After getting the oil changed and the gas tank filled ($65, a new record), I picked up RJ and Mark to drive down to Foxwoods on Thursday afternoon. We made good time, despite some slowdowns on 95 South, and the Toyota only shuddered a few times. We pulled into the Bellissimo Grande about twenty minutes after Melissa and Fraley.
I checked in up front, gloating about the low rate I’d snagged to Mark and RJ. “Apparently, they started counting July 3rd as a holiday weekend just after I locked in my rate,” I told them.
They looked at the tally and did some math. “I’ll pay you back after we hit up the casino,” RJ said.
The guy behind the counter chuckled. “That’s what they all say.”
Fraley pointed this out later: as nice a place as the B.G. was, it and all the other hotels in a ten-mile radius really exist as satellites of Foxwoods. You don’t go there for a quiet getaway or for Connecticut’s rural ambience; you go there because it’s cheaper than the Grand Pequot or the brand new MGM. So they all have largely similar prices and compete on perks and amenities. The B.G. offered free appetizers for all guests – RJ, Mark and I split a cheese platter – and a complimentary shuttle to the casino.
While waiting for that shuttle, Melissa, Fraley and I sat in the lobby and listened to the world’s worst player piano. Seriously. Imagine an easily distracted ten-year-old plunking her way through the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. The hotel also boasted a very small pool (about the length of my apartment; no deeper than 5 feet) and a spa that none of us patronized.
The five of us hustled to the front of the line for the complimentary SUV-limo, as we had dinner reservations and couldn’t wait for the second pass. Older vacationers riding with us oohed and aahed over the first view of Foxwoods, which really does impress. The Mashantucket Pequot have preserved a great deal of old growth forest on their lands – partly out of respect, I imagine, and partly to underscore the huge towers of the world’s largest casino. It dwarfs the ancient trees. Once arrived, we navigated the vast concourse to the new MGM at Foxwoods and Craftsteak.
I’m not the type of guy who gets emotional about steak, normally1. But hear me out: Craftsteak elevates the pursuit of steak to classical artwork. After being surrounded by dimly lit dining elegance – a welcome contrast to the buffeting lights and smells of the casino floor – you order appetizers and sides. Spinach au gratin, for instance, along with oyster mushrooms and wagyu beef tartare. That last came with an egg yolk which, when mashed into the casserole and served on a salty potato crisp, merged into a sort of taste mural.
I talked myself into ordering the $52 grass-fed Ohio ribeye; how often do I get to eat grass fed beef? Conferring briefly with the server, she recommended I go medium rare rather than my usual rare. “Grass-fed beef marbles differently than corn fed,” she explained. “You’ll want to let it cook longer to unlock the flavors.” After the appetizers, the beef arrived, with sizzling char lines on the outside, pre-cut into strips in its own serving pan. I forked one out, hands shaking with adrenaline, and took my first bite.
“Wow,” Mark said. “I wish I had my camera.”
Folks, I got emotional over this steak. I mean genuine, misty-eyed, whipped back to my childhood in the hills of France emotional. I don’t think I said anything for a minute or so. I don’t think I could be bothered to chew. I won’t waste time trying to actually describe the steak using clunky, impertinent words – read Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun and get back to me – but the reaction alone should explain it all.
I forced myself to take my time over an entire 18-oz steak, working through slow bites and pausing to nibble some sides, and felt content at the end. Not bloated – and only a pound of grass-fed beef will fill you without bloating you – but suffused with the bliss of tender beef, flavorful seasoning and a sweet Cabernet Sauvignon. I paid just over $100 for my portion of the meal and came out ahead of the deal.
After that, the gambling felt like an afterthought. Part two tomorrow.
1 Or anything else, for that matter.