Have you ever had one of those sinking feelings upon walking out of a casino?
You've dropped plenty of money. You have nothing to show for it. Your dignity is in tatters. And your poor stomach is pining away for a hearty dose of Pepcid with a Pepto-Bismol chaser.
That pretty much sums up my three visits to The Lodge at Cordova Casino. It's not like I took a pummeling at Texas Hold 'em. I didn't get trounced at blackjack. I gambled and lost at the restaurant.
The odds of getting a decent meal at this full- service eatery, dubbed The Lodge, should not be this formidable.
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In fact, The Lodge gives its own special take on the betting term "over-under," as in overdressed salad, undercooked chicken, overdone steak, underwhelming experience and an ambiance that is sometimes overbearing.
Sure, The Lodge has its moments. Its sandwiches are decent. Its burger is fine. And we saw flashes of quality and a few flourishes that suggested effort – wilted Swiss chard atop my short ribs, house-made kettle chips with a tasty onion dip, and a clever if unsuccessful take on pork and beans. The beer list is well above average, with 15 selections on tap and close to 100 craft beer selections in bottles.
But each of my visits over the past six months got progressively worse, as if there were a war of attrition in the kitchen and the only one left refused to understand basic concepts like balance, finesse and, you know, looking at the food before sending it out to the customers.
What are the odds that the spare ribs would be inedible? In fact, the ribs were so tough I couldn't get past the first bite, noshing mightily until I realized this disaster was not meant for human consumption. If they squeaked, I might have taken them home to my dog as a chew toy.
The 12-ounce New York strip costs $27, a hefty price that suggests they might actually know how to cook steak. I ordered it medium-rare and it arrived well-done. Whaddya expect for 27 bucks? Precision? There was nary a hint of pink in the middle of this steak. Again, if only it squeaked.
By now, I was the one who was squeaking. How can you mess up a strawberry salad with spinach? It sounded so very springlike and pleasant, possibly elegant, even if I ordered it at a restaurant that hosts weekly cage fighting on the big screen.
The reality was that the strawberries were haphazardly sliced and poorly presented, and the salad wasn't dressed so much as it was doused with balsamic vinaigrette. How could anyone in the kitchen have looked at the salad and said, "Yeah, they'll love it this way?"
We didn't. We couldn't.
On the bright side, the restaurant is over-lit. And it's noisy, if you happen to be seated at a table near the lounge. One night for dinner, we had to ask to be moved after a woman with a nervous laugh continued to shriek to such an extent that we were rattled. We moved to a seat outside, where a busboy decided he would noisily drag chair after chair across the patio as if lifting the chairs would have been weird.
Then our ribs arrived. And the steak with asparagus and mashed potatoes in a cast iron mini server. At first glance, all was well. The ribs had that dry-rubbed look. They were dark and smoky-looking, probably delicious.
I steadied myself and took a mighty bite. I chewed and my jaws encountered an uncommon, incredible toughness. Aren't baby back ribs supposed to be, you know, tender? This was like rawhide. Clearly, they had been cooked hastily and thrown on a plate, a far cry from the low-and-slow technique that makes ribs so appealing.
My steak wasn't quite so tough, but it was overcooked until all of the juice was exorcised. Our server was kind and sympathetic. She replaced the ribs with fish and chips, and for $10, that was a pretty good little meal. I stuck with my steak, mostly because I didn't want to gamble with anything else the kitchen could overcook.
At meal's end, our servers had apologized and sympathized and, if they ever have their staff meals at The Lodge, possibly empathized with our plight. As compensation, they offered us dessert on the house. I passed. My friend said yes.
And there we were, moments later, looking at an apple crisp and betting the over-under. The apples were undercooked and too firm. And we were overwhelmed that someone thought it was a good idea not to peel them.
We left the casino with that sinking feeling. We had just spent $100 we'll never see again and 90 minutes we'll never get back.
THE LODGE AT CORDOVA CASINO
2801 Prospect Park Drive, Rancho Cordova
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, with limited menu 24 hours a day.
Beverage options: Full bar, with large craft beer selection.
Vegetarian friendly: Marginal.
Noise level: Varies from quiet to very loud. Hey, they show cage fighting, not "Masterpiece Theatre."
Overall: One 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
The overall restaurant experience just doesn't cut it for anything other than a casual breakfast or lunch. The biggest issue is the noticeable decline in cooking quality over the past six months – from decent to subpar to inedible.
Food: One star
We had hopes after our first meal. The menu suggested this newly rebranded restaurant within the 3-year-old casino was serious about quality. But the execution in the kitchen just doesn't add up. Far too many mistakes, from woefully overdressed salads to tough-as-nails St. Louis-style ribs that probably should be renamed "Joe Louis-style" ribs.
Service: Two 1/2 stars
There were few issues with the service, other than the most glaring one – they actually delivered our food. Friendly, attentive and knowledgeable about the menu, the servers are adept with their apologies.
Ambiance; One 1/2 stars
The décor is rather bland, the lighting is bright, the spillover noise from the bar can be jarring. We like a good full-nelson and arm-bar choke-out as much as the next guy, but cage-fighting nights in the middle of the dining room? We'll pass.
Value: One star
$27 to overcook a steak? $16 for a half-rack of ribs that we couldn't actually chew? Lack of precision in the kitchen makes for a dismal score in this category
Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.