TBRARUMUD All-Stars: The $38.00 Buffet

Monday, January 12, 2015 | 0 Comment(s)

Originally published on February 2, 2010, what follows is one of the rare wonderful moments that took place during a psychology conference in Las Vegas, NV.  I chose this piece partially because the advise at the end of the piece is as applicable now as it was during its original publication.  Enjoy!  -MZ

Now, there really are quite a few negatives about Vegas that I feel need to be shared. But, in the spirit of optimism, i'm going to go with one of the positives. And thus begins the story of the $38 buffet.

Saturday night, my final night on the strip, a few friends and I were looking for a relatively inexpensive, tasty (remember what I had eaten the night before) dinner option. Having already eaten at Burger Bar (YUM!--so good I suggested going again), we decided to hit up the Bellagio Buffet.

Now, I'm going to be honest, "buffet," to me, does not have a good connotation. When I think of a buffet I think of a line of food laid out on a table or set of hotplates, that sits, touched or untouched, for a block of time not unlike the block of time you are supposed to reserve for the cable guys arrival ("just be at home anywhere from 10am - 4pm, we'll get to you"). So the chance of getting food that has been sitting out is generally pretty high. I, for reasons I can only think must be tied to my experiences, also think of Chinese food and multiple forms of fried noodles and rice. There have been exceptions to the rule. I once went to a glorious Indian wedding in NYC whose endless Indian delicacies rocked my sari off (figuratively). But this, sadly, was the exception, and most buffet dinners I have had have led to extended visits to Sergeant Porcelain's infirmary. It's conservation of mass folks--what goes in, must come out. 

All of this is to say that when the group decided on buffet, I was not thrilled. But it promised to be relatively inexpensive, so I acquiesced (im a cheap date). Because of the 5 person limit for cabbies, I took the bus and met the rest of the group at the Bellagio. 

(*Begin tangent. The Bellagio is beautiful. It is everything the Riviera is not. There are rooms dedicated simply to art exhibits and floral displays. It has a huge fountain [from the end of Ocean's 11] outside that shoots streams of water in time with songs blasted from the heavens. I'm not saying that the consumption culture of Vegas is my thing, but if it is your thing, the Bellagio is your thing. End Tangent*) 

By the time I got the the hotel, there was a line for the buffet (not a good start) and I was full on hangry (so hungry that I'm angry). Like everywhere in Vegas, there was also a second line for "people with buffet line passes" aka. "hotel approved cutters." My friends were at the food already, and I was not about to eat alone. I cut. Sue me. I don't care. Turns out, as karma would see to it, cutting only allowed you to move directly to the register to pay for said buffet. "How many?" she asked. "just one for the buffet" i replied. "38 dollars," she retorted. "Just one," I repeated. She just pointed to the register (which glowed $38.00). 

Full stop. I have seen Pulp Fiction, and thus have heard of a 5 dollar milk shake. But a 38 dollar buffet!!! I did not see how this could be possible. In my vision of lined up food, a 38 dollar buffet must stretch for miles. Alas, peer pressure kicked in. They were inside and eating, I was outside and hangry. I paid. I felt robbed and a little violated (which, in all honesty, was kinda a constant feeling in Vegas). And then I saw it, and all of my tension and angry melted away. 

In looking for my friends I happened upon the sushi station (yes, station). The sushi station is a full circular counter with a sushi chef in the middle. On it there ia all-you-can-eat sushi ranging from seaweed salad, to basic salmon and tuni sushi, to elaborate hand rolls. I immediately have two simultaneous thoughts.

1)The first is that I begin to understand that the Bellagio will be redefined my previously held notion of "buffet."
2) I realize that, though I was planning on eating cheaply, I will, nevertheless, be eating my money's worth. 

Your see, the sushi bar was merely the tip of the Pizza-the-Hut that was the epic display of food at the Bellagio buffet. Where the Riviera made me suspect that there was, quite possibly, no actual kitchen on the premises, the Bellagio made me think that they actually had a working farm behind their double doors. I immediately made the decision that vegetables and starches would NOT be a part of my dinner, and that I should forgo poultry in favor of the goods of the oceans and land. I totally understand why i avoided the vegetables and starches (the prior have no food in their food and the later take up more than their share of space), but I can't honestly tell you how I so automatically discarded the possibility of eating foul. But the decision was automatic. Thus, this happened.

Salmon -- 4 ways -- sushi, some kind of raw hawaiian salad, cooked, and smoked
Tuna -- sushi & handroll
Sea Bass -- not mutated, not ill-tempered
Shrimp -- in paella and a la carte
Mussels -- in paella, poached, steamed, and in red sause
Giant Crab Legs -- from Alaska and Japan
Kobe Beef (un-ba-fucking-believable. this was my 2nd time eating Kobe [both this trip] and its juicy deliciousness really was as epic as I heard)
Prime Rib
Short Rib (didn't fall off the bone--grrrrr)
Roast (not that good)
Lamb Chop (the best kind of lollipop)
Lamb some other way

aaaaaaand I think that covers the main course. If you haven't guessed yet. I am not a vegetarian (Captain Obvious to the rescue!). I do think I need to take a second to say that there is a very good argument for this monstrous buffet being evil. The amount of excess and, i can only imagine, waste, is really indefensible. But, seeing as I plan on bagging on Vegas pretty hard in the upcoming blogs, I am trying to ignore the negative here with a semi-blind eye. Feel free to express your outrage in the comments if you so choose. And with that, onto dessert.

Creme Brulee
Key Lime Pie
Eclair (with chocolate filling!?! Fail.)
Peach/Apricot Mouse (which was yum)
Bread Pudding (orgasmic--and many people's fav)
Carmel Sause (eaten both on stuff and with my fingers--I love carmel/butterscotch almost as much as Fluff)
Flan (flan itself--not great, sause around it, drank that right up i DRINK YOUR FLAN JUICE . . . I DRINK IT UP)
A banana (dipped in carmel)
Other desserts of note that I didn't eat -- soft-serve ice cream station, apple crisp, cheesecake)
I even had a little fun with my food (for $38, there should be an actual playground for playing with your food). Here's my little food sculpture:

i am so immature. this picture was made with 2 key-lime pies and carmel sause. there is a little bread pudding hanging off the side of the pie, but isn't there always. I still say it's hilarious.

Other notes RE: the buffet. There was a salad bar station, which i imagine has never once needed refilling. I am sure I missed both important things that I ate and that were available that I missed. The point is that this "buffet" was so elaborate that you could actually miss things. No longer constrained to a straight line, this non-linear food display occupied a small football field with pretty much every food that I know of. I now understand that buffet = choice, and the Bellagio certainly gives you plenty of that.

After the meal, I had eaten so much that my food baby felt like it was pregnant with twins.  I felt a little like a pre-juiced Violet Beauregarde. The punchline here is that as I went to the bathroom post meal, I was SHOCKED to see that it only contained one stall!!! This, i thought, must be an oversight. There is no way that that many humans can pound that much food, and then there is only one receptacle for return. Thankfully, for myself and others, upon exiting the buffet, there is a rather large bathroom directly outside the buffet area. I realized soon afterwards that this is most likely designed purposely to move visitors out of the buffet area as soon as they reach capacity, so they don't, um, unload, and come back for more.

On a helpful note, if you start doing your taxes now, you'll get your return right around when your friends are frantically trying to send their taxes in. And there ain't nothing better that riding one's high douche horse (a saying my friends and I have come up with for behavior including correcting someone's spelling in an IM conversation) right around tax time. Don't say I didn't ever teach you anything. ;)

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