Saturday, January 08, 2022

Casino beat

Mohegan Wine & Food Fest: Premier event returns in the face of another shaky winter for gatherings

 If basketball and pop music shows -- along with slot machines -- are the images that come to mind when you think of Mohegan Sun, here's another to savor: the January Wine & Food Fest, a branded beacon of light for Mohegan in a somewhat-dark New England winter. The four-day festivus for oenophiles returns Jan. 27-30, and while it's never easy to safely pull off such a large endeavor, the lingering pandemic poses continuing challenges.

The Uncasville resort stands as one of the largest, busiest and most efficient casinos in the world -- a point of pride for Connecticut built on gambling, yes, but also world-class entertainment.

The test this year will be keeping folks relatively safe from COVID's serious threats while catering to crowds of wine glass-toting visitors. (Wine Fest has drawn more than 15,000 people in previous years, according to Mohegan Sun.) Pushed by the Omicron strain of COVID, infection numbers soared nationally and locally in late December and much of January, but there were also predictions that the wave would crest rapidly -- right around the time of the Wine & Food Fest. Here's hoping.

A casino official noted that all attendees are required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or have received a negative test within 72 hours before the time of the event one is attending. (We like that.)


The schedule and pricing of events goes like this:

THURSDAY, JANUARY 27

A private five-course dinner with paired wines hosted by celeb chef Todd English with guest chefs. 7 p.m. Tickets: $225 ($250 Day-of tickets)

FRIDAY, JANUARY 28


Whiskeys of the World event with products from Japan, Ireland, Scotland and Kentucky. Tickets: $100 (Day of ticket $125) From 6-9 p.m. in the Earth Ballroom.

Grand Tasting Preview from 8-10 p.m. in the Earth Expo & Convention Center is a nice, less expensive alternative to Saturday's Grand Tasting, with tickets at $75 (day-of is $80). Designated driver ticket $20. You still get to choose from 1,000 varieties of wine, beer and spirits, along with (purchased) food from regional restaurants.

Actors/business partners Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz return to SWFF with their own event from 9-11 p.m. Friday in the chic eatery/club novelle, built around mixology and their new whiskey, Toms' Good Lovin'. Tickets are $125 (day-of $135).

SATURDAY, JANUARY 29

The signature event, The Grand Tasting, will take place from 1-5 p.m. in the Earth Expo and Convention Center. If you've never experienced this $80 million facility that opened in 2018, it's especially eye-popping when filled with people and vendors, not to mention celebrity chef presentations on stage. Tickets are $125 ($135 on that day).

Mohegan's scenic and tasty new restaurant Tao Asian Bistro & Lounge gets its own event, with a Sushi and Sake Pairing from 3-4 p.m. Saturday in the hotel lobby-level eatery. Tickets are $125 ($150 on that day).

The festival's tasting of elite (expensive) wines come together in Vintage Cru from 4-6 p.m. in the Earth Ballroom. Comes wityh a $50 iGourmet gift card. Tickets are $150 ($165).

Saturday evening's memorable culinary event, the Celebrity Chef Dine Around, pairs signature food items from top chefs with a wine, beer or spirit. Music by DJ Irie. It runs $250 ($275) from 8-10:30 in the Uncas Ballroom.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 30TH

Football enters the Wine & Food Fest with a Game Day Brunch at novelle hosted by Buddy Valastro and guest Victor Cruz, the New York Giants great. Tickets are $90 ($100). The savory brunch and tasty specialty beverages will be served while the NFL pregame and conference championships are airing on the screens of novelle from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.



Saturday, November 20, 2021

Casino beat

Mystic Market & other Foxwoods buzz

Foxwoods Resort Casino isn't exactly operating at peak capacity these days, still under the effects of a softer leisure and travel market due to the pandemic. There are several features and locations that have either closed or are operating only on weekends. (The Thrill Tower ride seems to be gone from its four-year location next to the Fox Tower.) But the impressive and vast, if overbuilt, resort still offers a fun time if you're looking to walk a few miles and spend some money. And the holiday decorations are up, along with a new eatery/retail location on the Great Cedar Concourse.

