The Western Door in the Seneca Niagara Casino sets the table for a luxury experience before you even sit down, with a dining room with walnut accents, cushy chairs and broad tables.
Still, it's hard to forget that it's upstairs from a casino. (The Seneca Allegheny Casino has The Western Door, too.) Walking past tables with people tapping cigarettes into ashtrays, I realized it's been years since I breezed through a smoking section. If you mind a whiff of tobacco smoke as you eat, you might not be totally happy here.
The menu isn't huge, focusing on steaks, ranging from $32 for the 18-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip, to $75 for an 8-ounce piece of California-bred Wagyu. It also offers classics like surf and turf, prime rib ($47, 32 ounces) and rack of lamb ($49).
The complimentary bread basket featured three breads and three spreads (butter, hummus and a mild tapenade of California olives). The white French bread was not stale, but oddly dry. The jalapeno cornbread wasn't moist either, but delivered pleasant corn and a chile tingle. The asiago onion flatbread was terrific, moist and flavorful.
For starters, we asked for shrimp and roasted pepper salad ($16), greens with shrimp, sweet and hot peppers, onion and corn tossed in avocado cumin dressing. As a side, we chose broccoli and cauliflower gratinee ($8).
Cat chose a special of filet mignon, jumbo shrimp and risotto, with lobster sauce and asparagus ($65). I eyed the Wagyu but chose the Chairman's Delmonico ($55), a 24-ounce steak rubbed with spices and finished with Maytag blue cheese butter.
The salad was smaller than I hoped, and I would have welcomed more interesting greens over field mix. But the cumin dressing and roasted peppers gave it a palate-awakening lift. Three big shrimp were fresh and crisp. We ate every bit, except for the stray bay leaf that had somehow gotten into the mix.
My steak was a robust delight, cooked accurately to medium rare. Its spice dusting had been seared into a crust that served to hold the salty funk of Maytag butter. The accompanying green beans were tender.
At our waiter's recommendation, I enjoyed a glass of Simi cabernet sauvignon ($17) with my dinner. Its fruity, spicy character amplified the beef's mineral richness.
Cat's filet was an admirable piece of beef, cooked right. The three huge shrimp played especially well with the rich lobster sauce.
The truffled risotto was comforting, neither gummy nor crunchy. We couldn't say the same of the asparagus; several finger-thick spears were nearly raw, while thinner ones were tender.
The gratin was disappointing. I prefer thickened, bubbly cream sauce that clings to tender vegetables. Large chunks of broccoli and cauliflower, still crunchy, had perhaps not been blanched long enough, and needed knifework to eat politely. The creamy cheese sauce was pooled in the bottom of the dish and hadn't been thickened by its time under the broiler, which had browned some of the breadcrumbs on top of the vegetables.
Perhaps I should have followed a neighboring table and ordered the kosher-salt crusted baked potato ($8). The massive spud was delivered on a cart. Sour cream, butter, scallion, cheddar cheese, bacon? the server asked. "Yes," he said.
At least we saved room for dessert. Cat chose the chocolate peak ($12), while I asked for butterscotch pudding ($9). My pudding was sublime, rich with a whiff of whiskey. I made it last as long as possible with bites of the accompanying shortbread cookie.
Cat's dessert was a molten chocolate cake on a disc of creamy chocolate that reminded me of a flourless cake, decadent and intense. When she cut the warm cake, fudgy lava streamed onto her plate. Delicious, but a move we've seen before.
The Western Door's service was first-class, with our waiter and his assistant meeting our needs in a swift and personable fashion. They even tried to clean the cheese sauce I dribbled on the table, and after the bay leaf discovery, the salad was removed from my bill without asking.
It still came to $149 before wine, tax and tip. Overall, the steaks were excellent, but the sides didn't keep pace. At this price point, I expected something closer to perfection.
The Western Door
DESCRIPTION: Terrific steaks in a luxury setting upstairs from the Niagara Falls casino.
WHERE: Seneca Niagara Casino, 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls; www.senecaniagaracasino.com.
HOURS: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and salads, $9-$21. Entrees $30-$75.
PARKING: In the lot.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.