Dining » Vol. 6

Alta Strada Foxwoods

By Bernie Whitmore

Alta Strada Foxwoods
240 MGM Grand Avenue
Mashantucket, Connecticut
860.312.2582
www.altastradarestaurant.com

In the past, my visits to Foxwoods Casino were lightning-strike events, spending about five minutes to drop money in the slots and then an hour or so reveling in unequaled people-watching. There’s something a bit furtive about this pleasure; for a non-gambler it’s like peeking at people through their bedroom windows. But Foxwoods’ recent Food and Wine Festival changed all that; official credentials draped around my neck were an instant cure for the ‘illegal alien’ stigma that usually hovers over me.

After a few hours sampling fancy food and wonderful wine, my friend and I began a survey of dining venues. We found a wide range of burger and sandwich joints, evidently for those who’d rather gamble their money than eat it. On the other end of the spectrum, members of our wobbling Gilded Age have restaurants where entrees range up to a couple hundred bucks.

Amid these extremes we found Alta Strada, a welcoming presence in the MGM Tower with a reasonably priced menu of Italian cuisine. A scan of the Antipasti Table menu was all it took for me to realize the decision was made. It helped that Alta Strada’s executive chef is nationally recognized Michael Schlow, recipient of the James Beard Award of Excellence and a wealth of other honors. Advised of a half-hour wait for a table, we ordered drinks and basked in the reflected glow of other Food Channel luminaries.

Eventually we were seated at a tiny table amid large groups of exuberant high-energy folk like those you see in Foxwoods commercials. For a moment I thought my insider status had worn off and I began to fear their scorn. Then Michael, our server, arrived. His spirit of friendly and capable service made us feel at home.

Photo courtesy of Christine Hochkeppel for the Boston Globe

The magic began with our first course. Alta Strada boasts an antipasti table that rivals some of the best I’ve experienced in Rome. The dishes we sampled were rich in flavor, diverse in textures and, most of all, creative. Roasted olives with rosemary, orange zest and mustard seed, a square cup filled with eight or so varieties of olives – some tiny, others huge – each burnished with flavor.

In another dish, tender white anchovies were arranged over a nest of curly frisee chicory whose nutty flavor was enhanced by a squeeze of lemon. Fresh anchovies are pale in color and mild in flavor ~ not at all salty. For those whose anchovy experience has been limited to those oily canned filets: eat fresh!

We rounded out the antipasti experience with beef bresaola and shaved fennel. Bresaola is air-cured beef aged for months until it becomes tender. Paper-thin slices of the scarlet meat were layered in a large circle topped with threads of aromatic fresh fennel.

Michael also brought a large piece of yeasty-fresh rustic Italian bread with a shallow dish of emerald green basil-infused oil. I tore pieces of it to get every last bit of flavor from the appetizer dishes. Sips of lush, velvety-red Capestrano Montepulciano D’Abruzzo stood up to and enhanced all of these flavors.
My entrée, Mushroom Mezzalune with more Mushrooms, Truffle and Parmigiana, was a move from rustic to refined. These full-moon raviolis contained wild mushroom filling; diced little bits with earthy autumn flavor. They were coated in a truffle-enhanced Parmigiana cream sauce layered with strips of, yes, more mushrooms.

My friend’s entrée, Maltagliatti with Braised Pork Ragu and Herbed Ricotta, was much more assertive. Though I couldn’t find an exact translation, maltagliatti appears to mean “badly cut pasta.” It looked like torn lasagna noodles. He eagerly described the dish as “pasta with a spicy pork ragu and spicy ricotta cheese.” I speared a forkful of the tender pork; it fell apart in delightful shreds.

Our meal at Alta Strada was so lavish in flavor and creativity that my only regret was that we couldn’t stay for dessert. Alas, another Festival event beckoned. But this was a major wake-up call for me. While here in Massachusetts we dwell in fear of the devil’s betting parlor, the Indian tribes of Connecticut have developed theirs into a high-energy destination. For those who fear crossing state lines, check Alta Strada’s website for their Massachusetts location.

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