Casino dining has come a long way from midnight helpings of steak and eggs and serpentine buffets filled with barely recognizable meat and potato dishes. That’s not to say these options aren’t still readily available; you need only visit a few select Fremont Street casinos in Las Vegas to reclaim that particular past. Invariably, most casinos still view dining as an afterthought, the sense being that the games are the attraction and all the rest is but window dressing — a steakhouse, a diner, and a deli normally suffice. But if you want elegance and imagination, Roppongi at the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs fits the bill.
With its location off the main casino floor, Roppongi serves as a welcome oasis from the sturm und drang of game play. The main dining room is lit in atmospheric tones, accented by dark wood in the booths and deep, vibrant orange glasswork, while the bar area is sensual and warm and, unlike some restaurant bars, welcomes those who wish to spend an evening sipping wine and enjoying tapas. In an era when packaging is almost as important as taste, Roppongi looks like a runway model ready for a night out on the town.
“People walk in and are awed by the design of the restaurant,” says General Manager Sandy Josephson. “It’s beautiful, warm, sexy. So by the time our guests are seated, they have already become part of the experience. Then, it’s all about making sure the food is consistent.” Because of the nature of the clientele — about half of the diners come to the Spa Resort Casino specifically for the restaurant — complacency in any aspect of the experience, from the way a napkin is folded to the final bite of crème brûlée, would be a grave error.
Executive Chef Robert Urquidi, a Hawaiian native who trained at the Westin Hotels in Maui and Century City before working extensively at Roppongi’s La Jolla flagship, agrees. Everything from plate presentation to the spicing of food must be exact every time, Urquidi says. “I taste the food every day. If you come in for the Grilled Duck Quesadilla tomorrow, I want it to taste the same a year down the road. That’s what makes people come back.”
Our favorites on the pan-Asian fusion menu include the house specialty Mongolian Grilled Shrimp served with Mango Salsa and Pineapple Fried Rice, and the tapas menu, featuring the aforementioned duck quesadillas alongside several other meal-portion-sized delicacies (Seared Ahi and Crab Napoleon served with Spicy Wasabi Mustard and Seven Spice Sauce). Indeed, the menu reflects a restaurant at peace with its philosophy: an elegant and eclectic dinner house and wine bar (noted recently in Wine Spectator for its excellence) that also appreciates its gambling core. To that end, Roppongi features three distinctive steaks, grilled pork chops, and an outstanding rack of lamb. But in a location where it is all about risk and reward, expanding the palette to include something different should be an easy bet, especially when Roppongi keeps coming up aces.