Imaginative, delicious dishes from new chef at Pechanga’s Umi
by Susan Montgomery
Imagine a bowl of fragrant miso soup with mussels, salmon, lobster and King Crab—all delightfully kicked up with a touch of jalapeno oil? This was the inventive and uniquely delicious version of miso served by Kiyokuni Ikeda, the innovative new chef at Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar at Pechanga Resort & Casino, located in Temecula, California, about an hour from San Diego or less than two hours from just about anywhere in Orange, Riverside or LA Counties.
Chef Ikeda recently took over the top chef’s position at Umi after holding impressive positions at sushi restaurants in Philadelphia, including Zama and Morimoto where he worked with celebrated Iron Chef Masaharu Moriomoto. Chef Ikeda had culinary aspirations from an early age. He was born in Tokyo and grew up working in his parents’ coffee and soba noodle shop in the Nagano Prefecture and later cooking at a high-end Chinese restaurant in Tokyo.
Ironically, Chef Ikeda recalls tasting his first Egg McMuffin as his stimulus for experimenting and being creative in the kitchen, as he tried to recreate this McDonald’s specialty which was so new to him.
Now At Umi, the Chef is still trying new dishes. His goal is to prepare the best ingredients simply but creatively. He is now in the process or bringing some new items to the menu, including sea urchins, deep fried scallops, the miso soup we savored recently, and many other creative dishes. All his dishes are as beautifully and uniquely presented as they are delicious.
As guests of Umi, we recently had the wonderful opportunity to sample a variety of dishes, including some that are not on the menu yet but will be soon. We enjoyed our dishes with a bottle of Shoin (Junmai Ginjo) Sake, which enhanced our food with its fragrant aroma and dry, crisp fruity taste.
Here is a sampling of some of the dishes we tried:
Salmon Sashimi: Floating on a sweet but crisp yuzu and honey sauce and topped with salmon roe, the thin slices of lovely salmon were exquisite to behold and literally melted in our mouths. This will be a new menu item, which I predict will quickly become a favorite of many guests. (Yuzu, by the way, is a fairly sour citrus fruit originating from East Asia, so when its juices were combined with honey, the result was an enticing sweet/sour taste.)
Kushiage: Large, tender scallops had been lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, breaded with Panko crumbs, lightly deep fried, and served on a zesty aioli sauce along with a crispy daikon slaw made with soy vinegar. The scallops were lightly flavorful, as scallops should be, and the match with the slaw was perfect. The texures and flavors all worked together beautifully.
Salmon Ceviche: Artistically presented in tantalizing little bundles, this different take on ceviche featured a delicious combination of ingredients, including pineapple, radish, asparagus and lime.
Tataki Tuna: Fresh, tender tuna served with tatsoi, an Asian green salad with a mustard taste, and topped by shredded hearts of palm, was a refreshing slightly tangy dish.
Crispy Rock Shrimp: Lightly battered and deep fried small shrimp were accompanied by snap peas, pea shoots, spicy mayonnaise, and a black truffle vinaigrette. This delectable dish was my favorite of the evening. I plan to order it every time I go to Umi.
Seared Miso Chilean Sea Bass: The fish was delicate, mellow and accented by a lovely soy glaze—inventively served with large crunchy kernels of tasty Peruvian corn.
We also tried some wonderful sushi rolls, which Chef Ikeda prepared right in front of us. The first was a spicy tuna roll featuring deep pink albacore topped by yellowtail belly, with avocado, chili ponzu sauce, soy vinegar, and tempera flakes for a nice crunch. He created this roll especially for Todd who had discussed his favorite ingredients with the Chef. Perhaps in the future, we will see it on the menu as “Todd’s roll.” However, it is nice to know that the sushi chefs at Umi are willing to create personalized rolls for guests using ingredients they request.
The spicy scallop roll that followed was just as scrumptious, made with sesame oil and surprisingly but pleasantly served with a Bernaise sauce. Our dining companion, Ken Barnes who orders spicy scallop rolls at sushi bars whenever he has the opportunity, had quite the glowing testament to this scallop roll, saying it was the best he had ever tasted. We learned the scallops had been quickly seared to lock in the flavor and then blanched in cold water.
The roll options at Umi are innovative, interesting and artistically presented with many unexpected and tasty flavor combinations. Of course seafood is always extremely fresh at Umi, with daily deliveries. Umi also offers a complete Raw Bar with shrimp cocktails, clams, and a variety of oysters on the half shell.
Umi offered us several tempting desserts. We enjoyed a creamy rice pudding with Azuki (red bean) ice cream and a colorful presentation of Mochi, a popular Japanese delicacy of pounded sticky rice with ice cream fillings in green tea, mango, strawberry and chocolate flavors. My favorite dessert was Chocolate Marquise, a rich cake, topped with edible gold leaf and cleverly accompanied by a pipette—a dropper with creamy raspberry coulis that I squirted all over the decadent chocolate, making it a fun experience as well as a delicious treat.
I’ve only presented a sampling of the many imaginative dishes being produced by Chef Kiyokuni Ikeda at Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar and I look forward to seeing new items on his menu in the future. With the chef’s creative approach and focus on fresh, innovative ingredients, Umi’s menu will undoubtedly continue to evolve with exciting new dishes for us to savor.
Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar, which is one of 11 restaurants at Pechanga, is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m Sunday through Thursday and from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Photography by Todd Montgomery.