Mystic Market Kitchen & Eatery offers tasty prepared foods and gourmet items in a convenient location on the concourse, and while there's little or no apparent seating inside, there are plenty of places to sit in nearby public areas of the resort. You know the store chain can produce great food if you've been to any of the other locations in Mystic, Old Saybrook and Westport. Hours at Foxwoods are Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 9 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 7.


Foxwoods is also launching its version of holiday fun with the long-running "Legends in Concert" show returning Nov. 26 and running through Jan. 2. It's generally a fun show and pretty affordable, too, at $17.50-$45.

One of Foxwoods' top restaurants, Cedars Steak & Oysters (above), is newly decorated for the Christmas season, with ceiling decorations, Nutcracker sentries and lighted arch. 

Says a Foxwoods marketing rep in an email: " They have decked out the whole restaurant with an over-the-top, Christmas wonderland-themed dining experience complete with a jaw-dropping display of 10,000+ ornaments from floor to ceiling. They also have special holiday menu items like filet mignon with mushroom duxelle wrapped in puff pastry followed by a rich peppermint candy cane chocolate mousse for dessert. They are open Thursday-Sunday from 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m."

There are massive Christmas trees in other areas of the casino, of course, and even an outdoor element that we have loved from years past -- the skating rink behind the Fox Tower. Workers on Friday were preparing it for a cold-season run of skating times (with nearby lighted igloos and other touches).


The other big opening recently at Foxwoods was the  DraftKings Sportsbook area, after the launch of online sports betting and iGaming in Connecticut. You can dine or play at the new two-story, 12,000-plus-square-foot integrated retail sportsbook. It's a sight, for sure, but (personally) we'll pass on this new and overhyped addition to the gambling environment.

In another post on this blog, we reviewed Mohegan Sun's fine dining addition this year -- the Connecticut location of luxe chain Tao. At Foxwoods, that role is reliably filled by Red Lantern, the Big Night Entertainment Group's Asian fusion restaurant on the second floor of the Fox Tower above BNEG's Shrine nightclub. Like Tao, the casino-location prices are a bit high but the quality is generally very good. And there are weekly specials that allow you to attain value for your buck. With the schedule shedding Monday through Wednesday hours due to the aforementioned effects of the pandemic and economic slowdown, the place is open and busy Thursday (except Thanksgiving) through Sunday, with an all-you-can-eat sushi special on Thursdays for $30 a person and a Sunday special of a custom sushi boat (which can feed two) for $48 and half-price bottles of wine or saki. 

For a brisk walk outdoors at Foxwoods, head to the Lantern Hill hike that starts in the rear lot of the (closed) Two Trees Inn. Can be slick so bring hiking poles for the steeper areas over leaves and roots. Or take the lower path to the pond.

-- Joe Amarante





Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Theater



'White Christmas' coming to Shelton

Gary & Francesca Scarpa's Center Stage Theatre may not be widely known beyond Shelton and the Lower Naugatuck Valley, but the couple has produced and directed more than 100 productions over a 46-year career -- in Shelton as well as at educational and experimental theaters in the state.

In December, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" will take Center Stage for a two-plus-week run, it was announced recently.

The show follows WWII veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who have a successful song-and-dance act after the war. 
The two are smitten with a duo of beautiful singing sisters who are en route to their Christmas show at a Vermont lodge, which just is owned by Bob and Phil's former army commander. The 1954 movie score featured standards including “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean” and the great title song crooned by Bing Crosby.
The show will be directed by Al Recchia and choregraphed by Robert Merante, with music and lyrics by Berlin and the book by David Ives and Paul Blake. 

Performances will run Dec. 3-19 at the 54 Grove St. location in Shelton, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and a special Thursday evening performance at 7 p.m. on Dec. 16. Adult tickets are available for $30 and students tickets are $15. 



Friday, October 22, 2021

Visit to a top '21 eatery at Mohegan 

Tao opens door to upscale Asian food & drink, cool visuals



The world "tao" in Chinese philosophy is all about yin and yang and harmony in the natural order.
Tao Asian Bistro and Lounge, on the hotel level at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, works hard in this pandemic era to restore some harmony via expensive set pieces in a tasty, theatrical setting.
If you're ready to pay handsomely for a premium experience, you'll likely find Tao a savory treat.

