Tulalip Bay and Blackfish restaurants at the Tulalip Resort Casino present quality meals at differing price points, but neither is inexpensive.
Under Tulalip Resort Casino’s grand portico, a valet hastens to take my car. Waterfalls cascading down rugged rocks herald my approach to the front door, where I’m met by the swelling jingle-jangle of 2,000 slot machines and a million points of light in an aquamarine sky.
Add some palm trees, more hotels, a few million people and a zillion more lights and this could be Sin City, not Snohomish County.
I had come here not to wager but to dine at the resort’s seven-year-old fine-dining venue, Tulalip Bay, and its newer, less formal sidekick, Blackfish, where salmon is speared and smoked over flame in traditional Tulalip custom.
There is plenty of fire in both restaurants: Each has an exhibition kitchen with a grill positioned front and center. Otherwise they couldn’t be more diverse.
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Luxurious Tulalip Bay boasts wood paneling, thick carpet and upholstered armchairs. A curved etched-glass wall reveals the “Wine Room” crowned with a Chihuly chandelier equal in diameter to the round table beneath it that comfortably seats 18.
If you’ve just hit the jackpot in the casino, there are plenty of ways to unload the lucre here. Entree prices hit the stratosphere, topping out at $75 for “The Big Winner,” a filet mignon and lobster tail combo (separately each is $50).
Dean Shinagawa, Tulalip Bay’s chef, headed the kitchen at Roy’s, the long gone Seattle venture of Hawaiian chef Roy Yamaguchi, whose brand of razzle-dazzle is evident here in dishes like ginger-steamed Chilean sea bass and curry-seared sea scallops.
The sea bass goes vertical, with chunks of lush fish mounted on a rice cake and capped with tiny shrimp nested in cilantro. On the plate, soy sauce, cilantro oil and sriracha create a moat of many colors; bok choy and bell pepper add to the multihued melee for a dish as vivid in the mouth as it was to behold.
Scallops were only a bit more subdued. Soy beans, chopped leek and diced prosciutto cushioned the delicately seared shellfish; a stack of fingerling potato chips lay on top.
Less fuss would have better suited halibut cheeks. Overburdened with cilantro and daikon, they clung to purple potato rafts as if they feared capsizing into the sea of saffron broth. Korean-style lamb chops with kimchee and a plump, savory taro cake could have used more sizzle.
Dinner at Tulalip Bay has perks: an amuse bouche; a warm pineapple-mint intermezzo prepared tableside; and mini-chocolate cupcakes to sweeten the not-inconsequential bill.
Prices at seafood-centric Blackfish aren’t exactly modest but the cost reflects the high quality of the fish and shellfish, most showcased by Chef David Buchanan in simple preparations like salmon-on-a-stick. Salt, pepper and smoke are all the embellishment a rich, coral-fleshed fillet needed, soft corn pancakes and roasted asparagus just the right companions.
Grilled halibut with mushroom beurre blanc, rainbow carrots and honey-sweetened spaghetti squash is one of many variations possible on the daily seafood board, which allows guests the leeway to select their seafood, specify a cooking method, a sauce and two sides.
Blackfish’s casual setting recalls an Indian longhouse. Fish sculptures hang from rafters backlit with glowing red. The circular bar overlooks the casino.
Perks here include a basket of zesty, seasoned flatbreads and a trio of flavored butters that greatly amuse la bouche while awaiting shareable starters like roasted Manila clams in buttery, bacon-enriched broth or a pair of marvelous corn-dotted crab cakes complemented with an aioli triumvirate and a bracing apple and watercress salad. Cupcakes came with the bill here too.
Both venues share an impressive international wine list compiled by Tulalip Bay sommelier Tom Thompson. Blackfish lacks a sommelier, but servers are at least familiar with wines by the glass. And if you order by the glass at either place, servers bring the bottle to the table and pour a taste before filling your glass, a practice I wish more restaurants would adopt.
Whether you’re a gambling gourmet, a day-tripper or a shopping-bag lady that frequents the outlets: odds are good one place or the other has what you’re hungry for.
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