Craving adventure after a long, dull day of jury duty, I wandered one evening around Mohegan Sun and paused at the Asian food court, Sunrise Square, to puzzle over a menu with exotic dishes whose names I could not pronounce.
Kim chee bogeumbap, for example, or lau mai gai.
Still others aroused my curiosity, if not my appetite—plates like five spice pork stomach and sea cucumber with brown sauce. So I called up reinforcements for supper. My cousin and two friends arrived, and we picked out eight dishes from among more than 130 choices representing China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
Before we could eat, though, we had to hurdle a few barriers between us and the food. The first was ordering, as lines of hungry gamblers merged at a counter where three harried cashiers carried on various side conversations, none of them in English, as they punched in order after order.
It was hard to hear, and the kitchen had run out of two of our choices, and in the confusion of choosing substitutes, the lady got one of our dishes wrong—very wrong. Instead of Item No. 262, shrimp and pork dumplings, she’d punched in Item No. 265, steamed chicken feet. We discovered the mistake only after we’d taken our receipt and walked to our table, and not for an instant did I consider going back over there to try to correct it. We would eat the chicken feet, dammit, and we would like them.
Our night got even more interesting once our receipt number appeared on the overhead screens and we walked over to a counter to pick up our food.
A gaggle of the same gamblers brushed elbows as they jockeyed for position and grabbed at their trays, like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Nobody seemed happy, especially the guy who accused my cousin of cutting in line when she tried to order sodas.
Finally, we got down to the food, the adventure for which we had come, and what better place to start than with the chicken feet? For the sake of accentuating the positive, I guess you could say that eating chicken feet ($5.50) meant that jury duty was no longer the worst part of my day.
Sucking the skin and fat off each bony “finger” created considerable mess and effort for absolutely no reward. Feet are surely the foulest part of the fowl. I salvaged some pleasure, however, by picking from the dish a few jalapenos coated in the dark, mildly bitter bean sauce.
We had more luck with the frog legs and chive flower ($13.75). These required paying attention because of the tiny bones and the bulbous knee caps (I think they were knee caps, anyway), but the surprisingly large chunks of tender meat slid off easily. And yes, they do taste like chicken. Their texture reminded me of chicken wings.
The chive flower turned out to be plain old chives instead and joined pea pods slathered in a heavy garlic sauce flavored warmly with ginger.
A plate of five spice stomach with white rice ($6.75) left us guessing what kind of stomach it was. I really don’t care to know. Each chunk of stomach looked like a pig’s ear and smelled vaguely offensive, making it hard even to bite. Rather chewy and bland, it wasn’t terrible, but stomachs are clearly meant for digesting food and not for being digested.
From here, our choices became a bit safer. We shared two orders of sushi, for example—a spicy tuna roll with avocado ($8) and sweet shrimp on rice ($7.75). Unimpressive at best, the sushi here is best skipped. The spicy tuna was hardly spicy, perhaps the blandest “spicy” tuna I’ve ever tasted.
Our three remaining dishes yielded the most satisfaction, especially the crispy pig ($10.75). Hunks of pork looked like cross-sections of a globe, with a crust of crispy skin atop a mantle of marbly fat and a core of tender, moist meat. The best bites stuck to my teeth a little, and the fat dissolved away before I could finish crunching through the skin. I could feel my arteries clogging, and it made me happy the way only pork can.
A large bowl of clam soup ($7.50) hit the spot as well. Open-shelled clams bathed with wedges of tomato in a clear broth perfumed with ginger and lemongrass. The terrific flavors in the soup outshined our last dish, a plate of mai fun noodles with squid, pork, and mustard greens. Mai fun is a rice vermicelli, an Asian angel’s hair. At $9.75, the dish was overpriced and rather plain, and a few dashes of soy sauce or spicy sriracha would have improved it. Crunchy slices of onion added sweetness, and bits of egg added heft.
On the whole, our trip to Sunrise Square provided plenty of entertainment, a few memorable dishes, and a decent share of disappointments. Proceed at your own risk if you want to try the unusual, like our chicken feet, and don’t expect to be inspired if you stick to the safe bets.
Much as I concluded after a similar meal at Foxwoods this spring, it seems that our neighborhood casinos have hardly become the utopia of Asian food that I dreamed they would be. Nothing at either gambling hall even approaches the Asian meals I’ve savored in cities big and small.
There’s no arguing, I suppose, with the crowds of Asian gamblers lining up to eat at these places, but I can’t help but think that Sunrise Square is really just the equivalent of some Subway-Sbarro-Burger King food court at a mall near you.