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Instant Reaction: Sammy's Restaurant & Bar at Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights

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Walking into a restaurant in a casino, I'll be honest. I had low expectations.

I thought it would be smoky, dingy, dilapidated, and noisy. And I thought the food would be an afterthought since they had a captive audience of gambling, let's say, enthusiasts.

So when there PR person (and a professional acquaintance) e-mailed me about driving 30 miles round trip to sample their food, I agreed to do it as a courtesy.

When I got there, though, my view totally changed. I was wrong, and pleasantly surprised.

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First, there was no smell of stale smoke wafting through the air. Second, the casino is only a card room, which means the quiet sounds of cards shuffling and not the loud cacophony of slot machines. The room was modern, clean and well lit.

After a quick introduction, the restaurant staff brought out tastes of several of their dishes.

Among the winners we tasted:

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Mini Duck (tenderloin) Tacos with feta, tomato, napa cabbage and tomato-cilantro sauce - $11.25: This is one of their best selling and signature items, and for good reason. They come a half dozen on a plate, crispy and topped with fresh lettuce and diced tomatoes. There wasn't much farm to fork about the dish, but it was still delicious. It's a great small plate to share with friends or big enough for an entree for one. I'll be getting it when I return.

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Hot Rock with sliced New York steak, chili ponzu and miso sauce - $14: This was the most unique dish of the night. They bring you raw, sliced meat and a 600 degree rock. Sear, dip and eat. I'm generally not a fan of having to cook your entire meal at a restaurant, but cooking one dish - especially one that smokes and sizzles, was a welcome activity.

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Chicken Tequila Fettuccine with Spinach fettuccine, bell peppers, red onion, jalapeno, tequila-lime cream sauce - $17.50: This was a good, solid execution of pasta, and well sauced. I especially loved the leftovers of this dish the next day. The chef told me that this would be one of the dishes he would serve if one of his out of town friends came to his restaurant. I can see why.

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Grilled Short Rib with marinated boneless short rib, rice and picked slaw. - $12: Most Sammy's don't have an Asian entree section, but the clientele at the gambling hall demanded more Asian options. The beef was reminiscent of a Korean kalbi seasoning, which I found familiar and enjoyable.

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Oak Roasted Salmon with pea shoot salad, edamame, cucumber and ponzu sauce - $19.50: I was ready for the fish to be thin, overcooked and dry. To their credit, it was thick, juicy and flavorful. The sides paired well with the fish.

Lastly, we were also provided samples of two of their soups, the lobster bisque and the fresh tomato basil. The bisque was delicious with chunks of lobster. Tomato tasted fresh with chunks of tomato.

So I'm convinced. Despite having preconceived visions of gamblers tolerating bad food in a smoke filled restaurant, Sammy's turned out to be a good restaurant that happens to be in a casino. On the night I was there, it was filled with families. With their multiple TVs, I could see spending a NFL football Sunday there. It's also a great place to meet your buds halfway who live in Roseville.

If you're in the area, you should check the place out.

Sammy's Restaurant & Bar is located at 6508 Antelope Road in Citrus Heights, and can be found online at SammysPizza.com.

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