Intensity Whites and Reds.
What really caught Tom’s attention was the Whiskey Program, featuring a side-bar of small oak barrels of high-end Bourbons and Scotches. All whiskies are barrel-aged in-house for at least 30 days, Most ingredients are mixed together while aging. Fresh garnishes are a finishing touch. “Smooth” and “impressive” were the words Tom uttered after a sample.
Now I am ready to return for more – weekday breakfasts, weekend brunches, satisfying lunches, cocktails by the fire, and of course scrumptious dinners.
Parting words from Chef Igor, “We strive to cook simple food in a simple way that people understand. We want the food to speak for itself.”
Simple? Yes. extraordinarily simple. Bravo, Cork Fire Kitchen!