High Steaks, Lincoln

By Jon Schuller & Tracy Tierney

Here’s what happens when two SacFoodies take a gamble on dinner at Thunder Valley Casino, just outside Sacramento in Lincoln.

Puns, that’s what!

And fine dining. A surprisingly elevated seven-course meal awaited us at the casino’s aptly named High Steaks steakhouse. Last month, we scored big time with an invitation to be the guest of the restaurant’s monthly Chef’s Table that pairs seven fine wines with an inventive prix fixe menu (cotton candy apéritifs, anyone?), plus an intimate audience with Room Chef Bryan Beneke.

Interested to hear how it all went down? We bet you are.

Apéritif: Candy Tree / Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti
Tracy: I was delighted to arrive at the Chef’s Table to discover it was decorated with several candy trees—swirling vines made of wire that housed various flavors of fresh cotton candy. I instantly looked around to see if I could spot Willy Wonka before I indulged in several candy “leaves” off of the tree and sipped a glass of sweet Moscato. A sugary start to a dinner might seem like we were going in reverse, but we were told these sweet flavors would open our taste buds.
Jon: Like something out of a diabetic fever dream, twisting white branches set abloom with Technicolor cotton candy in blues, pinks and yellows immediately drew my eye (and my mouth). An unconventional start to a meal, sure. But when in Rome (or Thunder Valley), right? Paired with the sweet Moscato, this awakened both taste buds and interest in the courses to come.

First Course: Torched Foie Gras Custard with Sea Salt, Brioche, and Raspberry Spoon Jam / Marc Bredif Chenin Blanc Vouvray

Jon: The bright, bold and chipper Chenin Blanc from Vouvray was fruity enough to satisfy my palate coming off the apéritif’s sugar high. And the custard added an eggy and buttery note to the richness of the foie gras. The brioche (literally cooked in butter) played well with the tart, vibrant profile of the spoon jam—spread in an artful arc across the plate like lipstick on a mirror. High Steaks places a welcomed emphasis on presentation, which I love. Chef Beneke has an eye for shapes, colors and negative space when it comes to plating.
Tracy: I love that the brioche came with fresh raspberry jam—it was a welcomed change to your typical bread-and-butter appetizer. The torched foie gras looked like a shot glass-sized crème brulee, but I steered clear of it (which seems to be what California restaurants will be doing soon). I enjoyed this light appetizer, paired with a simple white wine, because it wasn’t too much as we prepared for the bigger dishes to come.

Second Course: Heirloom Baby Beet Mousse, Cheese Croquette and Watercress / BV Reserve Chardonnay

Tracy: Next up was heirloom baby beet mousse with a cheese croquette (a.k.a. fried goat cheese), paired with a glass of BV Reserve Chardonnay. The goat cheese was incredibly delectable, and while normally I’m a red wine girl, the chardonnay’s vanilla oak notes tasted like fresh bananas. Yum!
Jon: Tracy’s got it right: oak and vanilla danced on the palate with this chardonnay, though the finish left earthy hints of lemon and sage, too. Loved it. Especially when expertly paired with the slightly sweet whipped mousse whose fuchsia hue didn’t belie the course’s rich but never overwhelming flavor. I cleaned my plate—including the soft petals of the orange nasturtium blossom, whose nutty, slightly spicy flavor complemented the croquette and watercress well.

Third Course: Himalayan Truffled Gnocchi, Parmesan Cream / Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant
Jon: Give me texture or give me death! Not really. But it’s a nice surprise when a chef does something fun like sauté gnocchi to add some roughness and depth to the bite. That theme carried through to the leeks, which added a unique richness and fibrosity, too. Himalayan truffles are much milder than their Italian cousins, so the majority of the dish’s understated flavor came from the cream sauce. And when paired with Bonny Doon’s “Flying Cigar” blend of Rhone varietals, we knew we were getting into the more robust end of the pairings (my neighbor ordered seconds of this dish, BTW).
Tracy: Gnocchi is one of my favorites, and this dish did not disappoint. It lay on a bed of leeks, which our Southern-bred chef informed us are called “ramps” in the South. At this point, I lost track of which wine we were on, but all that matters is that it was red and it was good.

