A Man to Satisfy Many Moods

by Lynn Ogryzlo | Photography by A.J. Harlond

If you had a behind the scenes tour of the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, you’d agree, there are what can only be described as acres of kitchens to support the massive food service operation. These kitchens serve on average 6,000,000 people a year and yet they make their own ice cream, reduce their own sauces, marinate their own meats, slice their own fries and chop their own vegetables.

When it comes to dessert, sure they make all the great stuff like the Chocolate Molton Cake, Lemoncello Tart and Crème Brûlée but for other irresistible edibles the likes of carrot cake, berry pies and their daily fresh bread, they partner with the Culinary Institute at Niagara County Community College (NCCC). The students and their new, emerging talents bake up a wicked array of desserts that are available throughout the resort as well as deliver a daily supply of brioche buns for the amazing range of burgers.

Inside the massive convention center reincarnated into the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino are seven restaurants that easily fall into three distinctively different culinary moods. If you’re feeling like a quick bite because the focus is to get back playing on the casino floor, you’ll appreciate the range of take-away eateries available. Morrie’s Express is filled with tempting sandwiches, fresh pastries, thirst quenching drinks and even some healthy snacks that are just the thing to keep you going on the gaming floor. Tim Horton’s coffee house is the go-to place for coffee and if you’re in the mood, Cold Stone Creamery satisfies with a treat that keeps you cool.

If you’re feeling like you just want to relax and eat casually in a friendly atmosphere without compromising on quality or flavor, there is a wide range of casual eateries to choose from. The Three Sisters offers sit-down, all-day breakfasts, hearty sandwiches, satisfying bowls of soup and hot finger foods. Thunder Falls Buffet is a Marché-style buffet with a wood burning pizza oven, carving station and pasta station. Throughout the circular buffet bar you’ll find a range of hot dishes from Asia, Italy and North America. The not-to-be-overlooked dessert station is overflowing with tempting sweets and luscious desserts. It’s here you can buy an entire pie to bring home and it’s here you’ll find the famous Snow Crab Special. On select days of each month you can chow down on all-you-can-eat Snow Crab Legs for only $29 per person. Best to plan ahead as they’re packed on special nights.

Lastly, but not least of restaurants to experience is the retro-looking Blues Burger Bar. This is the most laid-back and most trendy of the three casual eateries. Build your own burger from the multiple choices on the burger board and have it cooked a la minute, to your liking. The accompanying fries are hand cut and don’t forget to ask for an ice-cream based milkshake to go with that.

If you’re looking to feel like a princess and be pampered with luxurious food, there’s no better place in Eastern New York State than The Western Door steakhouse. It specializes in first-class slabs of tender, juicy steaks packed full of beefy flavor. Make it Surf & Turf by selecting seafood from the seafood sides menu. Try a martini from their specialty bar or select a rich cabernet from the extensive wine cellar.

Restaurant Koi will satisfy your lust for Asian fare with dishes like Gui Hau Clam, Panang Chicken or Honey Glazed Jumbo Shrimp, all prepared in a central open kitchen for a front row seat to the best culinary theatre. Authentic Italian cuisine is at la Cascata. Choose from clean, uncompromisingly fresh entrees like Linguine with Clams, Pork Porterhouse or Chicken Parmigiano. Don’t forget a dessert of Hazelnut Ricotta Ravioli or Espresso Mousse.

It takes an enormous amount of talent to run all six restaurants and three quick food stops. At Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino there is one large team moving forward with the loftiest of goals. At the head is German born and classically French trained, Executive Chef Oliver Wolf. Wolf leads a team of 700 employees that range from food and beverage professionals to chefs and front line workers like waiters, hostesses and bartenders. It may be a large team by numbers but it’s a close family that cooks from the heart.

In Wolf’s small windowless office, you can’t help but notice the wall of awards. One is for the Greater Lake Vodka Challenge. This probably means he’s skilled at tipping a little vodka into some incredibly delicious dishes. The other claims he’s the National Date Champion, able to turn an ordinary date into something seductively irresistible (yes, I’m still talking food). Chef dismisses his accomplishments but I have a feeling he could win not only awards but also the hearts of those who come in to dine at the restaurants. I know he has my attention.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, classically trained in Europe and bringing with him more than 25 years of experience from around the globe, Chef Wolf is responsible for both the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino as well as the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino. For a man with a very eclectic career he doesn’t talk of intimidating methods of production or scientific molecular gastronomy but instead he gets excited talking about the highest quality of food, from farmers, of picking his own fresh produce and cooking it simply so the food speaks for itself. “I’ve never met a food I didn’t like,” he says.

Wolf believes it takes as much time and attention to raise a seedling into a fully mature plant as it does to simmer a few ingredients into a luxurious sauce. Wolf doesn’t just buy food, he partners with farmers who grow produce and raise animals. “Growing and cooking is all part of the same cycle.” A cycle that doesn’t end with him, “it ends when my customer is satisfied, is happy with a meal well eaten.” It’s a romantic notion but does it really work?

Well, all the beef all comes from New York State, the dairy and eggs as well. In season, he ensures the fruits and vegetables are from local suppliers, although, “We go through such great volumes of food that most farmers just don’t have enough, but we’re working on it. All great things take time.”

Chef loves a bustling kitchen full of enthusiastic chefs all working towards something new; a new dish, a new flavor combination or the reinvention of a traditional dish. He loves mentoring new culinary talent like the apprentices from NCCC and watching them grow into future chefs knowing he had a small part to play.

For a chef with a lot on his plate, he looks for more. “I want to make Seneca Niagara and Seneca Allegany culinary destinations,” he says very matter of fact. “I want people to see us as having great food as well as having good fun and to create a resort feel that will enhance our clientele and attract new ones to come.”

Wolf is off to a good start. After eating in three of his restaurants, I am happily impressed. As I leave the bustling, fun atmosphere of Seneca Niagara and walk into a dull, rainy day I take solace in planning my next meal in another of the casinos’ restaurants. Maybe it will be Koi or perhaps La Cascata. For a food writer can’t resist a dish uneaten or a great restaurant left unravished.