Let me be clear, I don’t like buffets. In the grand scheme of the universe, they lie somewhere roughly between wasps and stubbing my toe on the end of the bed. At least the pain of a wasp sting is free.
Despite my dislike for the all-you-can-stuff-in-your-belly approach to cuisine, I’ve been dragged encouraged to gorge dine buffet style routinely with family and friends over the years. Oh the horrors I could recount; the frog leg platter that looked more at home in biology class or that one time each diner in our party received a complimentary bottle of wine with our $10 buffet; I’ll leave it to your own imagination how that night progressed.
Vegas of course is an arms race of extravagance that constantly boggles the mind, and in the case of buffets, the belly. And that’s where Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace comes in – the thermonuclear apex of the competitive march for strip supremacy. And there I was this November, self confessed buffet skeptic, ready to enter the launch codes, finger poised on the big red button.
First a few stats – because if nothing else – the numbers are head turning. Bacchanal Buffet turned one year old this September – and promptly also welcomed their one millionth guest. The kitchen crew puts out 500+ food items every day – 300 of which are for dinner alone. The kitchen is staffed by a team of 100, replete with chefs who can count the Michelin adorned likes of Joel Robuchon and Michael Mina as past employers. Heck, Guy Savoy himself reportedly ate breakfast for two weeks at the joint. The $17 million operation features nine kitchens and seats 625 at capacity – it’s the Jurassic Park of buffets.
As you might expect then, none of this comes cheap. If you’ve not been to Vegas in a while, forget those $2.99 steak and egg specials, and don’t expect a free buffet pass for two when you check into your room. Do however expect prices like $45.99 for weekday dinner (a buck cheaper if you present Caesar’s players club card). Also expect mega queues – which on major holidays can run into several hours (a line pass can be purchased for $15). The gleeful buffet apostate in me would love to tell you it sucked. Well, I’m here to tell you I recant, at least in the case of Bacchanal, I’m a convert.
Once you get to the head of the queue, which is really two queues – one to pay, then a secondary one for a table – you’re led through the very clean and contemporary space and shown each of the cooking areas in turn. From there, you’re led to your table and offered an adult beverage if that’s your thing; for Vegas the prices are very reasonable and we enjoyed a carafe of a very drinkable house red for $15 or so. You’ll also be handed a ‘picker upper-er’ (my name) which can be used to grab warm plates from the line – or like us – to routinely pinch your dining companion and cause havoc.
So. What’s the big deal, why the fifty buck sticker price and why the crazed queues. Let’s start where I started, the Asian section – and just a few of the dishes I sampled:
(for all images in this article, click for a larger version)
From left to right top to bottom: steamed and fried dumplings and buns, spring rolls, char siu, soft shell crab, short rib fried rice, various maki and nigiri sushi, shrimp congee with fixings.
It goes without saying these snaps are just a few selections from this singular section of the restaurant; the beef short rib fried rice was just one of three fried rice options – and I didn’t even get to the noodles.
Speaking of noodles, Bacchanal has a standalone station with a range of noodles cooked to order. Everything from tonkotsu ramen through to pho and udon. Indeed, cooked to order stations litter the buffet. Want hand carved meats? No problem. What about a crepe crafted on demand? Sure thing. Or maybe a street taco or three built to your specs – you got it:
Speaking of Mexican cuisine, if I hadn’t gone in forewarned about the vast array of food – I could’ve easily got snagged up here for the duration of my meal; thick verde, spicy machaha, carnitas, beans, rice, salsa, and and, well you get the picture. And if you like things spicy, there’s no shortage of hot sauce either (pictured bottom right):
The selection stretches as far as the eye can see. I’m guessing you could probably see the curvature of the earth if you looked down the aisles of food just the right way. Cheeses, charcuterie, salads, breads, soups, vegetables, BBQ, pizza, American, Italian, seafood, Greek, it’s here in innumerable quantity:
Pictured left to right, top to bottom: cheese, salami, wagyu sliders and Chicago style hot dogs, fry baskets of french fries waffle fries onion rings, puttanesca with polenta and truffle with risotto, ceviche, crawfish boil, seafood soups, green lip mussels, chilled shrimp and crab legs.
With the brisk throughput of diners, very few dishes suffer the ‘sit, cool and calcify’ indignity of most buffet lines. Items move quickly and are replenished with haste. Everything is presented cleanly and often quite beautifully, with more than a dash of quality too – you’ll find tartufo (truffle and pork) among the salami and truffles in the polenta.
And finally dessert, a whole other story unto itself. The dessert station sits in the middle of the restaurant, a wrap around square box, and rather than list every last item, I’ll let the photos do the talking (as ever, click for the larger version):
Suffices to say, what do you get for your fifty bucks? You get a selection like no other with a whole heap of quality to boot. If Oliver Twist were to utter his inimitable phrase, the answer here would be – ‘of course, and would you like some steamed crab legs with drawn butter too?’.
Of course, not every dish was an outright success at Bacchanal, such sheer quantity statistically demands a few clangers. Many items though would be more than serviceable at standalone full service restaurants, and some like the truffled polenta were downright sublime.
I’m still far from a buffet convert, if you do spy me at the Chuckarama any time soon, please do call the authorities. Mind you, next time I’m in Vegas, I’ll be making efforts to make my way back to Bacchanal Buffet. There are still several hundred dishes I’ve yet to try…
Bacchanal Buffet @ Caesar’s Palace
3570 Las Vegas FwyLas Vegas, NV
Rating: 4 out of 5. Reviewed by Stuart Melling on .