The entry way to the reception desk at Tao. Most photos courtesy of Tao.


Tao opened in late March 2021 after a few COVID-influenced delays in construction and setup. Its colorful visuals, ambiance, appetizers, soup and drinks have been earning raves even as it deals with the industry-wide staffing issues and living up to the weight of upscale prices and expectations in the hotel-level space that once housed Bobby Flay's Bar Americain.
The visuals and quality of the pan-Asian food (Chinese, Japanese and Thai) are generally excellent, including a Pad Thai with mushrooms and peanuts, a perfectly done side dish of bok choy and numerous sweet-and-spicy appetizers that steal the show when paired with a cocktail such as the Ruby Red Dragon with  grapefruit vodka, yuzu citrus and pomegranate ($17).

Asked recently about popular offerings at Tao, Assistant General Manager Christina Chiu said, “Our signature appetizer, I would say, is our Satay of Chilean Bass (above), a dish that has been on our menu for roughly 21 years at this point.” 

That's a reference to the fact that while Tao is fairly new to Mohegan, there are even larger Tao locations in New York, Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Another popular starter dish, the King Crab Egg Drop Soup (left), is exclusive to Mohegan's Tao, said Chiu. With corn, some crab and chili oil (which plays a bit too hot on the throat, be warned), it's an “Asian spin on chowder” in New England.
The signature entrée at Mohegan's grandest eatery is the Surf and Turf, a $188 tomahawk steak with a 1.5-pound  lobster, noodles and vegetables.

The atmosphere is swanky but casino-casual, with a deejay feeding upbeat tunes into the colorful space dominated by a 16-foot Quan Yin statue that occasionally changes hue. Entering the restaurant involves a walk down a dramatically lit hallway to the reception desk. Then you're escorted through the good-size lounge to a bridge featuring two dimly lit water walls that escort you into the eye-popping main dining room. There are more-private spaces behind that, too, for groups.
As for the sound level, a server said the modest volume goes up and the lighting goes down during the latter part of food service (running through 9:45 p.m. weeknights and 10:45 on weekends; the bar and lounge is open a bit later than that). The earlier dining time allows for easy conversation, thankfully.




There's an interesting list of sushi and sashimi, of course, including a Spicy King Crab Roll ($26) and Crunchy Spicy Yellowtail ($18), the latter we found to be decent but not tempura-crunchy.

A top entree is an $88 Peking Duck for two, which Chiu described as “air-dried, slow roasted” and “phenomenal.” But there are other intriguing dishes to sample, including Filet Mignon Tokyo Style ($52), Triple Pork Fried Rice (with pork belly, $23) and Hong Kong Fried Noodles ($26).
A special meal also requires some fun cocktails and, if you like the idea of a smoky treat, there's tableside decanter service of a Smoking Dragon ($45 for two, $80 for four), featuring Eagle Rare Whiskey, Antica Sweet Vermouth, Rosemary Port Wine Reduction, Peychaud’s bitters and (wafting out of the decanter and glass) hickory smoke. 
For small-plate lovers and value-seekers, you can just stick to the appetizers such as the sea bass skewers, sweet/hot chicken satay, pork potstickers in a chili sesame glaze, chicken wing lollipops and chicken gyoza (running $15-$24 each). They're tasty and fun.

For a truly memorable meal, check out some cool dessert cappers, including creamy caramel gelato, a rich lava cake inside a chocolate box and a giant fortune cookie stuffed with vanilla and chocolate mousse. (A dessert sampler runs $42.)
Tao's tony looks, attentive service and tasty dishes aren't so over-the-top that they make your head spin. Instead, they wow the average casino patron while wooing the Saturday night and special-event crowd. A delicate harmony in a difficult time.


(For more on top restaurants in the Nutmeg State, see the upcoming Best Restaurants issue of Connecticut Magazine.)



Monday, August 02, 2021

(We also make a ridiculously delicious fig, prosciutto and arugula dish; we just call it a pizza)

                       A flatbread of figs, prosciutto and arugula called a pinsa.


