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Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Stone Turns

Where Did I Dine a Decade Ago? Dept.: The Turning Stone Resort has revamped its restaurant lineup considerably, replacing the one that’s the focus below with TS Steakhouse. Peach Blossom remains; Piano Bianco has become Piano Pronto. And they’re now offering liquor. But the focus on hospitality – a challenge when you’re accommodating people hellbent on scoring winnings against impossible odds – remains.


ALTHOUGH THIS IS OSTENSIBLY A PIECE about a single restaurant, it’s so much a part of the Turning Stone Resort in general that you a larger perspective is necessary. But first, to the restaurant.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
It’s a churrascaria, which is the name given to a restaurant that specializes in churrasco, a tradition in southern Brazil born of the gauchos who slow-roasted meat over open fires after a hard day on the pampas.

Those fires are now contained behind glass, in a room you’ll see as you enter the restaurant. One rotisserie bar after another spins slowly, the captive beef and pork and lamb sparkling with marinade.

But your first course is at a salad bar, a buffet unlike any found in this area. Again, Brazilian cuisine is the theme, and chef Ruben Lopez offers such staples as feijoada, a black bean and sausage stew, a tomato and onion salad with hearts of palm, a compote of jicama, corn and tomatoes, piquant and tender calamari ceviche, beets, oranges and fennel tossed in a sweet salad, a slaw of cabbage and roasted red peppers finished with a chipotle aioli and one of the most amazing potato salads I’ve ever sampled, taking its flavor from apples and much more I couldn’t identify.

Rodizio is part of an ambitious expansion program that the onetime bingo hall, now massive casino, has been enjoying during the past several years. Having visited casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and the Bahamas, I’m impressed by the context. The casino itself is what you’d expect, except that it’s fueled not by cash but a kind of ATM-card arrangement of in-house plastic. Because I don’t gamble, I’m typically not interested in such places.

But that also allows me to take advantage of the deals offered to gamblers. The house just doesn’t get anything extra off of me. At Turning Stone, the resort has grown to offer everything from luxury accommodations to an RV park, with a dozen different restaurants and the promise of a full-fledged health spa (in addition to an existing facility) in the near future.

The Oneida Indian Nation, which owns and operates the facility, is known as the People of the Standing Stone. The casino was seen as a significant turning point in their lives, hence its name. And, as a Rodizio customer, you turn a stone of your own at your table, at which each place setting sports a flat, palm-sized rock decorated with red on one side, green on the other.

Red is uppermost as you’re seated; turn it to green and the gauchos begin streaming to your tableside. And this is why you do well not to eat too much at the very tempting salad bar.

Each arrival signals a new taste of meat. There were eleven the evening I visited, begin with a chunk of filet mignon wrapped in bacon. Then the top sirloin marinated in ginger and soy. Then the roasted pork in cumin and oregano. Then the rosemary-scented leg of lamb. Then the bottom sirloin spicy with garlic.

And that was about all I could – wait. Then came the Portuguese pork sausage, the grilled skin crunchy with flavor. And falling-off-the-bone beef ribs with a rum and fruit glaze. And spicy pork ribs. And orange-marinated chicken. Enough, I said, and then caught sight of the salmon. And on it went.

Family-style dishes of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli accompanied the meat; these, too, were perfectly finished, the broccoli still full of snap. Did I also mention there was pepper-encrusted rib-eye steak?

Where carving is needed, the meat is carved at tableside. You have a pair of tongs to assist in securing your slices.

All that’s missing is a hearty red wine, but you’ll have to bring that yourself because the State Liquor Authority continues, for its own scurrilous political reasons, to deny the resort a license.

Golf and weddings and business meetings are a few of the resort’s popular activities; I would add simply hanging out as another. We spent a night at the Lodge, one of the upscale accommodation possibilities, and the room, like the building itself, is a marvel of inventive planning – the place is a modern take on an Adirondack style – and excellent construction.

Service is second to none. This was as true in the restaurant as in the Lodge, where you get no sense of employees merely doing a job. We spoke to many employees, and all were delighted to share information.

Breakfast in Wildflowers, a fine-dining option with nouveau takes on continental fare, was equally impressive. Bathed in the morning sun, the elegant room was charming and the service excellent. And the food was superb – a serving of prime rib hash and fried eggs transfigured the notion of breakfast, challah-based French toast was maddeningly good (maddening because I have yet to duplicate it at home) and even the fresh fruit plate was surprising: the fruit was truly fresh!

Because every casino has a full-blown buffet, you’ll find Season’s Harvest here, but more of an array of manned stations that assures consistent quality. Other dining options include Peach Blossom, for high-end Asian cuisine, including Thai specialties; Pino Bianco, and Italian restaurant; a straight-ahead steakhouse called Forest Grill, and the Emerald, a 24-hour Denny’s-like operation. And there are delis and dessert stops – wait till you see the made-in-house pastries! – coffee shops and more.

Given my recreational preferences, there’s no gamble at all about dining and relaxing at Turning Stone, and I’m looking forward to a return to Rodizio once my appetite recovers.

Rodizio, Turning Stone Resort, 5218 Patrick Rd., Verona. Serving lunch Sat-Sun 11-2, dinner Sun-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 11 May 2005

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