Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 | 6 p.m.
Five hundred of anything is a lot, but the new $17 million, more-than-500-item Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace is overwhelming.
Opened in early September, executive chef Scott Green’s Bacchanal features nine live stations, among them seafood, Asian, Mexican, Italian and dessert, that present hundreds of daily items. “Live” means chefs cook the food fresh — it hasn’t been sitting in trough-like containers for a while — and quite a few items are served on small plates for presentation and portion control.
Some of the more unique and standout offerings at Bacchanal, which seats 600 diners in 25,000 square feet of modern-design space, include pho, ramen (the chef was taken from Monta in Chinatown), duck, shrimp and grits, red velvet pancakes, watermelon juice, carrot juice and sorbet and gelato flavors including sour cherry, blood orange, baklava and watermelon and mint.
Four colleagues of mine at Greenspun Media Group — Taylor Bern, Las Vegas Sun sports reporter; Andrea Domanick, Las Vegas Sun arts and entertainment reporter; Jack Houston, Las Vegas Magazine editor; and Conor Shine, Las Vegas Sun general assignment reporter — and I dined at Bacchanal Buffet to see how much one person would consume at dinner at Bacchanal.
The goal was not to gorge and get sick, but rather to see how many items would be eaten in a typical meal. However, as with any challenge, there is strategy, friendly competition and perhaps even a little cheating, er, padding.
It turned out to be neck-and-neck — fork-and-knife? — among three of the five eaters. Judge for yourself who won the Bacchanal Buffet Challenge; it’s safe to say that nobody came near 500 items (and that’s a good thing).
Bacchanal Buffet is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Breakfast is $21.99, lunch $28.99, dinner $34.99 weekdays and $44.99 on weekends and brunch Saturdays and Sundays, $41.99 (with unlimited champagne). Children ages 2 and younger eat free, and children’s prices are $10.49 (breakfast), $19.99 (brunch), $13.49 (lunch) and $21.49 (dinner). Also: unlimited draft wine and beer for $15.99; Caesars Total Rewards cardholders receive a $1 to $2 discount depending on the meal.
Don Chareunsy is editor of VegasDeLuxe.com and senior editor, arts and entertainment, of LasVegasSun.com.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
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WHO: UNLV beat writer at the Las Vegas Sun.
STATS: 6-foot-8, 185 pounds. This is my first buffet in Las Vegas and the first anywhere in a few years.
CONSUMED AT BACCHANAL: Greek salad, mixed greens with olive oil, wheat roll, pitas with honey, prosciutto, crab legs, sliders, oysters, mussel, chicken taco, beef brisket, ribs, fried chicken leg, sweet potato fries, mashed potatoes, water, apple juice and coffee. Plus, multiple servings of crab legs, sliders and brisket.
THOUGHTS: I knew dining at a different time than the others on this challenge would hurt, but even I didn’t expect to finish this far behind. Granted, I don’t go to buffets because I generally try to eat six to eight times throughout the day, and thus I’m rarely hungry enough at one time to justify splurging.
Still, I don’t like to lose, and I think seeing what others were doing would have helped with my technique. The seafood station was my first main-course stop, and I piled the crab legs high without considering that altogether they were only worth one. That was a mistake, as was loading up on beef brisket.
The food, as anyone who has been to Bacchanal will tell you, was excellent, but to best sample it all, you can’t focus too much on one station. Also, clear your schedule afterward. I would have been better served by a couple of vacant post-buffet hours to let it settle instead of a concert.
WHO: Senior editor for arts and entertainment at the Las Vegas Sun.
STATS: Plus-size A&E journalist who loves buffets for their variety, not quantity. Well, OK, both.
CONSUMED AT BACCHANAL: Shrimp, East Coast oyster, West Coast oyster, crab legs, seafood salad, soup dumpling, spicy and salty fish, duck, sticky rice, Kalbi ribs, chicken and pesto, meatballs, truffle potatoes, shrimp croquettes, fish and chips, shrimp and grits, clam bake, brisket, spicy artisan sausage, macaroni and cheese, lamb, sweet potato tots, 10 items from the charcuterie station (seven meats and three cheeses), green bean salad, tuna, har gow, chocolate creme brulee, chocolate macaroon, red velvet cupcake, rose meringue, chocolate cone, watermelon and mint sorbet, blood orange sorbet, fig and balsamic vinaigrette gelato, chocolate chip cookie, white chocolate cheesecake, five salsa flavors, chips, guacamole, shrimp ceviche, diet soda and coffee. Plus, multiple servings of crab legs, duck and soup dumplings.
THOUGHTS: A fellow editor in town told me that she loves Bacchanal Buffet and could eat there every day. I agree. The variety and quality are top notch. I’m obsessed with the freshly squeezed watermelon(!) and orange juices, soup dumplings, shrimp and grits, brisket, spicy artisan sausage and watermelon and mint and blood orange sorbets.
I’ve dined at Bacchanal for breakfast, brunch and dinner, and breakfast during the weekday and brunch on weekends get the slight nod, if only because the price point is less, and the wait is not very long (10 to 15 minutes if you arrive before 11 a.m.).
