Over the past decade, American casino-goers have come to expect more than just free drinks at the poker table. They want great food, too. Big-name chefs and strong culinary skills have become de rigeur at casinos, and even non-gamblers recognize that casino-adjacent restaurants might be worth a try.
At Hanover's Maryland Live! Casino, the newest culinary outpost, Luk Fu, is a pan-Asian restaurant located right on the casino floor. While the food at Luk Fu is likable, service is slower than it should be, especially in an action-packed casino.
Scene & Decor The entrance to Luk Fu is located inside the casino; diners go through security before reaching the restaurant. Partial walls divide Luk Fu from the floor, so the whoops and whistles of the casino are still audible. From certain spots, diners have a clear view of the tables and slots.
Around 6:30 on a recent Friday night, the casino was jumping and Luk Fu was about half full, with small groups of friends fueling up on Asian food before hitting the floor.
Service The casino's fast pace and high energy shaped our service expectations. We anticipated a speedy, efficient meal, because we figured management would be eager to get diners out of the restaurant and back to gambling.
That expectation was only partly met. Food arrived quickly from the kitchen but ordering was slow. Our waitress bustled past our table frequently but stopped rarely. When she walked by, she did not make eye contact, so it was difficult for us to catch her attention.
To work around a language barrier when ordering, we pointed to items on the menu. Because alcoholic drinks weren't listed, our waitress referred to a tiny list of beer and wine that she pulled out of her pocket.
Drinks From that list, we opted for a Heineken ($6) and a glass of pinot grigio ($5), which arrived in a small plastic cup with the casino's name emblazoned on the side. Both were cold and refreshing, if not terribly exciting.
Appetizer We started with two selections from the dim sum menu. Though they arrived by standard delivery, rather than on a charming cart, both were tasty and well-seasoned.
Shrimp and bamboo shoot dumplings ($7), were sweet and steamy, cooked until the shrimp was just tender inside shiny, translucent wrappers. A trio of barbecue-filled pork buns ($7) was equally appealing but heartier and more filling. The dough of the buns was thick and sticky. Inside, shredded pork was tender in a red barbecue sauce that was more sweet than spicy.
Entrees Luk Fu's entrees are broadly Asian, including traditional American Chinese food favorites, like General Tso's chicken, and a variety of noodle soups.
The Mongolian beef ($15) entree, strips of beef sauteed with scallions and onions in a brown sauce, was garlicky and cooked nicely. The slices of onions were soft and sweet while the scallions added crunch and bite to the dish. A side dish of garlic green beans ($7) was also crunchy and likable but we were disappointed when we realized that the sauce was the same as the sauce on the Mongolian beef. It was good but not so good we wanted it twice.
Our favorite dish was the roast duck noodle soup ($17), a steamy bowl of thin brown broth with bok choy, noodles, chopped scallions and roast duck, still on the bone. The duck was tender and lovely (if sometimes challenging to eat off the bone without making a mess).
Dessert For dessert, we opted for Azuki buns ($7), steamed buns, similar to the barbecue pork buns, stuffed with sweet red bean paste. The buns weren't overly sweet but did end the meal on a satisfying note.
Unfortunately, after dessert, we were once again stuck trying to ask our waitress for the bill. We weren't antsy to get out on the floor to a game or to slots, but if we had been, our final moments in the restaurant would have been even more frustrating.
With some tweaks to the service, Luk Fu will deliver casino customers what they want: good food with a great view of the action.
Back story: Opened in June inside the Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, Luk Fu's menu spans the Asian continent, including dim sum, noodle dishes and wok-fried fare prepared in a semi-open kitchen facing the casino floor.
Parking: Garage next to Maryland Live! Casino
Signature dish: In Luk Fu's duck noodle soup, the brown broth is well-seasoned and thin noodles and bok choy add heft - but the highlight is the duck itself. Large chunks of roast duck, still on the bone, are surprisingly tender.
TVs: Seven (showing images of cities and nature only, no programming)
Where: Maryland Live! Casino, 7002 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover
Open: 9 a.m. to 5 a.m., daily
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted
Bottom line: Located inside the Maryland Live! Casino, Luk Fu's pan-Asian cuisine is likable but service is slowCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun