When Landry's Inc., owner of Golden Nugget Atlantic City and popular chain restaurants such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., the Rainforest Cafe and Morton's Steakhouse, bought another popular chain, McCormick & Schmick's last year, it had major work to do.
The seafood house, which mostly boasted tired, stale, dark and outdated-looking restaurants with a menu that was certainly not revolutionary in any way, needed an overhaul.
So just like it did with Morton's, Landry's renovated McCormick & Schmick's inside Harrah's Resort, making it a more contemporary restaurant with new chandeliers, new carpeting, new furniture and a totally refurbished, larger lounge area with a new, granite bar and flat-screen TVs.
But the changes didn't stop with the decor, of course. Approximately 80 percent of the menu was overhauled, according to General Manager Jamie Lawrence, who joined the franchise in January after leaving BR Guest in New York.
Gone is the daily-changing menu. For the most part, the menu no longer tells you that the flounder is from Cape May or the yellowfin tuna is from Hawaii. In is a menu that still has a focus on seafood, but has plenty of meat and other options to make it a restaurant for everyone.
"Landry's wanted to make it more accessible to the mainstream by adding a lot of steaks on the menu, more pasta and changing things up a bit," Lawrence says. "Landry's claim to fame is engineering menus. And they did a great job with this restaurant. From what I see at our restaurant at the casino, they don't seem to care where the seafood comes from. One thing Landry's prides itself on is bridging the gap. And we are bridging the gap between casual and fine dining."
That bridge means improving service and teaching servers different table approaches to not only maximize sales but to make the entire experience enjoyable.
"We want to make sure the guests are comfortable and trust us and can ask us anything about the menu," Lawrence says.
Open for lunch and dinner, diners can experience McCormick & Schmick's during the less-busy daytime hours for a fraction of the cost. For example, the same cashew-encrusted tilapia with Jamaican rum butter and sweet potato couscous is $14.99 for lunch and $26.99 for dinner.
"Dinner is our main attraction, so we do things to entice people in for lunch," Lawrence says.
One thing that is not different is that McCormick & Schmick's receives fresh seafood delivered on a regular basis, including showcasing locally sourced ingredients – fish, meat and produce – as much as possible.
"We can get fish in seven days a week if we need it," Lawrence says. "It's fresh. We cut the fish ourselves."
Popular appetizers include the shrimp kisses ($12.99) filled with pepper Jack cheese and wrapped in crispy bacon; the steamed mussels ($12.99) with tomatoes, white wine and herbs; the lump crab tower ($15.99) with avocado, mango and orange vinaigrette; and the calamari ($14.99) with roasted tomato sauce and lemon aioli.
Specials, labeled "Chefs Recommendations" can change more frequently than the rest of the menu and show off the region where the fish comes from, including the current mahi-mahi ($31.95) from Costa Rica with sauted spinach, whipped potatoes and sundried tomato butter sauce.
There's also an oyster bar, a fresh fish section featuring a half dozen species from trout to cod where people can choose to have it grilled or broiled, and the popular mixed-grill selection ($26.99 to $38.99) that mixes and matches different styles of shrimp, salmon, scallops and fish.
But the new menu boasts so much more than fish, including four steaks such as the 13-ounce Choice New York strip ($38.99), an American Kobe-style burger ($18.99) with Gruyere cheese and onion rings, and a pasta section that includes shrimp and Andouille sausage mac and cheese ($16.99), salmon rigatoni ($21.99), and classic shrimp scampi ($21.99).
However, seafood remains the main draw with items such as the paremesan-encrusted flounder ($15.99 lunch, $28.99 dinner) with lemon caper butter and butternut squash orzo; stuffed Atlantic salmon ($29.99, $31.99) with crab, shrimp, brie, mashed potatoes and vegetables; seared sea scallops ($32.99) with tomato pesto, crab potato hash and sauted spinach; and fish and chips ($19.99) made with fresh beer-battered cod and Chesapeake fries dusted with Old Bay seasoning.
The lunch menu also offers different salad and sandwiches such as the crab cake ($17.99) and crispy fried cod ($10.99) sandwiches.
"People want variety," Lawrence says. "Our burger is very popular, and people are ordering a lot of steak."
All of the changes have been a lot for some people to take, according to Lawrence.
"It's kind of a mixed bag," she says. "People that have never been here love it. But some people who were diehard fans … some loved it, some don't. The prices went up a bit, but the decor and service are more fine dining, and there are so many choices. I do my best to touch every table, and if they have issues, I listen and try to take care of them and eventually win them over. Overall, though, people love the fresh food and that the restaurant is now warm and inviting and the staff is professional and knowledgeable and can make recommendations and put our guests at ease."
McCormick & Schmick's has one of the best happy hours in Atlantic City. Offered 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, food ranges from $2.95 to $5.95 and includes hummus with pita chips, McCormick's cheeseburger, calamari, oyster shooters, Baja fish tacos, Buffalo and firecracker shrimp, blackened chicken quesadillas and more. Plus drink prices are $3.50 for domestic draft beer, $4.50 for imported and craft beers, $4 well drinks, $6 wines by the glass and specific specialty cocktails, and $7 specific martinis.
Made in-house daily, McCormick & Schmick's dessert menu is worth checking out. Popualr choices include the new chocolate bag ($12.95) with white chocolate mousse, fresh berries and whipped cream; the rich, creamy New York-style cheesecake ($8.95) baked in a toasted graham cracker crust; and upside down candied walnut apple pie ($9.95) baked twice with a warm caramel sauce and served with cinnamon ice cream.