 A Greenwich company is behind the new Westport restaurant La Plage at Longshore, which will open Wednesday (Aug. 4), serving seafood, plant-based dishes and other sustainable fare. 
Located at 260 Compo Road South,La Plage will open at 4 p.m. Wednesday with dinner from 4-10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. 
The patio opening is to be announced, and the restaurant will soon be open for lunch daily and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, according to the release. Longshore Beach Ventures LLC, which is a partnership led by Greenwich Hospitality Group (owner/operator of Delamar hotels), announced the new restaurant, located on the waterfront between Long Island Sound and Longshore Golf Course.
La Plage is a collaboration between Charles Mallory, founder of the Greenwich Hospitality Group, restaurateurs Michael Ryan and Hicham Amaaouand Chef Frederic Kieffer. 
“We are excited to introduce our newest restaurant concept and look forward to creating an elevated dining experience with a sense of casualness befitting of this extraordinary coastal locale,” said Mallory in the press release. 
Showcasing a central raw bar featuring fresh shellfish and oysters from around the country and views of the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound, La Plage will offer indoor and outdoor dining for about 160 guests at a time. 
“Our goal is to pleasantly surprise our guests with sea and garden inspired dishes that are tasty, healthy and environmentally friendly,” says Executive Chef Frederic, also of Artisan and l’escale restaurants. “We are committed to supporting local fisherman and farmers by using freshly harvested seafood, shellfish, farm fresh produce and sustainable meats.” 
Reflecting a progressive kitchen, the menu features seafood and vegetarian selections. 
Signature dishes include pinsas, a light, crusty hand-pressed flatbread. Grilled and then finished in the oven for a charred smoky flavor, pinsas come topped with kale and quark cheese; prosciutto and mission figs; and Caesar-style with grilled romaine.
 For reservations, go to Open Table. For more information and reservations please visit laplagewestport.com or call 203.684.6232.

Monday, May 17, 2021

New Haven Chorale's promising pivot continues

 

New Haven Chorale sings "Great Day" with soloist Jermaine Woodard, right, and ASL Interpreter Angel Rubinan.

By Joe Amarante

While most arts groups have been suffering for the past 15 months, the New Haven Chorale is claiming some steady victories of hope and distanced performance.

You can check out a recent performance online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ9ybJm02yw&ab_channel=NewHavenChorale.

Says Executive Director Alice Hummel, "During the pandemic we've produced a number of virtual performances under the leadership of our director Ed Bolkovac, all available on our YouTube channel, and have conducted weekly rehearsals and music classes on a variety of topics that have been attended by participants across the country and around the world."

In April, Hummel noted the New York Times article on a West Coast choir whose live practice became a notorious superspreader event during the pandemic. 

"From the beginning of the pandemic having excellent guidance from one of our members, Dr. Alan Kliger, the Chorale hunkered down," wrote Hummel in an email. "No in-person rehearsal, no live concerts and yet...after one year, our community is together, rehearsing online and recording individually. We have created some wonderful videos of choral music streaming on YouTube for the public to enjoy. Our music has been heard and seen by thousands of viewers increasing our outreach dramatically." 

Most Choirs have not been singing, ours hasn't stopped," she wrote.

Stay tuned for a return to live performances, as yet unannounced.

Friday, May 14, 2021

 Moments from a weekend trip to Janesville and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and northern Illinois


A monstrous breakfast dish at Alexanders Cafe in Elgin, off I-90.


Part of the Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wisc., near the location of a moving memorial service for Hamden, Conn., native Jim Gammons. 

 "He who plants a garden plants happiness" at Rotary Gardens in Janesville.


Blogger blends in with local flora at Sinnissippi Gardens in Rockford, Ill.


Sinnissippi Gardens features a butterfly room where you can hold a monarch butterfly on your Gatorade stick, if you'll pardon the allusion.


Koi fish and admirers at the Sinnissippi Gardens greenhouse.



The calm waters of Geneva Lake in southern Wisconsin.


By local ordinance, the wealthy (above) and modest homeowners along Geneva Lake must provide access to walkers along the entire lake trail, which takes about a day to complete.









