My Sundays usually comprise some reading, a little writing and a lot of couch sitting. This past Sunday, however, found me driving a car-full of relatives deep into Valley Center, up a winding road past Lake Wohlford to Valley View Casino, operated by the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians.
The casino, which recently underwent an expansion, was recommended by a friend who frequents casinos, so it seemed an ideal place to take my slots-addicted grandma, who was visiting from the East Coast.
My grandma has led a life worthy of a novel. She got her master's degree at 50, and in addition to having been a professor of Chinese, she's also fluent in German and Russian. She knows more about professional sports than I do, having played on a Chinese pro basketball team in the 1930s. And she still thinks guys with long hair are cute. She's practiced tai chi for more than 40 years and, at 91, looks and acts at least two decades younger. In no uncertain terms, she's the bee's knees.
We arrive and settle grandma in at a bank of slot machines. She promptly waves us away, perhaps afraid that we'll mess with her mojo. It's been two years since I've set foot in a casino, and the din of the game machines, combined with clouds of cigarette smoke, soon becomes overwhelming, so I head straight for the bar, a swanky lounge in Valley View's new Black & Blue Steakhouse, with my similarly casino-phobic uncle in tow.
To help me adjust to this assault on the senses, I order a High Roller, a bracing cocktail of Tanqueray Ten gin, Campari and dry vermouth. Four sips in and my teeth finally unclench. We have reservations for dinner later, provided we can tear grandma away from the slots, so we make a quick tour of the restaurant and find it a relatively quiet, smoke-free oasis from the clanging of the casino.
My uncle Matt and I seek out my other uncle, Michael, who's entrenched in a game of poker. He tells us the fantastic news that grandma has hit a jackpot and we run to the other room and find her clutching her winning ticket and sporting a perma-grin. Her windfall is not a ton of money, but it's the most she's ever won and enough to sate her slots penchant until after dinner.
We enter Black & Blue Restaurant, an upscale place with a steak and seafood-heavy menu. Now that I'm a grownup, I can afford to live it up once in a while, so we start with steamed Littleneck Clams with tomato, fennel and andouille sausage and the daily flatbread, which, along with homemade pizzas, comes out of a wood-fired oven. This night's version is topped with a delicious combo of steak, blue cheese, figs and caramelized onions. All the meat here is top-quality, aged U.S. Prime, and we order my favorite cut, the bone-in Cowboy Steak, an 18-ounce rib eye that's evenly marbled with a nice chew and tons of pure, beefy flavor.
Grandma, usually a light eater, is buoyed by her win and polishes off herb-crusted halibut and a side order of grilled white and green asparagus. My uncle Michael, a veteran gambler, can't resist another chance to press his luck, so he orders the signature Surf and Turf, an awesomely decadent platter that holds filet mignon, lobster tail, shrimp and scallops and comes with a dangerous Dining for Dollars game. Customers can play for the price of their dish by choosing a card from a stack that runs from "Free" to an extra $35 dollars on top of the regular charge. The house wins, but it's not too painful.
We're all impressed when my simple cup of coffee, ordered in preparation for the long night ahead, comes with containers of caramel and chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sugar sticks for embellishment. Grandma, who's usually napping at this time of night, but whose eyes are now bright and sparkling, picks chocolates off a tiered tray and eats them gleefully like a kid. The meal ends up being pricey, but no more so than any fine-dining restaurant in town, and the service is friendlier and more attentive than most places. Besides, the look of joy on my grandma's face at the end of the night made it worth every single penny.
Black & Blue Restaurant, 16300 Nyemii Pass Road, is open 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.