Are you old enough to remember that old political cliché “as Maine goes, so goes the nation”? Of course, it isn’t applicable anymore. All those Boston liberals moved to Maine to dodge taxes, and now, it’s just another Blue State.
But my “gourmet dinner” at the newly revamped Buffet at Aria did bring the phrase to mind. The buffet, in its present form, is a microcosm for what we are eating in America today. Twenty years ago, the idea of eating dim sum, Chicago style deep dish pizza and salumi, or sushi on a casino buffet would have been absurd. Today, they are de rigueur.
Actually, though, the recently re-opened buffet here is much improved, and makes more sense than the previous incarnation. First off, the color scheme, burnt orange and beige highlights, is more relaxed. Secondly, the casino has made better use of the space, so it now feels more open and inviting.
The buffet is divided into sections with names like Sweets, Diner and Asian, clearly displayed in signage above the various dishes. The desserts are now individual portion sizes, except for items such as deep dish apple pie, or a cinnamon swirl bread pudding, which are spooned up from large bowls. Many dishes are presented in Le Creuset pots, those French enamel Dutch ovens that are both so attractive and practical. Other dishes are displayed in Mason jars with open tops, an idea cribbed from the Wicked Spoon, the groundbreaking buffet across Harmon Avenue at the Cosmopolitan.
This is just another battle in the buffet wars. Caesars Palace fired a huge shot across the bow of their competitors when they opened Bacchanale Buffet, their extravaganza in the main casino. (The Caesars buffet has been doing a land office business; sometimes there are lines of up to two hours just to get inside.)
That won’t happen here, nor has it happened at the Cosmopolitan. These buffets are what I call location challenged. Buffet at Aria is on the second level, next to the Zarkana Theater, up a long escalator from the casino floor, not a location you’d pass by accident. (Wicked Spoon suffers from a similarly obscure, second level placement.) Oh well.
At any rate, here are some of the highlights you can expect if you dine here on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening, when fresh oysters and King crab legs are on the menu. I am impressed by the naan bread and tandoori chicken at the Tandoori station, and they also stock three or four Indian curries on a rotating menu.
Sushi is made to order while you watch; the unagi, or fresh water eel, is especially tasty. At the Carvery, you’ll find the obligatory turkey and roast beef, with the surprise of leg of lamb offered. Directly next to it, there is a Barbecue station, loaded with meats that have a nice smoke ring, made in the main kitchen downstairs. (The huge, meaty beef ribs rule. Pass on the fatty brisket).
At the Asian station, there are dim sum trios in individual bamboo steamers, plus four wok dishes, typically, a fried rice, a fried noodle, and two meat based dishes, each one still in their giant woks. The Italian station has terrific cold cuts, deep dish and thin crust pizza, Stromboli, garlic bread bites and pastas en casserole, such as lasagna.
But what impressed me the most was the Sweets. Here, there is a twirling display of house made gelati, French candies such as pates de fruits and fresh marshmallows in serving dishes, beautifully plated, imaginative pastries, Red Velvet whoopee pies, and a terrific pistachio apricot roll being just two, plus gluten and sugar-free options.
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. In fact, I don’t think Kansas is, either.
The Buffet at Aria serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Call 590-7111 for information regarding hours and prices.
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