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Executive Chef Luciano Cibelli welcomes all to Pala Casino’s new underground wine CAVE for lounge dining, fine wine and entertainment. Photo courtesy Pala Casino Spa and Resort
Executive Chef Luciano Cibelli welcomes all to Pala Casino’s new underground wine CAVE for lounge dining, fine wine and entertainment. Photo courtesy Pala Casino Spa and Resort
CommunityOld - DO NOT USE - CommunityTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Enter Pala’s CAVE for wine, food & Luciano

One of the most attractive caves I’ve had the opportunity to visit is the new underground CAVE at Pala Casino, Spa and Resort, east of Interstate 15 on Highway 76, in North San Diego County.

You can enjoy dinner on the casino level, then descend into 2,400 square feet of cellar space which is an underground wine cave, plush with oversized leather tables and chairs, a stage for music and a bar that has access to 480 of the greatest wines in the world.

The cuisine in the dining room is distinctly Mediterranean with an Italian flair, prepared by international Chef Luciano Cibelli. This man has a personality that, once you meet him, you will not forget his style, talent in the kitchen and his focused pairings of wine and food.

“I speak five languages and know the best cuisine of each country,” Luciano revealed.  “I have been at Pala for 14 years now. We opened Mama’s Restaurant in 2002 just before the hotel opened with 507 rooms.  Now we have the best Mediterranean food with CAVE and a small and large bites menu.”

I asked him for his favorite on the menu and he had a quick answer: “Very hard to say.  That’s like asking a mamma which is her favorite son!”

It wasn’t hard for me to choose some delicious entrees, starting with a lovely presentation of Burrata, a soft cheese specialty surrounded by slow-roasted Italian tomato with herbs. For my pasta, I chose a Tomato Risotto.

The Risotto choices change daily and afford the Risotto lover a collection of flavors, which give new meaning to “come back for more.”

The large bite entrée was one for the books.  Luciano presented a double cut Colorado lamb chop with plenty of rosemary and garlic, in a Cabernet wine sauce — truly a gift from culinary heaven.

I chose two red wines to wash this dinner combination down:  the 2011 Trione Pinot Noir from Sonoma and a 2008 Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino from Tuscany Italy that enhanced the flavor of the lamb as a perfect pairing should.

The new CAVE has entertainment every Friday and Saturday night.  The larger outdoor venue Starlight Theater presents marquee stars.

Huey Lewis and the News are playing July 30 at 8 p.m., with tickets still available.  Call the Pala box office at (877) 946-7252, or go to

Wine Spectator Releases Honor Roll of Top Wine Restaurants

Wine Spectator, with the largest subscription of any wine magazine, has named restaurants with the highest quality wine lists in three rated categories, including a Grand Award for the Addison in the Fairmont Grand Del Mar.  Other San Diego high-award winners include:  Amaya at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar; Marina Kitchen; Mille Fleurs; Mister A’s; Veladora at Rancho Valencia and Winesellar & Brasserie.


Wine Bytes

Solare Ristorante at Liberty Station San Diego presents a Fortaleza Tequila Tasting Dinner, July 25 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. $54 for the dinner and $19 for the Fortaleza.  Call (619) 270-9670 for an RSVP.

PAON Restaurant and Wine Bar has a Wines of Piemonte Italy event featuring Genevieve Edwards, Italian wine specialist, July 29 from 6 to 8 p.m.  Cost is $20.  Call for details at (760) 729-7377.

Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley has an all-Spain wine dinner July 30 at 6 p.m.  Four different wineries will be highlighted.  $49.50. Call to RSVP at (858) 538-5884.

A Cakebread Napa Valley wine dinner is planned for CUSP Dining and Drinks in La Jolla, atop the La Jolla Hotel, July 26 at 7 p.m.  Cost is $50 and includes a four-course dinner and four Cakebread wines.  RSVP at (858) 551-3620.


Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at, and reach him at [email protected].  Follow him on Facebook.

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