The Buffet at ARIA Hotel proclaims a bold statement right in its name: We are the buffet, which can translate to supreme excellence among other all-you-can-eat establishments on the Las Vegas Strip. Its statement is true. Well, somewhat. The Buffet offers delicious food options from around the globe in a beautiful dining area, but misses the mark on customer service.
My guest and I walk from the self parking lot and through the casino. Signs aid our excursion, making our journey to the land of full bellies quite simple. And, in standard Vegas form, it also points out the nearest poker and blackjack tables in case I was feeling lucky after brunch. While taking a ride on the grand escalator, which acts as a stairway to buffet heaven, I soak in the sensual décor and color palette in the casino. Deep reds, rich browns and champagne golds highlight the casino walls and interior decorations. However, the environment’s color changes from its reds and browns to light maple and refreshing whites as we near our destination.
Located on the second floor near to the electrifying Cirque Du Soleil show, Zarkana, The Buffet is tucked away from everything, making it seem like it wasn’t a part of the hotel’s packaged deal. Floor to ceiling windows surround the buffet’s dining area, filtering in plenty of natural light inside compared to the hotel’s dungeon level (the casino). The buffet is its own entity and separate from the glitz and glamour that’s ARIA hotel. The tiles transition from dark to light color, as well. I think the designers of The Buffet did a study and found that lighter color palettes trigger hunger. It’s working on me.
The Buffet opened its doors in 2009 to hungry guests inside the ARIA Hotel, which is part of the megalopolis that is the CityCenter. A state of the art monstrosity, the CityCenter sits on 67 acres between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts and includes Las Vegas’ first Mandarin Oriental, Vdara Hotel & Spa, Crystals residential housing, and the 500,000-sq. ft retail and entertainment district. Among the colossal buildings that comprise the CityCenter, ARIA Hotel is right in the center of it all, making it the structure’s main attraction. Conceived by Pelli Clarke Pelli, ARIA Hotel combines striking architectural style and sustainable design. It also may be the most technologically advanced hotel ever built. Each room and suite inside the ARIA is equipped with in-room automation, which means right when a guest enters a room, the curtains automatically open, music plays and the thermostat is set to an ideal temperature. The only thing it’s missing is an instant automatic gourmet food maker like the ones found in sci-fi movies. But if it were included, guests would have to miss out on the buffet and its vast array of food selections.
After a not too shabby wait in line and fee for the brunch menu—$29.99 per person—we are seated at our table. The buffet is available for breakfast ($18.99), lunch ($22.99) and dinner ($33.99). Friday thru Sunday, they offer a gourmet dinner for $39.99, which I would imagine offers even better selections than the regular dinner during the week. Looking about, the place is huge. Three different seating areas are filled with four and two tops as well as booths. Large parties could easily be accommodated in this space. The dining room is quite large and ample space is available to get through if a large party is seated nearby. My guest and I are seated next to two large parties, and we don’t feel like we are a part of their brunch at all.
My guest and I sit and wait for our waiter to take our drink order. In the meantime, I soak in the design and style of The Buffet’s dining hall. Its furniture and decor is accented with light maple wood and a color spectrum that mimics autumn on the east coast. Glass cylinders hang from the ceiling in multiple areas; a decoration that’s like a modern chandelier. The atmosphere is refreshing, making it okay that the wait staff hasn’t yet taken our drink order.
But five minutes past, and then ten. The wait staff hasn’t yet greeted our table, and the void in my stomach begins to sense that food is near. Alas, my guest makes an executive decision and beelines to the buffet, and I follow suit.
The spread at The Buffet features a wide selection of favored entrees from around the world. It’s organized in different stations: The Fish Market, Asian, Italian, Pizza, Mediterranean, Tandoori, Latin, Carvery, Diner, Salad and Sweets. Most dishes that patrons expect are accounted for during brunch: Alaskan king crab legs, cocktail shrimp, carved prime rib, and more. The Buffet also goes above and beyond to make the diner’s experience different from other buffets on the strip. At the Tandoori station, a fully functional gas powered tandoor oven rests. I watch as the chef pulls out fresh naan from the clay cylinder. I quickly grab a piece to suppress my stomach while browsing the rest of the selection the buffet has to offer.
