Eating Our Way Through ... Foxwoods

 

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The purpose of Connecticut Magazine’s “Eating Our Way Through” series is to showcase the extraordinary dining-out riches of Connecticut, and, we hope, stir your own interest in checking them out and tasting what they have to offer. Good, interesting restaurants are everywhere in the state, of course, but sometimes they occur in clusters—in a downtown region, along a certain stretch of road, under a big casino roof—that make this sort of investigation easy and fun to do.

It should be noted that the writers here are not professional reviewers, but enthusiasts with significant appetites. In these reports, they have been asked to search for breadth rather than depth. Eating at all these restaurants in one day is something of a stunt, to be sure, but it also seems like the best way to get a quick snapshot of a particular dining scene.

A few general words about Foxwoods/MGM Grand: It consists of separate casinos (one Foxwoods, one MGM Grand), each with its own accommodations, shops, spa and restaurants. The two operations are connected by a walkway. Taken altogether, it comprises the largest casino in the world. Even though we got to 20 restaurants, there were several that didn’t make the final cut. This had nothing to do with our like or dislike of them, only a lack of time.

Our plan of attack was straightforward. The four teams gathered at 11 a.m. on Jan. 9 and made sure the five assigned restaurants for each team were understood. Then we scattered to eat for 10 hours, and met up again at the end of the day for a celebratory drink and wrap-up. The day was a success; it was fun to be a part this huge complex as daylight faded into a festive Saturday night. The exercise was made immeasurably more pleasant by the professionalism of the waitstaffs at all the restaurants. Each of our teams commented on it.

> Team 1: Ray Bendici and Mike Primavera
Sending these two big football fans out on a day when the Jets were playing a critical game against the Bengals was sort of a risk, but as it turns out, both Foxwoods and MGM Grand easily accommodate hunger for both food and football.

Festival Buffet. At the first stop, the trick is not to go overboard. Divided by cuisines—Asian, seafood, barbecue, international—this is a true smorgasbord. We catch the tail end of breakfast and then do our best damage to the other areas, sampling pork riblets, rotisserie chicken, corn on the cob, veggie lo mein, spring rolls, fried dumplings, fiesta potato wedges, seafood jumbalaya and Swedish meatballs—then it’s cookies and chocolate pudding for Ray and bread pudding for Mike. Too much? Nah. Next it’s off to another set of tables—the gaming ones. You know, to digest.

The Golden Dragon. While trying to decide where to eat next, Ray suggests The Golden Dragon, reasoning “It’s Chinese food, so if we eat it now, we should be hungry again in an hour, right?” Wrong! It’s gourmet Cantonese cuisine, served in portions large enough to satisfy a giant panda. From a list of Asian specialties (dim sum, rice congee, specialties served in clay pots and noodle dishes galore) we go for a plate of tasty Malaysian seafood noodles and barbecued-pork egg foo yung, each portion as big and round as a discus—and much tastier. A little hot tea, and of course, fortune cookies—an interesting concept at a casino.

Cedars Lounge. When we get to Cedars Lounge—a casual extension of Cedars restaurant but with its own menu and open kitchen—it’s mid-afternoon and the waning sun streams in through windows that look out over the southeastern Connecticut countryside. With its dark wood, low lights and a hint of intimacy, the lounge makes an inviting respite from the casino crowds. We belly up to the octagonal bar, order drinks and glom the impressive menu—raw bar (Alaskan king crab legs, shrimp cocktail), soups and salads, sandwiches (lobster salad, shaved prime rib) and entrées (Colorado lamb chops, filet mignon). Mike opts for oysters on the half shell, Ray mixes it up a bit with the chicken Caesar salad, and they both work over some St. Louis barbecued pork ribs.

Stadium Sports Bar & Grill. If you want to call yourself a respectable sports bar, there are certain things you better have: multiple big-screen TVs, clear TV viewing from every seat, local team-related memorabilia on display, a bevy of friendly service folk and a simple menu stacked with lots of fried and carb-loaded choices. In the case of Stadium Sports Bar & Grill, it’s checks across the board. We settle down to watch a game with a few beers, some wings and “ultimate” nachos, piled high with all the fixings. Winners all ’round!

Craftsteak. Our reservation here is for 7; the Jets game is winding down. Great restaurant, wonderful game—what are a couple of guys to do? As we are led to our table, we stop to take a peek at the TV over the bar for a replay of a big play. “Would you like to dine in the lounge?” asks the host. “It’s the same exact menu and service as the main dining room.” Done! After the waiter explains the nuances of corn-fed versus grass-fed beef, we both opt for bone-in rib-eyes (corn-fed), medium-rare, and sides of Brussels sprouts and carrots. The steaks arrive done exactly as requested and already cut away from the bone (which has a tiny marrow spoon in the center). We pair them with the house Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. To top it all off, it’s medleys of three sorbets (passion fruit is the star) and three ice creams (eggnog goes well with cappuccino). With that, we push back from the table, loosen our belts and call it a night.

Eating Our Way Through ... Foxwoods

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