Wednesday, April 14, 2021

New Haven Symphony to play live at the Boathouse, 14 times

The New Haven Symphony Orchestra will returns to live performances with 14 concerts on the New Haven waterfront between May 21 and July 4, it was announced the other day.

The concerts will feature musicians from the NHSO and guest artists performing in small, socially-distanced ensembles outdoors at the Canal Dock Boathouse on Long Wharf Drive in New Haven. Tickets to the series will be available for purchase beginning April 19 at noon.  

 

Music Director Alasdair Neale, who will host the series, says, “Words cannot express what it will mean for us to be able to play music together again. We are hopeful that this series signals that our darkest days are behind us, as well as expresses gratitude for the support and generosity of our audience and community this past year.  

 

The concerts will include music by Antonin Vivaldi, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Felix Mendelssohn, Florence Price, Franz Schubert, Gioachino Rossini, Jennifer Higdon, Jessie Montgomery, John Philip Sousa, Jonathan Moore, Leonard Bernstein, Margaret Bonds, Philip Glass, Rafael Hernández Marín and Scott Joplin. 


Performing side by side with NHSO musicians will be familiar Connecticut artists including tenor Charles Widmer, electric cellist Jonathan Moore, steel pan virtuoso Kenneth Joseph, soprano Lisa Williamson and dancer/choreographer Tavon Dudley, as well as local poets. A full list of concert programs and performers will be posted at NewHavenSymphony.org. 

 

Tickets ($25) will be available for purchase at NewHavenSymphony.org or by calling (203) 787-4282. 


An NHSO performance at the Canal Dock Boathouse in October 2020 (photo credit Ben White).

Get inside a professional theater production

Theater fans can go deep on a 2019 production in Westport Thursday evening, via computer of course as the pandemic lingers. 


Westport Country Playhouse’s “From Concept to Curtain” documentary series will present “Telling Mlima's Tale,” premiering Thursday, April 15, at 7 p.m., on the Playhouse’s website (westportplayhouse.org) and Youtube channel (WestportPlayhouse). And it's free to see.

 

You'll observe conversations with playwright, director and artists as “Telling Mlima’s Tale” examines the  visual scope and sweep of the Playhouse’s 2019 award-winning production, “Mlima’s Tale,” written by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Lynn Nottage, and directed by Mark Lamos, Playhouse artistic director.


The Playhouse’s staging was the first after the play's world premiere at The Public Theater in New York.

 

“Mlima’s Tale” at Westport Country Playhouse received five Awards of Excellence from the Connecticut Critics Circle, including best play of 2019; Mark Lamos for direction, Jermaine Rowe for his portrayal of Mlima, Yana Birykova for projection design, and Isabella Byrd for lighting design.



From left, Jermaine Rowe as Mlima, Jennean Farmer, and Carl Hendrick Louis in Westport Country Playhouse’s 2019 production of “Mlima’s Tale.” Photo by Carol Rosegg

  

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

New canned cocktails to try

New to the food and beverage area this month are the Colorado-based Cocktail Squad® products recently gaining distribution in Connecticut and Vermont. Cocktail Squad offers a line of eight sleek, ready-to-drink canned cocktails from the Rocky Mountains featuring four real spirits instead of just malt liquor.

The thin, attractive12-ounce cans -- with a bear, fox and bird logo -- are nice additions to camping, picnics the beach (where allowed of course), around a fire pit or on the deck. We tried them recently and judged them a cut above other canned cocktails, although some flavors were deemed better than others. 

The Bourbon Smash (at 10 percent alcohol with bourbon, blackberries, mint and pressed lemons) was a hit and the Margarita (10% alcohol) was refreshing while the Vodka Lemon (5% alcohol with a little carbonation) had a slight aftertaste. 

Cocktail Squad’s Classy Classics™ contain two servings per can, say the producers, so be advised about that. They are gluten-free or gluten-removed and have an MSRP of $4.99 per can or $20 per four-pack. 

The lower-alcohol Classy Casuals™ contain 0g sugar, 0g carbohydrates and no artificial sugar substitutes and come in two flavors- Whiskey Ginger Soda and the Vodka Lemon Soda. They run $3.49 per can or $13.99 per four-pack.

