Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Buffet of Buffets: Las Vegas, Nevada

The Buffet of Buffets
Not too long ago a crew of mine from my younger days descended upon Las Vegas, Nevada for a reunion weekend of shenanigans and tomfoolery.  While most of the acts that occurred in Vegas will "stay in Vegas," I couldn't resist returning home to write about one of the most incredible offers known to man: The Buffet of Buffets!

Thanks to Cheetz for the Limo!

In order from left to right, Chetan, John, Tyler, myself, and Chad, met at the airport where a limo picked us up and brought us to the Plaza Hotel and Casino.  I really enjoyed staying off of The Strip as downtown is such a more relaxed and old-school Vegas atmosphere.  Still, a couple nights later we made our way to Las Vegas Boulevard to experience a culinary conquest like no others.  The Buffet of Buffets is offered by seven Harrah's owned properties.  For one very reasonable price ($39.99 for rewards card holders, $44.99 without the card), diners get 24 hours of access to all seven buffets.  Conceivably it is possible to do all seven.  Perhaps one day I'll try that.  But since we had other things to occupy our time in between buffets, we did manage to hit three of their most famous destinations of glutony.

Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas
Our first stop brought the clan to lunch at the Lago Buffet in Caesar's Palace.  No, Caesar didn't actually live there.  But, the casino/resort is a spectacular place with statues, vaulted archways, and decor that really brings you back to the days of old... minus the constant ringing of slot machines that echo the majestic halls.

Chefs at the Lago Buffet
Lago Buffet had a line accumulated outside its entrance at 1 PM.  Despite the wait time, we knew our dining experience would be worth it.  The Buffet of Buffets kicks off when you arrive at any of the seven buffets on the Harrah's list.  Upon purchasing the buffet, your rewards card is activated that allows their computer system to know exactly when its 24 hour window has expired.  With a time stamp of around 2 PM, we knew how long we had to make our rounds the following day.

The Lago Buffet stuck to their specialties.  The menu featured some Italian and Asian cuisines as well as some excellent herb-roasted meats, a divine dish of braised beef, and some of the best biscotti I've ever tasted.  All in all the buffet offered legitimate quality, wide enough selection, and a commitment to keeping up the standards of the cuisine they produced.  While the Lago Buffet did not offer food from all four corners of the map, they made up for it with doing what they do really well.

Prime rib (left) and bacon-wrapped pork (right)
Plate #2 at Lago Buffet.. the mac & cheese and green beans held their own
Dessert plate at Lago Buffet: the biscotti (far left) stole the show
No caption needed
By the time that evening rolled around we had somehow rolled our way over to the Rio.  We killed a couple hours gambling and allowing our stomachs to settle before meandering over to the world famous Carnival World Buffet.  This behemoth of an eatery seems easily as large as a football field.  It is a hike to get from one end to the other.  Carnival World's gimmick is to offer such a wide variety of international and American cuisines that it would be impossible to not find something to satisfy your taste buds.  The buffet stretched from country to country, continent to continent to come pretty darn close to capturing global cuisine all in one spot.  On my first plate I hit up the meats that were right in the center of the World.  Fresh glazed ham, tender and rare prime rib, and surprisingly delicious sausage were sliced on site and plated to order.  The clear winner, among everything that the Carnival World Buffet had to offer, was the prime rib.  That night, I'd venture to say they had the best prime rib in Vegas.  It was cooked rare, expertly seasoned, and as juicy as a fresh peach.  I got both the end and a center cut off the slab of beef and went to town.  The flavor popped in my mouth and for a brief moment, while I was sitting there amongst a sea of indulgence, I didn't care about anything in the world other than getting that next fork of cow into my mouth.

Ham, prime rib, and sausage awaiting their digestion
Immaculate.  Glorious.  Beef.

Unfortunately, while the prime rib highlighted the trip to Carnival World, the rest of the fare didn't stack up.  It seemed to me that they tried to do too much and focused way more on quantity than the quality of all the little niche cuisine offerings.  The Mexican section didn't even look edible, the sushi was a poor attempt at sub-par rolls, the pizza was alright, but not stellar for the kind of oven they had there, and the American section was downright disappointing.  Still, I'd go back from the prime rib.  I hope it wasn't a fluke.

Carnival World plate #1: check out that prime rib!
You think they go through some crab legs?
Carnival World plate #2... you can actually see the plate in this picture!  And yes, that is a corn dog.  No, it wasn't good.
Desserts at Carnival World... the cookies and cream gelato rocked.
After another night at the blackjack tables at the Plaza with our new friends Janice, Toi, and Kimmy (oops, maybe that was supposed to stay in Vegas... nah, it's on Facebook, so it's official), we were set to leave Vegas.  However, none of us flew out until around 6 PM the next day so we naturally had time to hit up one more buffet in order to make the Buffet of Buffets worth it.  We had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, so needless to say we skipped breakfast and decided to head back to The Strip where we would hit up lunch at Planet Hollywood's Spice Market Buffet.  While our bellies and digestive tracts were still a little out of sorts from the two buffets the previous day, I was really looking forward to the Spice Market Buffet.  Unfortunately, it fell flat on its face.  We made it through the line just in time to be within our 24 hour window, and from a distance the food looked great.  Like the setup at Carnival World, the Spice Market had a carving station in the middle and was flanked on each side by as series of international cuisine stations.

Plate #1 at the Spice Market Buffet in the Planet Hollywood Casino
After loading up a plate with a selection of prime rib, some Asian fare, a small taste of Mexico and France, and a few morsels of dried out chicken that represented the Middle East, I met my buddies at the table and began to chow down.  Unfortunately, I was hard pressed to find something on my plate that I wanted to take more than one bite of.  The prime rib was the biggest disappointment by far.  One look at that picture and you can tell how well done and over-cooked it was.  It looked to me like they left last night's beef in the oven for too long.  After eating the beautiful rare prime rib the night before, I pushed this rubbish off to the side and refused to take a second bite.  I went back to the prime rib station at Carnival World twice more before leaving, and every chuck of bovine glory that they sliced was well done.  What a shame.  As for the rest of the food, the best item may have been the spicy boneless chicken wings.  Yeah, exactly.  If that's the best thing, I could have just gone to get chicken wings at Hooters (or anywhere else for that matter).  Oh well.  I guess "lunch" on a Monday at Planet Hollywood really just means "Sunday dinner's leftovers."

All in all I was still blown away by the value of the Buffet of Buffets.  For $40 I got three full, gigantic meals at three totally different buffets inside of three of Vegas's most famous resorts... and there were still another four that I never got to try!  The Lago Buffet at Caesar's Palace wins my award for best all-around buffet of the three.  The selection wasn't as great, but what they lacked in quantity to the other two buffets was easily made up for in quality.  My other award for best single food item goes to the prime rib at Carnival World at the Rio.  I could have eaten nothing but that for three days and been satisfied.  The biscotti at Lago would come in second.  In closing, God Bless America, and thanks to Harrah's for allowing us to wallow around Vegas in such glutinous glory!

Spice Market (Planet Hollywood) on UrbanspoonCarnival World Buffet (Rio) on Urbanspoon
Cafe Lago (Caesars Palace) on Urbanspoon

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