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Extended review of the newly remodeled Aria buffet

Discussion in 'Restaurants & Buffets' started by ah6tyfour, Jan 11, 2013.

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  1. ah6tyfour

    ah6tyfour High-Roller

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    Since my extended review of the Bacchanal buffet at Caesars was pretty well received, I thought I'd do something similar for the new Aria buffet. I'll try to compare against Caesars whenever possible. Scroll to the very bottom for a summary if you don't want to read the details.

    I tried the newly remodeled buffet at Aria today. As it was Friday, lunch was $20.99 (weekday lunch) and dinner was $39.99 (gourmet weekend dinner). The switchover was done at 4pm, so I entered at 3:30, paid $20.99, and munched on a few lunch items until the dinner stuff was put out. For $20.99, it was a great deal.

    The remodeled buffet space looks excellent. A wall was opened up so you could see into the buffet from the walkway outside, and it felt inviting. The colors are more earthy, yet edgy and modern at the same time. It looks like a much better fit with the overall feel of Aria. Not as "hip" as Bacchanal, but more a refined/subdued version of Wicked Spoon. Except for the cold bar, the food serving space along the periphery was retained and two new food serving islands were added where seating once was.

    On to the food. I'm going to start closest to the registers and work my way counterclockwise to the desserts.

    The first station is a very small cold station that was a bit out of place. All that was there was a cold macaroni salad, some strange shredded meat thing, and a mix of olives. To me, this was essentially a waste of space and ruined the flow of the food. The old buffet had a cold station in the same place, so I think they paid a lot of that cold station and didn't want to junk it. So it's there. Nothing stood out.

    Next to that is another odd decorative section that has a grill behind the counter. Under some shelving and accessible to us was mashed potatoes with country or beef gravy. Also a pork and cabbage dish and a small cup of tomato soup with a small grilled cheese sandwich balanced across the top. While the soup and sandwich was very well plated, the soup was room temp and the sandwich had congealed into a greasy and gummy mess. The other dishes did not stand out at all.

    Now we get to the corner where there are two carving stations. The prime rib was excellent. Perfectly medium rare, with good marbling, and a well-seasoned crust. Lamb ribs were served as well and tasted quite good. I happen to like a bit of gamey-ness to my lamb, but if you don't, you may not like this dish. It was underseasoned and so that gamey-ness was the main flavor. It would have served them better to swap that dish out with lambchops. Pork ribs were tasty with a very good barbecue sauce. Roasted salmon and turkey were offered, but I did not have any. The carving station is about as good as Wicked Spoon, but a far cry from what Bacchanal offers. I felt like Aria offered what they had to offer and nothing more. Nothing creative, nothing exciting, nothing that makes you go "what? they have THAT? I must get one!".

    On to the Indian/South Asian section. This is one area that was great at the old buffet, and they have retained it for the new one. The tandoor is still there and producing excellent naan (the garlic naan is excellent!). The tandoori chicken I had was a bit dry and overcooked, but seasoned well. A variety of curries were offered and they were good. They also had some sort of vegetarian burrito, but they were very large for a buffet and I did not take one. If you like Indian food, you will like this station.

    Next is the pizza section. I had mixed feelings about this section. The simple thin crust pizzas (I had the mushroom one) was good. The crust was thin and had a bit of a chew at the end. It was good, but I wouldn't go back for more slices. They also offered a Chicago deep dish that I did not like at all. It was essentially at room temperature and just tasted greasy. I had one bite and I was done. They also had these little dough bites baked and covered with parmesean cheese. They should remove these from the buffet as they are pretty terrible. I'm sure fresh out of the oven they are lovely, but they make so much that it must sit out for hours. There are a few homey Italian dishes next to the pizza, with the best one being the braised oxtail. It is oxtail simply braised in a dutch oven with a little bit of white wine. To me, it was underseasoned and a bit underflavored. I felt like the oxtail was added to the dutch oven raw and roasted with the wine and herbs. It didn't seem like they had done a quick sear of the oxtail to get that beautiful golden brown color that can be deglazed for an immense boost in flavor.

