Visually, Fin at the Tropicana Casino and Resort is stunning. Overlooking the ocean, the former Wellington Steakhouse has been transformed into a chic seaside oasis. No expense was spared to create an environment that whisks you away from the tumult of the casino floor to a place that oozes luxurious tranquility. With a color scheme of soft sea blues and greens, every facet of the decor is exquisite, from floor-to-ceiling mosaic tiled columns to stylish glass charger plates and blue goblets set on white-clothed tables. A jazzy soundtrack adds an extra touch of panache.
The menu is just as appealing, although I found the font size on the raw bar/sushi menu far too small, even with reading glasses. Aside from four entrees "without fins," including a customary sirloin steak and filet mignon, it's a seafood lover's paradise with a great selection of East Coast oysters hailing from Maine to Maryland; several types of crab; and no shortage of shrimp, lobster and fish. As much as possible, products are purchased from local fisheries. The same goes for produce. When in season and available, it's Jersey fresh.
The breadbasket comes brimming with assorted treats. A warm flaky croissant, artisan rolls and oyster cracker breadsticks with butter and kicky horseradish cheddar cheese spread made a tasty prelude for what would follow.
Our waiter (a server of 30 years with the skills of a veteran) made sure my guest and I knew which items were most popular and didn't hesitate to recommend our first appetizer: crispy Point Judith, Rhode Island calamari ($15) dipped in sheer batter seasoned with roasted garlic scented black pepper, then flash fried and served with sweetish tamarind chili sauce and mildly spiced Cajun remoulade. Tender, greaseless calamari is what we look forward to, and that's what we got. We didn't notice much of a roasted garlic scent in the black pepper, but it didn't matter when all was consumed and done.
Fin's almond tempura roll ($12) was the most intriguing and unique choice from the specialty rolls section on the sushi menu. The combination of real crabmeat, masago, tomago, cucumber and avocado wrapped in seaweed and tempura batter studded with sliced almonds hooked me from the start. I was prepared for sensational, but found this beautifully presented delicacy less than stellar. I expect tempura to be crunchier than this was. Perhaps more almonds would have done the trick.
For the most part, fancy lettuces have replaced iceberg in house salads, but recently the "wedge" has made a comeback. My guest and I ordered one to share ($10), and it arrived divided onto two plates. A wedge of iceberg is only as good as the condiments used to enhance it. Include grilled haricot verts (green beans), pear-shaped red and yellow tomatoes, hearty bacon, fine bleu cheese plus homemade buttermilk dressing, and you've made a boring salad delicious (though someone was heavy handed with the dressing).
The entrees truly shone. No matter how fancy or plain, when fish is cooked right, applause is in order.
Pan-seared Pacific halibut fillet ($40) came perched in black truffle lobster cream that had ideal consistency (not overly thickened) and nuanced flavor that perfectly complemented the fish. Gorgeously grilled, herb-marinated Block Island swordfish ($34) - with grilled tomato, eggplant, portobello mushroom and a long-stemmed artichoke heart - was marvelous with Greek cucumber yogurt. My guest, who never much cared for swordfish, changed her opinion after eating this one.
Since casino restaurants typically have highly trained in-house pastry chefs, there is no doubt desserts are expertly made on the premises. Our dilemma was how to choose from a list of numerous mouthwatering confections, so we decided on one chocolate and one fruit.
A traditional berry shortcake ($10) - made with a classic crumbly biscuit - was loaded with mixed berries and freshly whipped cream. Paired with luscious, moist chocolate layer cake frosted with chocolate ganache ($10) and accompanied by caramel ice cream with a mini glass of milk (yes, milk), it was a sweet dream come true and a great ending to a thoroughly enjoyable meal.
Accurately judging the quality of service on a slow midweek night is tricky. With no more than a few tables to tend, servers have plenty of time to pay close attention to customers. I'd like to assume that the same level of polished, gracious service we received is the norm on any night, no matter how busy the dining room might be.
And then there's the pretty, young mermaid with an aqua blue bodice who flits from table to table making sure everyone is having a grand seafood experience. Only at a casino do we see such a peculiar but lovely sight.
Taylor Yarborough is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Yarborough c/o Features Editor Steve Cronin at email@example.com. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
Hours: 6 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays
Liquor license: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Appetizers $12 to $20; entrees $31 to $78
Our bill for two: $131 plus tip