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Pala Mesa Resort's Chef Sean Sullivan adds more seductive, satisfying, mouthwatering menu choices


Last updated 7/17/2008 at Noon

When you peruse a great menu and your mouth starts to water or your salivary glands kick in… your body is telling your mind, “I like that, and that and that!”

That’s exactly what happens to me when I go to Pala Mesa’s Aqua Terra restaurant, where Chef Sean Sullivan continues to work with his culinary team to create more and more interesting menu choices.

Be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, I am amazed at the variety and quality of the offerings.

On a recent visit around lunchtime, I was challenged on the “Afternoon Menu” to select in the “Starter” (appetizer) section a Baked Avocado with gorgonzola, prosciutto, red pepper, roasted garlic with a Chianti glaze; Dungeness Crab cakes with Citrus Aioli, ginger cucumber slaw and honey glazed or Mandarin Chicken Lettuce Wrap that included mandarin oranges, grapes, walnuts in Bibb lettuce. And these three were just part of the Starter Menu.

Moving into “Soup & Salad,” you may be as tempted as I was. It was simple: I just wanted one of everything!

Still, the top contenders were Clam Chowder with applewood-smoked bacon and grilled sourdough croutons; Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Bibb lettuce, arugula, toasted pistachios served with a pomegranate vinaigrette and the classic French Onion Soup au Gratin with aged Swiss cheese, Toasted croutons and Parmiggiano-Reggiano (the real-deal Parmesan cheese!).

Then Sean’s menu has “Sandwiches.” You gotta love the guy who gives credit to his mom, as Sean does with “Sean’s Mom’s Smoked Turkey Sandwich.” It combines avocado, bacon, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and orange slices on whole wheat bread.

My salivary glands and culinary mind had to duke it out with Salmon Panini, featuring roasted salmon, brie, red onion, tomato, lemon caper aioli on toasted focaccia bread, vs. the Fallbrook Philly, which combines grilled flat iron steak, sautéed peppers and onions, horseradish mayonnaise, and provolone on a Hoagie Roll.

Lastly, the “Afternoon Menu” has what Sean has termed “Big Plates.” He said he created this category for persons with hearty appetites… and “for those who skipped breakfast.” These are entrée-sized portions.

Those choices include grilled salmon served on a bed of spring vegetable couscous with Walnut Vinaigrette; Wasabi Dusted Ahi with a soba noodle salad consisting napa cabbage, red bell pepper, carrot and green onion cut julienne-style, with both a soy glaze with a Thai Sweet Chili sauce; Wild Mushroom Ravioli with gorgonzola cream, cherry tomatoes and fried leeks. Plus others!

Sean says that he often sees early afternoon golfers choose the “Big Plates” to carry them through the resort-style and much acclaimed 18-hole golf course.

Now, if that were not enough… Chef Sullivan says, “The guest is the focus. Whatever they want, we will do, given time and available resources.”

That translates for Chef Sullivan that he thinks of himself and his crew as the resort guest’s personal four-star chef.

“There is always a vegetarian offering on every menu. Or, anyone can tell us what they would like and we’d do all we can to satisfy their menu preferences,” Sullivan said.

And, all this food we’ve just been salivating over is available anywhere on the resort property… poolside, your room, deck… even “to-go” if you want a picnic for the beach.

Sean even has “Pub Fare,” a selection of all manner of hefty and light choices including a Lazy Meatball Lasagna that Sean said he created at home.

“I have no time to cook at home and this idea just came to me,” he said. “It was so good, we now serve it at Pala Mesa, where it is getting rave reviews from customers.”

So, if you’ve not been to Aqua Terra lately, come and treat yourself to some great resort-quality food right around the corner. Personally, my most difficult choice is what to order! Maybe you will find the same delicious dilemma… so enjoy the challenge, as do I.

Here are some of the sauces that Chef Sullivan uses to flavor his creations.Make this vinaigrette ahead of time and have it at room temperature. At Aqua Terra the vinaigrette is drizzled on warm grilled salmon set atop a bed of couscous given color and flavor accents with finely chopped vegetables.

Walnut Vinaigrette

¼ lb./1 lb. walnuts

¾ cup/3 cups sherry vinegar

¼ cup/1 cup honey

½ cup/2 cups walnut oil

1 ¼ cups olive oil

¼ shallots, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Toast walnuts in a 375-degree oven for about 5 minutes or until golden. Cool.

Set aside half of the walnuts and hand-chop the other half.

Take the un-chopped nuts, vinegar and honey and mix. Slowly incorporate the walnut oil and olive oil.

Hand-stir in the chopped walnuts, shallots and season with salt and pepper.

This sauce accompanies Ahi Tuna served with a soba noodle salad enhanced with julienne-style vegetables.

Ahi Vinaigrette

¼ cup/2 cups soy sauce

1 ½ tsp./2 tbsp. sriracha (rooster sauce, sambal olek)

¼ cup/1 ¼ cups unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tbsp./¼ cup sesame seed oil

½ cup/2 cups olive oil

2 ½ tsp./3 tbsp. ginger

2 ½ tsp./3 tbsp. minced garlic

¼ tsp./1 tsp. chili flakes

1 tbsp./¼ cup white sesame seeds, toasted

Combine all ingredients except oil and sesame seeds.

Slowly add the sesame oil and olive oil.

In a sauté pan, toast sesame seeds. While still hot, add to other ingredients.

Use immediately.

Chef Sullivan uses this marinade for seafood, fish, chicken and steak.

He suggests that chicken and steak can marinate for up to 24 hours; seafood and fish need only about an hour to marinate prior to cooking.

In all cases, keep food refrigerated as it marinates.



¼ bunch/2 bunches parsley, chopped

2/3 tsp./1 tbsp. crushed red chilies

2 tsp./3 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 ½ tsp./2 tbsp. dried oregano

½ cup sherry vinegar

1 ¼ cups/5 cups olive oil

Pinch/1 tsp. cayenne pepper

¼ tsp/1 tbsp. black pepper


Combine all ingredients and whisk in the oil. Season very lightly with salt.

Place in plastic container, cover, label and date. Refrigerate.


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