P.S. I recuse myself from the challenge because I clearly padded my total at the charcuterie and chips and salsa stations!
WHO: Arts and entertainment reporter at the Las Vegas Sun.
STATS: Las Vegas buffet virgin and adventurous eater. Will try anything once, but my eyes are inevitably bigger than my stomach.
CONSUMED AT BACCHANAL: Crab legs, shrimp, East Coast oyster, West Coast oyster, mussel, baked salmon, baked trout, shrimp croquette, asparagus, corn, brisket, mashed potatoes, carrots, beef slider, Polish sausage, prime rib, macaroni and cheese, lamb, goat cheese salad, watermelon caprese, eight charcuterie items (three cheeses, three meats and two breads), seaweed salad, spicy tuna roll, California roll, soup dumpling, har gow, salmon sashimi, tuna sashimi, pot sticker, shrimp dumpling, crispy orange chicken, general Tso’s beef, chocolate cake, pistachio macaroon, berry macaroon, mango macaroon, vanilla macaroon, creme brulee, lemon cheesecake, berry cobbler, pistachio mousse, fig and balsamic vinaigrette gelato, baklava gelato, caramel gelato, rose meringue, diet soda and coffee.
THOUGHTS: As the most petite member of the group, it was decidedly ill-advised to try to compete with the appetites of four grown men, but compete I did.
The consistent quality of the food was impressive. The seafood was especially fresh, which is no small feat given the mass quantities they prepare and our distance from the coastline.
Some dishes were certainly better than others, but nothing was by any means bad. Everything was beautifully presented, none of the heaping cafeteria-style metal trays buffets normally bring to mind.
The "500" factor is hard to grasp until it's all in front of you — a guest of any size or appetite could fill up at Bacchanal from just one of the dozen or so cuisine stations.
Despite my strategic small-portion sampling, the sheer number of options had my belly groaning before I made a dent and my buffet experience quickly became one of mind over matter.
My efforts were rewarded with a second place tie and a food coma of equally excessive proportions.
A sage bit of advice: Stick to a few choice dishes (like the soup dumplings, oysters, lamb, and, ok, all of the desserts). I'll be back for breakfast.
WHO: Las Vegas Magazine editor.
STATS: One-time food writer who never had a huge appetite to begin with, and for whom buffets are rarely on the itinerary. Also, extremely competitive.
CONSUMED AT BACCHANAL: Congee, char siu pork, salt and spicy fish, sticky rice, soup dumpling, su mai dumpling, har gow, tuna nigiri, salmon nigiri, spicy tuna roll, special roll, Peking duck, Kalbi short ribs, octopus salad, poke salad, Tillamook cheddar, Cabot cheddar, Parmesan, manchego, reserve-aged cheddar, seven kind of charcuterie, rigatoni and sausage, linguini and clams, orecchiette with pesto, penne alla vodka, meatball, truffled scalloped potatoes, slider, raisin bread, bacon cheddar bread, tomahawk ribeye, grilled corn on the cob, mussels meuniere, sweet potato tots, king crab legs, chocolate macaroon, cherry macaroon, orange macaroon, Madeleine, green tea mousse, blackberry pane cotta, rose meringue cookies (multiple), milk chocolate creme brulee, watermelon mint gelato, baklava gelato, Aztec chocolate gelato, sour cherry gelato and coffee.
THOUGHTS: Coming into the Bacchanal Gluttony Challenge 2012, I was not a fan of buffets, and while Bacchanal did nothing to change that, its spread still competes with the top buffets on the Strip. The dim sum selection is substantial, and the dessert station is a required stop for sweet tooths.
Having returned twice since my initial visit, I can say I much prefer brunch to dinner — and having to eat only, say, 10 to 20 items in one sitting. But if you’re the type who can pack it away (and if you’re interested in dining at a buffet, chances are you can), you will find a lot to love here.
Just please tell them to bring back the rose meringue cookies.
WHO: General assignment reporter at the Las Vegas Sun.
STATS: Skinny Kansas kid who loads up on crab legs and prime rib when I hit the buffet.
CONSUMED AT BACCHANAL: Shrimp, East Coast oyster, West Coast oyster, crab legs, grilled salmon, crab croquette, macaroni and cheese, lamb, prime rib, rib eye, spicy sausage, cheeseburger slider, waffle fries, mashed potatoes, four salsa flavors, guacamole, shrimp ceviche, tamales, carne asada, grilled vegetables, corn on the cob, watermelon and feta salad, bean salad, orzo salad, soup dumpling, har gow, pot sticker, sushi rolls, tuna, apple pie, tiramisu, chocolate chip cookie, butter caramel sorbet.
THOUGHTS: I’m still a buffet newbie, having previously only sampled the offerings at the M Resort and the Golden Nugget, but Bacchanal Buffet easily surpassed both. I tend to stick to the staples — steak and seafood — and I was not disappointed.
The ribeye and prime rib were flavorful and juicy, while the crab legs, oysters and shrimp were all very fresh. Although no dishes were truly great, I was impressed by the consistent quality from station to station.
My one piece of advice is to go in with a plan. I started at the front of the buffet and was full by the time I got to the Asian soups station near the back, which I’d been looking forward to all night.
Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.