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Jul 23, 2009 05:24 PM

Discovering Temecula

Mrs. O has been there twice with her girlfriends, and was determined to get me down there sometime. That sometime was last weekend. Here's a more or less abbreviated rundown on where we went and what it was like. I'll skip the hotel, of course, except to say that I've gotten pretty fond of Holiday Inn Express in several parts of the country, and the one in Temecula is an excellent example. And as much as we loved the Swing Inn, the coffee at the hotel was a whole lot better!

Friday dinner, The Bank: Mrs. O and her buds ate here a time or two, and she remembered it as okay. Nice room and comfy booths, and what the menu promised looked really good. Unfortunately, it was for the most part lying through its teeth. The much-anticipated margaritas were small, in the wrong glasses, sticky-sweet, and tasted not remotely of tequila. My chile relleno in pork chile verde, far from having its fluffy batter fried to tender crispness as advertised, was encased in a thin, tough shell neither tender nor crisp. The chunks of pork were somewhat more tender than, say, kibble, and the bits of vegetable swimming in the innocuous sauce seemed to have been simmered for whole minutes. The chile, the cheese and the pork all had good flavors; they'd simply been mistreated. Mrs. O, on the other hand, knew enough to order something even Taco Bell couldn't screw up (can't remember what it was) and escaped apparently undisappointed.

Saturday/Sunday breakfast, the Swing Inn: if you're looking for places to eat in an unfamiliar town, you're better off finding a good diner than a good French restaurant, because you'll want maybe one meal at the latter, but you have to eat breakfast and lunch every day. Owing to the humongous and rather late breakfasts we had here both days, we tended to have just a midday snack and a fairly early dinner. Saturday was corned beef hash and eggs for me, biscuits and gravy with link sausage and eggs for Mrs. O, and plenty of bite-swapping going on. I could have used some of that gravy, as I had equally large piles of hash and hash-browns and just two eggs to dampen them, and in fact I did get a spoonful or two that she wasn't going to need. Sunday was chicken-fried steak and eggs at my end, with Herself getting some pancakes. She liked them, but was not up to demolishing the whole pile; as for me, my breaded, golden-crusted slab-o-beef was almost the size of the plate, with the hash-browns and the eggs holding down one side of it and a great lake of gravy in the middle. The meat had a good beefy flavor, but was just barely seasoned at all, probably to keep us old coots from adding hypertension problems to this massive dose of cholesterol. Throwing caution to the winds, I happily threw on enough salt, pepper and Cholula to make it good and perky, and proceeded to have my way with it. An earlier poster said the Swing Inn's was the best CFS he'd ever had. I won't go that far, but it is the best I've had so far in California.

Wineries: our ventures there were reported on the Temecula Wine Country thread, so go look there if you're interested.

Saturday dinner, Baily's Front Street B&G: massive wedding reception on the terrace was having an effect on service, but our waiter, though a bit of a goofball, was a good goofball and as attentive as one could expect under the circumstances. Cocktails to start, a white cosmo for her and a Bushmill's and soda for me, both without flaw or insufficiency. She ordered the Hawaii Five-Oh Burger, not to my taste at all but it didn't have to be, and a half-split of Spanish cava to go with it; I decided that the Cajun Mac'N'Cheese looked just wild enough to try, and since we were in a winery's establishment ordered a glass of their own zinfandel. That innocent little plate of penne in a nice spicy cheese sauce, strewn with slices of andouille, was in fact a rather deep bowl of same, but quite good all the way to the bottom, as was the zin. Word to the wise: this joint turns into a disco at ten or so on Saturdays, and it was rather disconcerting that every time a party would leave an adjacent table the crew would remove it and its chairs, until we were alone except for the DJ, who was setting up right next to us. We escaped as the help was putting red filters over all the sconce lights around the room...

