Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino
cuisine: American Brasserie with Southern Leanings
address: 1 Mohegan Sun Boulevard, Uncasville
phone: (860) 862-8000
credit cards: All major
4½ Stars… Special
Bar Americain—Words Alone Won’t Suffice
By: Frank Cohen
Used in equal measure, words and photographs rarely work well together. They tend to vie for the attention of different parts of the brain. One tends to distract from the other. Thus, our restaurant reviews, analytical by nature, are focused on language, and usually accompanied by only one photograph. Our blog pieces, by contrast, are more like a guided tour of a dining experience and employ numerous photographs. These pieces are focused on visual images, and are usually accompanied by straightforward exposition and only limited analytic or evaluative content.
For Bar Americain, one of the flagship restaurants of Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino,
I’m going to try to split the difference and do what I’ll call a “full blog review.” This may be the only time I attempt this. But I have too much to say about Bar Americain to short the piece of description and analysis, and the restaurant and its food are just too photogenic to short the piece of visual imagery.
While the majority of Mohegan Sun visitors come to gamble, significant numbers are drawn to the shopping, the dining, special events like this Rob Thomas concert I attended with my twelve-year-old daughter,
and even the overall spectacle. I, of course, am primarily attracted by the restaurants. Since its opening, Mohegan Sun has made a concerted effort to be on the cutting edge of Connecticut’s dining scene.
My wife and I parked on the fifth level of the Indian Summer garage (all other levels were full), and then made our way to the Casino of the Sky, famous for the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture and the waterfall that forms the backdrop to Todd English’s Tuscany.
My lovely wife posed in front of the Chihuly sculpture.
The children of an Australian couple were busy whipping coins at the sculpture, trying to break its glass tubes. When one of the pennies ricocheted into my chest, I exhorted the man to control his children, drawing a blank stare from the clueless tourist.
Ann and I headed up the escalator to Bar Americain,
a Bobby Flay spinoff of his popular Manhattan eatery located on 52nd Street. Situated just outside of the casino hotel lobby,
Bar Americain replaced Fidelia’s. We waited our turn
to check out the posted menu.
The next day, we learned that our close friends John & Martha happened to check out Bar Americain’s menu while we were dining and almost came inside (but decided to try out the restaurant sometime when they felt hungrier).
If the imaginative menu doesn’t immediately pull one in, the beauty of the restaurant, designed by Rockwell Group, should. The view from the entrance takes in the handsome bar area
and maître d’ station.
The pattern of the stunning marble floor is carefully reproduced on the base of the zinc-topped bar, creating the optical illusion of a continuing floor.
A hardwood dividing wall
separates the bar area from the dining room.
The atmosphere was jaunty, carried by customer enthusiasm and perhaps that element of adventure inherent in a casino visit. My wife and I were led to a cozy semicircular booth.
A staff member pulled the table back as we seated ourselves and then slid it back into place. Good spacing between tables insured a degree of privacy. The dining room was full of happy diners.
The couple in the next booth clearly found the setting romantic.
Tell you a secret—so did we!
I wandered around the restaurant, taking in details like the wine storage units that appear intermittently on the walls,
this nostalgic display,
and of course the impressive raw bar.
Examining the raw bar items up close and personal, I knew I would have to make a point of trying dishes that incorporated them.
Before I ever looked at the menu, however, I checked out the drinks and wine lists. The separate drinks list includes cocktails ($12) with names like Sazerac, Dark ’N Stormy, American Highball and Bronx Cocktail; draft beers ($6.50) like Mystic Bridge IPA from Pawcatuck, Southampton Double White Ale from Long Island and Captain Lawrence “Kolsch” from Pleasantville, New York; bottled beers ($4-$8) like Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, Orval Trappist Ale and Scheider Edel-Weisse from Belgium; bourbons and ryes ($9-$25); Scotch Single Malts ($9-$40); Tequilas ($9-$75) and eaux de vie ($10-$25).
