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.