Pechanga Casino’s Great Hall of Vice
By Nancy Powell
Great Oak brings four-diamond dining to the outer reaches of the Empire
If ever there was an occasion to honor high rollers, anniversary dinners, engagement celebrations or wha not, Pechanga’s The Great Oak Steakhouse heeds the call, especially in yonder parts yearning for a worthy fine dining outlet outside of big box eateries. For much like the great hall of vice which shields it, spending with cautious abandon at this staid, four-diamond establishment is the massive understatement of the year. Big moments demand deep pockets, and deep pockets are a prerequisite to play at Great Oak. What could be expected from a restaurant that made Wine Spectator magazine’s “Best of Award of Excellence,” an establishment with a wine list equaling the totality of the Temecula Valley’s riches alone and whose diamonds were earned on the eve of a decade-long journey on the fringes of fame.
From the get go, Great Oaks spoils and rewards the willing risk taker with great aplomb. The amuse bouche of fancified chicken salad on toast rises above just mere. This is a light, airy, wonderfully composed palate pleaser with the crunch of refreshing apple resonating throughout. A Parmesan crisp that masquerades as decor for the bread basket is easily the highlight of the bread basket. We start with the barbeque shrimp ($14), three large prawns sauteed al dente in garlic butter and Cajun spices, whose creeping tinge of heat barely registers upon the edges of the palate.
When one of Great Oak’s touted seafood platters ($45) comes out of the kitchen for a neighboring table, it’s like a cauldron of medieval madness. Shrimp, clams and raw oysters rise out of icy abyss, punctuated by the jagged red and white peaks formed by chilled Alaskan King crab legs. The silver platter invites stares from every table, and the poor couple who orders it endures paparazzi-like attention mixed with greater moments of envy.
The 8-ounce Filet Mignon with Diane sauce ($38) is fork-tender, rendered in medium rare bovine perfectness. It goes great with a baked potato or a meatier side of mushrooms sauteed in garlic and butter ($8). But the filet hardly scratches the surface of what Great Oak does best, which is the Chilean sea bass ($34). Easily the juiciest I’ve ever tasted, the outer edges are seared to a delicate crisp with flesh so velvety smooth and luscious that one can’t stop eating despite a fast approaching food coma. When smothered with the rich Port wine butter sauce over a white truffle risotto ($10), it becomes a feast for the senses and for the soul. I’d brave the smoky neon casino craziness just for this indulgence alone.
The silky mound of treacly richness found in the crème brulee ($8) would satiate the pickiest sweet tooth. Instead, I trust my waiter’s recommendation (he hasn’t steered me wrong the entire evening) of a dark chocolate molten cake ($8), a gooey mess of pure delight served with vanilla bean ice cream and fresh raspberries. There could be no more satisfactory end to the evening than with an aphrodisiac fit for the gods.
Service is impeccable and food is served the old-fashioned way on white-linen covered carts that convey delectables tableside in complete repose. Dining at Great Oak might leave one a little short of funds for the slot machines, but you can rest knowing you’ve just dined in a very special place.