Jose Garces' Spanish Amada has been a longtime hit at Ocean Casino Resort.
Jose Garces' Spanish Amada has been a longtime hit at Ocean Casino Resort.Chuck Darrow

Ocean Casino Resort’s Amada brings a taste of Spain to Atlantic City; Laughs come to Tropicana party pit

Cuisine, view and dedication of staff make uber-chef Jose Garces’ dining room a one-of-a-kind destination.

There is no shortage of first-class restaurants among Atlantic City’s nine casinos, as some of the East Coast’s finest dining rooms sit under local gaming hall roofs. But with a few rare exceptions (including Asian-focused Nobu at Caesars Atlantic City and Kuro at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City) they pretty much fall under one of two categories: steakhouse or Italian.

And then there’s Amada at Ocean Casino Resort.

Located adjacent to the casino floor on the Boardwalk end of the sprawling pleasure dome, the flagship brand of Philadelphia-based Iron Chef champ/James Beard Award winner Jose Garces’ restaurant empire stands out in the crowded AyCee eatery landscape for several reasons:

For starters, its menu is overwhelmingly focused on Spanish cuisine and emphasizes tapas, or small plates, the traditional Spanish way of dining. Then there’s its status as the only high-end salon that remains from 2012, when what is now Ocean debuted as the ill-fated Revel. Next, the room boasts a wait staff whose knowledge of, and passion for, food is as intense as any I’ve encountered in Atlantic City—or anywhere else. And if all this isn’t enough, its view of the ocean, beach and Boardwalk is as good as it gets.

That Amada is the only survivor of the two-year fiasco that was Revel certainly isn’t a coincidence.

“It was hands down an easy decision to extend our agreement and partnership with Chef Garces,” offered Becky Schultz, Ocean’s vice-president of restaurant operations. “It’s really a tribute to him and his approach to the partnership.”

According to Schultz, one key to Amada’s success is the amount of leeway afforded patrons. Rather than simply be served  whatever is spelled out on the menu, guests have a good degree of input when placing orders. “You can customize your selection in so many different ways,” she said, adding “in Amada…there are so many great things to choose from, and you really can get a great idea of what the restaurant's about.”

In general, upscale casino restaurants are, first and foremost, marketing tools used to keep high-stakes gamblers coming back to a property. But, noted Schultz, Amada transcends the high-roller, repeat-business blueprint that is the industry standard.

“It's a fantastic ‘destination’ restaurant,” she said. “People come to Amada for Amada. It's not just hotel guests who happen to be staying on property, looking for something to eat. A perfect example of that was [during a recent weekend] when we did not have a show, yet we had a pre-show crowd that was at the Amada bar for quite a while until the show started over at Hard Rock.

“It's definitely a destination venue. It's our only restaurant that has a celebrity Iron Chef partner in Chef Garces. So there's just so many great ways to approach the marketing of this restaurant, and it really has brand recognition in the Atlantic City market and South Jersey.”

As for the menu of the room that boasts a sleek, sophisticated design with atmospheric lighting, General Manager John Huff explained it doesn’t originate in one specific region of Spain.

“We have the Gambas al Aljillo [shrimp], which are more Galician, or Northwest-Spain, whereas our Patatas Bravas [a potato dish] are closer to a Catalonian style,” he said. “We also have dishes from northeast Spain where Barcelona is. Our wine list sort of reflects that too, with a good balance of the various regions of Spain.”

Interestingly, Huff divulged that many of the dishes on the menu at Amada (which means “beloved” or “loved”), weren’t necessarily conceived by Garces, but are based on recipes he got from his grandmother.  

Perhaps the best way to experience Amada is via the La Mesa de Jose ($85 per person) tasting menu in which the kitchen prepares a variety of small plates. Roughly 10 to 12 items are included (the amount varies depending on the size of the items ordered), and patrons are welcome to leave its ingredients entirely up to the chef, or customize it to their tastes (for instance, on a recent visit, I insisted the offerings include Pulpo a la Gallega (sautéed octopus) and the Cana de Cabra, a selection of cheeses served with cherry and fig marmalade, both of which are personal favorites).

Whatever Spanish dish you order, you can rest assured you’ll encounter flavors you’ve never before experienced, and that is really what makes Amada such a singular restaurant. But those whose tastes aren’t quite as adventurous/sophisticated need not worry as Amada has that covered as well: The “from the grill” portion of the menu features traditional steakhouse fare including scallops, chicken and both porterhouse and (Wagyu) New York strip steak.

And then there are the lamb chops, which is my favorite entrée to be found on any casino dining-room menu. But there are plenty of steakhouses in town at which you can satisfy that particular jones, including the casino’s own Ocean Steak. Amada is for those looking for something far different.

As Huff put it, “We’re just trying to bring together all the different elements and give our Atlantic City guests a little slice of Spain that they wouldn't otherwise come upon.”

For more, click here

Trop club plays it for laughs

Beginning Feb. 17, The Royce Social Hall inside Tropicana Atlantic City will be an infinitely funnier place as it becomes the new home of the Atlantic City Comedy Club.

The room, which offers musical acts, DJs and a slew of games and activities (including bowling, ping-pong and Foosball) will host the funny folks twice on Saturdays and once on Friday (starting Feb. 23).

For more, click here.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Bettors Insider