It wasn’t long ago that casino cuisine consisted of questionable buffets and late night junk food. Today, casino capitals like Las Vegas and even Atlantic City court celebrity chefs, constantly competing to open the flashiest restaurants in town, and these destinations are becoming almost as well-known for food culture as for gaming and entertainment.
Not far from Vegas, a quick two-hour drive from Los Angeles, Coachella Valley (perhaps better known as Greater Palm Springs) Agua Caliente Casinos is feeling the upscale dining ripple within their three properties. From made-to-order charcuterie boards to premium cuts of A5 Wagyu, special moments abound among the brand’s unique dining venues, which have already garnered eye-catching recognition from revered standard-keepers like AAA, Forbes and Wine Spectator. Here, Agua Caliente Casinos vice president of food and beverage, Sandy Josephson, offers some insight into the culinary casino world and makes a few recommendations of the best bites to have at each property.
Casinos nationwide have been upping their culinary games for some time now. Why has this become such a focus?
We know that by offering higher quality dining offerings, it makes the property become more of a destination as opposed to just a gaming venue. We want guests to visit us not only to play on the gaming floor, but also to dine and to enjoy these other lifestyle options. By going to one destination, you can enjoy an entire night of entertainment rather than going to dinner and then traveling to another venue for entertainment. With more casinos having hotels now, these overnight stays create the demand for great food to enhance that stay. Offering elevated cuisine ensures guests have the best experience possible and, hopefully, one that’s unique to that property.
How has Agua Caliente Casinos actively responded to this trend?
Our goal is to hire seasoned chefs who know how to create memories with food. All three of our properties are led by experienced executive chefs who oversee menus, culinary concepts and the culinary teams. We consciously craft our menus to reflect not only our guests’ wants and needs, but also what’s hot in the industry and in our region. We strive to utilize local, fresh ingredients whenever we can. As a result, both our Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs Steakhouses have earned multiple Forbes Four Star ratings, and our wine lists have earned the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence consecutively since 2007.
How does the culinary program factor into Agua Caliente Casinos’ overall vision for its properties?
We knew that our culinary program had to align with the guest service and excellence found at all three properties, specifically with the elevated hospitality we offer. A Forbes Four Star hotel and AAA Four Diamond resort, we needed to establish elevated dining options. Our culinary program is positioning us in the forefront of creativity and execution in our local market. ACC’s goal is to provide extraordinary experiences to our guests and to the community, and our culinary program is just one way we can do this.
How do you draw discerning diners specifically to destinations like Rancho Mirage and Cathedral City?
Rancho Mirage is known as the “city of presidents.” It’s comprised of many affluent residents who expect great food and outstanding service. The Steakhouse and Pívat Cigar Lounge inside of Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage deliver on that expectation. They are two of the finest, most sophisticated dining and lounge establishments in Rancho Mirage. Alternatively, Cathedral City is known as a local’s market with many independent dining offerings. The Agua Caliente Cathedral City property delivers the same star/diamond-rated food experience as Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs, but injects a local feel. The property’s unique offerings are Café One Eleven and Agave Caliente, two crowd favorites that each offer a unique dining and imbibe experience. Locals love these outlets.
Palm Springs is more widely known for having plenty of great spots to dine already. How do you compete with that at Agua Caliente Palm Springs?
Our philosophy is delivering memorable food offerings with our made-from-scratch, farm-to-table cuisine. We use only the highest quality ingredients available during the season and we challenge our chefs to think outside the box. Since Palm Springs is an unparalleled dining destination, Executive Chef Kieran Fleming is tasked with providing our guests with experiences and offerings that feel personalized, unlike some big-name competitors.
Could you recommend one can’t-miss dish at each of the three properties?
Rancho Mirage: At The Steakhouse, get the filet Oscar of USDA prime filet, king crab leg meat (not canned lump crab),and house made hollandaise.
Palm Springs: At The Steakhouse, try the Glacier 51 toothfish, also called the “Wagyu of the sea.” Due to the extreme cold temperature of the water, the fish has a higher fat content, which makes it extremely moist and tender. No other restaurant in the Valley has this offering. The fish is caught by net and is highly regulated by the Australian government.
Cathedral City: At Café One Eleven, order the Argentinian kebabs—skewered prime New York steak marinated with our signature hatch chile chimichurri sauce, served with Boursin mashed potatoes. This is an elevated experience that exceeds expectations every time.