    Here's where things start getting better. The cheese and charcuterie section was excellent. Many choices and presented in a variety of ways. I'm not really a cheese person, so I'll let someone else review it. This is one place where Aria beats out Bacchanal.

    The cheese section extends to a section with fresh mozzerella, skewers of cherry tomatoes and mozzerella balls, sliced goat cheese, and, best of all, burrata! I have never seen burrata at a buffet and it was amazing. It was chilled well and was so soft and rich, yet refreshing. It was finished with a splash of good olive oil and a caper or two. There was also a "toppings" bar where you could add pesto, roasted tomatoes, or olives to your burrata. There were also three choices of coarse salt (kosher, pink Himalayan, and black volcanic). I was thoroughly impressed with this section of the buffet.

    Next was the Asian section. A lot of space was used poorly. There were four serving woks taking up a huge section of the station and nothing of much substance was being served out of them. A fried noodle, a beef dish, egg rolls, and something else. The rest of the station was okay. They had shrimp dumplings in little steamer baskets, but the shrimp dumplings were purchased frozen and of not great quality. They had a korean short rib over rice dish which was decently tasty, although it's nothing to write home about. Chicken satay was cold and the meat was a bit mealy. One standout was the peking duck glazed in honey and served with a bao. This brought me right back to my childhood, where I would always ask my parents to order this at the restaurants and they rarely did because it's a pretty expensive dish. The intention is to take your duck off the bone (leaving that crispy skin on) and putting it into the pocket of the bao. Add some sweet oyster sauce before eating. It was excellent!

    Now we get to the two new islands. Here is where the buffet shines. It's almost as if they shouldn't have bothered remodeling the periphery, since nothing really was improved by that much.

    The island closer to the register has made-to-order salads with a pretty impressive array of dressings and toppings to toss into the salad. The sushi section is very good, with salmon, tuna, and mackerel nigiri offered. I wasn't very fond of their tuna, but the salmon and the mackerel were delicious. The quality of the fish reminded me of Bacchanal when they first opened. Bacchanal's sushi quality has gone downhill a bit since the opening, so the win now goes to Aria. A few cooked and veggie rolls were available for those who don't eat raw fish. Lastly, the island had a couple enameled cast iron pots with soup.

    The island farther from the register was very good. The king crab (only served cold) and snow crab (served hot or cold) was available here. The king crab legs were large and pre-split. The snow crab was a bit puny. Cold mussels as well as very large shrimp (shell-on) were good. There were supposed to be oysters tonight, but I did not see any. Moving on, there was a sort of "cold prepared seafood" section with salmon/tuna poke, a scallop ceviche, shrimp cocktail, and what looked like a gazpacho? The scallop ceviche was the single best thing I had at the buffet and is the best buffet item I've had in recent memory. The scallops are quartered and very sweet, with a firmness that only comes from fresh scallops. The scallops were soaked in an acidic tropical-tasting liquid that tasted like a blend of coconut milk, mango juice, and lemon. Very finely diced red peppers were added for color and texture contrast. It was an amazing dish. It is rare that I find something completely amazing, and this was one of those times. It was better than the duck confit ravioli with brown butter sage sauce, which was my favorite item at Wicked Spoon.

    Also on that island are some fried dishes (of course, served in little fry baskets). There was a fried fish and fried chicken with hush puppies. I did not try it, but they looked pretty dried out and cold. I don't think there is really a way to keep those fry baskets warm. Moving on, we get to a couple seafood soups (seafood cioppino and boston clam chowder). The cioppino was pretty good. Gumbo was also offered and, while it tasted okay, it was muddled and didn't have that depth of seasoning that I expect from a good gumbo. The seafood in the gumbo was chewy. Next to that was a seafood and sausage jambalaya rice. Again, I missed the depth and complexity of that creole dish.

