Upmarket casino cuisine in Atlantic City
Azure by Allegretti keeps the menu simple and puts the focus on the freshness of the day’s catch. (Azure by Allegretti)
“Come for the slots, stay for the food” -- it is a business strategy (and advertising tagline) that casinos have relied on for decades, recognising that the main draw of a casino is the opportunity to win big. But a few years ago, when a spate of high-profile chefs flocked to Las Vegas, the restaurant scene quickly overtook gambling as the Nevada city’s main attraction.
With the May opening of the $2.4 billion luxury Revel Resorts -- a complex of 14 restaurants, 1,898 rooms, a concert hall, high-end shops, a pool, spa and two nightclubs -- Atlantic City, New Jersey, the US’ second-largest gambling destination, is following in Las Vegas’ successful footsteps, hoping that an emphasis on dining and lifestyle will help the once down-and-out destination bounce back from the effects of the US recession.
There have been more than 20 restaurant openings in the past year in Atlantic City, ranging from traditional seafood to Asian fusion to upmarket steakhouses to outposts of casual chains from New York and Philadelphia. High-profile annual culinary events have also drawn previously unseen crowds, including the Atlantic City Restaurant Week in May, the Beer and Music Festival in April and the Food & Wine Festival in July, headlined by camera-friendly chefs like Tyler Florence, Paula Deen and Andrew Zimmerman. Visitors who would rather learn to cook than gamble can take a pizza-making class every Saturday at Tony Baloney’s, a casual Italian restaurant, or a variety of courses at the Harrah’s Resort Viking Cook School Both venues launched classes two years ago.
Like the Food & Wine Festival, which brings a dose of star power to the beachside town, many of Revel’s 14 restaurants are helmed by Iron Chefs (from the US-based reality television show), Michelin-starred chefs and James Beard Award winners from New York, Washington DC and Philadelphia — markets that feed into Atlantic City, said Curt Huegel, a principal at LDV Hospitality, the firm that manages Revel’s French-inspired seafood brasserie Azure by Allegretti, the steakhouse American Cut and the casual Italian restaurant Lugo Cucino E Vino.
“The plan for this hotel is that there are two parts of it; that there’s a resort and there’s a casino,” said Huegel. “Everything else in Atlantic City has just been a casino. If you go around to the restaurants, they feel different here. You don’t feel like you’re in Atlantic City. And that’s a great thing.”
Despite the slew of recent restaurant openings, Atlantic City still has a long way to go before it trumps — or equals — Las Vegas. In contrast to Revel and the Borgata, which opened its in 2003 and underwent a recent renovation, many of Atlantic City’s other hotel properties are still hopelessly outdated and the iconic boardwalk has seen shinier, cleaner days. But with Revel – by far the splashiest opening of the summer – it is clear that Atlantic City is committed to moving beyond beach bars and buffets.
Here is where to sample some of the best Revel has to offer.
Located on the casino level and overlooking the hotel’s private beach, this dark and sexy tapas restaurant features Andalusian music and flamenco dancers. It is an outpost of Iron Chef star Jose Garces’ popular Philadelphia restaurant of the same name — and is often booked solid on Friday and Saturday nights. The food presentation is as dramatic as the moody, dark décor of tiled floors, a rustic wooden ceiling, massive Moorish-style metal lanterns and semi-enclosed tables near the back of the restaurant.. The chicken in the paella valenciana, a huge dish loaded with saffron rice, chorizo and peas, is carved and served tableside by your waiter. When your order of patatas bravas, a tray of delicately arranged spicy potato pieces spaced far apart and standing tall, arrives at the table; you spear each one with a mini skewer. Crab-stuffed piquillo peppers are bursting with seafood and the seemingly simple artichoke flatbread is made richer with truffles and manchego cheese.