The wine list ($29-$600) included well-chosen selections from California, Oregon, Washington, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Australia, Argentina and Chile. The vintages offered were definitely not the usual suspects. Twelve wines were available by the glass ($8-$16), but we preferred to share a bottle. Believing that the otherwise great movie Sideways did the grape a huge injustice, we ordered an earthy and satisfying 2007 Januik Wines Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington ($49).
Large goblets suitable for swirling were provided, the wine service ritual performed to perfection. The only thing I would change is to include the countries of origin on the wine list. Americans being increasingly geographically challenged, most will not realize that Kamptal is in Austria, Nahe in Germany, Valdeorras in Spain or Blewett Springs in Australia.
Bar Americain’s basket of housemade breads
served with good butter
is likely to start diners off in a good mood. The breads included Parker House rolls, miniature French baguettes and addictive cornbread sticks. But go easy on the breads—portions tend to be generous. No one leaves Bar Americain hungry.
Throughout our meal, we were exceptionally well taken care of by our waiter, Paul, who anticipated our every need. He was knowledgeable and willing to venture his opinion when asked.
Other staff members, like this young lady bringing us our first round of food, also performed admirably.
Our table was crumbed at appropriate times, our napkins refolded when we left our seats. Our water glasses and goblets never emptied. Service at Bar Americain was clearly a team sport. Anyone who was handy was happy to help out, rather than casting about for the server assigned to the table.
Bar Americain’s Vidalia onion soup ($11) was a lovely riff on the classic. Served in a raised tureen, the slightly sweet broth was topped with a Parker House crouton, blistered Vermont Cheddar cheese and a smudge of parsley pesto. Delicious, gooey fun ensued.
I somehow resisted the straight raw bar items, as fabulous as they looked, because relatively little preparation would have been involved and I tend to order foods that better measure a kitchen’s prowess. A tasting of all three of Bar Americain’s shellfish cocktails ($25), however, proved to be an appropriate test of the kitchen.
All three were utterly delightful. First we tried the shrimp-tomatillo ($17 individually), which showcased beautiful snappy shrimp clinging to the rim of a glass of a refreshing tomatillo sauce. We drank up every last drop.
Next, we enjoyed the lobster-avocado ($19 individually), a pairing that, with a little red onion and a subtle Worcestershire vinaigrette, proved to be an unbeatable union of flavors and textures.
But my wife, who hails from the tropics, swooned over the crab-coconut ($18 individually), a fortuitous combination fleshed out with endive, radicchio, and mango.
Many of Bar Americain’s starters tempted us. We wondered about New England clam and sweet potato chowder ($11), grilled artichokes Louisiana with green onions and hot sauce mayonnaise ($14), grilled pizza with double smoked bacon, caramelized onion and toasted garlic ($14), an asparagus chopped salad with Vermont Cheddar and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette ($12), a red pepper crab cake with red cabbage slaw and a basil vinaigrette ($17), or even Gulf shrimp and grits with bacon, green onions and garlic ($15). (Well, maybe not Gulf shrimp.) The eclectic menu celebrates Flay’s travels throughout America—and it shows!
Flay clearly loves to put his own spin on familiar dishes. Fried green tomatoes ($12) were hardly the standard Southern preparation. Streaked with a sweet-and-sour dressing, the crunchy breaded tomato slices were topped with a dollop of fresh ricotta, basil and cherry tomatoes. It was a nice combination, the flavors vying for attention without any one overwhelming all of the others.
The eye-catching spicy tuna tartare ($14) was also successful. Here, the clever conceit was to treat the tuna tartare more like a steak tartare, the disk of evenly chopped raw tuna encircled by parsley, capers, minced red onion and finely chopped egg.
The tuna itself was laced with egg yolk, capers, shallot, green onion, parsley and chipotle.