Here's a list of places you can get the canned cocktails: Al's Warehouse, Fairfield & Norwalk Bruce Park Liquor, Greenwich Cheshire Wine & Spirits, Cheshire Bottle Shop, New Haven JV Wine & Spirits, Killingsworth

New from Rhode Island breadmaker

Calise Bakery has put out a new Sourdough Italian Round Bread, which we tried recently. There's a slightly chewy crust and a distinct flavor that goes well with butter or as a base for a panini.

The bakery is based in Lincoln, R.I., which is between Pawtucket and Woonsocket and not far from the Connecticut line. The bread is available at Connecticut stores such as Stop & Shop, Big Y and IGA, and goes for about $3.69 a loaf -- not bad considering craft breads these days run $6 or more. 

Suggested panini: 2 slices of bread, tomato slices, fresh mozzarella (Mooz), basil leaves from your home herb garden, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt/pepper to taste.

Sugar Factory

You can go to Miami Beach, seen here in a recent visit, or you can get sugared up at Foxwoods in Connecticut. We won't discuss the place health-wise, but you can get a salad along with your $39 two-person, bubbling cocktail and massive dessert selections.

Monday, April 05, 2021

 News briefs from arts & entertainment in CT

A script in the hand is worth... something

Westport Country Playhouse will present an online script-in-hand playreading of “Rent Control,” the Off-Broadway comedy based on the true story of a struggling-to-survive actor in New York City who invents a moneymaking scheme that backfires. 


Written and performed by Evan Zes, left, and directed by Mark Shanahan, curator of the Script in Hand series, the broadcast premiere is set for Monday, April 26, at 7 p.m., and on-demand from Tuesday, April 27 through Sunday, May 2. Running time is 80 minutes.

Virtual tickets can be purchased as a $20 Individual, a $40 Pair, and as an $80 Household streaming experience. Each purchase entitles the ticket buyer to one individual link.


Go to westportplayhouse.org, leave a message on the box office voicemail at (203) 227-4177, or email at boxoffice@westportplayhouse.org 

Mohegan Sun lands in Vegas at Hilton property

Mohegan Sun Gaming & Entertainment recently became the first tribal casino presence in the prestigious Las Vegas market, opening a 60,000-square foot gaming venue located within Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, a Curio Collection by Hilton.

Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas officially opened the
gaming venue to the public, welcoming invited guests, celebrities, locals and visitors to the newly reimagined casino-resort on Thursday, March 25.

Coming up: Live renditions of Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, Eagles at The Kate

 The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, known to locals as “The Kate," is adding to their live schedule with a weekend of live music April 16 and 17 presented under the State of Connecticut Phase 3 reopening guidelines, which means only 85 tickets will be sold. As of April 5, a handful remained for each performance.
Mimicking the Simon & Garfunkel signature sound, Jeb and Jock Guthrie (right) will perform April 16 at 8 p.m. and April 17 at 8 p.m.

Also coming up: The Beatles' Abbey Road album live July 23, Herb Alpert and Lani Hall July 31-Aug. 1, Eaglemania Aug. 7 (two shows) and the music of Woodstock Aug. 21.

For more information on attendee rules or to purchase tickets, see www.thekate.org or call 860-510-0453.



Friday, March 12, 2021

Dining in Connecticut

The yin & yang of Mohegan Sun's new restaurant; TAO to open March 23


By Joe Amarante

The state's restaurant scene could use some good news and a big score for newly optimistic diners after a year-plus of takeout and closings. So here's one in Uncasville.

TAO Asian Bistro and Lounge – the long-awaited replacement for upscale Bobby Flay's Bar Americain restaurant at Mohegan Sun Casino, will open March 23.

We chatted the other day with Mohegan President Jeff Hamilton and Managing Partners of TAO Andrew Goldberg and Paul Goldstein during a quick tour of the lavish new eatery.

TAO's debut has been pushed back a few times due to COVID and the complexities of assembling the lavish set pieces of this Asian food experience – flourishes such as lighting fixtures, small statues, fountains and the big centerpiece, a 16-foot-tall Quan Yin statue in the main dining room with more outstretched arms than the Red Sox bullpen.

