She Who Must Be Obeyed and I thought we’d get an early jump on the Memorial Day weekend, so on Thursday we drove to Foxwoods. He Who Must Not Be Ignored watched as mom and dad blew his college fund on the nickel slots in the lobby of the MGM Grand.
Okay, we didn’t gamble. We went to Foxwoods to see Penn and Teller’s first east coast performance in six years. We planned on dinner at the hotel before the show, fortunately there was an alternative to the omnipresent casino Italian and Asian standbys: Craftsteak.
If you’re a Top Chef fan, then you know that head judge and co-host Tom Colicchio is the chef/owner of Craft restaurant in New York City. Craft was in turn spun off to ‘wichcraft, a sandwich bar, and Craftsteak, which has locations in New York, Las Vegas, and now Foxwoods. I’d read that Colicchio knows how to cook a piece of beef, so I was eager to try his food.
We were seated at a booth where we could see the rest of the room, which was dark wood, steel trim, and paintings of cows over the booths. (Pardon the low-light iPhone photos.)
Once we were presented with the menu, our extremely attentive waiter explained the differences between the various types of beef. We ordered a few appetizers from the left, three entrees from the center, and three vegetable sides from the right.
It seems like such a cliché to order shrimp cocktail at a steak restaurant, but it’s a hard dish to get just right. The shrimp were plump and juicy, just cooked, without a trace of the rubbery texture so typical of this classic. They were cool, not ice cold, so you could taste the light brine used in the poaching. The cocktail sauce wasn’t too heavy on the horseradish.
This was recommended by our waiter, and I’m glad we took his advice. The fondue, served in a cast iron pot, was creamy and filled with chunks of crab and tomato. The base was mostly cream, with just enough cheese to notice but not overwhelm. We almost came to blows over the last slice of toasted bread.
Braised Short Ribs and Roasted Vegetables
When our waiter informed us that this was Colicchio’s signature dish, I remembered that he had been serving it since his founding of the Gramercy Tavern. The meat was served off the bones, braised for so long that the outside crust was nearly black, but meltingly tender inside. I could taste the red wine base in the brasie, but there were many layers of aromatics on top of the basic mirepoix — I’m pretty sure I detected star anise. The baby vegetables were a nice touch, especially the nearly spherical carrots, which still had a bit of bite.
Grass-Fed Ribeye Steak
I always order ribeye steak at a steak house. It has a rich, beefy taste and a good ratio of fat to lean if you get a well-marbled cut. This steak did not disappoint. Cooked to medium rare, it was a bit firmer than the grain-fed beef I’m used to, but the flavor was stronger as well, due to a combination of the feed and aging.
Wagyu Skirt Steak
Wagyu is the cattle from which the famous Kobe beef is produced. Since we’re not in Japan (or paying Japanese prices), this cut is from hybrid Wagyu/Angus cattle. Skirt is another “insider’s cut,” ordered by those who want a strongly flavored steak with some chew to it. This version was cooked medium rare and sliced against the grain. I regret any time I’d previously used the phrase “melts in your mouth” to describe a tender steak, because that description belongs solely to this dish.
Steakhouse purists will insist that vegetables should always be an afterthought, and shouldn’t extend beyond creamed spinach and possibly a baked potato. The sides here were treated with as much respect as the meat. I won’t go into individual descriptions, but will show the three dishes we ordered.
Sauteed Baby Shiitake and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan
You might have noticed that the two steaks were served pre-sliced. Initially I wasn’t sure what to think about that presentation until I started eating. The slicing showed that the entire steak was cooked uniformly to the desired temperature — there were no well-done ends surrounding a medium rare middle. The cast iron dishes kept the meat hot without continuing the cooking (I hate those “sizzling steak platters” for that very reason).
I also noticed no salt and pepper at the table – they weren’t needed. The meat and sides were perfectly seasoned. We were served a trio of sauces: chimichurri, horseradish, and barbecue.
I don’t usually put sauce on my steak, but I tried each one with the ribeye. The acidity of the chimichurri cut through the fattiness nicely, the horseradish didn’t stand up to the beef, and the barbecue was more subtle than expected.
The food was enough to make us consider a return visit, but the service put the experience over the top. The waitstaff was attentive but unobtrusive, there were no delays in service, and we were visited by the general manager, who wanted to make sure we were enjoying our dinner. Once again, the presence of a ten-year-old in a fine dining establishment might have been responsible in part for the attention. At the end of the meal, the GM asked Miles if he enjoyed his dinner. “It was great, but there weren’t enough fries.” got him a laugh and a Craftsteak crew hat.
The folks in the casino might have disagreed, but that dinner was the best way to spend money at Foxwoods.