BAM! BAM! BAM!
That's as good a way as any to describe uberchef Emeril Lagasse's relationship with the Sands Casino-Resort in Bethlehem.
When the gaming hall, built on the site of the old Bethlehem Steel works, opened in 2009, Lagasse was there with Emeril's Chop House, a high-end steak outlet. Last year, he opened Burgers And More (BAM, get it?), a casual spot that serves what - to these taste buds, at least - just may be the world's greatest hamburger. Tomorrow, the New Orleans-based culinary giant will complete his trifecta with the debut of Emeril's Italian Table.
Located at the edge of the casino floor just off the corridor leading to the casino's recently opened 302-unit hotel tower, Emeril's Italian Table is a casually elegant space whose narrow front leads to a circular main dining room in the back. To get there, patrons pass by the open pizza and antipasti stations, where they can watch those items being made.
The Tuscan-influenced decor features tile, stone and wood. The latter is taken from a dismantled Lehigh Valley barn. The idea behind the design, said Lagasse, is to make patrons "feel at home when you come here - as you do in Italy."
Although the restaurant's visual cues are specific to a region of Italy, the menu is more geographically diverse.
"I can't tell you it's Northern Italy or Sicilian or Roman," he said, adding that the more important elements are the menu's authenticity and simplicity. The offerings include pizza; salumi (a wide variety of tissue-thin cured meats cut on a hand-cranked slicer); a selection of cheeses; soups; salads; pasta dishes, and poultry, beef, veal and shrimp entrées. Prices are in line with other casino gourmet rooms; entrées run between $18 and $24.
Like his other two Sands operations, Italian Table will emphasize locally grown ingredients, something, he admitted, that isn't the case in some of his other locations, specifically Las Vegas, which Lagasse described as "Los Angeles-dependent."
"Fifteen minutes from here you're in the middle of paradise," he insisted. "You can be in a tomato field or a sweet-corn field. It's really agriculturally blessed here. That was one of my draws" for coming to the Sands.
Although he is of Italian heritage, Italian Table is Lagasse's first attempt at this kind of eatery. So what took him so long?
"I don't know what took me so long," he admitted. However, he said that many of his chef friends - including TV star Mario Batali - deal in Italian cuisine, and he "didn't want to step on those guys."
"When I had the opportunity to tell [Batali], he said, 'Just do it right.' "
Lagasse, whose next television foray will be "Emeril's Table," which premieres in September on cable's Hallmark Channel, obviously loves the casino realm. In addition to his three Sands stores, he has several acclaimed restaurants in Las Vegas. But unlike such fellow superchefs as Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay, he has yet to stake a claim in Atlantic City.
"I like it there, but it's not in the forecast. I talk with those guys, but they're just on a different page," he said.
Then again, maybe it's best to never say never" When we told Lagasse about all the restaurants opening in AyCee this summer, and about the planned mid-May opening of the Revel project, he thought for a second and said, "Maybe I'll revisit it."
Emeril's Italian Table is open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. For reservations, call 877-726-4777, or go to opentable.com.
The sound of Musik
Before we leave the Sands, be advised the casino is bringing back "Musik @ the Sands," its headliner-heavy June entertainment program.
The festivities kick off Sunday with a performance by musical archivist Michael Feinstein, who will present "The Sinatra Project," his tribute to the legendary "saloon singer" who died in 1998. Admission is $54 and $44.
The roster also includes: Paul Anka (Thursday, $74 and $59); Peter Frampton (June 21, $59 and $44); The Four Tops/The Temptations (June 23, $59 and $44) and Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo (June 26, $59 and $44).
For info and tickets, call 610-332-3378 or go to artsquest.org.
Where's there's smoke . . .
Tonight's the night the Foundation Room at House of Blues inside Showboat Atlantic City introduces its cigar lounge on the balcony overlooking the Boardwalk and ocean.
The centerpiece of the concept is a cigar menu featuring such stogies as Kristoff Sumatra, Rocky Patel Nording, Perdomo Patriarch and Liga Privada T-52.
To celebrate tonight's debut, the Foundation Room - which waives its members-only policy Friday nights - is hosting "The Ultimate Guy's Night Out." The $99-per-person package includes a gourmet dinner in the club's posh dining room (seatings at 8 and 9 p.m.), a 10 p.m. Glenmorangie Scotch-tasting event as well as two cigars from the menu.
For information and reservations, call 609-343-4523.
Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. tomorrow for the Aug. 13 Borgata set by British comedian-actor Russell Brand. Admission is $75 and $65. To order, call 866-900-4849 or go to theborgata.com.
Chuck Darrow has been covering Atlantic City and casinos for over 20 years. Read his blog www.philly.com/Casinotes. Email him at email@example.com. And listen to his Atlantic City reports Saturdays at 1:45 a.m. with Steve Trevelise on WIP (610-AM) and 3:05 p.m. on Atlantic City's WOND (1400-AM) with Marc Berman.