By Jean Strauber, Travel Editor
Recently I was invited to visit Temecula for a “Taste of Temecula,” a sampling of some of their fine restaurants. As it had been several years since I was last in this city, I quickly accepted. As I said in an earlier article, I had seen the Pala Casino from the State Highway 76 on my way to the Palomar Observatory and marveled at the beautiful buildings of the resort and knew I wanted to experience a stay at Pala.
So, I phoned Jack Taylor, the Public Relations Director, and asked if they would accommodate us for one night. Not only were we invited to sample what Pala has to offer in accommodations, we received a facial and were invited to enjoy dinner. And, yes, we were pleased with the action in the casinos though both of us did lose. To drive to the Pala Casino and Resort from the Valley is an easy matter.
The 134 to Pasadena, the 210 east to the 15 South and exit on Ca State Highway 76 and continue south past Perchanga for another 20 minutes. Map Quest suggested a different route, the 57 to the 91 and then to the 76 but with the construction on 91, taking the I-15 is a much faster route. I would also suggest taking the 210 East to the State 57 South to the Interstate 10 East to the Interstate 15 South. We stopped at Tom’s Ranch as I had recalled stopping there on my earlier visit. There was an arts and crafts fair that we explored but couldn’t find anything to purchase. We arrived at the Pala, checked in and were taken to our rooms.
I had been offered a suite with Lois in an adjoining bedroom. The rooms are quite large and do have a refrigerator and microwave. There are flat screen TVs in every room, and we were also provided with Terry-cloth robes and slippers. Closet and drawer space was quite ample. The spacious bathroom had a large counter on which I found lotions, shower caps, shampoos, conditioners, etc. The bathroom counter was more than enough for me to lay out all my cosmetics that I had brought with me. The towels were large and THICK! From our rooms, Lois and I had a wonderful view of the beautiful Pala Valley.
In the early morning there was a fine mist which hung over the valley but dissipated by 8:30 a.m. Lois and I quickly left our rooms and headed to the Pala Casino Spa for our facials. My facial therapy was 50 minutes in duration and called “The Journey Facial,” which was quite a unique experience. As the Pala brochure states, “With the use of natural aromatherapy you and your skin will go through a guided journey of relaxation and transformation. This facial will be customized to meet your skin’s needs (all skin types).”
The products used on my face were a calm, mild oil that helps relieve stress, a clarisonic brush and an almond mineral treatment which helps remove dead skin and all skin debris. Claudia, my facial therapist, also gave me a fabulous head and shoulder massage and hand treatment. Lois was given the 50-minute “Age-Defying Facial.” She informed me that Bonnie, her facial therapist, gave here the best facial she had ever received and she has them frequently. In the Age-Defying Facial there is use “of a warm active firming mask, treatment serums and hydrating creams.” The usual cost is $110 for each. The friendly Spa manager, Zita, took me on a tour of the women’s section.
I saw the massage rooms with large picture windows opening to an atrium. She also showed me one of the Couples Suites and explained how they are designed with sensuality and romance in mind. Packages range from a 50-minute couples massage and then an hour of relaxation in the suite. Couples will receive a bottle of champagne and chocolate truffles to enjoy during the relaxation time. There’s also the half-day Indulgence Package and a full Day of Tranquility. I was impressed with the security of the locker room area. The doors close flat and can only be opened with a key. Other amenities include steam rooms as well as a sauna. Full salon services for men and women are also offered. One of Pala’s signature pedicures features a sugar exfoliation, cucumber heal treatment, relaxing massage, cuticle and nail work and an enamel application of your choice.
Another, the Pala Spa Journey Pedicure, is an 80-minute treatment that begins with a foot soak in a coconut milk bath, followed by a rich coconut milk and honey infused exfoliating scrub. Your feet will then be treated to a warm lava shell massage followed by a coconut mask that will further hydrate your skin. Finally your choice of color will be applied. For men, the Pala Spa offers a half-day program where they’re treated to a Marine Salt Glow and a 50 minute Therapeutic massage and concludes with a refreshing Men’s Facial. The Pala Spa is truly awesome. We returned to our rooms and changed for dinner.
As I said we were invited to dine at any one of the dining facilities. Pala has 10 restaurants to choose from: the Buffet open for lunch and dinner during the week and Saturday and Sunday Brunch and Dinner; the Oak Room, a gourmet steak house; Mama’s Cucina Italiana, where Tony Bennett comes to dine whenever he performs at the nearby casinos; Noodles; the Promenade Deli; Mexican cuisine at Amigo’s; and Japanese fare at Sushi Sake.
Casual options include the Poolside Cafe & Bar, Coffee Amore and the Pala Cafe. We couldn’t decide between the Oak Room or Mama’s so we flipped a coin and Mama’s won. Seated at a table nearby was a man feasting on Mama’s “Spaghetti e Polpette (meatball).” Our eyes popped at the size of the meatball, a one-pounder. I had never seen anything so large. Lois enjoyed a Bistecca (rib-eye steak) and I enjoyed the dish that Bennett usually orders, the Scaloppine Marsala, veal medallions with mushrooms in a marsala wine reduction. We shared an Antipasto Misto with grilled marinated vegetables, gourmet cheeses, imported olives and Italian meats, and had a sampling of their pasta with a meat sauce , which came with a rich, fresh tomato base, and was really awesome, and vegetables.
The service was outstanding. We were introduced to Chef Luciana Cibelli, the executive chef. Chef Cibelli opened Mama’s in April 2003 and has been the creative force behind the originality of the restaurant’s menu and its European ambience. After dinner we headed into the casino. During the summer the Pala shows films on the lawn for the family. Lois headed to her blackjack tables and I wandered sampling penny machines, having a good time. I couldn’t believe how many penny and 2-cent machines there were on the casino floor, so it was hard to decide where I should drop my money. A duo was entertaining in a small lounge area of the casino.
The Pala Casino does have first-class entertainment in their large theatre. Around 9:00 p.m. I headed back to my room and ready for a good night’s sleep. The next morning after a light breakfast (one poached egg and slice toast plus decaf coffee), I met Jack Taylor, the Pala Public Relations Manager, for a tour of the property. On the tour I saw the lounge where the Pala Club 60+ entertainment will take place, the theatre, banquet rooms, an outdoor stage, and different sized meeting rooms. Finally, around 11:30 a.m. we checked out, got into my car, and headed to Temecula. What a special time we had! I heartily recommend this resort for one and all. I’m looking forward to a return visit. (The Pala Casino is located at 11154 Highway 76, Pala CA 92059. For more information call (877) WIN-PALA or go to www.Pala.com.)