A most attractive setting awaits the first time visitor to Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino. Rimmed by the classic boulder covered hills and mountains so typical of East San Diego County one comes upon a serene valley to a complex of hotel and casino, all themed with a ranch decor.
A lake, ponds and stream surround the property and in the distance the startling green Barona Creek Golf Club. Opening two years ago the Golf Club was instantly rated the third best in Southern California and the fifth best in the State.
The hotel offers all the services of a luxury resort. We checked in with dispatch and soon could relax in an elegantly decorated room with sliding door and balcony overlooking the golf complex. A sofa, arm chair, writing desk, king size bed and furniture spell comfort.
Rich browns complete the decor. Photographs of an earlier era of the Barona tribe of Native Americans decorated the wall reminding one of the heritage and history of the Valley. We greeted Barona as an oasis after a full day of motoring through the scenic back country of San Diego County. Almost all the publicity about San Diego centers, quite naturally, on its wondrous beaches, bay and attractions like the zoo. Gaslight District, dining and wild animal park.
But the interior of the county has its own attraction of mountain vistas and a sense of a rural life-style. Anyway we arrived hot and tired and were ready to enjoy the amenities offered in our luxurious room. After a shower, a cup of coffee from the in-room coffee maker we were ready to explore our surroundings.
The view from our room was a pastoral scene broken only by the scurrying of distant golf carts was in marked contrast to the unbridled action of light and sound in the casino
The Casino adjoins the hotel and is built in the theme of a Ranch Barn on a huge scale. Inside was all the gaming devices and bustle that Americans enjoy in ever increasing numbers.
As is our wont we wandered around noting all and asking questions; in the golf shop, to the patient concierge who is located in an elegant club room and in the casino to inquire about the Club Barona Card and its privileges.
The Resort offers a wide variety of dining options. Scott Kidd is the executive director of Food and Beverage. He came to the Resort as Executive Chef to plan the various cuisines and types of food outlets five years ago.
Today Barona has a wide variety of options for its many hungry guests. Very popular is the Ranch House Buffet which can accommodate up to 850 people. Every day for brunch and dinner guests move past tempting stations with a wide variety of ethnic and American dishes. There is Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Mongolian stations and chefs carving beef and turkey. Also a most sinful dessert station as well.
Alcohol sales are restricted at Barona Resort to the golf club, room service and Barona Oaks Steakhouse. No alcohol is served in the Casino.
One evening we experienced dining at Barona Oaks Steakhouse, the premium restaurant at the Resort. We liked everything we saw from the elegant ageless decor of oak paneled columns, the subdued lighting and background piano music.
Pleased with the decor we admired a well chosen menu that offered appetizers like fresh escargot, sesame crusted ahi tune and a real conversation piece, Diamondback rattlesnake fritters with chipotle aioli and fried capers. People at the next table were challenging one another with this item.
We noted that salads are mixed tableside. With a light appetite that evening we chose the filet mignon in the eight ounce cut. There was also a 12 ounce cut listed. It arrived with a nice presentation in a cabernet reduction with mashed potatoes, asparagus spears and Japanese eggplant which we particularly relished for its unique flavors.
On an occasion when we had a bigger appetite we might have ordered the grilled buffalo Rib eye steak, another attention getter, or the veal chop or Colorado rack of lamb. Seafood is also on the menu with lobster, Alaskan king crab legs or potato crusted filet of Atlantic salmon.
We surveyed the tempting dessert cart and with a sigh settled for tea which arrived as an elegant tea service.
The Steakhouse offers cocktails and a comprehensive wine list of over 140 vintages. California wines dominate but imported wines are also available. We thought the wine pricing very fair with most vintages priced from $28 to $60. The Steakhouse is open for dinner only from 5 p.m. Reservations are almost a must on weekends.
For casual dining there is the Branding Iron Cafe open around the clock. It offers both indoor and patio seating and a full menu in spacious and casual surroundings.
We enjoyed our dinner at the Branding Iron. Looking at the menu our decision was between the BBQ ribs or the steak. We chose the top sirloin steak covered with onions and Monterey Jack cheese which came with a large green salad with choice of dressing.
Of special interest was the Barona Fry bread which was a staple food with the Barona Tribe for many generations. It is made fresh on order at the Branding Iron.
There is also the Food court offering a variety of choices including Ho Wan oriental, Feisty Kate's for burgers and malts; Sambrero's Mexican, The Pizza Place and Barona Coffee Company with a selection of bakery goodies and gourmet coffees.
Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino is located at 1932 Wildcat Canyon road in Lakeside. For more information call a 888 7-barona or on the web at www.barona.com.
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