Fourth Course: Tandoori Peking Hen, Puréed Sweet Potatoes, Huckleberry Demi-Glace / Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir

Tracy: Now we were on to the main courses, and this dish with a smorgasbord of flavors: Tandoori Peking hen with a huckleberry glaze and sweet potatoes. The hen was like a moist mini-chicken, and the huckleberry glaze was a unique, sweet touch. And you really can’t go wrong with sweet potatoes. This was paired with a glass of Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir, which went very well with this hearty course.
Jon: This pinot noir pulls grapes from Santa Barbara, Monterey and Sonoma and I was intrigued by its fruitiness and balance, with a slightly spicy finish. Great for pairing with food! Speaking of which, Thunder Valley is also home to Red Lantern, where Chef Beneke prepared this hen in the casino’s authentic Tandoori oven. The combination of spices was divine, leading to an awkward moment where I leaned over my plate, closed my eyes, and just inhaled repeatedly. Huckleberries, you ask? Montana’s influence on Beneke’s nomadic culinary past (which has included stops in New Orleans and France, too).

Fifth Course: Wagyu Skirt Steak and Short Rib Ravioli with Kale Chips and Tempura Risotto Cake / Parducci True Grit Petite Syrah

Jon: Unlike a lot of these other items, this skirt steak is on the actual menu. So order it. You won’t be disappointed. Charming to also hear that the kale chips were inspired by Beneke’s wife, whose recent health kick following the birth of their new baby led to the discovery of this inventive (and delish) garnish. The ravioli was perfectly doughy in consistency with a hearty and smoky short-rib filling. Given the chance, I also could’ve eaten about five of those risotto cakes. This decadent course could only be matched with the deep fruity flavor and tethered-to-your-seat tannins of the True Grit petite syrah.
Tracy: This was hands-down the best dish of the night! The steak was cooked to perfection, and I liked the addition of the carb-centric sides (particularly the risotto, which had a perfectly crispy outside). Despite feeling filled to the gills, I finished every last bite of this course and happily sipped the petite syrah that came along with it.

Dessert Course: Valrhona Chocolate Volcano with House-made Bourbon-Vanilla Ice Cream / Quinta de Vesuvio Vintage Porto

Tracy: We topped off this incredible evening with a chocolate volcano cake with bourbon-vanilla ice cream and a Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Porto. I was amazed to find out that the chocolate cake was flourless. Although I could barely finish this rich, chocolaty goodness (with a gooey center to boot!), it was a fabulous ending to a unique dining experience.
Jon: Chocolate lava! Don’t worry. The Mt. Vesuvius reference wasn’t lost on us—even seven courses (and glasses) in. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of port, but I do love chocolate. And this soft, rich—but never overwhelming—cake didn’t so much explode as envelope me in a river of molten goodness. And once again, a tip of the hat to expert plating and architectural panache. The fresh raspberries, blueberries and blackberries helped cut some of the decadence, but thankfully, not by much.

Overall, a great mid-week getaway and one you may not expect to find in a local casino. We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the restaurant’s exceptional service and attention to detail, too. The staff took the utmost pride in every diner’s experience, showcasing expert craft, polished delivery and enthusiastic service.

It’s not every casino steakhouse that boasts its own Level II Sommelier (Dayna—she’s fabulous) or wait staff who know just when to waft by and refold a discarded napkin when a diner has momentarily left the table. Chef Beneke even tends his own herb garden on-site (think: Italian oregano, silver lavender, Tuscan blue rosemary and Isis candy tomatoes). Thanks again to our hosts for taking care of us.

High Steaks hosts the Chef’s Table dinners once a month. Seats are limited (our table touted 24 place settings), so call ahead to make a reservation.

Let’s see. Think we have room for one more bit of casino-centric word play?

If you arrive hungry, you’ll definitely leave feeling like you hit the gastronomic jackpot.

High Steaks (inside Thunder Valley Casino)
1200 Athens Avenue
Lincoln, CA  95648
(916) 408-7777

The SacFoodies were a guest of High Steaks, and although the dinner was complimentary, the opinions expressed are our own.

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