You know when you sit down at the table, you close your eyes, whisper for good luck, and you see what you want? That's what happened the second time we went to McCormick & Schmick’s at the Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City. We found dishes we wanted to try right off the bat, so our hopes were high.
While I was in college, a group of friends headed down the hill to McCormick & Schmick’s for a fun happy hour, producing fond memories of appetizers and juicy burgers. It was that experience, which guided us there.
Our first visit to the restaurant, over a year ago on another excursion to the casino, resulted in major failure. We had no beginner’s luck. I can hardly remember what we got; maybe a New England style clam chowder, which was decent; a pretty little cylinder of avocado, mango and crab meat, which was stunning and mildly delicious. But after those appetizers my mind goes blank, probably as a defense mechanism. I do remember being severely disappointed, an entree being sent back, and overwhelming blandness.
There was nothing good about what we had that time, but I am a firm believer in second chances, so on our most recent trip we tried again, hoping for more success. It was a little better. We ordered less food to try to increase our odds, and limit possibilities for unsavory results.
The buttermilk fried oysters with a horse radish slaw and what was described as a lemon Tabasco aioli, was our only appetizer. The fried oysters were sweet and crunchy, a little greasy, but the tangy and oniony slaw underneath cut it. Each texture was pronounced and independent, creating a fun play of varied chews and crunches. The flavors, however, were all taken captive by the strong onion taste of the many many green onions floating throughout the slaw. Even the aioli did not help to abet the intensity, as it was dull and almost ruined the texture and flavor of the oysters. Somehow the different elements were fighting too hard against each other and there was some dissonance of flavor, which diminished the potential of the appetizer.
The entrees were far less interesting. I suppose we were trying to play it safe, keeping up our poker face. I had parmesan crusted flounder, drenched in lemon caper butter, with wax beans and a healthy side of butternut squash risotto. The first couple of bites were like relief; the orzo was cheesy and textured, the fish was crusty and crunchy, the beans were buttery and luxurious. But after a few more bites, I began to feel the weight. All flavors, textures, and delight, were lost to salt and butter. Those two ingredients cloaked everything else and made my stomach turn with the richness. It was difficult to finish, but addictive and damaging.
The salmon rigatoni with a creamy pesto sauce was no better. It had the same lingering richness of the flounder dish, heavy with cream and lack of flavor variation. Despite the salmon pieces, the bits of asparagus, chunks of artichokes, the only addition, which changed up the texture and taste, was the meaty mushrooms. All other life was drowned out by the too creamy pesto and superfluous cheese. The large rigatoni pasta was cooked well, and the whole dish would have benefitted from a lighter sauce, reminiscent of summer.
We skipped dessert, which is difficult and amazing, but we had learned our lesson with McCormick & Schmick’s, our stakes were too high. I do not think we would eat there again for a full meal. Perhaps in future we can indulge in the fun happy hour specials and deals, but our expectations for that would be lower. I guess you can’t always win!