Where do you go in Southern California to enjoy a stellar meal for a special occasion or just for a wonderful night out? We all have lists of our favorite places, but is Paisano’s Italian Restaurant at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula on your list? If not, it should be. My husband, Todd, and I recently met Paisano’s new Executive Chef, Francesco di Caudo, and experienced a truly exquisite feast. Paisano’s is definitely now on my list of very favorite places.
Francesco brings his Sicilian heritage to Paisano’s with passion and expertise gained firsthand from his family in Sicily and then honed through cooking school in Italy and France and also during his last nine years at high-end restaurants in Las Vegas. In his first position as an executive chef, Francesco is determined to combine traditional Italian cuisine with new approaches to blending flavors and using fresh ingredients. Paisano’s current menu is excellent, but this fall Francesco will be introducing some new enticing dishes, many from his early days in Sicily. He is impressed with his staff and is working with them now to develop their techniques while incorporating both tradition and new approaches to creating, preparing and serving dishes.
Chef Francesco has many entertaining stories about his childhood when he learned to raise, butcher, and cook pigs, rabbits and chickens. He learned to make prosciutto and sausage. His family also grew and harvested grapes, which they crushed and fermented and made into wine. His family also grew tomatoes and olives and other vegetables that were key ingredients for all kinds of traditional dishes and sauces he learned to make at a very early age. He particularly recalls the great effort and camaraderie when his whole family joyfully participated in making their traditional, delicious Pomodoro sauce. They also made olive oil and picked pistachios to use in their cooking. Chef Francesco recalls his grandmother making fresh pastas from scratch while he watched her grind the wheat, roll the dough, and cut the pasta into a variety of shapes.
Chef Francesco says he is thrilled to be at Paisano’s and loves Temecula, which he feels has many similarities to his hometown in Sicily because it is a wine- and olive oil-producing region with beautiful rolling hills of vineyards. At Paisano’s, his goal is to provide outstanding, authentic Italian cuisine and have his guests leave full and happy and ready to return.
Paisano’s ambient lighting and warm gold and deep orange colors create a romantic, stylish setting for dining. We were also very impressed with the restaurant’s iPad beverage menu. We enjoyed flipping through beautifully illustrated pages and, with one click, learning more about the cocktail, wine or beer we were considering ordering. I started off with a refreshing, hand-shaken daiquiri and later, between the two of us, we tried several first-rate wines, including a 2009 Banfi Sangiovese blend and a 2012 Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio. Paisano’s has an extensive wine list from all over the world, plus a variety of beer choices from many popular micro-breweries.
After talking with Chef Francesco, it was time to eat and we were at his glorious mercy, as he just kept bringing us wonderful dishes. Some of these dishes are on Paisano’s menu now and some will be added to the fall’s updated menu. The Chef plans to update the menu seasonally.
My first course was a uniquely presented and luscious Lobster cappuccino with tarragon foam on top and brandy in the lobster broth. We were surprised to learn this was a gluten-free dish. Meanwhile, as I savored the bisque, Todd really enjoyed his rich ribollita, a traditional Tuscan soup made with cannellini beans, and spicy Italian sausage. (He liked it so much that I thought he might lick the bowl!)
Our second course was a traditional Sicilian pasta dish, which was new to us and absolutely scrumptious. I’m daring to say here that perhaps this was the best pasta I’ve ever had or at least the best in a long time (and I’ve enjoyed some great pasta dishes all over Italy). It was a bottarga of tuna on spaghetti. We learned that bottarga is compressed, dried, salted tuna roe that was shaved lightly over the pasta dish, which also included tuna tartar, parsley, garlic, chili flakes and olive oil. This was all resting on a bright orange carrot juice that freshened the palate and brought out all the distinctive flavors of this savory, subtly salty and slightly spicy dish.
Next in quick order we were presented with a gorgeous deep red beet risotto that was topped with blue cheese and caper powder. We loved the bold beet flavors in this innovative take on risotto. This was followed by melt-in-your-mouth pork belly that had been cooked at a low temperature for many hours with herbs and olive oil and was served with mushrooms and goat cheese polenta. With this dish, I enjoyed a rich 2011 Duckhorn Migration Chardonnay. Our final dish (before dessert that is) was seared, crusty, very tender lamb chops that were served with roasted potatoes in rosemary and garlic sauce. Todd chose a Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany the earthy lamb flavors.
And there was still more to come. Pechanga’s Executive Pastry Chef, Frania Mendivil, introduced herself along with a delectable, beautifully presented sampling of her desserts. We first savored a moist, lightly flavored lemon olive oil cake with Grand Marnier, strawberries and mascarpone cream. We also enjoyed a refreshing panna cotta yogurt made with apricots and vanilla and topped with pistachios. Then, just when we thought we could not take another bite, we discovered we could, when we were served two more sweet treats: a truly decadent chocolate mousse with a caramel center, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream with oreo crumbles and a mascarpone tiramisu topped with raspberries and shaved chocolate. For a few moments, we thought we were in heaven, but we were still at Paisano’s, where we plan to go many times.
Paisano’s has always been a great restaurant, but under the guidance of Executive Chef Francesco and Executive Pastry Chef Frania Mendivil it can only get better. Paisano’s is open five days a week: Sunday-Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations are recommended and may be made by calling 877-711-2946 or by visiting www.Pechanga.com/dining. Pechanga Resort & Casino is the largest resort/casino in the western United States and is easy driving distance from anywhere in Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties.