Chef Kiyokuni Ikeda has an easy smile and a gentle grace. I had the good fortune to meet with him and experience his culinary talents firsthand recently at Umi at Pechanga. His fascination with food began when he first tasted an Egg McMuffin at age 10 in his native Japan. Having never tasted anything remotely similar before, he made it his mission to recreate it. His curious nature makes him right at home in the kitchen. He asked if I had ever had sea urchin. I told him I hadn’t, but that I wanted to give it a try. “I don’t like it, but my wife does,” he confessed.
Chef Ikeda is a true artist. I loved watching the meticulous attention to detail he displayed in everything he prepared. The sea urchin was a visual masterpiece, and tasted as fresh as the sea. In between courses, we chatted and he showed me pictures of his children. He’s a proud dad.
He’s keen on embracing the season. On this summer night, he offered dishes that were light and delicate, but packed with flavor. Next was a spoonful of broth with ramen noodles and a seared scallop. He followed that with a plate divided into four segments that included tuna tartare and sea bass miso. He plated a light vegetarian sushi in a soy wrap with crisped onion strips on top. Although light, the dishes were very satisfying and quite filling. I somehow managed to save room for a few bites of an extravagant chocolate dessert with raspberries and gold flake.
The menu at Umi offers much more than simply sushi and seafood. You’ll find a New York strip if that’s your desire, fish and chips or chicken a la brassa. If you feel like splurging, check out the chilled Grand Seafood with a whole Maine lobster, shrimp, oysters and king crab legs for $80. Appetizers range from $9 to $16 and entrees run from $25 to $59. Umi also features a full bar and a nice selection of wine and beer.
Chef Ikeda is no longer trying to replicate Egg McMuffins. His staff, however, presented him with one upon his arrival.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701! Ask about special discounts.