I was watching “Modern Marvels” on the History channel where they featured the famous Vegas buffet as well as charted the history of the buffet. It seemed appropriate given that we are in Vegas and partaking of a buffet with Guinness World Record holders and buffet experts, Kevin and Patty. I think they have been to every Vegas buffet, and always seem to know which ones are best, and good value. Now remember, I am not writing about either Warren or Jimmy!
Apparently, we must give the Swedes credit for inventing the buffet in the 16th century, as it is known today. It was actually the name of a piece of furniture, the Braansvinbord (a Swedish buffet table), not the food itself. The Smorgasbord buffet did not become popular until the expansion of the railways in Europe in the 19th century. I grew up with 3000 Swedes and never went to a single buffet!!!
The smorgasbord table actually held more appetizers and then meals, since guests gathered to share pre-dinner drinks. It was not part of the formal dinner. It came over to America in 1939 at the World’s Fair in New York City. The actual word, buffet, came from the French sideboard where the food was served. The second half of the nineteenth century marked the use of the buffet as an English-speaking word.
The concept of eating a buffet comes from mid 17th century France, when gentlemen callers arrived at the homes of ladies they wanted to romance. Their unexpected arrival threw the kitchen staff into a panic. The only food that could be served was food found in the cold room. Back then, the knife was considered taboo at the buffet, since the food must be eaten with a fork or spoon only. Beverages and dessert were allowed, however.
Contrary to Vegas lore, the “all you can eat” buffet concept really started in Minneapolis, with a guy named Herb Macdonald, a hotel manager who introduced the idea in 1946 (a wondrous year, by the way). The casinos started their midnight buffets to keep gamblers in their establishment. They were so proud of this “invention” that they called it the “eighth wonder of the world.”
It was the long gone El Rancho Vegas Hotel that started buffet madness in Sin City back in the 1940s. As the first Strip hotel in Vegas, Beldon Katleman started the buffet and called it the “Midnight Chuck Wagon Buffet” to keep patrons in his casino late into the night. It was originally priced at $1.00. Soon, other casinos copied the idea and started their own buffets. Now, most all of the Vegas casinos sport a buffet.
The three best, according to the newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, are:
1. Carnival World Buffet at the Rio, which features more than 300 international dishes.
2. The Buffet at the Bellagio, with live-action cooking stations, lots of fresh seafood, and emphasis on Italian, Japanese, and Chinese food.
3. The Spice Market Buffet at the Aladdin, now called Planet Hollywood. They feature hand carved New York steak, stuffed pork loin, fresh salmon, along with plenty of foreign cuisine.
Of course, where they are many buffets, there are many opinions. Restaurant reviewer E.C. Gladstone picks Cravings at The Mirage. Highlights include a fresh dim sum & noodles station, good sushi (salmon handrolls and nigiri), salads tossed, gyros carved and panini grilled to order, near-perfect babyback ribs, above-average prime rib (and real cranberries for the turkey), asian salads, ceviche, snapper, Portuguese linguiça sausage, a variety of steamed vegetables and soups throughout.
The Huffington Post Travel section selects The Buffet at the Bellagio, rather pricey at $35.95 on weekend evenings, well worth the price since they serve Kobe beef. Interestingly, they selected the M Resort’s Studio B buffet, though they are located at the far south end of the Strip. It is much easier on the wallet at $14.95. Kevin and Patty took us there last year. I would say it gets a grade of B, although it was a brunch time meal. Anthony Curtis, a local pundit, also votes for Studio B. The Travel Channel, which I tend to enjoy often, also selects The Buffet at the Bellagio as numero uno for buffets. They proclaim their crab legs to be the best in Vegas! And they serve exotic stuff (at least to visiting Kansans) like foie gras, duck, buffalo, quail, and other exotic meats. For ambience however, they chose Le Village Buffet at Paris Las Vegas. But my experience at Paris is that service is BAD, Bad, Bad!!!!