Last night, John and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Atlantic City Restaurant Week kickoff party. In all honesty, if it was to be the same press-only,Caesar’s-property-restaurants-only event of the past, I don’t think there would be much to write about. This year, however, someone put on their thinking cap and not only decided to open it up to the public and invite other area restaurants to participate, it also raised funds for local charities.
Held at the historic Atlantic City Country Club (you can check out my adventure there back in the Fall here), this time they went all out with a jazz trio that added an additional air of elegant fun to the whole shebang. Though it promised to be a night of indulgence, it was good to know that organizations such as The Alcove (a center for grieving children and their families), CASA (Court Approved Special Advocates, for abused and neglected children), and our favorite, The Community Food Bank of New Jersey were going to benefit. We were also happy to discover that a few of our fellow blogger friends (Colleen from Jersey Bites and Holly from Random Cravings ) were there. After a quick greeting, we all went into food blogger special-ops mode: commandeering a home base, scoping out the lay of the land, taking photos, and securing samples of dishes we knew might be the first to run out (we had a serious job to do, after all).
Although we sampled almost all of the restaurants represented, there were so many that we’ll stick with the ones that intrigued us enough to say that they might be worth checking out for a full meal next week:
- Il Mulino (at the Trump Taj), a New York-based Italian that has a large following, was serving up melt-in-your-mouth meatballs. I have great respect for these meatballs, since they were made what I consider the right way: with the holy trinity of beef, pork, and veal. The gravy was too thin for my taste, but these meaty gems were so delicious on their own, they’re worth a rave mention here.
- The hosting AC Country Club surprised us with a Korean-themed offering: Asian-Braised Pork Belly, with kimchi cucumber salad on a Peking bun. Although braised to a tender finish, the belly tasted of Asian barbecue , and the kimchi salad added a really nice kick; dipped in the accompanying hoisin sauce, it was heaven-on-a-bun.
- Resorts chimed in with a Tempura Shrimp glazed with a Szechuan-style garlic sauce. It hit all the right notes with intense heat, vinegar, garlic and a touch of sweet that left the tongue ravaged, abused, and exhausted but still yearning for more, all the same.
- But the best thing there? The herb-encrusted, pan-seared lamb chop from Sofia’s in Margate. I can’t actually guarantee that Sofia’s would be a sure-fire bet, but based on the heavenly perfection of this chop alone, I’m ready to go check this place out. It wasn’t until we were ready to leave that I missed out on the accompanying pomegranate thyme demi-glace, but who the hell cared? The tender little lollipops of love were done to medium-rare perfection, with a crust that reminded me of the simple breaded chicken cutlets my grandma used to make (only with a little extra ooomph). We went back for seconds, for thirds….
- As for the desserts, the biggest surprise was to find that Showboat has stepped up its game in the pastry department. We were amazed by the array of creative “comfort food dinner” sweets that could only be tasted to be believed. The “fried chicken, biscuit, and cole slaw” was actually a gorgeous, rich, and ridiculously moist yellow cake coated in a thick (and bumpy) maple icing, with shredded pear, apple and strawberries masquerading as the “slaw”; but similar to an observation once made by Freud, sometimes a biscuit is just a biscuit…However, it was the “burger and fries” that really blew us away. The rich, chocolatey brownie “meat” sat on a challah slider bun, topped with a candied orange peel “pepper”, while the pound cake “fries” were coated in a heavenly sweet curry glaze. When I say “curry”, I mean a real curry, not just a cinnamon/cardamom-chai flavor. It was not only different, but amazingly delicious. There was also a creamy chocolate and wafer “taco” that was outstanding. The demure little “purses” coated in sugar confetti concealed a crazy-rich chocolate torte that was to die for. Yow.
From our past Restaurant Week adventures, we can attest to great experiences at the Knife and Fork Inn, Girasole, Sage (in Ventnor), and Izakaya (at the Borgata-but skip dessert here). Though our recommendations include places found outside the casinos, we really urge you to check them out-it’s worth going off the beaten path.
So, where are we going this year? That’s classified information, for now; you’ll just have to wait until next week.