The entrées were a diverse and appealing lot. It was difficult to reach a decision. They included a Fulton Fish Market cioppino with sourdough toast ($34), buttermilk fried chicken with honey, pink peppercorns, lime and black pepper biscuits ($28), mussels and fries Americain with a green chile broth ($24), porterhouse lamb chops with mustard barbecue sauce, corn and a collard greens tart ($38), rack of pork with plum ginger chutney, sour mash and creamed corn ($30), smoked chicken with Hatch green chile spoonbread and black pepper vinegar sauce ($28), red snapper Florida-style ($32), steamed lobster with roasted lemon butter and fries Americain ($49), and wild striped bass with roasted corn sauce, cockles, parsley and thyme ($28). Am I making you hungry?
Although Flay is a native New Yorker, his Southern and Southwestern leanings are well documented, the result of early work with the influential Jonathan Waxman. Several of Bar Americain’s dishes obviously received Southern treatments, great fun in a state like ours where Southern food is rare and tends to be decidedly downscale. Thus, I couldn’t resist duck with dirty wild rice, pecans and Bourbon sauce ($31). It was really a duck two-ways, with teeth-tingling confit leg and beautiful fat-edged slices of breast meat, the accompaniments underscoring the bird’s natural richness where most duck treatments opt for acidity for contrast.
In spite of all the creativity exhibited by Bar Americain’s other entrées, it’s tough to pass up the steaks. Everyone knows Flay is a major meat guy, a serious grill guy, a regular backyard Joe like the rest of us gents—only better. That’s his charm.
It was a short steak list, just three to choose from. As long as there was a rib-eye, I was good. “Did you get a chance to cut into that steak and check its doneness?” we were asked.
I sliced into our spice-rubbed rib-eye ($42), a gorgeous piece of meat treated respectfully, and it looked perfect.
Not that I’m one of those people who will reject an otherwise good piece of meat if its temperature is a little off. I find that a bit churlish. And when I bit into the steak, all I could say was “Wow!” Analysis would have to wait until later. Ribboned with just the right amount of fat, that thick, crusty, slightly charred steak was so intensely flavorful it rendered me almost speechless. The house steak sauce was also exceptional, but I employed it sparingly because the steak was so great.
We turned to our side dishes. The sides ($9) were an imaginative lot—fries Americain with smoked red pepper mayonnaise, asparagus in a green peppercorn vinaigrette, creamed corn, sweet potato gratin, griddled mushrooms and onions, a cauliflower and goat cheese gratin, creamed kale with crispy shallot, California flat leaf spinach, Brooklyn hash browns and green-onion-and-goat-cheese-smashed potatoes.
While not bad, the griddled mushrooms and onions were my least favorite item, the sharply vinegary pearl onions distracting from the earthy mushrooms.
Reminding me of the creamed potatoes I used to make when I was a kid, the smashed potatoes were delicious—and sinfully rich.
Saving a little room for dessert ($11), we asked our waiter to wrap up what we couldn’t finish. Again, it was an agonizing process trying to narrow down our choices. Who wouldn’t be tempted by pistachio crème brûlée, deep dish chocolate cream pie, a Bourbon praline profiterole with vanilla bean ice cream, a Granny Smith apple tart with maple walnut ice cream, chocolate banana hazelnut crêpes with Clementine butter sauce, or a caramel sundae with dark rum sauce, pecan brittle, blackberries and whipped cream? Not to mentional an artisanal cheese plate ($14)?
But wait till you hear/see what we did have! We didn’t mind waiting a few extra minutes for an incredible blackberry soufflé
into which blackberry crème anglaise was spooned—
to good effect, I might add.
A giant slab of German chocolate cake with coconut whipped cream was also great, and we had enough left over so that my wife enjoyed it for several more days.
But our favorite dessert might have been the peach pie with mascarpone cream and blueberry ice cream. Impressively, it was an individual pie, the top crisscrossed with slightly sugary strips of crisp dough. Now that’s good baking!
Piping hot espressos
were ideal accompaniment.
Like a young couple’s wedding night, our fabulous meal eventually had to end. I close with a photograph of my own lovely bride. Does she not look the picture of contentment?