It’s been quite some time since we visited The Pala Resort. Located after Fallbrook on 11154 Ca -76, in northern San Diego, Pala is a few miles inland. It is surrounded by mountains in a beautiful setting of trees and majestic sites.

The casino is a Las Vegas style, with 2000 slot machines, 13 table poker room that hosts live play championship tournaments, 87 table games; and a 507 room hotel. There is a 10,000 square foot full service spa and salon that features 14 treatment rooms and a state of the art fitness center, swimming pool with 12 private cabanas and a dual temperature outdoor whirlpool.

Pala Resort and Casino Executive Chef

Pala hotel spa area for relaxation.
The Pala Hotel spa area for relaxation.

Pala also offers 11 restaurants and 40,000 square feet of meeting space. There is nothing short of elegance here. However, all would be not complete without the award-winning chef, Luciano Cibelli.

Executive Chef Luciano Cibelli has played chef to some of the most prominent individuals in the world.

Chef Luciano Cibelli.
Chef Luciano Cibelli.

He’s graced the kitchens in Germany, Thailand, Spain, the Caribbean, New York City and San Diego, where he launched the popular Max Restaurant. Chef Luciano prepares everything with passion and perfection, and much comes from his family’s recipes, faithfully prepared by his staff. His vegetables, poultry, beef and seafood is sourced locally, or flown in fresh on a daily basis.

It is his innate talent from childhood, learning his family recipes and his travels that inspired us to take a look at why he is considered one of the most recognized chefs today.

Open Kitchen

The Cave restaurant.
The Cave restaurant.

What patrons enjoy as much as savoring the cuisine at The Cave is the open kitchen, where they can observe the culinary process.

“Our cuisine represents Italy with a Mediterranean flair,” Cibelli says. “I am after flavors without too much manipulation,” he says.

On this occasion, I had businessman Anthony Wilson join me. While conversing about the business of the day, Mr.Wilson said he thought he was in New York, after noticing the decor of beaded curtains of small balls that blend well with the contemporary furnishings, separating the dining room from the lounge.

After a couple of craft beers for Tony, Chef Luciano joined us for some food talk. It wasn’t long before we decided on a very interesting tasting. The salads for instance are served in Acacia wood bowls and the breads and other delicacies are served on a slate of olive wood, which Chef Luciano refers to as urban timber.

chef luciano with his wife and tony bennett.
Chef Luciano with his wife and Tony Bennett.

Cullinary Journey

Our journey began with baby green salad with fresh vegetables, purple onions, carrots and radishes, dressed with orange olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. Tony then asked for Grilled Octopus, which I found to be quite tender and sweet. I had ordered ultra tender snails prepared with garlic and a creamy lemon caper sauce with panko parsley butter. This is a great taste with the homemade bread the Cave offers.

red snapper.
Red snapper.

Now for the main entrees, a homemade pappardelle pasta with wild boar ragout, some chestnut fettuccine with porcini mushrooms in a truffle cream and New Zealand whole wild red snapper. The chef pan seared the snapper, stuffed with herbs and accented with a tangy lemon zest. Absolutely delicious.

The journey however, was not over, as both Mr. Wilson and myself are big eaters. We also had quail fillets, seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs, which was then seared in olive oil with a dash of rosemary. This entree is served in a hot skillet on a bed of sauteed tri-colored peppers that had been simmered in chicken broth. The tantalizing dish was served with Del Dotto Paso Robles Pinot Noir from Napa Valley.

roast quail.
Roast quail.

It is so intriguing to have such a diverse selection of cuisine that is enhanced with just the right amount of herbs and such a diverse selection of wines.

Fine Wine Selection

There’s a wide selection of California vintages and labels from France, Italy, New Zealand and Australia. How about a 2005 Nebuchadnezzar 5000 from Napa’s Andrew Geoffrey winery (which holds the equivalent of 20 bottles of wine) for $4,950.00. Ah, but there are bottles that range from $30 to $40.00 and wine by the glass for $7.00 to $22.00.

The Cave offers 480 domestic and imported wine labels as well as entertainment ranging from contemporary jazz to R and B, solo artist, duos and trios.

This is a good time to check out their street taco night and their happy hour from 4pm to 7pm every day.

Finale For A Wonderful Evening

In the meantime, we know that no great meal is complete without a desert. Our evening ended with a Desert chocolate flowerless cake served with fresh berries and a refreshing red wine sorbet.

It was a beautiful evening indeed, since we were ably assisted by an award-winning chef to guide us on our culinary journey.

For reservations call (760) 510-5100 or (760) 510-4541 after 5pm. The Cave at the Pala Resort and Casino is open from Sunday through Thursday from 5pm to 10 pm and on Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 11pm.

Celebrity Scene News awards Five stars to Luciano Cibelli for originality, excellent preparation of cuisine and the ambiance of world-class dining.

Pala Resort and Casino
Pala Resort and Casino
Pete Allman
Pete Allman, "The Man on the Scene," is based in Marina del Rey, California, concentrating on producing feature films, television projects, and commercials. Pete also has an office in Las Vegas, which he visits occasionally.Pete is also a restaurant critic, broadcast personality and celebrity interviewer. He produces inspirational messages for television and other media.Of all the investigations he makes, we suspect he likes critiquing restaurants the most, because he can taste the food, savor the atmosphere, interact with people, and photograph all the goodies.Subscribe to Pete Allman, Writer by Email