Encore casino's restaurants are a good bet
Sunday 8th December 2019
I'm no gambler, but I sure am an eater. So it was with complete enthusiasm that I headed to a six restaurant dine-around at New England's newest casino, a real Las Vegas style showplace that Steve Wynn built after a cleanup along the Mystic River in Everett.
I'm also inclined to like what I see for dining at casinos. Twin River in Lincoln has an elegant steakhouse, Fred and Steve's, which is well-appointed with large comfortable booths and big beef and sides, and Wicked Good Sports Bar is a great sports bar, one of the few restaurants where you can watch a game -- and also hear it.
In June, the casino at Encore Boston Harbor opened to crowds, as most places do. Everyone likes shiny new things. But with revenue not where the owners wanted it three months later, and worry about casino saturation in New England, change is in the air at Encore. There's a new president, free self-park in the garage, lower table-game minimums (now $15, from $50), musical acts for loyalty card members, and a push to get people into one of the dozen restaurants or bars. Thus, the invite to experience the casino-owned restaurants. Others at Encore are owned by Boston restaurateurs.
We began at the beginning, the Oyster Bar. There's nothing like Champagne and oysters to show a commitment to local bivalves. Foodwise, everything here is transparent. A board on the wall tells where the day's oysters came from. Executive chef John Ross also offers locally caught Maine lobster, crudos, ceviches and specialties.
But what I found more compelling was Ross's desire to use his location, along the Mystic, to perhaps raise oysters, something that hasn't happened in those waters for more than 125 years. Even though the Mystic has been cleaned up, water-cleansing oysters would do so much more. He's exploring the concept with the Massachusetts Oyster Project, a volunteer organization that's working to restore oysters and native shellfish to the state's marine estuaries.
Ross also oversees the kitchen at The Waterfront, the craft brew pub. Here, local beer is the focus, with 30 on tap. Just as the source of the local oysters are listed for all to see, so, too, are the beers. Panels above the bar tell the breweries and their distance from Encore. The more local, the fresher the beer.
At Waterfront, you can have vegetarian shiitake mushroom sliders, a poutine-like dish with Lobster Thermidor, and French fries. I loved the salty corn snacks, which pair well with any beer. They also have arrangements to bring in special selections from breweries. Coming soon for the holidays is a Creme Brulee Imperial Stout, a dessert beer made with vanilla beans from Southern Tier Brewing Company, in Lakewood, New York.
Joseph Leibowitz is the executive chef in charge of all the restaurants I visited. He came from Wynn in Las Vegas. He had a lot to say about the third stop on our tour, Red 8. This is one of the most popular restaurants, with an Asian menu of Cantonese specialties and a location next to the Asian pit.
Encore attracts many guests who travel to Boston from overseas. To serve them and others, this restaurant stays open until 2 a.m. during the week and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. They specialize in Peking duck, delicate dim sum dishes, and fish such as tautog or local blackfish. They also have king crabs live in the kitchen, waiting to be ordered before being cooked. Sake and whiskey cocktails are on the drink menu.
Chef Ivan Yuen is passionate about his Peking duck. He searched the U.S. to find the best product, and all the six-pound birds come from Indiana, where he found more tender meat than on Long Island, New York. He starts by marinating the ducks for 8-12 hours before the dehydration process that will help create the crispy skin. They are carved table-side.
Rare, a steakhouse, and Sinatra are both fine dining restaurants at Encore. Sinatra, is one of only two restaurants authorized to use the late singer's name by his family. The other one is at the Encore Casino in Las Vegas.
At Rare, which has window views of the Harborwalk and Mystic River, they buy only the best certified Kobe beef from Japan and dry age the meat in-house, said Leibowitz. They are served with hard-to-find bourbon and scotch whiskeys. A Manhattan is the drink to have at Rare.
At Rare, they also bring a bag chair to the table for those carrying purses. Apparently, there is a Chinese belief that if you put your purse on the floor, you will lose your money. That's all the more compelling at a casino. Keep it off the floor and you keep your money. While that chair was cool, it was the beef that was show-stoppingly tender -- and expensive. We had a sample of tenderloin that costs $200 for four ounces.
The ambiance is lovely at Sinatra where it feels like you're taking a step back in time with his music filling the air and his movies playing on TVs over the bar. The signature cocktail here is the Sinatra Smash. They hadn't planned to offer it, but customers who'd been to Vegas demanded it. It's made with cassis, among other ingredients. It's delicious.
Right now, the restaurant is featuring the season's truffles, said chef TJ Ricciardi. They can be enjoyed in stuffed agnoletti or fresh spaghetti. Sinatra has the only wood-burning grill at Encore. Think some lovely veal dishes or wood-grilled sea bass. Not to be missed is the gold record dessert. It's made of chocolate, and you break off a piece and enjoy.
Sinatra has a $29 fixed-price lunch for the holiday season. It's usually only open for dinner, but for the first three Thursdays and Fridays in December, Sinatra will be opening from noon to 2:30 p.m. Guests can reserve at (857) 770-3310.
For casual dining, there's the On Deck Burger Bar, where chef Jacqueline Bullio makes gourmet burgers. This is a sports bar with plenty of televisions showing all kinds of sports. I love that.
We didn't go there, but Encore also has the obligatory casino buffet, which offers all-you-can-eat meals at lunch or dinner daily, with a gourmet dinner on Friday and Saturday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
At www.encorbostonharbor.com/dining-and-nightlife you can learn more about all the restaurants at Encore.