Restaurant Review: Bar Americain, Uncasville
Seafood highights at Bar Americain include ample lobster avocado cocktails.
Like many concepts, glamour is tough to define. But we know it when we see it. So did Garbo. So did Jean Harlow. They and John Robie, the reformed cat burglar played by Cary Grant holed up with Grace Kelly on the Riviera in To Catch a Thief, and Fred Astaire in top hat and tails dancing on tables and dodging waiters in a glitzy nightclub, embodied it.
Our glamour is not Garbo’s, Grant’s or Ginger and Fred’s, but after a recent visit to Bar Americain at the Mohegan Sun, I am prepared to state that glamour, circa 2013, is alive and well in Uncasville.
To enter, we walk across a stunning mosaic of variegated marble polished mirror-bright. Huge disks of shaded light hang from the soaring wood-panelled ceiling above. This is glamour redefined by designer David Rockwell to dazzle and impress. The food by celebrity chef Bobby Flay matches the mood.
Our meal gets off to a bright start with a shellfish cocktail of lobster and avocado that has an elusive afterkick of spicy heat. Served in an oversized martini glass, there’s enough for two or even three—a portent of things to come. Bar Americain is expensive but you get a lot for your money and everything we taste is high-quality. The onion soup, an Americanized soupe à l’oignon, is among the best I’ve tasted, made with Vermont chedder instead of Grûyère, Parker House croutons instead of toasted baguette.
Deviled eggs abandon their church-suppers heritage and turn up with a smoked shrimp on top. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and chef Flay likes to play with it. He “blisters” cheddar cheese, which works wonderfully to seal soup in a crock, and chars baby carrots, which shrivels them a bit, leaving me cold. It’s a matter of taste, and at Bar Americain taste is intense, with daring combinations such as earthy escargot and crawfish in garlic sauce. I thought I would miss the usual splash of Pernod, but the sauce is so tasty I sop up every drop with a warm brioche.
Emboldened, we order duck confit, an entrée I almost never order because it so often disappoints—understandably, because it is so time-consuming to make. (Traditional confit is a centuries-old process of salt-curing a duck leg for up to 36 hours and then slow-poaching it in its own fat for four to ten hours.) Shortcuts result in dryness and toughness that saucing tries but usually fails to redeem. But a good confit is worth the effort. Seductively rich, meltingly tender, Bar Americain’s duck confit is beyond good. And it comes with unlisted largesse—three rosy-rare slices of duck breast, plus pickled peaches, bourbon haricots verts and spicy peanuts—making us feel we’ve hit the jackpot.
Again and again, Bobby Flay ups the ante and delivers a win. An order of Porterhouse Lamb Chops surprises us with the size and heft of the juicy, flavorful chops, three sizzling whoppers, served with carrots, snap peas and a sprig of mint so fresh it scents the climate-controlled casino air.
Mahimahi “Florida style” is a taste trip to southern climes. Fork into the firm, silky white fish crusted with plantain crumbs and jazzed up with jalapeño crème fraîche and mango salsa, and you’re there. Fun in the Mohegan sun. No beach umbrella required.
But for steak lovers the spice-rubbed boneless rib eye trumps all. Perfectly marbled, perfectly broiled, perfectly tender, it’s a steak to remember. We skip Bar Americain’s great steak sauce (the recipe’s all over the web)—this steak deserves to star on its own.
At this point, we’re confident that desserts will be over the top and most of them are. My blackberry soufflé could not have been higher, lighter or more tremblingly tender. When pierced to receive a dollop of crème Anglaise, it gives up a luscious whoosh of blackberry-scented steam. Red velvet cake sundae is a bit less successful. The cake is rather dry, but topped with three scoops of cheesecake ice cream, walnuts in syrup and dark chocolate sauce, it’s undeniably a blockbuster. What we like best is Flay’s crêpes Suzette, delicate little pancakes enfolding fresh white peaches and blueberries in a simple lemon butter sauce.
It’s said that chefs who’ve mastered the fine art of classic French cuisine can cook pretty much anything. Bobby Flay, who trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York (receiving the Outstanding Graduate award), proves the point in spades, choosing to explore regional American cuisine in all its exuberant nuances at Bar Americain. The menu is a culinary road trip with stop-offs for Gulf shrimp and grits, Little Italy pizza, buttermilk-fried country-smoked chicken with sorghum glaze—to mention only a few of the temptations we intend to succumb to next time.
Bar Americain seats 500 but the space feels luxurious, not cavernous. Semiprivate areas are cleverly delineated by metallic bead curtains, curved banquettes or backlit wine racks; the bar is separate, so high-energy action is optional. The dress code is business casual but wear that knockout little black dress or that cool new jacket if you’re so inclined. Grace Kelly would, Cary Grant would.
We come away from Bar Americain with the feeling we’ve been somewhere special, tasting food designed to dazzle served with panache in a glittery room that looks like a movie set.
Mohegan Sun, 860/862-8000, baramericain.com
Dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $12 to $16, entrées $22 to $49, desserts $11.