In a perpetual game of one-upmanship that evolves in rapid-fire fashion, Las Vegas' top casino-resorts continually push the envelope to merge gourmet cuisine and buffets, a combination typically considered mutually exclusive in other destinations. Based on my recent, exhaustive survey, I can confirm that these five gourmet buffets are in a lofty niche of their own.
The Buffet at Wynn
The three-way fountain at the Buffet at Wynn has milk, dark and white chocolate varieties.
After closing for a major, monthlong renovation in late 2015, the Buffet at Wynn reopened with a bang, introducing several new features and action stations never seen before at a Las Vegas buffet.
Infrastructure upgrades at the rich-looking venue facilitate more exhibition cooking, promoting freshness and showmanship. A new grill enables incredibly specific cooking for the variety of quality meats offered at the carvery, while diners are treated to individually prepared Peking duck buns nearby. And it isn't all about dinner: Of the five varieties of pancakes made to order at breakfast, the lemon ricotta is a standout.
A complete reconstruction of the dessert station has yielded a dreamlike, liquid fantasy: a three-way chocolate fountain (milk, dark and white) ready for a rotating selection of items to take the plunge.
Don't-miss dish: Sinatra Family meatballs are not only delish; the recipe reportedly was Ol' Blue Eyes' favorite.
Bacchanal Buffet, Caesars Palace
The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace has varied dim sum offerings.
Over at Caesars Palace, the wildly popular, 4-year-old Bacchanal Buffet isn't exactly resting on its laurels. With nine distinct kitchens, this massive and extravagant food orgy is a navigational and gustatory challenge for foodies to take on.
The carvery regularly features lamb chops, prime rib, barbecue brisket and flank steak, while the Chinese station tops all competitors with its delicious Cantonese roast meats, chow fun and varied dim sum. The quality cold-seafood display features jumbo shrimp, crab legs and claws, smoked mussels and oysters on the half shell. And while the dessert selection is vast and diverse (warm jasmine pudding with coffee nibs is one of my favorites), only clued-in diners know they can request made-to-order chocolate souffles.
Don't-miss dish: The Chinese barbecue pork and roast duck reflect Hong Kong quality and authenticity.
Three kinds of caviar are on the menu for the Buffet at Bellagio.
The Buffet at Bellagio
A perennial favorite and the city's original gourmet buffet, the Buffet at Bellagio continually ups the ante with high-value culinary targets for its loyal clientele. The carvery routinely features Kobe-style beef, rack of lamb, roast venison and beef Wellington, all prepared and spiced appropriately. On a recent visit, I also enjoyed duck fried rice and grilled quail.
High-quality ingredients make the difference here, with prepared salads like flank steak with tender greens and a California roll containing crabmeat instead of the typical imitation crab. Weekend offerings include an unlimited caviar station, where three varieties of the delicacy are portioned out on blini or toast with the traditional accompaniments. Meaty, jumbo king crab legs supplement the always-available snow crab, and a whole roasted pig often makes a weekend appearance.
Don't-miss dish: For years, I've come back for the sweet potato mash, a dreamy, creamy side dish with a consistency and flavor that's often copied but never duplicated.
Wicked Spoon, Cosmopolitan
Ratatouille from the Wicked Spoon buffet at the Cosmopolitan.
When the Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, it set a new standard for hip style and a functional aesthetic on the Vegas Strip. With its restaurants following suit, it's only natural that the buffet stays au courant with the latest food trends.
As the first buffet in town to serve individually sized portions in mini Paderno pans, Wicked Spoon's winning combination of presentation and food quality promotes an eclectic all-you-can-eat experience. And those who equate trendy dishes with gourmet dining won't be disappointed here, as pork belly, coconut shrimp ceviche, roasted bone marrow with kimchi glaze and crawfish risotto are just a few of the imaginative offerings making regular appearances.
Don't-miss dish: The warm maple pecan bread pudding is one of many highlights at the dessert station, which also features the largest gluten-free array among its competitive set.
A clambake is one of the options available at the Buffet at Aria. Photo Credit: David Yeskel
The Buffet at Aria
Just as the Aria's modern luxury aesthetic is analogous to the Bellagio's classic luxury feel, so are the respective MGM properties' buffets.
Operating quietly on the hotel's second floor, the open, relatively spare but elegant design of the Buffet at Aria stands in contrast to its bold ethnic offerings. The tandoor oven produces authentic Indian fare, while the Italian station's calzones, pizzas and osso bucco hit the mark with flavor and consistency. Popular favorites also include the New England clambake and the excellent made-to-order ramen soup bar.
But it's the compact-yet-classy dessert station that actually elevates this spread into the top echelon. Classic favorites like raspberry rugelach and blondies co-exist in harmony with chocolate cake pops and red velvet cupcakes, while an interesting gelato assortment adds a finishing touch that ice cream simply can't match.
Don't-miss dish: Perfect in its simplicity, the coconut macaroon is a bite to remember and proof that scrumptious desserts needn't be complex to achieve nirvana.