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Buffets take all-you-can-eat
to new level

May 25, 2004 6:50 AM

The buffet scene in Las Vegas, like the Strip, is continually evolving, with the latest development being Cravings at The Mirage. In case you haven’t visited one of these upscale, all-you-can-eat smorgasbords recently, don’t expect to find your granddaddy’s $2 chuck-wagon buffet.

Described in a hotel press release as "a visionary move that marries dining and design," Cravings will open next week with kitchen areas in which chefs prepare international specialties in full view of the diners, who will feast in an atmosphere reminiscent of a fine dining room.

Cravings, in fact, places a lot of emphasis on the dining atmosphere. Backlit glass walls highlight each kitchen area while providing a backdrop for resin tabletops tinged with amber hues. The room also has zebrawood furnishings, terrazzo floors inlaid with onyx and a shimmering metal installation imported from France.

Getting to the "meat" of the matter, the 13 live action stations will have chefs preparing Italian, Latin, Asian, rotisserie, barbeque, pasta, wood-fired pizza and deli food. The hotel says those specialties are presented "in a manner reminiscent of banquets of long ago" and diners will be able to also watch "an array of flat-screen televisions (that) will display cooking shows from around the globe."

According to The Mirage’s public relations department, Cravings’ 22,000 square feet will seat 680 diners and the cost will range from $12.50 for breakfast to $17.50 for lunch and $20.50 for dinner. A champagne brunch will also cost $20.50.

The prices are very comparable to other upscale buffets that have become popular with diners, including those at the Bellagio, Aladdin and Paris Las Vegas.

Dorsey Chisholm, a hostess at Paris’ La Village buffet, says there are eight stations, five of which are named after the provinces of France and feature foods that are identified with those regions such as fish, dairy products, meats and pasta.

Chisholm said the food at La Village, most of which is prepared by four chefs who are from France, is more gourmet-style than any other buffet on the Strip, featuring exotic recipes and herb seasoning and other haute cuisine features.

Taking a major departure from the traditional buffet scene is Cypress Street Market at Caesars Palace, which replaced Caesars very popular Palatium Buffet, which had become famous for its lobster offering.

Actually, Cypress Street Marketplace isn’t a buffet at all. It is an eating venue with nine cuisines and nine kitchens and at every station at which a diner selects an offering, then swipes his "passport card" through a machine that will keep a running total of the cost.

Everything in the marketplace is made to order in front of the diner and the ambiance brings to mind the Napa Valley in California, said Director of Restaurants Peter Kareinski. He added that in terms of healthy eating, the Cypress Street Marketplace "offers (a) selection of cuisines that covers the whole spectrum (and) includes gigantic salads."

Caesars also operates the Café Lago which has both a buffet and a la carte possibilities for the diner. Kareinski said Café Lago has live action stations and a full selection of very healthy options. "Everything we have here is the best," he said. "The quality of food and the quality of service is upper echelon."

Another change at Caesars properties is the addition of the Connection Card issued by the slot club. Players who pile up points on the card can bring the card to a casino-level kiosk where they can pick up a comp slip with the swipe of their card. Then they present the comp slip to the cashier at their choice of eating venues.

Green Valley Ranch offers a similar feature with its Boarding Pass. Players gain points at their games of choice in the casino and the Pass allows the buffet to knock a dollar or two off its prices when the pass is presented to the cashier.

In contrast to all the innovations in buffet dining, the Golden Nugget "hasn’t changed that dramatically" with the arrival of the hotel’s new owners, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, said public relations manager Sylke Finnegan.

She said the Nugget is happy to still be offering "vintage Vegas" dining to gamblers who experience hunger pangs. "When they come to the buffet, they don’t want all the bells and whistles. They just want good food at a great price," she said.

The prices at the downtown Nugget are also more competitive than the prices at the upscale Strip properties. Breakfast costs $6.75, lunch is $7.75, dinner costs $11.75 and the champagne brunch is only $12.75. The highly touted seafood buffet on Friday night, for years a cornerstone of the food scene in Las Vegas, goes for $14.99.

So, once again, downtown seems to be the choice for bargain hunters who don’t want to be short-changed in the buffet line.