By: Sid Robinson
“We don’t want it to be the best steakhouse in San Bernardino – we want it to be the best steakhouse. Period.”
So says Loren Gill about The Pines Modern Steakhouse, the recently remodeled high-end restaurant at San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, which debuted with a new look, a new chef and a completely new menu over Memorial Day weekend.
To do that, San Manuel is focused on giving its patrons – largely comprised of those who visit the casino for its vast gaming offerings – another reason to visit the resort.
“It’s a different mindset,” says Gill, who is general manager of San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, which celebrates its 30th anniversary on July 24. “It’s not just about the food; it’s about the experience. We’re offering San Manuel guests an elevated dining experience.”
Spread among the nearly 3,800 slot machines, 200-plus table games, bingo hall and entertainment show venues at San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino are more than a dozen bars and dining options. The Pines was already considered to be its premier high-end restaurant, but “it went from better to best,” claims Gill.
Closed for its “soft remodel” for the six weeks leading up to Memorial Day, the restaurant is essentially a new restaurant in the same restaurant. Floor-to-ceiling windows replaced a series of doors near the main entrance, while the interior aesthetics gained a whole new look and feel, from the color palette, lighting and wall coverings to stylish booths, place settings and furniture.
The physical appearance of the bar is mostly unchanged, but its beverage program saw a major overhaul, including a new menu of classic and creative craft cocktails, carefully selected craft beers and an expanded wine list. All of the bar’s bitters and simple syrups are made in house, along with several distilled spirits infused with herbs, spices and fruit. The juices are all freshly squeezed.
The Pines staff went through six weeks of extensive training on every aspect of the operation, leaning what wines pair with particular foods and what beers and foods go together best.
The drink menu includes features a nice assortment of craft cocktails, including the Hurricane originally created at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans, and a host of signature drinks and The Pines’ take on all of the classics. I tried the house Old Fashioned made with Angel’s Envy Bourbon, vanilla, orange, Angostura bitters and Ciroc Amaretto, garnished with a sprig of Rosemary. The vanilla and amaretto added an interesting twist, while the orange was very subtle.
Renovations throughout the restaurant help the bar play a bigger role on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when The Pines transforms into a nightclub after 11 p.m. Dining tables slide away to reveal the dance floor, and the DJ helps bring the dinner house to life.
The environmental and aesthetic changes are only part of what’s new at The Pines, however. The biggest enhancement is the food and the people behind it. The revamped menu is the creation of Eulalia “Lali” Sanchez, the restaurant’s new chef de cuisine. Everything on the menu comes from Chef Lali’s Old World recipes that she brought with her from her native Spain.
“The menu is my baby,” she proudly admits. “The whole menu is different now. We use some of the meats we had before, except we’re using different cuts. We have many more organic foods on the menu. This is a bigger menu with more tastes.”
Arriving from Spain three years ago, Sanchez’s priority in taking over the chief culinary duties was to build the menu starting with the best quality meats and freshest produce available, and then seasoned and prepared with her personal touch.
Wet-aged prime beef is sourced from Double R Ranch Agri Beef Company in Loomis, Wash., which is widely recognized as the premier beef brand in the Northwest. Other products are grown locally. Poultry comes from GoneStraw Farms in Moreno Valley, and all of the produce comes from a partnership with Grow Riverside Farms, a co-op that helps Sanchez find a wide variety of certified organic fruits and vegetables.
“We start off with high-grade ingredients, and then Lali transforms them into each dish,” says Gill. “You’ll only get the best cuts of steak. The meats are very tender. Produce is delivered daily so you have the fresh ‘farm to fork’ taste.”
Sanchez points to the Charcuterie appetizer as an example. It includes local products, along with others from France, Italy and Spain, including three or four different meats and three or four different cheeses, along with fresh figs, grapes, almonds, extra virgin olive oil, local organic honey and homemade strawberry marmalade.
That’s where our dining adventure began. Appetizers are served with complimentary hot fresh Rosemary Asiago Focaccia bread accompanied by a delicious homemade apricot, honey, basil and jalapeno butter. The bread itself is worth the trip.
But why end there? We also enjoyed the Chicken Crocchetta with honey mustard and house-made marinara sauce and the Crispy Pork Belly dressed with a bourbon, brown butter and citrus glaze.
The highlight of the pre-meal “snack” was the head-turning, three-story seafood tower layered with ice cold Tiger shrimp, fresh oysters, king crab, split lobster tail and crab claws.
The dinner menu is loaded with a nice variety of meats, chicken and seafood, but the steaks are the main attraction, headed by the Longbone Rib-eye that tilts the scales at two pounds. If you’d rather not tackle that rack of beef and the accompanying 15-inch-long bone on which it is served, try the Porterhouse or the Prime Rib, which may have been the cleanest, fat-free prime cut I’ve ever come across.
“What’s the point of doing something that isn’t exciting or unique or new?” says Gill.
From the sea, the Cold Water Lobster Tail and Red King Crab Legs are delivered daily. The Faroe Island Salmon is served with lemon air, squid ink caviar and black rice.
There are plenty of sides from which to choose as well. We landed on the sautéed spinach, cream corn brûlée, sautéed mushrooms, lobster mac and cheese and Chef Lali’s signature mashed potatoes. While every one of the sides tasted as if they came from complex secret recipes, Sanchez says the magic isn’t in the seasoning.
“It’s really simple. We use quality products,” she says. “We want you to taste the food. When you put in too many seasonings you can’t taste the real taste of the food.”
Sanchez revealed that the seasoning on the sautéed spinach was nothing more than the right amount of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper – high-quality simple ingredients that let the true taste of the spinach come through brilliantly.
Likewise, the mashed potatoes are steamed and made with sea salt, butter, cheese and large chunks of bacon. She says that the creamed corn is an old recipe using butter, corn with a brown sugar brûlée.
Dessert options are also plentiful if you have any room to spare. The fresh fruit presentation comes with a choice of three different flavors of ice cream, and the signature dish is the Pines Chocolate “Peak.” I’d also suggest giving the carrot cake and cannoli a try.
Gill says that a meal at The Pines may not be for everyone, but that there are dining venues spread throughout the 500,000-square-foot facility that are.
“People come here to have fun, to be exhilarated from the gaming experience,” he says. “We have entertainment, we have games, we have so many things for people to do. It’s bigger than almost anything in Las Vegas.”
Which is why every aspect of the gaming and entertainment operation is designed to be part of the overall experience.
“Our guests deserve the best of the best, and that’s what we’re trying to give them.”
The Pines Modern Steakhouse is located at San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, 777 San Manuel Blvd., in Highland. For more information, visit the restaurant’s website.
Full Disclosure: The dining experience was provided complimentary by The Pines Modern Steakhouse; however, all opinions are our own.