By Kelley Carlson
A new polo-themed bar at Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa is helping the property get back into the swing of things, after recently undergoing a $30 million transformation.
Open since Oct. 22, The Pony Room is a full-service bar that offers a variety of beverages, from high-end wines and spirits to unique cocktails, in addition to bold, flavorful fare in small, shareable portions.
It’s one of two new dining locations within the Rancho Santa Fe retreat, along with Veladora, a restaurant that focuses on coastal ranch cuisine created with seasonal ingredients and tasting menus. Other recent changes during the renovation of the Mediterranean-inspired resort — which officially reopened on Oct. 26 — include design enhancements of the 49 all-suite guest villas, the Hacienda guest home and the clubhouse; resurfacing of the 18 tennis courts; a new lineup of wellness programs, fitness classes and spa treatments; the addition of a 1,000-square-foot Yoga Pavilion; and newly designed event spaces.
“We are extremely excited to reopen our doors at Rancho Valencia and welcome diners to experience our new offerings,” said Jayson Knack, the resort’s director of restaurants and a member of the Court of Masters Sommeliers, in a news release. “We have been working tremendously to revitalize this space over the past year. Every aspect of our food and beverage program, from Chef (Eric) Bauer’s fresh, seasonal menu ingredients to our impressive collection of fine wines, has been fine-tuned and meticulously selected to enhance our guests’ dining experiences and surpass the highest of expectations.”
The Pony Room — which is adjacent to Veladora — is housed in the former “La Sala” room, which was used for private dining and as a meeting space. It has been altered into more of a social gathering place, with decor influenced by area residents’ passion for equines and the sport of polo.
“Our location to the Del Mar racetrack and the horse community in our local area made this a good fit,” Knack said in an interview.
A small pony logo appears on items such as napkins, coffee, beer mugs and some of the plates, and the legs of the bar stools are anchored by hooves. And much of the artwork, created by various painters, portray scenes of polo, a game that resembles field hockey that is played on horseback with a long-handled mallet.
Furthermore, the bar includes old-world furnishings, wood floors, large windows, lantern lights, a marble wrap-around bar and two TVs tuned in to sports programming. Its high ceilings showcase the original beams from when the resort was built in 1989. Guests can also dine al fresco on the patio, at candlelit tables or around fire pits that face the Pacific Ocean.
The beverage menu at The Pony Room is diverse, with prices ranging from $6 to $13. It has the first offering of Montelvini Frizzante on draft in the world; three high-end wines on tap; and eight world-class wines served from the high-tech Enomatic wine-serving system in 1-ounce, 3.5-ounce, glass and bottle portions. The bar also has a wide selection of spirits that includes more than 100 tequilas; and hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind cocktail creations such as Made Pony, a concoction of light rum, organic strawberries, agave nectar and hand-pressed lime juice, and Neck Shot, a mix that includes blanco tequila, Serrano-infused simple syrup and grapefruit soda.
Bauer heads the kitchen at The Pony Room and Veladora, and incorporates local produce into his dishes from nearby growers such as Chino Family Farm. He plans to obtain fresh honey from six beehives that are on the Rancho Valencia property, and utilize the resort’s olive grove for house-made olive oil. A garden on the 45 acres is also in the works.
Small plates and shareable food comprise most of the menu at The Pony Room, although some entrees are available, as well. Among the bar’s signature menu items are Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers filled with toasted quinoa, chopped vegetables, goat cheese and maracona almond romesco; Candied Garlic Chicken Wings in cilantro, sweet soy and pickled carrots; and the Maine Lobster flatbread, which includes 26 wild mushrooms, Mt. Tam cheese and garlic cream. There are also cheeses and charcuterie, and a la carte rustic plates of proteins, sauces and seasonal side selections. The items -- which cost between $5 and $45 -- are served on boards made from wine barrels, slat, cast-iron and slate.
While drinking and dining, guests can enjoy live music from rotating artists between 9 and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The Pony Room at Rancho Valencia, 5921 Valencia Circle, is open from 11 a.m. to midnight daily.
For more information, call (858) 756-1123 or go to www.ranchovalencia.com.