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Restaurant of the Week: Oak & Fork at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino

Maricopa’s Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, which is part of Caesars Entertainment and Arizona’s only tribal casino to have an international management partner, completed a multi-million hotel and casino expansion in recent years. Among our favorite parts of the expansion: the addition of Oak & Fork.

A casual, chic wine bar with perfectly paired small plates, guests can choose glasses, bottles and even tastes of wines at the touch of a finger by using a digital menu programmed with all of the amazing varietals’ tasting notes, origins and price points. In mid-2018, even Wine Spectator Magazine took note, honoring Oak & Fork with an “Award of Excellence.” According to Wine Spectator, the Award of Excellence recognizes restaurants whose wine lists feature a well-chosen assortment of quality products along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Ranging in size from 90 selections to several hundred, these lists are well-focused and tend to emphasize discovery.

We dug into the menu in short order.

Our first pairing was a doozy. Hello, lobster crab dip. This melty, rich, cheesy plate starts with diced Maine lobster and blue lump crab. It is then married to the umami combination of clarified butter, smoked cheddar, earthy mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, cream cheese, garlic, Parmesan Reggiano, thyme and white wine and then served with lavosh and grilled French bread. You would think that given there was already white wine in the recipe, it made sense to pair it with a similar varietal, but our well-trained server actually recommended the Rainstorm Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley in Oregon. Its rich mouthfeel stood up to the creaminess in the dish, and the hints of cherry on the palate helped the lobster flavor take center stage.

We then moved onto the burrata. Oh boy, did this one deliver! The yellow and red tomatoes were marinated in house-made vinaigrette, and the burrata was so fresh that when the mound was cut into, the cream and Stracciatella di bufala cheese inside came slowly cascading toward the plate. Thankfully, we had a toasted baguette at the ready and piled it with the cheese, tomatoes and a little micro basil. To the taste, the olive oil and sea salt do their jobs in elevating each ingredient. For the pairing, we took the server’s advice again and opted for the J Pinot Gris, a wine from the lauded J Vineyards in Healdsburg, which is part of Sonoma’s vast wine country. The aromas of honeysuckle, tangerine and lime leaf and the crisp taste of green apple and Meyer lemon really were a perfect match to the food selection.

Next, we needed some greenery, which came in the form of a Brussels chips order. To make, the Brussels are hand-torn and quickly fried until crispy and then paired with flash-fried crispy capers. Once plated, they are sprinkled with magic dust in the form of black truffle zest, salt and pepper. We paired this plate with the Shallow Seas Rosè, again from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It made for a really fun sweet-meets-salty flavor combination.

Wet-aged tenderloin

Finally, we simply had to try a house special, so we opted for the 35-day, wet-aged tenderloin, asking for it rare. It arrived at the perfect temperature and paired with a sunny side egg, charred garlic chives and green chili aioli. The team on the grill needs an award. I loved it so much that I didn’t even need a wine pairing, but obliged when the rest of the table ordered Ferrari-Carano Merlot from Sonoma. I was thrilled that the smoothness of the wine let the red meat dance on my palate with every bite.

Happy and full, we may or may not have then made our way to a few slots…but we think you know we did.

Oak & Fork is open Thursday through Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. For more information, visit here.

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