“When we were closed,” said Mohegan Sun President Jeff Hamilton, “we kept the construction project going but it slowed pretty significantly. I think COVID has been, from a restrictions standpoint and then even from a materials standpoint, really, really difficult.”

TAO's managing partners said there were targeted vendors such as artists and producers who also had COVID issues. The procurement of the antique doors of the restaurant are an example, said Hamilton. But now the place is ready and the staff has been undergoing training.

“It's almost an emotional experience every time you walk in here,” said Hamilton. “You're just amazed at how beautiful the restaurant is.”

Hamilton said officials didn't hold back the opening due to COVID restrictions and lower numbers of visitors to the resort “but luckily it's timed perfect where we're opening” in a more upbeat moment.

Officials said the first day of accepting calls brought more than 1,500 reservations for the opening month.

Goldberg credited Hamilton with sticking to the plan for TAO despite ups and downs during a tumultuous time for casino and all restaurants.

“For us,” said Hamilton, “I think over the last seven or eight years, what we've done is try to stop depending so much on gaming, right? I mean you think about the Expo Center, the additional hotel tower, more meetings and conventions. I think strategically food and beverage is an area where we want to create more destination (offerings)... experiences that are more and more unique. You're never going to experience anything like TAO in the state of Connecticut.”

Hamilton estimated the cost of the 300-seat TAO build-out, including a 4,200-square-foot kitchen “where the magic happens,” at $8 million.

During the pandemic, Mohegan hosted a bubble basketball tournament and quietly hosted Bellator mixed martial arts and Showtime boxing matches in the mostly empty Mohegan Sun Arena, for nationwide TV. That filled up floors of the hotel with production staffers during the past year.

The busy Expo and Convention Center was gushing business prior to the pandemic, with its last big hurrah being the vast Wine & Food Fest in January 2020. In recent weeks by contrast, part of the facility is being used as a COVID vaccine outlet.

“Just over the last weekend,” said Hamilton, “we did over a thousand (vaccine) shots each day.”

Mohegan's TAO becomes the sixth and latest of the chain, joining two in New York and ones in Las Vegas at the Venetian, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Hamilton said aside from the big TAO opening, officials are looking to reopen valet parking sites before summer begins and (if the situation allows it) the Arena to live shows or events, if at limited capacity. First up is likely is the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction events May 13-15.

Asked what makes TAO different from the average Asian cuisine eatery, Goldberg said, “I think it's our people. I think we care so much about the people of this community here. We care about our teammates. I think anybody can make great Chinese food, but I think it's the way we make people feel when they're in the room, that we care about them and that the guest experience is everything.”

The company did takeout and virtual hookups with fans during COVID, like so many other entities, showcasing partner/chef Ralph Scamardella on Zoom making recipes.

Of the cuisine, Goldberg said, “We call it the greatest hits of Asian food. It's not a fusion; it's pan-Asian.”

TAO cuisine chief Goldstein said the food is “authentic Hong Kong, Japanese and Thai. … We don't like the word 'fusion' because we don't infuse it with anything. It's authentic... We have chefs who are from there; our chefs go there quite frequently actually.”

Along with craft cocktails and Asian menu favorites such as Satay of Chilean Sea Bass, Lobster Wonton and Peking Duck, Scamardella and Mohegan's Patrick Woodward designed “a great surf-and-turf specifically for this venue,” said Goldstein. “It's a 32-ounce bone-in ribeye, it's called a tomahawk steak...and it comes with a lobster and it's done Chinese style.”

A highlight of the new Mohegan site, which has completely transformed the former (more open) space that was Bobby Flay's Bar Americain on the edge of the attractive hotel lobby, is the dramatic entryway and different spaces of TAO:

  • There's an entry hallway with arches leading to a host or hostess, then the 1,600-square-foot Ink Lounge (with changeable mood lighting and posh furnishings for about 40 people). “As the energy grows,” said Goldberg of the lighting, “it gets darker throughout the night.”\

  • Then there's a water portal, a walkway to the main dining room with water flowing on the glass ceiling and down the exterior of the glass walls.

