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Cox: Looks can deceive

  • Shrimp Pomodoro at Daily Grill in the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, Calif., on February 11, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

The food at the Daily Grill in the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park looks good. It's lavishly presented, with large portions and tempting arrangements. But what it features in looks, it mostly lacks in flavor. Here's an example:

The Jumbo Lump Crab Cake ($13.75 *) was big — about the size of a baseball — and so stuffed with large lumps of crabmeat that there didn't appear to be much filler, if any. Our local Dungeness crabs are right in season now, and the slots in their hard central bodies are filled with delicious sweet, white, lump crabmeat. But this crab cake didn't look like it was fashioned from our local crab. The pieces were far too large, looking more like chunks of chicken than crab. Nor did it taste like it.

The server was kind enough to query the kitchen, and she returned with the news that it was "jumbo lump crab from Indonesia." This is the blue swimming crab (Portunus pelagicus) of Southeast Asia, not an especially flavorful crab. In its favor, it is wild-caught, but then it's cooked in boiling water, which leaches out more flavor, and pasteurized at high heat in tins for delivery around the world.

Daily Grill

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A tangy shallot and white wine reduction sauce lent the crab cake a helping hand, but it was disappointing overall.

The casino's Daily Grill is one of 19 in a chain stretching from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, with most locations in Southern California. There's a full bar, offering cocktails like The Highlander, in which bitters, grapefruit juice and honey are mixed into Dewar's scotch. Nine white and nine red wines by the glass are augmented by a large list of bottled wines.

Service is swift and friendly.

But back to the food. Moroccan Spiced Chicken ($18.75 **) sounded good and looked terrific. Two skewers of grilled chicken pieces were laid down the center of the plate, flanked on one side by a big portion of white rice studded with toasted slivered almonds and on the other side by grilled tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and onions. These in turn were flanked by a portion of baby arugula leaves with a cup of dill tzatziki to be used as a salad dressing on the greens.

Calling the dish Moroccan spiced chicken raised expectations that the chicken would be redolent of and flavored with rich, heavy, spicy cumin — so intense and prominent in Moroccan dishes either by itself or in North African spice blends like ras el hanout. But the chicken had no discernible cumin flavor, or any evidence of the turmeric, garlic or paprika promised by the menu.

Shrimp Pomodoro ($22.75 2-1/2) was a perfectly acceptable dish of three fat Gulf shrimp, nicely peeled and grilled, on a bed of angel hair pasta topped with a fresh-tasting combination of chopped, peeled tomatoes, garlic, torn basil leaves and olive oil.

Side dishes are all a la carte. Our table tried the French Fries ($3 **), which were nice and hot, not oily, not over-salted. Good fries, but nothing extraordinary. We also tried the Creamed Spinach ($5 **), a big bowl of creamy chopped spinach — enough for three people, at least. However, really bright creamed spinach shows hints of garlic and nutmeg, neither of which were obvious in this example.


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