    Finally, we reach desserts. As with the original buffet, the new buffet shines here. The plated desserts all look so elegant and nicely done and you really do wish you could try them all. The flan was excellent. It was garnished with a couple fresh berries, but the best part was that it had been infused with orange zest. The intense orange flavor broke through the richness that often plagues flan. It was a perfectly made flan that had a very pleasant surprise. And it wasn't too sweet at all. The Paris-Brest was also great. It tasted like a less sweet version of a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. The cheesecake was a bit rich, but I won't fault them for that since cheesecake is often made to be rich. It's just not how I like my cheesecake. The serve-yourself desserts were also all very good. They kept the macaroon from the old buffet and it is the best macaroon I've ever had. I think they're made by Jean Philippe downstairs. The brownie was excellent as was the various cookies and cakes. The rotating gelato bar was pretty cool to see and they tasted great. I'm glad they kept the sugar-free chocolate from the old buffet, as it is my favorite flavor. It's not sweet and just tastes like frozen dark chocolate.

    SUMMARY:

    Overall, for the $20.99 I paid, it was a great deal. I would not pay $39.99 though. There were good dishes to be had, but I don't think it will be the success they are hoping for. Bacchanal is still clearly in the lead. They tried to replicate the "modern" buffet, but seemed to have spent too much time and funding on concept, decor, and serving vessels instead of figuring out how to make the food stand out. Also, instead of building from the ground up, they tried to fit a new concept into what was already at the old buffet. So it still feels like an awkward mishmash with limited selection. A lot of the space is utilized poorly and you still walk around finding it frustratingly difficult to fill your plate.


    Oh, they also purchased lots of Le Creuset enamel dutch ovens for serving soups. They still have the tacky plastic lid knobs that come with the pots. It would look much less tacky if they would go on Amazon.com and purchase a bunch of the metal knobs to swap them out. When you're trying to look modern and trendy, the plastic really does not fit. It bothered me so much and it's such an easy fix. I don't know why the person who placed the order didn't make a deal with Le Creuset to throw in the metal knobs free.

    Make sure you ask for a wet nap at the buffet. It is the most impressive wet nap I've ever used. It's an actual towel (thin, sort of like gauze) wrapped up in plastic. In addition to ethanol, it also includes aloe vera extract and essential oils. The packet is so thick that it feels like a travel size pack of baby wipes.

    If anyone else eats at this buffet, please add your thoughts!!
     
  2. chef

    chef Resident Buffetologist

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    I plan to do the Aria next month and this extended review intrigues me further. Excellent work my fellow buffet friend.
    I was planning on doing the late breakfast early dinner, but perhaps the late lunch/early dinner will be more advantagous. I leave before Friday, though.
     
  3. JWBlue

    JWBlue VIP Whale

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    Great review....ty
     
  4. trooth

    trooth Low-Roller

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    You give great reviews. Makes me want to try Caesars buffet, though I have sworn them off next trip. But when in Vegas plans go out the door. Again, great review.
     
  5. ihatesnow

    ihatesnow Tourist

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    Really thorough and helpful. Thanks for posting.
     
  6. ABQJeff

    ABQJeff Low-Roller

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    I won't be there Friday, but I did get the "two buffets a day" deal. We figured we hit one of the meals each day. Thanks for the great review!
     
  7. Hyperfocal

    Hyperfocal High-Roller

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    Sounds like they have upgraded the previous offering. I had a holiday brunch over Labor Day weekend and came away unimpressed. It wasn't bad, but it was a bit pricey.

    It was also pretty empty, which could explain why they made an effort to revamp a relatively new buffet.
     
  8. Boogaloo

    Boogaloo Low-Roller

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    Thanks for the review - it's pretty much the first proper one I've seen of the new buffet.

    I'm a big fan of Indian food, so I'm glad that they've kept it and it remains a good selection.
     
  9. djegators

    djegators Low-Roller

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    Thanks for the thorough review. We plan to try it this week.

