Agua Caliente Casino
Grand Palms Buffet
Rancho Mirage, CA

Have I ever found a place for seafood lovers. Friday evening at the Agua Caliente Casino buffet. Some of you already know about it because you told me, but for the others, well, you have a treat in store for you.

I know it’s a distance, about 43 miles from Yucaipa, and it’s pricey, about $24 per person, but when you feel like splurging, it’s worth it. I think I’d eat dry toast for a month just to make another trip to the buffet.

Therese Everett-Kerley from the casino press department met Kathryn and me at the entrance and escorted us to the buffet so I could take photos.

The first thing I saw after entering the buffet was a u-shaped dessert food station. The end unit holds about four rows of various cakes, pies and cheesecakes, and around each corner are tarts, cookies, cream puffs. They even had little round bite-size chocolate covered cream puffs on a toothpick.

Past the desserts was the first seafood grouping.
Even before we were seated, I almost hugged the showcase, as right before me, sitting on packed ice, were oysters on the half-shell. Oh, my goodness, what a beautiful treasure. I seldom see oysters on a buffet and I felt like I’d found the Holy Grail of seafood. These oysters were a good size, and the shells were the pretty, ruffled-laced-shaped ones that spoke of quality. Next to the oysters were other goodies, but I didn’t pay that much attention.

Instead of grabbing a plate right then, I managed to maintain some semblance of dignity and took a seat like the nice, civilized adult I was supposed to be. The server took our drink orders and I saw that in the back of the room the regular buffet stretched from wall to wall. That was worth investigating as well.

Kathryn and I chatted with Therese, who graciously showed us around then introduced us to Mike Milligan, the Executive Sous Chef. He told us about the food preparations and the lengths the cooks go through to make sure everything is fresh. I mentioned the oysters, and he told me they lightly pasteurize them at low temperatures to kill any bacteria that might be present. That made me feel a little better, but I would have eaten my fill regardless.

Although a young man, Mike had been in the food industry over twenty years, starting as a dishwasher at a local restaurant in New Jersey. With a grin, he told us his family had made it a condition that he work when they spent summers on the shore. He grew to love the restaurant industry and later went to culinary school. What a privilege it was to meet someone with such a strong work ethic.

Therese Everett-Kerley and Executive Sous Chef Mike Milligan)

Mike also told us about the sixteen-story hotel, expected to be completed in early 2008, and will cover approximately 415,000 square felt. He said they’re preparing for 24 hours of food service and will remodel the buffet. Even now, the restaurant employs about one-hundred people.

Kathryn had some coffee and commented about the flavor several times, even asking the server about it. He told us they order 100% Colombian coffee concentrate, so there is no bitterness like there can be with grounds. I later had a cup and found it smooth and delicious.

After I took the photos I wanted, Therese and Mike left and Kathryn and I filled our plates. Several times. Not only were there the buffet stations, but next to the desserts was an ‘Action Station’ offering cooked-to-order seafood dishes such as shrimp and scallop scampi.

Next to the oysters was a bin of peeled shrimp, then King crab legs, cut into 2” tubes for easier handling. The casino goes through a thousand pounds per week, Mike said, not only for the buffet, but they also have a Thursday evening King Crab Madness night, with the longer sections of legs. On the other side of the oysters were slices of smoked salmon. The salads were next, such as crab and papaya salad, a scallop salad as well as the standard greens and veggies.

The soups were roasted corn and Manhattan clam chowder. I prefer the creamy New England chowder, so it wasn’t difficult to pass it up in favor of something else.

The buffet line in back held more seafood dishes such as cornmeal encrusted catfish, wild salmon pango pango, blackened trout and golden fried shrimp, Maryland style crab cakes, flounder and snapper. Most of them were in the American section along with sides of mashed and roasted potatoes, chicken Oscar, NY steaks, roasted turkey and rotisserie chicken.

Garlic snapper was one of the dishes offered in the Latin section, and the Italian section held swordfish with roasted tomato and garlic, linguini with clams and shrimp and Caribbean Calamari. Four large pizzas sat on the end.

The Asian section offered Mahi Mahi with Szechwan sauce, scallops with garlic sauce and several more shrimp dishes such as white pepper, sweet & sour, along with egg rolls and rice, steam or fried.

Kathryn and I enjoyed a wonderful evening, not only at the buffet, but we spent some time at the slot machines. Oh Nirvana! They had nickel slots! Since I’m such a big spender, I blew my three dollars, but it was fun because the machine kept giving back a few nickels here and there and kept me playing.

Ok. Now to fix some dry toast to save my money. I wonder how soon I can talk Kathryn into going again . . .

The Oasis Buffet seats approximately 300 people and offers several different specials, such as the Friday Seafood Sensation from 4pm-11pm for $23.99 plus tax.

Thursday evening is the King Crab Madness along with fish of the day and specials from the various stations.

Saturday features steak and king crab legs, and they also offer a Sparkling Sunday Brunch from 11am-3pm.

Oasis morning breakfast is 7am-11pm for $7.99 plus tax and mid-day lunch is Monday through Saturday, 11am-3pm for $11.99 plus tax.    

And the buffet is only one of several restaurants the casino offers. Maybe I’ll try one of the others after I get my fill of crab legs, oysters and shrimp. Maybe.

Agua Caliente Casino
32-250 Bob Hope Drive
Rancho Mirage, CA  92270

I-10 East about 43 miles, then take the Ramon Road exit in Rancho Mirage. You’ll see the hotel construction. Turn left on Bob Hope Drive, then another left into the parking lot.