Great Oak Steak House offers the finest dining near home

The juicy and tender 20-ounce rib-eye steak is cooked to perfection with garlic and light seasonings. Diane sauce and a robust red wine complemented the entrée. Courtesy photo
The juicy and tender 20-ounce rib-eye steak is cooked to perfection with garlic and light seasonings. Diane sauce and a robust red wine complemented the entrée. Courtesy photo

My wife and I recently visited the highly-regarded Great Oak Steakhouse at Pechanga Resort & Casino for the first time, deciding to stay local for an anniversary dinner instead of driving to Ruth’s Chris Steak House in San Diego. It was a gastronomic delight from appetizer to dessert.

The Great Oak Steakhouse is the “prime” restaurant at Pechanga Casino & Resort, featuring 100 percent U.S. Department of Agriculture prime Black Angus beef as the mainstay of its menu. The AAA Four Diamond restaurant, an honor it has been awarded every year since 2012, also offers creatively-inspired salads, side dishes, desserts and outstanding seafood.

The well-appointed restaurant with linen tablecloths and crystal, subdued lighting, smooth jazz music in the background and high-backed booths created an elegant and romantic ambience nicely isolated from the casino atmosphere that surrounds it.

Our attentive and friendly server, Gayle, is one of a handful of employees who have been there since the restaurant opened and was a wealth of information regarding Pechanga history and culture as well as the restaurant’s culinary and wine selections. The wait staff worked well together as a team.

Our bread basket consisted of triangles of cheese crisps and warm raisin-walnut bread. Award-winning Executive Chef Martin Villegas, formerly of highly-acclaimed Donovan’s Steakhouse, sent out a surprise complimentary appetizer, cucumber slices topped with crab, aioli, sriracha sauces and a cherry tomato. It was a very creative and tasty starter.

The exceptional wine list and other libations are listed on a computer tablet with the ability to research the various options. The extensive variety includes selections priced per glass or up to four figures per bottle.

We ordered a 2013 Rombauer Zinfandel in anticipation of our prime beef entrees. Despite the 2015 on the bottle we were served, the combination of fruit and spice notes, specifically cherry, blackberry and vanilla, were lush and concentrated on the palate and long on the finish, proving to be a perfect complement to our entrees.

The a la carte menu allows diners to customize their meals. My wife selected a melt-in-your-mouth eight-ounce, medium-rare filet mignon with bearnaise sauce with thyme and citrus. Her tender filet came with a deliciously cooked whole garlic clove. For her side dish, she selected Broccolini with slivered almonds and roasted garlic.

I opted for the 20-ounce, bone-in rib-eye steak, bloody rare; the meat was so good by itself I almost missed out on the equally delicious Diane sauce with sauteed mushrooms and red wine. My side dish was the creamy white truffle risotto with mascarpone cheese. We happily shared our respective side dishes as the serving sizes were ample enough to share.

Our meals were perfectly prepared and creatively plated. Each bite was a separate culinary experience, reflecting Villegas’ philosophy of using the best ingredients and executing each creation to perfection, bringing forward the best of each dish’s flavor profile.

We ordered a creme brulee for dessert that was the best we’ve ever had. It has been my favorite dessert for many years, and I’ve had the dish in restaurants in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Paris and many smaller cities around the county. The custard was creamy and delicious with a perfectly caramelized glaze and topped with a fresh blackberry, blueberries and slices of strawberry. It was absolutely delicious.

For our anniversary, they also served us a trio dessert: cheesecake with strawberry sauce, French vanilla gelato with caramel sauce and a triple chocolate parfait.

Our bill ($$$) came with another treat, strawberry gelatin dot cookies and rich chocolate truffles.

Overall, this anniversary dinner was a wonderful experience: lovely company, beautiful decor, outstanding fare, excellent wine and great service. We’ll definitely be back for another special occasion to try other culinary delights on the menu.

Reservations are required. Recommended dress is semi-formal.

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