Question of the Day October 21, 2014
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Q:We recently visited the buffet at the Cosmo in Vegas and noticed that they do a take-out deal for $20, which is excellent value. That got us thinking about how many other buffets in Vegas offer take-out to their customers?
A:The past several years have seen several innovations introduced to the Las Vegas buffet scene, starting with Caesars Entertainment (then Harrah's) introducing its 24-hour "Buffet of Buffets" pass, allowing diners to pay a fixed price for access to many of the company's numerous hotel buffets within a fixed time-frame. What started out as a bargain $29.99 option in April 2010 rapidly underwent numerous price hikes, however, and while subsequent years also saw the addition of the group's higher-end establishments to the roster, with them came attendant (and increasingly exorbitant) surcharges. Luxor and Excalibur also introduced a joint buffet pass, but it offered a lot less appeal and is now off the menu, so to speak, following the closure of the latter's facility for a much-needed remodel and upgrade.
The next venue to break the mold was M Resort's Studio B, which wowed us upon opening, back in 2009, with such gastronomic-envelope pushing as Las Vegas' first dedicated Thai-food serving station, not to mention the inclusion of a range of draft beers (including PRB!) and wines by the glass (and we're talking real glassware!) in the meal price.
Since then, it's been game on in the realm of gourmet-buffet one-upmanship, with moves including Paris' Le Village Buffet becoming the first (and still only) venue in town to offer the line-busting option of table reservations, via OpenTable.com (guests must book 24 hours in advance). Aria underwent an upgrade and reemerged with an authentic Indian Tandoor oven, where guests may watch their naan bread being baked to order. Bellagio, which had long offered its own "secret" line-evading tactic for those in-the-know, with the option of walk-up seating at the buffet bar, has continued to up the ante, first with the introduction of endless caviar, and then with the introduction of a chef's tasting-table upgrade -- usually the preserve of the most exclusive restaurants.
In late 2012, Caesars then trumped everyone with the unveiling of its $17 million Bacchanal Buffet, which set out to raise the bar food-wise to unprecedented heights and by all accounts succeeded. As Anthony Curtis wrote in the October issue of that year's Las Vegas Advisor newsletter, "Caesars Palace set out to create the best buffet in Las Vegas and in the process may have created the best in Las Vegas’ history. This thing is incredible!"
In the midst of all this, Cosmopolitan's Wicked Spoon came on the scene. Like the rest of the property, it attempted to break the mold and, as in other areas, achieved this with mixed success. Again, to quote LVA: "A 24-seat elevated table is the dining-area centerpiece. The food isn’t labeled on purpose, so buffet-goers have to inquire (the idea is to make it a more interactive environment). Individual cast-iron skillets, clay bowls, stainless-steel cups, and china monkey dishes are used for portion control, freshness, and presentation. The food itself is imaginative and different ... But there are disconnects. For example, there was no Hollandaise on the Benedicts and no bagels for the lox. And interacting with the cooks is fine in theory, but asking, 'What’s that?', 'What’s this?' is inconvenient. The line cooks aren’t exactly standing around waiting to explain things to you and sometimes you can’t hear or understand them, so you’re not sure about half of what you’re eating."
One of the breaks with tradition that initially passed us by, but which has stood the test of time, was Cosmo's innovative introduction of a buffet take-out option. Although it debuted with Wicked Spoon, back in Dec. 2010, a call to the hotel today still registered incredulity with the front desk even after the buffet had confirmed that they do indeed offer this facility (as an aside, and speaking of disconnects, the same thing happened yesterday when we called Paris about their table-reservation option). While the cheapest meal there these days is the weekday brunch, for $27, for $18 (plus tax) guests may opt to fill their tray with the small-plate offerings and box 'em up to go.
And Cosmo isn't the only buffet in town offering this service. Earlier this year, we learned by way of a reader that Cravings at the Mirage had also introduced a take-out option. For $16 (any meal), the buffet will give you a to-go box, which you may cram with as many goodies as you can fit into it (apparently a challenge that many patrons have since risen to). We're not sure if this offer is included under our ongoing 2-for-1 deal in the Member Rewards Books -- we suspect not, but if anyone's tried, let us know how it worked out.
One last thought concerns a non-casino buffet, namely Makino Seafood & Sushi Buffet (3965 S. Decatur). This all-you-can-eat establishment serves traditional bento take-out boxes at lunchtime ($6.95, includes noodles, shrimp tempura, California roll, and rice) but also offers the option of a build-your-own to-go platter for lunch and dinner, with small individual rolls priced at $0.35, regular rolls for $0.60, Nigiri for $1, and Temaki (hand rolls) $2.