The first thing one notices when entering the Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort is the peaceful atmosphere. All of the entrapments one might expect from a casino — the din, the cigarette smoke, the flashing lights —aren't there. Instead, music plays quietly in the background. Attentive hotel employees go about their business as amber-hued light streams through gigantic windows.
The Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort has come a long way from its days as a bingo trailer on the prairie. With the recent addition of the spa towers, the resort has expanded its reach to a diverse demographic. Between Spa Ssakwa'q'n's lavish body treatments, saunas and pools, the 18-hole, par-72 course and modern, lush rooms, you could skip the casino altogether. But whatever you do, don't skip the food.
The resort is big on choices, and that vibe radiates in the six diverse restaurants on the property. Executive Chef Steven Walk brings a long history as chef and culinary advisor to each restaurant within.
"I started out in this business at 13 years old as a dishwasher. I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park [New York] and then worked in New York City and northern Jersey. I migrated west and started the Culinary Arts program at Walla Walla Community College and after eight years worked as the assistant director of culinary operations at WSU," says Walk.
His time at the resort has been brief, but busy.
"I've been going with the flow, especially in the first year. We have a really solid foundation here. We use a lot of seasonal, local vegetables in the summer. We are taking ingredients we can source locally and working them into our menu," he says. "We do fun things once in a while as a special and go from there. For example, our region is the lentil capital of the world, but we did very little with lentils. We made a lentil soup, and that's selling really well."
Menu items confirm Chef Walk and crew's dedication to featuring local offerings in traditional recipes. Walk utilizes Moses Lake's Double R Ranch steaks. Laughing Dog Brewing from the Sandpoint area brews Uprooted Amber Ale specifically for the resort. St. Maries Wild Rice features prominently across the menus, and bison is sourced from Montana.
Walk's team has the luxury of perfecting cuisines that appeal to all palates and desires within the walls of the resort. Sweetgrass Cafe features plate-smoked trout filet, pot roast and other popular comfort food items.
Twisted Earth Grill, open seasonally to serve the Circling Raven Golf Club, serves lighter lunch fare. The Food Court Deli, open 24 hours a day, provides gamers with deli sandwiches, burgers and pizza on the casino floor. No casino is complete without a buffet, and the High Mountain Buffet delivers variety at every meal.
"Every day we have different cook-to-order stations, such as a pasta bar, stir-fry bar, fajita dishes, and then the dishes on the buffet pair to that," says Walk. "Friday is all seafood. We have steamed crab, cold crab, shrimp cocktail, shrimp scampi, smoked and fried fish, mussels, clams and oysters. Saturday is steak and seafood — lobster, crab and salmon."
The Red Tail Bar & Grill serves as the resident sports bar, but the cuisine goes above and beyond the typical. Slow-cooked buffalo chili is aromatic with cumin and spices, mellowed with amber ale and topped with cornbread croutons and sour cream. Massive slabs of fry bread are accompanied by huckleberry sauce and honey, while fry bread and buffalo chili come together to create traditional Indian tacos.
Chinook Steak, Pasta & Spirits gives Chef Walk and his crew the opportunity to showcase their fine dining skills. Pan-seared diver scallops are plump and accented by a light mango-and-pineapple salsa. Elk stew and salmon chowder are hearty and homey. A hefty portion of Double R Ranch filet mignon is finished with a sophisticated red wine demi-glace and topped with caramelized onions. Dessert options feature the exquisite triple chocolate bavarois and the entertaining nitrogen frozen ice cream, prepared tableside. Just off the Chinook's kitchen is the Aripa Room, a private dining room with sweeping views of the prairie, private deck and fire pit.
"We do chef's table events there, but any group of 15 to 20 people who want a specific menu or special menu can book it," says Walk.
The resort will evolve with time, and the food will, too.
"It's a work in progress," continues Walk. "It will always be a work in progress. We are working on getting more local, having native flair with a modern twist." ♦
Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort Hotel • 37914 S. Nukwalqw, Worley, Idaho • 208-769-2600 • Details on all the resort's restaurants at cdacasino.com