Fin-tastic food along with a Fin-omenal ocean view
I don’t get it. Every month or so, I read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s business section declaring that revenues in Atlantic City casinos are down 10 percent or so from six months or a year before, due to the still-sputtering economy and the competing casinos and slots parlors that are popping up throughout Rendell-vania like daffodils in May. (I mention Rendell because he has been a tireless cheerleader in bringing casinos into our state, in return for which he has received big-time campaign contributions.)
However, despite these declining revenues in Atlantic City, somehow the casinos manage to come up with enough caviar to invest in new restaurants. For example, the Hilton Atlantic City Casino-Hotel has just opened four new restaurants in the past month, and on May 28 the Tropicana Casino & Resort opened the mammoth, upscale Fin restaurant, whose dining room is so long, the last row of tables may very well be in Margate.
Tropicana executives must have some reason for optimism to spend millions for a palace of culinary concertos like Fin, particularly since the 2,100-room casino hotel was not exactly lacking for dining options, with its 20 restaurants and 13 bars and lounges. But now Fin is the only seafood restaurant in Atlantic City with outdoor seating right in front of the ocean. All 156 indoor seats have an ocean view through giant plate-glass windows, and there is outdoor oceanfront patio seating for 24 more.
When you enter Fin right off the casino floor, you can’t help but be dazzled by all of the maritime design elements such as hand-painted murals, a “fish wall” and ceramics such as classic oyster plates. Two murals of mermaids, each nine feet long and seven feet high, are wrapped around two pillars. The mermaids, dressed in brightly colored jewelry with scales that resemble Tiffany lamps, are depicted in an underwater environment surrounded by various fish, sea turtles and dolphins. Another eye-OK feature is the hand-crafted ceramic traditional oyster plates (with indents for shells) that are used for raw bar items.
Regarding the food, as the late, great columnist and short story writer Damon Runyon used to say, we enjoyed it more than somewhat. A grilled shrimp appetizer tingled with just the right touch of spice (from spicy sausage) and was punctuated with a kiss of Manchego cheese wrapped in puff pastry ($18). A baby iceberg wedge had a melange of fresh veggies with a hum of heat from pepper bacon and a cloud of impossibly rich buttermilk dressing ($12). Executive chef Demetrios Haronis insists that all of his fresh seafood and produce is purchased from South Jersey farms and fisheries.
The fresh seafood entrees in particular “scaled” the heights of gastronomy. A pan-seared Pacific halibut ($40) was so fresh, I expected it to flounder around on the plate. It was married to a sublime black truffle cream sauce redolent of lobster bisque. A Chilean sea bass Francaise ($44) exploded with sweet flavor. I thought the Chardonnay peppercorn cream sauce might overwhelm the mild, fork-tender fish, but the peppercorn was judiciously kept in check.
Anyone dining at Fin absolutely should be required to Fin-ish the meal with a couple of desserts like the divine banana chocolate torte ($10) and chocolate jubilation cake ($10). I can’t remember the last time my wife and I polished off two complete desserts in a restaurant, but we managed this herculean feat at Fin with two hands tied behind our backs (that’s one hand apiece). The food at Fin is definitely catnip for foodies, as long as customers are prepared for the sticker shock. The night we were there (Wednesday, July 21), they were prepared for it because the place was as full as a bucket of crabs. And an after-dinner drink called Peach Melba ($12.50) was easy on the eyes and easy on the palate.
Fin also has a spectacularly designed (like a ship) raw bar and sushi bar. The wine list includes 50 bottles under $50. A well-priced choice for any of the spicy seafood offerings is the citrusy Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($30) from New Zealand, which has become the citadel of this refreshing, summery wine. By the way, the Tropicana parking garage ($5 fee) is the biggest one we have ever parked in. We drove down so many levels and around so many corners to get out, I thought we would probably come right out into Chestnut Hill.
It has nothing to do with the restaurant, but on the floor of the casino I saw two of the best T-shirt slogans on two male friends (not my friends) that I have ever seen. They were: “I’m not a gynecologist, but I’m willing to take a look” and “Please tell your breasts to stop staring at my eyes.” For more information about Fin or for reservations, call 609-340-4000, ext. 4936, or visit www.tropicana.net.