Long been of my favorites as “the best small music venue in San Diego”. The Starlight Theater at Pala Casino Spa and Resort has been perhaps long overdue for a fresh take on their musical performance stage. So what do they do? The Casino’s website offers this “The new entertainment and dining complex, CAVE, also features San Diego County’s only underground wine cave. Luciano plans to use CAVE to build upon Mama’s success as he creates a unique menu filled with food and wine pairings inspired by the taste of the Mediterranean while maintaining his distinct “Italian flair””. By the way, I think they used to call it The Starlight Amphitheater, but I cannot find any proof of that.
Set in the exact location and position as the previous “erector set” type of stage, the Starlight got its test performances out of the way and Cave has been opened as a fresh take on the previous Mama’s Cucina Italiana that Chef Luciano Cibelli has been part of since 2003. Chef Cibelli has even included a subterranean wine lounge that features live performances inside the Cave while bigger performances are on stage, outside and atop of the Cave. And the sound levels are acceptable inside while those private-like performances keep the music going and the wine pouring inside of San Diego’s only wine Cave. I think it’s a pretty neat idea, but let’s see what the future brings from inside.
I briefly met Chef Cibelli once a couple years while ago when I had a hunkering for food as the girls were trying to turn their dollars into millions on the casino floor. I noticed Chef being careful not to allow just any of his cooks to slice the Prosciutto; and he even brought me a slice or two that night. His food then was very delectable.
This last weekend I had a moment to swagger around the casino and check out all of the new digs, and Cave was one of them. The beautifully decorated and enlarged restaurant includes a cocktail bar area that somewhat gives a view of the outside performance stage. I also noticed that the kitchen allows the cooks to sneak a peak of the performers while preparing culinary enticements, like the newly added Foie Gras. You can’t hear the performances from outside as the sound is dampened by the large windows leading to the outside and the pleasant sound system the Chef has playing in the dining area of Cave.
While checking out Cave and the outdoor stage area, I had a moment to entertain myself by making a reservation at the host desk. I asked the staff member of any single item I just have to try before I leave during my first dining visit (reserved service for 8 just before our soon-to-be show watching Alice In Chains). Unfortunately, the greater’s reply didn’t give me a comforting feeling about the competency of the restaurant so far. Not to say they are not competent, but a contrasting scenario while I visited Chef Guy Fieri’s place in Laughlin, NV. I happened upon Guy Fieri’s place just two weeks after he opened and here we are about 5 weeks now for Cave.
Guy Fieri’s staff immediately knew every menu item and how it was put together . . . and what it tasted like. That tells me a lot about a restaurant. How well does the staff know what goes into the foods they serve? I even pointed to a menu item and asked her about it. The host did, however, pronounce it almost correctly; and she knew what Foie Gras was and the controversy it presented in the state of California. I was impressed, however the greeter’s comment was, “we don’t get to try the foods . . . only some, . . . and not the expensive items”.
As a marketing tool, Cave also had a very creepy looking grape-vine tree-lady slinking around in front of the new restaurant. The performer was neat to watch but very creepy none the less. Creepy movements on stilts. Just creepy, but it got our attention.
Although this trip I hadn’t tried any food from Cave, I did walk inside and outside, and checked out the beautiful furnishings and the scoped out the menu; and look forward to eating Chef Cibelli’s food in just a few weeks. Then we’re gonna tear up the outside during a long awaited performance by one of my all-time favorite bands in one of my all time favorite venues. The Starlight now has a brand new stage with a Cave underneath. Cave (restaurant) also has a small pre-arranged seating area just in front of the stage. If you want to spend a bit more for your dinner, you can sit and watch Alice In Chains while you feast on your charcuterie, escargot, radicchio salad and glass of Tuscan Montalcino. I’ll probably have to do that one day. Yeah, as the wife has her hand out for more gaming funds.
Just below that small outdoor stage seating/dining area is a stairway that leads to the wine Cave below. Hint: there’s also a small smoking area just outside of those big doors where you can feel the pounding of the stage sounds as you smoke your cigar, but you can’t see the performers . . . I tried.
Cave and The Starlight should have great success; although, I’m still having a hard time getting my grips on the whole Cave thing down below. Take a visit, you’ll possibly understand.
I’m hoping to tell the story about our dinner and show.