  • The 3,800-square-foot main dining room also has a secondary bar with seats and four adjacent private dining rooms. Modern music will be at a lively but not overpowering volume for guests conversing, said Goldstein.

  • The original TAO in New York (circa 2000) was the carriage house for the Vandebilt estate, where renovations revealed beautiful aged brick behind some walls that the partners have recreated in all of their venues for a feeling of warmth, they said.

The word Tao in Chinese philosophy refers to the absolute principle underlying the universe, enveloping the ideas of yin and yang and a code of behavior that is in harmony with the natural order. Quan Yin, depicted in the dining room's focal point statue, is one of the major deities in Buddhism (goddess of mercy and compassion) and one of the most popular used in feng shui.

So in a key spot at Mohegan, the neat but comparatively sterile look of Bar Americain has been replaced by a colorful, lush series of Asian-accented spaces.

“It's also one of our favorite things...” said Goldstein. “We've taken over a lot of venues in the past... and what we love to do is to rearrange it so much that people walk in and say, 'Wait, that used to be the front door and that kitchen used to be..., you know? Totally change everything.”

Joe Amarante is a former TV, arts, dining and travel writer and editor at the New Haven Register and Hearst CT.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

 

Robert Daniel Irwin to release 2nd album in April

Robert Daniel Irwin, a school teacher and musician whom we covered early in the pandemic for putting out an album called "Nature Vs. Nurture," has a new album coming out in April called “Chasing the Tone." It will be available on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube and other streaming music sites, as well as on CD at Amazon.com.


Irwin and friends will celebrate the release with a concert and CD release party on April 29 on the outside deck at Best Video Film and Cultural Center in Hamden.


Singer/guitarist Irwin's songs are marked by imagery, wordplay and humor, exploriing what it means to be human, and the strangeness of daily life in general. 

The record showcases 11 original songs, including the hard rock “0 to 10,” the bluesy “Deep in This Hole” featuring Luke Guilmette (Great Hill Mountain Band) on slide guitar, the dreamy Beatles-esque “Let’s Go to the Zoo”, and the satirical hillbilly anthem “Arkansas Jesus," according to a news release. Each track includes studio performances by Logan Sidle (Robot Monster and Dreamfield) on drums, Guilmette on lead guitar, and Suj Patel on bass.



Wednesday, January 06, 2021


Nine-plus months after the virus came, 
a news rack frozen in time

Thursday, December 31, 2020

 A new transition

Here's the start to my moving-on column the New Haven Register Jan. 3 and online Dec. 31, 2020 and a link to it:

Article in Register

It’s been a wild and quip-filled ride in news    and features; now it’s time to stand up

It’s been a wild and quip-filled ride in news    and features; now it’s time to stand up

By Joe Amarante


After years at The Journal-Courier and New Haven Register - and all the publications that Hearst Connecticut Media has brought with it in recent years - I decided recently to leave the Register Dec. 31. Maybe this challenging year convinced me it’s time for a bit of a change.

Or maybe, in my 60s, it’s just too many hours sitting down, since I have worked from my home during 2020. Health experts will tell you that sitting and typing for long hours is more than just a pain in the butt. It will move up your expiration date.

It’s been a long, strange trip, this job. But I will miss it, partly because journalists are the coolest people I’ve known — curious, funny, more than a bit testy and part of a club with a glorious, ink-stained, booze-soaked past. But also because it’s worthy and even crucial in a democracy.

Most journos are trained to gather and present verifiable truth and attributable assertions, so the last four years it’s been tough to listen to a president call us “enemies of the people.” My affection for news folks doesn’t include the time-killing blowhards on partisan cable TV or syndicated radio; it’s more a reference to local journalism.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Ct. connection to 'Star is Born' win at Oscars

Hamden product Anthony Rossomando, second from left, is poses with co-songwriting winners Andrew Wyatt, Mark Ronson and Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards, marking best original song for "Shallow" from "A Star Is Born," in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. "'Shallow' speaks to the power of vulnerability," said Rossomando in an email exchange recently. "I'm proud to have written it with friends and deeply touched that it resonates with so many people. An award is icing on a cake."(Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)