When it comes to fine dining in Wichita, there aren’t many places that offer the kind of high-end atmosphere and food that justifies making reservations, getting a babysitter and dressing up for a fancy Saturday night.
Since 2013, the Kansas Star Casino’s Woodfire Grille has been one of these places.
Although Las Vegas has been one of the major food cities in the United States for at least a decade, the idea of legitimately high-end restaurants in casinos outside of Nevada isn’t a foregone conclusion. The Kansas Star has enough going for it without having to worry about attracting top restaurant talent. This is one instance where an attractive-looking restaurant and mediocre food would have been a sufficient pairing for the smoky fluorescent lights of the endless slot machines.
And to be sure, there is quite a bit of flashiness – high ceilings, dark wood, fireplaces and iPad menus. But there’s a focus on quality, too.
After you’re seated at Woodfire Grille, you’re presented with a basket containing a tablecloth-covered loaf of freshly baked bread. The crust is underdeveloped, but the bread is warm and soft, and when paired with three different whipped butters (salted, amaretto, herb), it’s among Wichita’s best and only bread courses. James Beard once claimed good bread and fresh butter to be the greatest of feasts, and here it’s easy to overindulge.
As you would expect from a Kansas casino, the steaks are large and flashy, particularly if you order the plate-spanning Tomahawk – doubly so if you top that rib eye with a generous crab cake and Bearnaise. The prime beef is expertly cooked, though the privilege of this top-tier beef comes with a top-tier price.
The rest of the menu offers better value and more creativity, even when it comes to bar snacks. The prime rib “burnt ends” – tender bites of strongly seasoned prime rib, with pickled and fried onions – capture the intensity and pleasure of this typical barbecue delicacy. Less extensive but also of note is the lobster slider, which provides a couple of quick bites of decadence between a Parker House roll.
Amid the main courses, even the humble chicken breast gets a spot on the menu. Cooked sous vide, the lean piece of meat remains tender without needing help from the mushroom sauce that comes with it and is about as good a tradeoff between flavor and indulgence as you’ll find. Buttery scallops, paired with crispy pancetta and micro greens and sitting on top of a splattering of pureed parsnips, are as much of a work of art for the eyes as they are for the mouth.
Cedar plank salmon is elevated with a dijon and brown sugar glaze and is kept healthful by pairing it with fresh sauteed green beans and a tomato salad. If you require more starches, the thin-cut truffle fries are as good as you’ll find, tossed with rosemary, salt and truffle oil in perfect proportions. Or maybe the hearty fried wild mushrooms instead. Woodfire Grill is one of the area’s only restaurants to say “wild mushrooms” and mean something beyond portabella or cremini. Of the meals sampled, the only disappointment was a modern take on beef stroganoff — the pile of al dente orecchiette pasta frequently stuck together, and the chewy pieces of beef didn’t invoke good memories of the classic home version. As of this writing, it’s no longer on the menu.
As you’d expect, Woodfire Grille attracts many casino-goers, and a reservation is necessary on weekends. Part of it may be the restaurant’s proximity to the casino floor, but credit also goes to Jen Reifschneider, graduate of the Culinary Arts program of the Art Institute of Colorado and the person who helms the day-to-day operations.
Where: Kansas Star Casino, 777 Kansas Star Drive, Mulvane
Specializes in: Steaks and seafood
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Reservations: Recommended. Call 316-719-5148