    Oh, and I will be shopping for a new handle for my le crueset :D
     
  10. Kickin

    Kickin Flea

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    Great review, its nice to see something different in a Vegas buffet from the standard stations. This Indian one is probably unique. Since you overlapped between lunch and dinner did you notice a significant different in the types of food served at the different meals?
     
  11. dmr

    dmr Registered Abuser

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    How is the line situation?
     
  12. ah6tyfour

    ah6tyfour High-Roller

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    Glad you guys like the review!

    It looks better and is practical! The plastic knobs are good up to 350-400 degrees. Above that, you need the stainless steel. Cheapest way to get it is through Amazon. Almost always around $12. Also note that they make a "large" version for the larger pots. Although I'm not sure what the cutoff would be.
    http://www.amazon.com/Le-Creuset-L9403-45-Stainless-Steel-Replacement/dp/B0014JRN0Q

    Bed Bath and Beyond has it for $13-$14, so with a coupon, might be cheaper there.

    If you live near a Le Creuset Outlet, it's around $10.

    I forgot to mention this! The difference between lunch and gourmet dinner is pretty significant. During lunch, I walked around and thought there was so much wasted space with huge amounts of serving space used to serve two or three insignificant things. When dinner started, most of these spaces were filled in with more food.

    Snow crab is available for lunch (as are the mussels and shrimp). The "cold prepared seafood" section stays intact, so the ceviche, gazpacho, etc are available for lunch (the poke was added for dinner). Nigiri sushi was available only for dinner. Lunch provided sushi as well, but only the cooked and veggie rolls. The soups, salad, pizza, and Indian food all stayed the same.

    Some of the more significant changes:
    -prime rib and roasted salmon added to carving station
    -king crab and, supposedly, oysters
    -nigiri sushi (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
    -oxtail
    -more sides (polenta, a couple potato dishes, etc)
    -Asian section added a lot (duck+bao, korean ribs and rice, fried fish, littleneck clams)
    -an extra fish dish and an extra meat dish added sort of haphazardly next to seafood
    These changes are A LOT more significant than the changes at Bacchanal.

    No line at all. Even with CES in town and tons of CES attendees walking around Aria, there was no line at the buffet. I arrived at 3:30 and walked straight to a waiting cashier. The buffet was maybe 2/3 full the whole time I was there. But that's better than the 1/4 full it used to be.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2013
  13. MNVegasgal

    MNVegasgal Low-Roller

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    What a nice thorough review. I appreciate your attention to detail.. and you made me salivate talking about the desserts. Might have to talk my husband into taking me on the March Madness Trip. I can say.. we have to stay at Aria and try the buffet :)
     
  14. JDinTN

    JDinTN MIA

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    I think you mean "two buffets per stay" -- not per day. Unless you have a different deal than the one they have been advertising.
     
  15. RM777

    RM777 Low-Roller

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    Excellent review! Thanks!
     
  16. StephGrahamKC

    StephGrahamKC Low-Roller

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    Through M-Life, I got an offer in the mail for 3 comp nights with 2 buffets PER A DAY as well. It is different than the online offer for paid rooms.
     
  17. lionelhutz

    lionelhutz Low-Roller

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    I was extremely unimpressed, as were many others, with the old Aria buffet, and I had thought that it dragged down an otherwise incredible property.

    I'm happy to see that an effort has been made to improve it, and I can't wait to try it in March
     
  18. jpm1603

    jpm1603 Tourist

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    Great review! I also received the offer for 3 free nights and 2 buffets per day. I will be there Jan 24-27, I will give my thoughts on the buffet
     
  19. jpm1603

    jpm1603 Tourist

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    Great review! I also received the offer for 3 free nights and 2 buffets per day. I will be there Jan 24-27, I will give my thoughts on the buffet
     
  20. chukli

    chukli Tourist

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    is this the best buffet place for vegetarians?

    I am new to the forum and planning a first visit to LV! Just wanted your help in deciding dining options for vegetarians? Staying at MGM.
    Thanks
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 18, 2013
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