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Exciting new dining venues open at Pechanga

Damian Stanley is the Chef de Cuisine at Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar at Pechanga Resort & Casino.
Damian Stanley is the Chef de Cuisine at Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar at Pechanga Resort & Casino.
Courtesy of Pechanga

We already knew that Pechanga Resort & Casino offered a variety of wonderful restaurants, but now we have even more options. Recently two new dining spots opened to rave reviews (including mine). We had the opportunity to taste some of the tantalizing dishes available at Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar and at Blends Coffee & Wine Bar, which features scrumptious desserts and a variety of tempting coffees and wines.

Fresh Maine lobster, served either steamed or grilled, is featured on the Menu at Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar at Pechanga Resort & Casino.
Courtesy of Pechanga

These restaurants are part of an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation of the hotel lobby and surrounding areas that has recently been completed at Pechanga, which is the largest resort/casino in Southern California and is located near Temecula’s picturesque wine country. Pechanga is about an hour’s drive from almost anywhere in San Diego, Orange or Riverside counties.

We were impressed with the dramatic “curtain of rain” waterfalls in the newly renovated Grand Entry, and also in awe of the modern, stylish décor of Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar. (“Umi” means “sea” in Japanese.) I closed my eyes for a moment and then opened them, easily imagining we were at a high-end Manhattan or Los Angeles restaurant. We were tempted by the upscale cocktail bar and the authentic sushi bar with its busy sushi chefs, but we chose to sit at a comfortable table in the restaurant with some friends.

We were pleased to meet Damian Stanley, Umi’s Chef de Cuisine, who described the restaurant as both cutting-edge and comforting. We agreed. The menu featured a wide array of innovative, Asian-themed dishes and other creative dishes with a South American flair.

We first enjoyed a variety of attractively presented “small plates,” such as Hamachi Tiradito, succulent yellowtail with an Amarillo aji (hot yellow chile pepper) and jalapeno. Next we tried another take on yellowtail, Kampachi Tiradito, which was accented with Japanese yuzu, a citrusy fruit, in a rich black truffle oil. Tataki Tuna was melt-in-your mouth delicious, especially since it was served with avocado, hearts of palm and tatsoi, a savory Japanese green somewhat like bok choy.

We next savored Fried Shishito Peppers in a sweet unagi (eel) and spicy mayo sauce. The Salt and Pepper Calamari would entice any calamari lover, particularly with its smoked soy sauce. The Seared Miso Anticuchos Chilean Sea Bass, a popular Peruvian dish, was unique and scrumptious when served with corn and a soy glaze.

As if this wasn’t enough, the four of us at our table then ordered a variety of “big plates:” Chilean Sea Bass, a larger portion of the delectable appetizer we had already tasted; Jambalaya, a flavorful South American version of this New Orleans favorite with ham, shrimp, Andouille sausage, chicken, all simmering in steamed rice; Seafood Pan Roast, a delicious combination of scallops, oysters, crab, and clams in a creamy, tomato, lobster broth with steamed rice; and Bouillabaisse, a creative take on the popular seafood stew from Marseille with clams, fish, shrimp, scallops and mussels in a fragrant seafood broth.

Two of us shared a bottle of elegant sake that enhanced the flavors of our Asian dishes. Sake is available at a range of price points and a variety of imaginative cocktails are also featured on the menu. We enjoyed perusing the beautifully illustrated iPad beverage menu, which allowed us to learn more about the featured drinks.

There were many other appealing entrees. We were particularly impressed with the gorgeous plates of fresh, mouth-watering, Maine lobster being presented at surrounding tables. You can also enjoy treats from an enticing raw bar with shrimp and crab cocktails, oysters and clams. And the sushi bar offers a full array of appealing sushi, sashimi, temaki and maki rolls. Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar is open nightly for dinner at 5 p.m.

We next adjourned to nearby Blends Coffee & Wine Bar, a casual dining spot featuring a range of beautifully presented desserts and tempting sandwiches. This would be the perfect stop after a nice dinner at one of Pechanga’s restaurants or a night at the tables. The coffee offered in Blends is from a local roaster in San Diego that produces 100 percent organic coffees. The Brew Bar features individually brewed cups of gourmet coffee to order, and also cappuccino, lattes, mochas and frozen, blended coffee drinks. The desserts were so colorful and tantalizing that deciding which to choose was our biggest challenge of the evening.

Blends is open every day from 7 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays it’s open until 2 a.m. These hours make it the ideal for breakfast pastries or egg dishes, or late night drinks and desserts.

Each time I go to Pechanga and try one of its restaurants I am amazed at how fortunate we are to live so close to so many very high quality and easily accessible dining options. Parking is never an issue at Pechanga since complimentary valet parking is always available just steps away from such top-notch cuisine.

So what are you doing tonight for dinner? You just might find us at Pechanga.