Casino restaurants are notorious for serving decent food in large portions and pleasant surroundings to people who have striking it rich at the top of their lists and dining a distant second.
But given Tucson’s paucity of steakhouses, this upscale offering at Desert Diamond Casino is worth the trip without the chips, particularly because it may be the Tucson area’s best tweener steakhouse.
The prices are more reasonable than the upscale a la carte steakhouses, while the fare, service and surroundings are notably superior to the kitschy, Wild West joints.
The clinchers for us were the starters and the desserts – both of which are common shortcomings at steakhouses.
The Chilled Seafood Sampler ($14.95) was impressive enough to hold its own against any freestanding restaurant, steakhouse or otherwise. The hubcap-sized platter featured four large shrimp, four large mussels, four crab claws, a good 8 ounces or so of bay shrimp ceviche, and a similarly large serving of calamari salad. The shrimp, mussels and crab were of excellent quality and freshness, and would have been worth the price of the platter. We were expecting the ceviche and calamari offerings to be little more than gestures, but they were our favorite parts of the plate. The bay shrimp were kept in the lime juice to an exacting finish, as they were nicely supple and delicately acidic.
The orange-hued calamari strips were cleverly camped in a light sauce of ginger, sesame oil and citrus, and were teamed with julienned peppers and vegetables in a vibrant, delicate Asian motif. It was one of the more innovative presentations of calamari we’ve encountered, good enough to be an appetizer all by its lonesome.
Next to arrive were generous dinner salads and a flatbread foccacia that struck us as a delicately sweet lavosh. Both of these came with the entrees.
The Rib-Eye Beef Brochettes ($19.95) entree featured 10 medallion-sized cuts of rib-eye skewered with red onion, tomato and mushrooms. The meat had been expertly charred to carry a good payoff of grilled flavor without bringing any of the bitterness from too much charring. There was an extra rich, roastiness to the meat that had us thinking truffle oil may have been in there.
We chose the middle-of-the-road sized Prime Rib as our second entree – the 12-ounce steakhouse cut ($18.95). If the cut we were served was 12 ounces, we’ve been getting ripped off at other joints, because the slab seemed notably bigger than the standard median offering. It was a good 2 inches thick, was nicely stopped at medium rare, and was delicately imbued with natural juices, rather than ratcheted up with beef stock or other enhancements. The interior pink was dense yet supple, while the gray, outer perimeter beyond the ring of fat was softer, richer and saltier – all in all, a respectable and well-roasted prime rib. The 10-ounce English cut goes for $16.95, while the 16-ounce Desert Diamond cut is $18.95.
The beef here is Sterling Silver Premium – they tell you so with little, black plastic sign skewers that the server thankfully removes tableside. It’s a status I’ve encountered at a couple of other steak joints with good but not spectacular results. This was the best Sterling Silver beef I’ve encountered, and it doesn’t hurt that they grill it with precision and serve it in impressive portions.
Rather than sautéed until limp and flavor-challenged, the seasonal vegetables that sided both entrees were colorful and firm, the zucchini a little too much so, as it was a tad bitter.
We had little room for dessert and weren’t overly enthralled with the choices until they arrived.
The two wedges of Chocolate Hazelnut Cake ($6.25) looked impossible to finish, but we nearly did just that. Two layers of cake sandwiched a light cream layer and topped with ganache, the cake came off much more sophisticated and diversely flavored than its hulking demeanor led on.
Rather than an overpowering sweetness, it was airy and ultramoist, with a mellow, milk chocolate theme and a faint but pleasing note of pungency from cream cheese (or possibly mascarpone). The Streusel Baked Peach Cobbler ($6.25) was dominated by a scoop of vanilla ice cream the size of a softball, but the skillet of cobbler beneath had me steering around the ice cream to get at the ideal match of toasty, crumbly pastry and mild, fresh peaches.
With two coffees and a club soda, the tab for the whole deal came to $73.85. If that sounds like a lot, you haven’t loaded up at a steak place lately, as that’s $30 to $50 less than what I’d expect to pay at an upscale steak joint and not much more than I would at a cowboy joint with foil-wrapped baked potatoes, store-bought dinner rolls, canned green beans and middling steaks.
You may have never ventured to a casino just to dine, but if you’re looking for a good steak and an excellent appetizer, it’s a safe bet you’ll come away from Desert Diamond’s steakhouse feeling like a winner.
AT A GLANCE
Address and phone: 7350 S. Old Nogales Highway, 294-7777
Prices: Appetizers $8.95 to $14.95; side orders $3.25; entrees $16.95 to $28.95; desserts $6.25
Hours: daily 4 to 10 p.m.
Vegetarian options: Colossal Onion Bloom ($8.95), Flambéed Garlic-Cremini Mushroom ($3.25), Broccoli Florets & Gruyere Cheese or alla Polonaise ($3.25)
Desserts: Several, including Chocolate Hazelnut Cake ($6.25), Tiramisu Cake ($6.25) and Streusel Baked Cobbler ($6.25)