I comprise my first plate from the Fish Market: steamed clams, and a basket of fried fish and crab poppers. The clams were in a simmering pot, and its enticing aroma quickly triggered my appetite. Its presentation, in addition, was alluring. A single burnt orange pot filled with half open clams screamed for attention, and I responded with a cup full of mollusks and broth in a vessel that has a noteworthy minimalistic atheistic. The presentation of the basket of fried fish and crab poppers caught my eye, too. The fried fish and crab were placed in my own personal deep fryer cage wrapped in newspaper to gather excess grease. My attraction for clams, fish, and crab were not the only reason why I selected these entities; the presentation the chefs used to showcase them made me take notice. Things like presentation easily can make or break for a guest like myself, and The Buffet took that challenge and succeeded.
However, The Buffet has yet to take one thing; my drink order. I finish my first plate without any acknowledgement from the wait staff. Finally, I track a server down and request beverages for my guest and me. The selection is vast and filled with choices, such as the usual soda selection, juices, teas and coffee. Guests could also pay an additional $7.99 if they want to have a choice of bottomless bellinis, bloody mary’s, mimosas or sparkling water. hh swiftly fetched our beverages and apologizes for the wait. Soon after, our real server approaches, introduces herself and apologizes for the wait, too. Things happen, I understand. The server departs, and I head back to the buffet.
I head to the Chinese section for the next stop on my epicurean tour where the selection is formidable and surpasses other buffets’ Asian selections on the strip. Guests can choose from the usual favorites, such as shrimp fried rice and beef chow fun, or try other unique options like Asian frittata, chicken longaniza, and black peppered pork chop. I come back with a plate of delectable Chinese goodies: BBQ pork bun, sweet BBQ pork bao, and an assortment of dim sum and vegetable chow mien. Just like my previous plate, the food’s presentation is excellent. My dim sum came in a personal wicker steam basket, and an iron skillet was used to present the sweet pork bao. The quality, however, is standard; the food’s shelf life is short. I feel like if I would have received my entrees right as it was served, the experience would have been better. Yet, stale food is one of the risks patron’s take when choosing a buffet over a restaurant. Nonetheless, I made my gamble and lost some of the quality.
I stray away from the Asian food and try my luck elsewhere. I head to the Carvery station and find a fine selection. The carving station offers a wide arrangement of cooked sausage, game and beef, all of which are fresh and waiting to be served. I choose the Portuguese sausage, prime rib with accruements and baked salmon side. All my items are piping hot. In comparison to my Asian selections, they are polar opposites. The prime rib’s juices seep out when I cut into it. The salmon is moist and cooked just right. It melts in my mouth like ice on a hot day. The sausage is heavy and fatty, the flavor bursts on my palate while the casing snaps with vigor. I gambled on the Carvery station and won big time.
I’m parched. It might be because of the savory meats I just slaughtered. My beverage is empty and my server is refilling guest’s mimosas at a nearby table, which was down to the bottom of their flute. I wait, like a gentleman should, for her to come and check up on us. I keep my eyes on her like a laser homing in her coordinates. She has to feel my piercing stare, there’s no doubt in my mind. After she refills the last patron’s glass with three parts champagne and one part orange juice, she jets off with her back to my face, not taking even a first glance at my guest and me.
What I’ve noticed are the lack of vegetarian options offered at The Buffet. Aside from the veggie chow mien, its selections of vegetarian options are none existent. The Buffet is heavy on the meat choices. However, The Buffet does offer a full service salad bar. Guests can choose from a simple assortment of ruffage, toppings and dressings. Once accumulated, the salad is evenly tossed by one of the on-duty chefs. This selection is a great station for patrons who are looking for a healthy alternative to the meat haven.
The dessert station is adorned in a contrast of colors from the rest of the buffet’s station, which caught my eye even when entering the dining area. What’s also impressive is its hand crafted gelato choices and freezer, which rotates in a circle reminiscent of the Wheel of Fortune spinner. The dessert station offers appealing sweets that are not only stomach pleasing, but also designed to catch the diner’s eyes. Plate presentation is well above par and is comparable to desserts seen in 5-star restaurants. I grab myself a peanut butter chocolate cake pop, chocolate cake with sauce, and a cup of chocolate gelato. All of my choices are made with quality in mind. The chocolate cake is light and rich. The peanut butter cake pop is similar to the cake, but the added texture from the peanut toppings made it pleasing and memorable. The gelato is a great mix with richness and creaminess. The dessert station is the highlight of my dining experience at The Buffet, and it made me wish I had more room in my stomach for a second round.
My guest and I finally got a refill on coffee and water, but from a new server. Our old server is nowhere to be found, yet that didn’t matter for the lack of attention she gave to our table. Aside from that, the food experience was delightfully fulfilling. The Buffet at ARIA Hotel fufilled its niche; the empty space in my stomach is now full with delicious food from across the globe, even if the service wasn’t up to dining standards.