36 Hours at Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino
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No matter how one decides to check their moral restraint at the Las Vegas city gates, Vegas will meet their chosen excess with an appropriate dining experience — be it a $5 buffet to help power them through another six hours of betting or a very expensive and very illegal bowl of shark fin soup. Similarly, eating at the tribal-run Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Uncasville, Conn., is well matched with the ethos of the institution. But if the slogan for the City of Las Vegas is "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," then the slogan for the Mohegan Sun might as well be "Once you enter Mohegan Sun, you stay in Mohegan Sun."
In Vegas, food can both be fuel for and a part of the list of gambling and bad decisions that happen and presumably stay in within the city limits, whereas it seems food at Mohegan Sun — be it a Dunkin Donut or an expensive meal at one of the four high-end franchise restaurants — is there to ensure that the casino's well-to-do suburban habitués remain comfortable enough to keep rolling the dice.
Upon handing my car keys to the valet outside of the casino, I did not feel as though I was being stripped of my moral restraint. Rather, I was directly told by the valet that once I entered the complex my life would be worry-free and I would not have to leave. The valet said that everything I needed would be within the walls of the hotel and that I would not have any problems remaining gastronomically satisfied.
Remaining satisfied is of course the goal of such a casino. Without windows and with what seems to be the most perfectly fine-tuned filtered air climate system, one's sense of time would cease to exist were it not for the rumblings of the stomach, reminding its host that it has been hours since he or she has eaten (or from the casino's perspective, hours since one put their credit card into the Dean Martin's Wild Party slot machine). Good (if a bit neutral), comforting food makes itself available to make sure that does not happen.
Regrettably, my deeply imbedded neurosis does not provide much room for feeling neutrally satisfied. Over my 36 hours at the casino, I was unable to match the smug excitement fellow diners had for the food. While I did not dislike my lunch at BALLO Italian Restaurant and Social Club, I should have known it was being oversold to me by a frequent ("every weekend since I retired 15 years ago") high-roller when he told me I should trust him on food choices because he "is Italian." I believe my cup of Imus Ranch coffee was fine, though I can't remember as I spent my time drinking it trying to figure out whether or not the sardonic joke of a Don Imus-owned coffee shop sharing the same roof as a WNBA team was lost on my fellow patrons.
After 24 hours walled off from the outdoors, I started feeling slightly more at peace (the nice spa downstairs may have helped), and decided if I were to maintain my appropriate contentment, I needed to find a dinner place that would not provide an overwhelmingly recommended yet underwhelming tasting meal. Something that would be low-key, and present itself as such. Maybe The Lansdowne Pub might have what I was looking for, as Irish pub food is really spoken of with much fanfare but, to me, enjoyable for its unpretentious charms, which given my state of mind made The Lansdowne seem more appetizing than anything with Michael Jordan or Bobby Flay's name on it.
The place may have overshot the "authentic" Irish kitsch thing, as many Irish pubs in America tend to do (do Irish pub-goers really love literature so much that portraits of Joyce and Yeats are necessary?), however, refreshingly, the food was traditional dishes without relying on the old Irish clichés of over-salted, overdone meats and potatoes.
The crabcakes were good. They were nicely seasoned and the mustard mayonnaise was not so thick that I forgot what I was spreading it on, as house-made condiments often do in bars and pubs. For my main course I had lamb shepherd’s pie, which avoided the regular trappings of the dish (too often a thrown-together mess of meat and potatoes), spicing the meat with more than the usual salt and pepper (I tasted cumin and something link juniper) and whipping the potatoes enough to give the dish a lightness that one normally does not expect. The accompanying Irish soda bread was welcomed. My companion for the evening had the Gaelic Steak, which included mushrooms and roasted potatoes with Irish whiskey cream sauce. The steak and its side dishes were equally full in flavor and happily, the Guinness was well poured enough to wash it down pleasantly. I would have been glad to call it a night had the bread pudding not looked so good, which it was.
Despite (or maybe because) the fact The Lansdowne so embarrassed camp in its décor and menu, it was the only place where I was able to forget by own detached irony, and enjoy a fun, easy, uncomplicated good meal for just what it is.
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