It’s like coming full circle,” says Nick Peyton, wearing a DK Wings apron and handing out Japanese pickles and chicken wings to a crowd of reporters at the soon-to-open Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park. The former partner and maitre d’hotel at the Michelin-starred Cyrus in Healdsburg (which shuttered in 2012), says one of his very first jobs was working at a Reno casino, and he’s glad to be back working with Chef Douglas Keane at the fried chicken, wings and pickle eatery.
With the opening of 13 restaurants on Nov. 5, BiteClub got a first bite of all of them in a whirlwind two hour tour. And the heartburn to prove it.
Here’s the lowdown on some faves so far:
DK Wings: Doug Keane doesn’t do anything half-way. He’s got an incredible set of pressure fryers for moist, crispy chicken wings and fried chicken along with homemade pickled carrots, beets, kimchee and other fermented goodies inspired by his love of Japanese cuisine. With most plates well under $10.
Roadside BBQ: Follow the scent trail of their woodfired smoker to great smoked chicken, ribs and stuffed potatoes. Sides aren’t an afterthought, with creamy mac and cheese and tart, flavorful coleslaw.
Slice House: One of two Tony Gemignani restaurants in the casino, this casual walk-up has true New York slices, stromboli and calzones and baked ziti that put other pizzerias to shame.
Tony’s of North Beach: A mural of Gemignani’s SF restaurant (complete with a line out the door) is the focal point, proclaiming for those not in the know that this this young chef is truly a pie-master (he is the eight-time world pizza champion after all). Don’t ask for pepperoni here, though. Gemignani’s pizzas — from a simple margherita to progressive thin-crusted Roman pizzas (savory to sweet slices) — have just the right amount of crisp and gentle char to make you swear off Friday night pizza delivery forever. Plus, homemade pastas, meatballs the size of your fist and a Kobe beef burger we’re dying to try.
What you won’t see, however, is the staff cafeteria deep within the casino where up to 2,200 employees get free meals daily. It’s an impressive buffet with everything from burritos and French macaroons to sweet and sour chicken, a salad bar, and even morning coffee and cereal. Not a bad deal.