Some food and wine events take a few years to catch on, with organizers, chefs, wineries and festival-goers feeling out what works and what doesn't.
But don't take my word for it. Here's an unscientific sampling of the most repeated phrases that evening on the Starlight Lawn:
"Mmm, you have to try this."
"Wow, did you taste that?"
"Wait, I want to go back for some more."
That's what happens when you pair wines from 50 prestigious producers with dishes created by talented chefs who cook for a crowd every single day.
So how will Pala top that in the second annual Starlight Food & Wine Festival Saturday?
Starlight Food & Wine Festival
When: 5-10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pala Casino Spa & Resort, 11154 Highway 76, Pala
Tickets: $75 (no fee if purchased through the Pala box office)
Phone: Pala box office, 877.946.7252 or 800.585.3737
"This year is going to be even better, said Robert Camerota, Pala's executive chef.
"We'll have more than 50 incredible wineries and we'll be pairing them with everything from sushi to New York strip steak. We'll have stuffed crab claws, shrimp cocktail, short ribs, lobster, tuna barbecue, you name it," Camerota said.
"And if you thought the desserts were mind-blowing last year, wait until you see what our executive pastry chef Albert Cruz is doing this year."
If Camerota sounds boastful, he might have a reason.
"I can't tell you how many people said, 'This event is amazing, this is the best wine event I've ever been to,' " he said.
With 11 eateries - including the elegant Oak Room steakhouse, the super-fresh Sushi Sake bar, the Mediterranean wine country-inspired Cave restaurant and the casual, Baja-centric Luis Rey's - Pala's culinary offerings are some of the most diverse among San Diego's casino resorts.
For this new signature culinary event, each of the property's chefs worked with Camerota to develop a crowd-pleasing dish. (See the full lineup below) Among those that will surely draw a long line are the Jim Beam short ribs with horseradish potatoes and garlic chips from the Oak Room, the pistachio-crusted ahi tuna with parsley pesto from Cave and the lobster ravioli in an aromatic lobster sauce from the banquet's chef.
How to pair these dishes with wine when there are so many choices from all over the globe? Here are three strategies:
Zoom in on the most famous names - such as Beringer, Concha Y Toro, Domaine Chandon, Justin, Kenwood, Kim Crawford, Robert Mondavi, St. Francis and Santa Margherita.
Go for the more prestigious labels - like Achaval Ferrer, Copain, Del Dotto, Grgich Hills, Matanzas Creek, Mount Veeder, Round Pound, Smoke Tree, Trefethen and ZD (Del Dotto, Round Pond and ZD will be poured in the exclusive confines of Pala's underground wine cave.)
Seek out the unique - including Banfi Vintners' rosa regale, Claudio Mo's moscato d'Asti, J Vineyards' brut rosé, Pennywise's petite sirah, Tenshen's Rhône-style white blend of viognier, rousanne, grenache blanc and chardonnay and Writer's Block's cabernet franc.
The menu lineup
Jim Beam short ribs with horseradish potatoes, garlic chips; chef Raymond Fukawa of Oak Room; stuffed crab claws with plum sauce, chef Wah Lam of Noodles; crunchy shrimp tempura roll, chef Yee Fang of Sushi Sake; shrimp cocktail, chef Eber Morales of Choices Buffet; pistachio-crusted ahi tuna with parsley pesto and tear drop peppers, chef Anila Kurti of Cave; lobster ravioli with lobster nage, chef Emmanuel Hernandez of banquets; New York strip chicken fried with country sauce, chefs Juan Zacarias and Victor Meza of Pala Café; osso buco of chicken with pepper sauce, chef Miguel Moreno of Luis Rey's; Hawaiian sweet roll barbeque, chef Deborah Allen of Promenade Deli; international cheeses from chef and garde manger Jason Mosser; chocolate creations, executive pastry chef Albert Cruz.