Press Preview of Ballo at Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, CT

A few weeks ago, Keepitcoming Love and I received an invitation to a press preview of Ballo, Mohegan Sun's newest restaurant to hit the casino. Ballo is an Italian restaurant, but with quirks and features that are very different from your standard family-style joint. At night, it transforms into a social club, where music pumps through ecclesiastic arches in the walls and guests are able to literally dance on the tables. Located in the core of the casino, Ballo thrives in the spotlight with open arms and a tight embrace.With a tentative opening date of September 12th, 2011, this will be Mohegan Sun's second foray into Italian dining, up with Todd English's Tuscany, but with price points, owner John J. Tunney III emphasized, that emphasize simplicity rather than spending. With a mozzarella bar and a plethora of antipasti, one can spend $15 or $150 in an evening and still sample the wide variety the restaurant has to offer.
Ballo-matching hard hats firmly in place, we stepped inside and met with the charismatic Tunney, for a tour of the facility and a taste of what was to come. While Ballo's tables are not quite ready to dance on yet, at least, not unless you're looking for a face full of sawdust, it is blatantly obvious that when this is ready, it is going to be a big deal, with an emphasis on big. The space itself is around 16,000 square feet, packed full of alcoves, private dining rooms, and its centerpiece, a massive carrara marble bar.
Ballo borrows small accents from Italian culture and architecture. Chairs that resemble those at schools or libraries, brick and marble construction in the Cistercian architecture, and dramatic lighting not out of place in a Rospigliosi opera. However, the visuals are not all that tantalize. Inside the kitchen, we met Executive Chef Matthew Adler and Chef de Cuisine Shaun Golan, both young, eager chefs with a diligence in their swift movements and grace in their preparation.
"I don't care if you're serving a hamburger or a Porterhouse, service should still be the same." And at this moment, it was. We sampled Ballo's signature caprese, joining other tantalizing menu items like crispy artichoke hearts with arugula and lemon, tagliatelle baked with prosciutto cotto and Parmesan, and a broccoli, caciocavallo, and chili pizza. Pasta is made on site daily and ingredients are sourced locally and served "pantry-style" where the food is prepared quickly with the least amount of touch and delivered in an open area.
Taking this mindset to the plate, I found it to be exquisite. Chef Adler deftly prepared plates of caprese faster than dealers outside deal cards, and we consumed the very essence of what Ballo has to offer. In a few small bites, so many delicious flavors were released. The caprese consisted of fresh burratta, an impressive and rare ingredient due to its freshness and inability to keep past 24 hours, housemade pesto, and roasted orange cherry tomatoes. Each bite exemplified the perfect preparation of its components. It was so aromatic, kicking my nostrils into high gear, and seemed so simple. While the whole is obviously preferable to the sum of its parts, I have a sneaking suspicion I could eat the cheese all day and slather the pesto on all of my sandwiches. It was a creamy, gooey snack, with a robust nuttiness from the pesto and the natural sugars in the tomato accentuating the salt in the cheese. A little more charred snap to the tomato's flesh would have been preferable, but as it goes, it's better than any bar snack I've ever had. If, by that bite alone, this is tantamount to all of the offerings from Ballo, I am positive that I will be back in the future.With such a quirky concept, it's not yet clear as to how the public will receive Ballo. I do not know how it will fare three, six months from now. I am incredibly curious to come back and taste the selection. But if Tunney and his staff continue to dream big and emphasize ingredients and detail as we saw today, I predict that Ballo will dance well into the next decade of higher-end, unique casino restaurants that don't break the bank. It may be an interesting road, but as for most things in bocca al lupo, patience and innovation will pay off.

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