Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Las Vegas Buffets

Everyone knows Las Vegas for three things: gambling, showgirls and buffets. On my recent visit to the city of sin, I decided to partake in at least two of the three things Las Vegas is famous for. Being a heterosexual woman with her husband in tow, option 2 had been ruled out. So after working up an appetite at the blackjack tables, we headed to Bellagio for their famous buffet.
Bellagio is one of the premier hotels on the Las Vegas strip. It's buffet has been featured on the food network, and they claim to serve the most people of any buffet in Las Vegas. At $26.95 a person, I'm looking for more than just quantity. After wandering through the mall of shops and slot machines, G and I are at the end of an hour-long wait to get a seat for the buffet. Luckily, G is a master of sweet-talking, and after a quick chat with the hotel manager, we skip the line and are quickly seated in a comfortable booth. Non-alcoholic beverages are included in the price, but any beer, wine or spirits must be purchased from a walk-up bar in front of the main buffet line. It is almost better that way, since servers are harried, stretched to their limit although assisted by many bussers. Since the bill (including tip) is paid before sitting down, the servers have little to no motivation to serve you. The keno waitresses, in their skimpy black bathing suits, are more then happy to take your money and wish you luck. So after procuring drinks and plopping $10 on Keno, we finally hit the buffet.
I'm tempted by the plates of king crab legs I see piled on dirty tables, and so we head straight for the seafood counter. Crab, salmon roulade,smokes salmon, ceviche await. At the other end of the buffet, we find sushi, although only the supermarket staples of salmon and tuna. Our plates piled high with fish, we return to the table. The king crab is over done, watery and chewy. Shrimp ceviche suffers from a too- long marinade, the delicate tenderness of the shrimp lost and replaced by chewyiness. I am beginning to see a theme here. Sushi is fresh and tasty, our favorite being the marinated salmon sashimi.
The salad counter is behind glass, with bored staff waiting to spoon Caesar, garden, or spinach salad onto your plate. Orzo, pasta and mushroom salad are also available. All the salads meet with mediocre response. G and I are still waiting to be thrilled. We move on to the carving stations. Availible here is prime rib, roast buffalo, venison, lamb, turkey breast, and chicken Wellington. We are impressed by the variety of meats available, but only the lamb stands out above all others as being well seasoned and tasty. The chicken Wellington is particularly bad, it was thoroughly dried out and the puff pastry shell soggy and disgusting.
Vegetable accompaniments included mashed potatoes, spatle, roasted carrots, asparagus, and rice pilaf. The carrots were heavily sugared, and nearly belonged in the desserts section. The asparagus was well one and crisp, not what we would have expected from a steam table. Mash potatoes and rice were good.
After all this food, we hesitantly approached the dessert counter. A woman stood behind the counter, constantly replenishing the stack of plates filled with all sorts of confections. Key lime pie, chocolate mousse, and creme caramel were all mediocre. The canolli was chewy instead of crisp. The sugar-free dessert was peach pie and it was truly a disaster. All the squares offered were very heavy and rich. Soft serve ice cream with fruit toppings was the best bet.
Overall, we left Bellagio stuffed with food, but still craving excellent food. Although there was a huge selection of dishes, and everything was bountiful, nothing was truly excellent.
A few days later, we headed downstairs in our hotel to the buffet at Paris Las Vegas. Here we found no line although on other days there was a half-hour wait. The prices were slightly less than at Bellagio, with lunch for $17.95 dinner at $24.95 and Champagne Brunch for $24.95. There is a theme to this buffet, the five main province of France are represented by five cooking stations. In Savoie, we found fondue, beef and chicken brochettes, broiled salmon, roasted potatoes and vegetables. The fondue was creamy and delicious with chunks of baggette. Next, at Le Jardin, we indulged with Caesar salad, cheese, bread, and creamy tomato soup. The salad was delicious, with a hit of garlic and anchovy, just like I like it. Also available at this station was Mesculin salad, Meatball soup, crab legs, shrimp cocktail and sliced fruit.
Over at Brittany, we piled duck a la mandarin onto our plates alongside mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans. The duck was creamy and spicy, and completely delicious. Potatoes and green beans were cooked perfectly. Also at Brittany were made-to-order crepes with apples and mixed berry sauce. Of course we didn't wait for dessert to indulge in this specialty.
Over at Burgundy, we found some of our favorite seafood dishes. Seafood vol-au-vent was creamy and well seasoned. The puff pastry maintained it's integrity- the cooks here should go over to Bellagio to teach them a lesson. Mini crab quiches have great flavor, although they are over-cooked a bit. Mussels get a big thumbs-down as they are just to fishy. Also at Burgundy was cod in cream sauce, baked salmon, roasted chicken, and pork chops.
At Normandy, we found the meat carving station. Available today was: Prime rib, roasted turkey breast, glazed ham, veal sausages, and potato gratin.
In Provence we got our vegetable fix with a nicely made ratatouille. We couldn't even force ourselves at this point to eat any of the penne, farfalle, veal picatta or bouillabaisse. However, there was room for dessert. At the dessert section, we found many of the same items that were at Bellagio. Chocolate mousse (sugar-free)was actually delicious and I must say I was surprised. But Paris also suffered a chewy canolli and also a chewy mille Feuille. Items such as these suffer when refridgerated, and if the production levels are so high that they must stay in the refidgerator a long time, perhaps it would be better to develop some different desserts which can handle the refridgeration. Also available for dessert were various pies, creme caramel and soft serve ice cream.

The next day, G and I decided to take a trip off the strip and head downtown. We wandered in and out of the old casinos and watched as people lost their money at he blackjack tables. Feeling hungry for lunch, we wandered into the Freemont Hotel and Casino. Here was a cheap buffet, with lunch for $6.95 and dinner ranging in price from $15.99 to $9.99 depending on the day. Champagne Brunch is only $9.99. Hesitantly, we enter.
The spread here is decent, quite good for the price, but with more "down-home" cooking than the pricier buffets. We have roast beef instead of prime rib, and fried chicken instead of roasted turkey. Also on the menu: beef stroganoff, buttered noodles, corn on the cob, cornbread and oxtail soup. The cornbread was moist and delicious. A couple pasta dishes, sauteed veggies, chicken wings and spring rolls are also offered. I am mostly impressed by the huge salad bar, with a few options for greens and easily thirty different bowls of veggies, dressings, and meats to top your salad. On the other side of the salad bar, there can be found pasta salad, tuna salad, potato salad and seafood salad. The more expensive buffets lacked this selection.
For dessert, we had a choice of many different pies, tarts, and squares, as well as the standard soft serve ice cream. G enjoyed the bread pudding especially. However, my carrot cake was dried out and I felt tricked when it had only buttercream icing. Where's the cream cheese???? All in all, we enjoyed the buffet and found it to be a great value for the money. Or maybe our standards were lowered for this lower-class buffet. In any regard, upon my return to Vegas I will surely be back at Paris Las Vegas for their buffet, and I hope the duck a la mandarin is still there waiting for me!

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