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Expanding the Fantasy.

Cabazon Band adds sleek cuisine and sexy nightlife

By Rob Capriccioso -- Today staff

INDIO, Calif. - It's a time to feast, dance and be merry for the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. The small tribe, located in Indio, added a multimillion-dollar restaurant and nightclub called POM in March to its already prosperous Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. It's the fifth large food venue at the popular destination.

''We wanted to bring a sophisticated dining and nightlife experience to our customers,'' said Frank Torok, a spokesman for the casino. ''So far, they seem to be enjoying it.''

The total cost for the tribe to be able to offer up such a grand experience is $3.5 million, which is representative of the prices tribes owning exceptionally profitable casino enterprises are now willing to pay, according to industry experts.

The tribe contracted the world-renowned firm of SOSH Architects of Atlantic City, N.J., to build the facility. SOSH has been involved in a wide variety of well-known upscale projects, including the Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut and Atlantic City's famous Trump Taj Mahal Casino Hotel.

Andrea Piacentini, an award-winning interior designer based in Seattle, oversaw several intricate design features, including elegant touches of mosaic tile and crystal glass panes located in the restaurant's entry foyer. She's helped decorate several well-known casinos; a VIP room for Harrah's is among the many highlights in her portfolio.

Encased with brushed chrome rails, POM's foyer leads to a grand wooden staircase that descends 22 steps to an area of spacious seating. The main dining area is filled with posh-looking tables, while a sleek bar area rests nearby; there, specialty drinks, including a signature Jean Marc Vodka Martini, are poured aplenty. The bar itself is decorated in natural wood and hand-picked quarry-grade granite, and the seats are tailored in velvet. The restaurant and bar combined can comfortably seat 270 guests.

The restaurant also features a hard-to-miss two-story art wall featuring 16 unique, hand-blown glass sculptures. During the day, natural light floods the venue; at night, ornate glass globes illuminate the room, and guests are treated to spectacular views of the surrounding courtyard. Rustic stone-tiled walls are featured prominently as a backdrop to the artistry.

In the evening, the restaurant serves as a swank nightspot, distinct from the other more traditional eating options at the casino and resort. Although it's not currently a dance spot, the crowds attracted to the POM at night are definitely in the mood for action, according to Torok.

While the concept behind the design of POM is cosmopolitan chic, its food offerings are rather simple in comparison. In creating the restaurant's menu, Executive Chef Freddy Rieger fused traditional California cuisine with tastes from Latin America and Italy. When the restaurant opened, Rieger said his aim is to ''offer a global feast for the palate.'' Filet mignon, specialty soups and traditional American cuisine are also featured prominently. The chef can sometimes be seen from the windows of the restaurant gathering fresh herbs in a nearby garden, expressly designed for POM.

''We aim to serve the freshest and healthiest ingredients, creatively prepared to pique all the senses and presented eloquently with attention to detail,'' Torok said.

Located 15 miles from downtown Palm Springs in the middle of the Coachella Valley, POM is just the latest innovation at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. The entertainment hot spot already features a golf course, a 24-lane bowling alley, a fitness center, an outdoor freeform pool with adjacent spa tub, a shallow tanning pool and a poolside bar.

The casino itself hosts about 2,000 slots, an automated poker room, and live comedy and music events. All resort guestrooms offer flat-screen TVs with premium channels, complimentary weekday newspapers, laptop-compatible safes, wireless Internet access, and pool or mountain views.

''It's amazing how much business the tribe has brought into the area through Fantasy Springs,'' said Janet Cook, executive director of the Indio Chamber of Commerce. ''We see so many tourists coming in from out of the area and from other parts of the Coachella Valley.''

Cook believes that the tribe's economic development has had a greater positive impact on the overall Indio community. ''They've always had a nice little reputation,'' she said, noting that the resort's conference and special events center has been ''really beneficial'' in attracting new visitors.

The constant upgrades to Fantasy Springs are due in large part to impending casino developments by other so-called ''urban reservations'' in California, including those of the nearby Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. As the casino competition grows more intense in the area, Torok said the tribe is always looking for ways to distinguish itself.

Cook said she isn't concerned about other nearby casinos taking away from Indio's Fantasy Springs-enhanced economy. ''The casinos that have opened here fairly recently are all very nice, but they're just not as large and they don't offer as much. And for some reason, people tend to be very loyal to Fantasy Springs Casino.

''There is probably room for everybody,'' she added.

Torok explained that all developments at Fantasy Springs, including the building of POM, are strictly monitored by the tribe, which presently is believed to have just over 50 members. Tribal members of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians are believed to be descendents of Chief Cabazon, a leader of the Desert Cahuilla Indians from the 1830s through the 1870s.

The tribe was the first in California to establish high-stakes bingo in the 1980s, which resulted in the well-known U.S. Supreme Court Cabazon decision of 1987 that paved the way for Indian gaming in the state. In that decision, the high court decided that neither California nor Riverside County, which is home to the tribe's lands, could regulate the bingo operations of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and the Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians. The decision later set in motion a series of federal and state actions that dramatically increased the number of tribal casinos in California.

Until the 1980s, the tribe had no running water or electricity.