There were two establishments of note that we visited after the unfortunate Faux-Mex experience Friday, Delaney's Hundred Mile Market on 5th Street and The Pub, I think on Main. The market is a new source for mostly local fresh foods and produce, though I was delighted to see cheese from one of my favorite Northern CA dairy companies. We stopped back by just before we left town on Sunday so we could stock up the cooler with heirloom tomatoes, Kentucky Wonder green beans, and some other good stuff to take home. The Pub had gotten some good buzz on the street, and we wanted a good nightcap anyway. Very friendly and cheerful all around, and though beer and wine is what they have it's all apparently good. Mrs. O got a full 20 oz. Imperial pint of nut-brown ale, which she enjoyed very much; I picked a Bogle zinfandel just because it was relatively cheap, $8 I think, and was given a full 8-oz. pour in a proper-sized glass from a fresh bottle. Just like at home! And it was a deeply delicious wine, too, perfect for sipping at while conversing and people-watching. We will visit next time for the food, which we kept hearing raves about.

One other mention is for a pretty well-known place, the Winchester Cheese Co. on Holland Road, a good jaunt out Winchester into a bit of what looks like 1950s California. Gouda is what they make and all they make, in various stages of aging and with several different added flavors, if that's what you want. We got the semi-sharp, the jalapeƱo and the garlic, and I'll probably be doing some pretty fancy cheese omelets for some time to come.

Yes, we went to the Pechanga Casino. Didn't lose any money. Glad for the experience, so I won't need to repeat it.

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  1. Thanks for the good review of the area. I want to add to the list since for other posters since your headline is 'Dicovering Temecula."

    I have not tried the places you mentioned, but it seems you were staying around Old Town Temecula. On that street, Penfold's Cattle Company is very good. It is more upscale than most of the other places. While very good and better than most on that street, it still is not equal to 5-star in Orange County or 4-star in Los Angeles. It is very good service, very good food, and great entertainment on upstairs outdoor (covered) patio.

    Also for breakfast in Temecula is the Original Pancake House (not IHOP) and the chain called Mimi's Cafe. There are more, but those are the ones I've been that are worth the time and effort for breakfast.

    Also, a great find the other day was an Asian restaurant in the shopping mall (on the Margarita Road side). It is called Mekong River. Dining area, sushi bar, benihana tables area and bar. We went for lunch and the service at the sushi bar was excellent. it was kinda quiet in there, though. 'Tis the times, I guess.

    There are more in the area, so keep on looking.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kc girl

      We were deliberately avoiding anyplace where dinner would run much over $20 each before drinks, which is why we stayed downstairs at Baily's. And I must say we'll want to exhaust the breakfast menu by repeated trips to the Swing Inn before we'll even think of going elsewhere!

      Nice to get some more input on Mekong River. Found it recommended on another thread, but we were sticking with Old Town this trip. We will certainly try it another time, and thanks.

    2. Not suprized by the Bank report, next time go to La Cucina. Am suprized by Swing Inn - I have not enjoyed it - try Ritchies or Original Pancake House as other post. Winchester Cheese Co is great and if you are in old town next time on Saturday they are normally at the Farmers Market. Have not tried the Delaneys yet but I also go to Barons which is another smaller store with great choices of local produce. Good luck on your next trip

      1 Reply
      1. re: mickinbedford

        Yup, we went into Baron's, but I think they were closed on Sunday, and we wanted to get any fruits or refrigerated stuff just as we were leaving town.

        If we ever get anything we don't like at Swing Inn (except for the poor coffee) we might consider going elswhere, but old diners are a passion with us, especially ones older than we are.

      2. Was in Temecula and went to The Swing Inn for their chicken fried steak. It was delicious and quite tender...surprisingly the gravy was also very tasty. (The mashed potatoes were horrible however). They also have delicious homemade ranch and bleu cheese salad dressings. My waitress was very, very nice. A great experience!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Funwithfood

          I have come to expect diner mashed potatoes to be ghastly, which is why nowadays I always order my CFS as breakfast, which a good diner (by definition!) serves all day. Do return sometime and have it with eggs and their perfectly adequate hash browns.

          1. re: Will Owen

            These were the worst potatoes I've ever eaten--by a mile, kind of like a whipped cardboard. Fortunately everything else was delicious!

            I ordered two Chicken Fried Steak meals to go (gravy side, with fries), and all was good with the world. This place is a real gem, can't wait to go back.