Haute is in at many of city's buffets

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LAS VEGAS -- As Las Vegas resorts continue to go upscale, their dining offerings have followed suit. Even the ubiquitous buffet -- long a staple of the Vegas quantity-over-quality experience -- has gone haute as hotels strive to compete for upper-end business.

Food snobs who've previously belittled the all-you-can-eat model may now eat their words -- along with 5,000 additional calories.

The following upscale dinner buffets offer quality fare and value:

The Buffet at Bellagio: True to expectations, this is an upscale affair.

The de-rigueur cold seafood is taken up a notch here as the shrimp are large and meaty. A pantry station offers specialty salads such as Caesar, duck with arugula and radicchio/endive, and the selection of bread and rolls is diverse.

Roast buffalo, venison, Kobe beef and wild boar are some of the exotic meats offered on weekends, when the price inches up seven dollars to $31.95.

Side dishes are plentiful here; a favorite was the Curacao-infused mashed sweet potatoes.

This spread is as close to gourmet dining as a buffet can get. Service is outstanding and attentive. Dinner: $24.95. Note: Be prepared for long waits on weekends.

Le Village Buffet at Paris: Set in a re-created French village, Le Village Buffet wins points for originality and food quality.

Once past the salad bar featuring cold crab legs and shrimp, guests are in for a rare treat: French cuisine served at five separate and extensive food stations, each representing a region of France.

Chefs were imported from Alsace, Brittany, Burgundy, Normandy and Provence to add authenticity to the dishes at their respective stations, where dishes are prepared in small batches to ensure freshness.

Be sure to visit the two new live-action stations: La Raclette (melted cheese with a medley of cured meats, steamed potatoes, assorted vegetables and French bread) and La Grillade (grilled skewers of meat, seafood and vegetables).

A varied selection of soups, pastas, roasts and ragouts complements an assortment of crusty French bread and rolls, and topping it all off are French pastries and a live-action dessert crepe station. Dinner: $24.95.

Cafe Lago at Caesars Palace: A compact and classy affair, Cafe Lago's dinner buffet epitomizes the quality-over-quantity experience.

Featuring subdued lighting, aqueducts and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Garden of the Gods swimming pool, the room is a fitting backdrop for the cuisine presented.

Creative salads served in Italian pottery, specialty breads, soups, pastas and quality cold seafood are all perfect starters. The Chinese station excels with shrimp fried rice and vegetable egg rolls.

Main fare includes roast meats and side dishes, and the dessert highlight is a coconut macaroon. Exacting, professional service complements the elegant atmosphere, and David Osborne plays piano to entertain diners. Dinner: $21.99. Note: 24-hour menu service also is offered here.

Spice Market Buffet at Aladdin: A kitschy Arabian Nights decor is the backdrop for five separate food stations plus a salad bar with steamed clams, mussels and cold seafood.

The ethnic-themed stations are Asian, Italian, Mexican, American and Middle Eastern. The Middle Eastern fare is typified by lamb and chicken skewers, hummus and baba ghanoush.

The wait here is typically shorter than at other buffets, which results in fewer strained nerves. Service is warm and attentive without being overbearing. Dinner is a quality feast at a bargain price: $20.99.

Village Seafood Buffet at Rio: A slightly frenetic atmosphere pervades this seafood extravaganza, but seafood lovers don't seem to mind all the action.

Like clams? Have them steamed, fried, baked or in a chowder. Oysters on the half shell cascade on a hillside of ice next to a mountain of crab legs.

Sushi chefs prepare a variety of the delicacy, served with appropriate garnish. Landlubbers haven't been left at the dock here, with fare such as prime rib, chicken and BBQ short ribs.

Arrive early on weekends (before 6 p.m.) to avoid long lines. As the evening progresses, the wait can be arduous -- but it is entertaining, as the Masquerade Parade passes right above the queue. Dinner: $34.99.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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