High steaks at new Bull and Bourbon from Clique Hospitality


Something is clicking in El Cajon.

Make that Clique-ing.

Trendy, Las Vegas-based Clique Hospitality was hired to bring some Sin City sizzle to three high-end venues at the brand-new $260 million Sycuan Casino Resort — a swanky steakhouse, chic cocktail lounge and party pool bar — and that bet is already paying off.

Just weeks after its grand opening, Sycuan’s glamorous signature restaurant Bull and Bourbon has already elevated the steakhouse dining experience, not just among local casinos but around the county itself.

With its sexy styling, open kitchen with blazing wood-fire Santa Maria grills, an on-site beef dry-aging room and sizable selection of 70-plus small-batch, single-barrel and other coveted bourbons, Bull and Bourbon is so not your dad’s casino buffet — or standard steakhouse.

Appealing to a younger, hipper crowd was what 37-year-old Sycuan tribal chairman Cody Martinez had in mind when he proposed collaborating with Clique. After all, the hospitality group operates cool clubs and eateries ranging from Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan and MGM Resorts casinos to Montage luxury resorts and the Pendry San Diego’s Lionfish, Oxford Social Club and Pool House rooftop bar. They’re also working with the Hotel del Coronado to give that venerable property a more contemporary patina.

The high-profile Sycuan-Clique partnership, a first for a San Diego casino, also extends to Elicit Bar & Lounge, a smart-looking cocktail bar/club with a sushi and raw bar, fireplace, DJ, tableside mixology carts and a tempting patio overlooking the posh, new Retreat Pool & Cabanas. That’s where you’ll also find Clique’s pool bar service, a must-try whether hanging out by the adult pool’s swim-up bar, lazing along Retreat’s lazy river or frolicking with the kids in the family pool (just be sure to bring your earplugs for the latter).

Retreat features a very orderly bar menu with four “poolside refreshers” like The Good Life, with aperol, strawberries, lemon and Chandon brut sparkling wine, four kinds of mules, four margaritas, four mojitos, four sparklings/Champagnes by the glass and four non-alcoholic drinks, along with beer and wine.

If dining or imbibing poolside, try the fruity and zingy Blackbeard’s Delight mule, with Maker’s Mark bourbon, blackberries, lime, mint and ginger beer. Accompany the cocktail with the juicy, perfectly cooked Retreat Burger, topped with smoked cheddar and herbed aioli, served with crispy seasoned fries, cut nice and thin.

However, be sure to maintain an appetite for dinner at Bull and Bourbon.

Under the talented direction of executive chef Aldo Negrete, the restaurant’s kitchen is turning out some pretty exciting food.

If you had to order only one appetizer (you won’t want to, nor should you), it should be the jumbo lump crab cake. Slightly crispy on the outside and luxuriously creamy on the inside, it’s one of the best crab cakes in town. The Maine lobster and artichoke dip is luscious and full of flavor, plus the braised, super-savory oxtail ravioli with bone marrow and the side of truffle mac and cheese are highly noteworthy. The pasta in the mac and cheese is absolutely al dente and the sumptuous three-cheese sauce is earthy and complex, not like someone poured some cheap truffle oil on top and called it a dish.

It’s a steakhouse, so of course steak should be on the bill. When PACIFIC visited, the prime rib cap, Delmonico ribeye and dry-aged New York were all ordered and perfectly prepared, tender and splendidly unique in flavor. The restaurant sources its beef from some of the best cattle ranches in the U.S. — Creekstone Farms in Kansas, Snake River Farms in Idaho and Double R Ranch in Washington. The 30-ounce Tajima Wagyu boneless ribeye is the sole exception; it’s imported from New South Wales, Australia.

For dessert, indulge in the bourbon bananas Foster, which is, happily, not too sweet and the doughnuts are tender and nicely cakey inside. They’d be even better if they came out of the kitchen hot.
The wine list is well priced, as are the entrees, a rarity at a steakhouse. That’s no bull. When the bill comes be ready for a surprise — in a good way.

Chef Negrete is a San Diego native with extensive training at prestigious gourmet restaurants, including San Francisco’s Gary Danko, The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, Tartine Bakery and Healdsburg’s Cyrus. He’s a veteran of such notable San Diego restaurants as Whisknladle, Rare Form, JRDN and Jsix and has extensive butchering and charcuterie experience.

Negrete was a smart choice to head up Clique’s Sycuan venues, but particularly Bull and Bourbon, which offers a level of high-end dining that the casino was sorely lacking in this era of tricked-out resort amenities.

Bull and Bourbon makes up for that and more. Gorgeously designed in amber, chic cream and dark wood tones, the open kitchen and wood-burning grill provide dining-room drama, while the large, elegant bar area — smartly separated from the main restaurant — and a patio overlooking Retreat offer alluring enclaves of exclusivity.

Bull and Bourbon feels like an urbane oasis in the El Cajon countryside.

Bull and Bourbon: Sycuan Casino Resort, 5469 Casino Way, El Cajon, 619.659.3374,