Steak on the grille

Jan 24, 2001 at 12:00 am
Alley Grille - Metro Times Photo / Larry Kaplan
Metro Times Photo / Larry Kaplan
Alley Grille
I've been to most of the casino restaurants now. The only one I was really crazy about, Neyla, inside the MGM Grand, closed down, replaced by Venti Uno (Italian for "21," get it?).

My conclusion is that it's not that easy to eat well in a casino, unless you've hit it big. Even then, the high-priced joints can't compare with restaurants outside the casinos that charge 10 bucks less per entrée.

Each casino has one top-drawer venue. For the record, Alley Grille, to my mind, ranks behind Motor City's Iridescence and MGM Grand's Brown Derby. It's not easy to find, requiring several escalator rides and affording a glimpse of the smoke-free casino (who knew?), Nickel Heaven and a snack bar.

The atmosphere is reasonably well-to-do, with upholstered banquettes, modern renderings of characters from the Greek myths and lots of dark wood. A grand piano player, stationed outside, plays it safe with such tunes as "Daniel," and his efforts are piped into the dining area.

Gamblers at Greektown earn "comps" based on how much their bets could theoretically win. This is called your "theo." They can cash their comps at the Grille, perhaps on a $445 bottle of Chateau Margaux '96, or maybe on a $20 bottle of California white. I paid for my food the old-fashioned way, with plastic.

The Grille is mostly a steakhouse, with Caesar salad, baked potatoes, shrimp cocktail, creamed spinach and other traditional dishes — and then, unaccountably, spring rolls and a Middle Eastern sampler. Its baba ghanoush, hummus and a minty tabbouleh are quite good, with the "for two" size enough for four. I'm happy that serving a thick, warm pita seems to be a custom that's spreading.

The wild mushroom-lobster bisque is excellent, very rich and a lush salmon-peach color. Shrimp scampi (three to an appetizer) is wine-tasty in a red, green and white trio of sauces.

I didn't like the house dressing on my salade composé, which was described as vinaigrette but tasted like liquid Dijon. And I guess I should learn that midwinter tomatoes are included solely as a pink accent, not intended to be eaten.

My companion's rack of lamb diable was fine, but seemed to have all the "devil" in the accompanying spicy pea pods. It also came with those little sweet potato squiggles that must be fried all over to taste so good. Roasted garlic mashed potatoes were dandy.

I don’t usually order chicken in a restaurant, but I did this time, to economize, and unfortunately the waiter did not read my mind as to whether I wanted mine with black truffle sauce. I must look like the sort of person who prefers the other option, "au natural," that is, plain, plain, plain. Not recommended.

The dessert list is not too different from Big Boy's: Oreo cheesecake, carrot cake, chocolate cake and an all-American version of tiramisu. Chefs seem to feel free to dub anything at all "tiramisu," but I was not expecting what appeared to be frozen Cool Whip.

Perhaps if you really want to put on the dog at the casino you should visit the Pantheon Club instead, which is reserved for high rollers — excuse me, "premium players." Your theo has to be pretty high, but you're entitled to "VIP services" such as a limo, hotel rooms and tickets to sports events. In other words, if you're rich enough to gamble lots of money, they'll give you stuff that you can afford anyway, for free. You also get access to the lounge, with cocktail service and a gourmet buffet.

One guy who'd been there told me, "If you're the kind of person who would belong to one of those clubs, it's pretty cool."

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].