High Steaks in the Great Northeast

Being holy on Ash Wednesday is a challenge enough at a casino. Add a steakhouse and some would have you believe you've got a recipe for eternal damnation. Last night was the soft opening of the Park Grille, a plush roulette-colored carnivore kingdom on the second floor of Philadelphia Park, Bensalem's racetrack and slot parlor shiny as a freshly minted quarter. I'm not gonna lie. My expectations for restaurants in casinos aren't that high to begin with; plunk that casino down on the outer fringes of the Great Northeast, they sink even lower.

That's why Park Grille was such a pleasant surpirse--a shock even. Not only was the quality high, the food even shows upscale ambitions and flourishes of creativity (a steakhouse no-no). Gargantuan U-6 shrimp look more like baby lobster tails, their pink-and-white bodies intertwined like ballet dancers, and get squirted with a fantastic sweet-and-sour caramelized lemon I later dropped in my water glass. Crabmeat cocktail is snowy and fresh, twisted with lemon zest and microgreens. The bread basket offers snappy flatbread and a walnut-and-apricot-studded multigrain. Alongside: luxurious creamery buttery dusted with volcanic Hawaiian sea salt.

Steaks are solid, if a touch overcooked, with a nice charred crust, a guilty dollop of herbed butter, and sweet roasted cippolini onions. Even boring ahi tuna tastes tight with little red and yellow grape tomato bombs, roasted garlic, and avocado crescents. Nothing innovative, but truly solid. Vanilla gelato is studded with chewy dried cherries, and a lemon meringue tart with strawberry coulis is a refreshing, tasty, and well-executed dessert. Everything is served on pretty rolling carts that glide gracefully though the dining room, a classy page from old-world dining.
The only let-downs are the two sides. Creamed spinach is better at Barclay Prime and Capital Grille; potatoes Lyonnaise are sloppy-looking and breakfasty. The soundtrack is also inappropriate; sure "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," but not while I'm eating. But overall, considering Park Grille is in a casino slap in the middle of suburbia, I was impressed. Park Grille actually feels like a restaurant--a pretty good one--rather than a cattle-call for high rollers getting comped on mediocre grub.

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