- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Haute cuisine? In these parts, a cheesesteak used to qualify.

No more.

Now, Georges Perrier is serving up his signature langostinos and clams with pancetta at Caesars Atlantic City hotel-casino.

Next month, Bobby Flay will open a surf-and-turf restaurant in the same building where Wolfgang Puck plans one of his California grilles and Michael Mina woos gamblers with seafood specialties.

Call it a feeding frenzy: Lured by casinos eager to one-up their rivals, celebrity chefs have turned their sights on Atlantic City, turning what was once seen as a culinary backwater into the new place to eat — and be seen eating.

After years of feeding gamblers $6.99 buffets and all-night cafeteria food, casinos are signing up big-name gastronomes in a bid for prestige — and profits. The trend, which mirrors one that swept Las Vegas in the 1990s, began here in earnest when the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa opened its doors nearly three years ago.

With restaurants operated by regionally known chefs Susanna Foo and Luke Palladino, Borgata showed anew that eating — once seen by casinos as merely an interruption — could be used to drum up new business.

Its rivals are beginning to follow suit, betting on food as an attraction that can help Atlantic City’s vibrant $5 billion-a-year casino business withstand competition springing up in nearby states.

“What has happened with the celebrity chefs is a domino effect,” said Barbara Fairchild, editor in chief of Bon Appetit magazine. “Chefs, at that level, are very competitive with each other. They don’t want to be left out of a scene that’s growing like that.”

The first bona fide star was Mr. Perrier. The 62-year-old Philadelphia chef, whose Le Bec-Fin is regularly ranked among the nation’s best, joined with Chris Scarduzio to open Mia, a Mediterranean bistro, in December.

“I always felt to be a success in this business, not only you have to be good, but … the right timing is very important,” Mr. Perrier said. “I felt it was time to come to Atlantic City. For me, it was important for me to come to Atlantic City to make a statement.”

But when it comes to casino dining, “casino” comes before “dining.”

“The people who are dining here, they want to get back to the tables,” said Mr. Scarduzio, 40. “They don’t want to spend two hours here. We’ve had to make changes because of the casino. As much as they’re doing in food and beverage, they’re not making $5 billion a year on steaks and cosmopolitans.”

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