Venison and blueberry sausage. Roasted suckling pig. Barbecued roast duck. A caviar bar.
If these don’t sound like everyday offerings at a casino buffet, you’re right. But chefs at several resorts are planning to serve these and other decadent selections on their Christmas and New Year’s Eve buffets.
At the M Resort in Henderson, venison and blueberry sausage is but one of the special offerings planned for Studio B Buffet by executive chef Armel Rafael. He also plans a huge wheel of Grana Padano cheese, partially hollowed out so penne carbonara can be made inside it, with the wheel flamed with vodka between batches.
For the winter holidays, Las Vegas-area resorts pull out all of the culinary stops.
Zach Hillberry, director of restaurants at Caesars Palace, said buffets are tailored to suit any holiday, with, for example, grilling stations and backyard favorites in the summer.
“The Fourth of July weekend is much different than the upcoming holiday season,” Hillberry said.
And how. Wynn Las Vegas executive chef Jonathan Bauman said buffets during the winter holidays are “an all-out feast.”
“Anything you can think of that anybody would crave for the holidays, I want to serve it,” Bauman said.
Which requires a delicate balance, so they serve such familiar things as turkey, prime rib, glazed ham and traditional side dishes and desserts — or “what resonates with us; what our family traditions are,” Hillberry said.
But that’s definitely not the whole picture.
“For the holiday buffets, I do an elevated experience,” said Carlos Guia, executive chef of Aria and Vdara.
Which also can mean reduced; Aria’s Christmas buffet includes a low-to-the-floor dessert table for kids that Guia said is equally popular with adults.
“Other than that, what we try to do is bring in different unique items that we normally don’t offer,” he said. “Peking duck, scallion pancakes, roasted suckling pig, whole salmon en croute, and an action station with risottos made to order, where they can add shrimp or other ingredients.”
“We definitely want to elevate what we offer on those special events,” agreed Palms executive chef Stephen Barr. “Leg of lamb for Christmas, barbecued roast duck, tamales, a high-end vegetable selection. And we always do holiday desserts — brownie trees, Santa Claus hats.”
In order to maintain a balance, Silverton executive chef Ashley Archer said he tries to “take traditional aspects and add a little flair.” And so he’ll be serving Cajun-fried turkey with lobster and corn pudding, a house-smoked turkey, sweet potato salad with maple creme fraiche. And the Cajun shrimp with Cajun smashed potatoes that’s popular on the buffet’s lobster-themed night.
“And then we kind of go away and do things you normally wouldn’t find,” Archer said. “Cedar-planked salmon, osso bucco … oysters on the half shell, fried stuffed crab, yule logs, eggnog cheesecake.”
At South Point, executive chef Christopher Johns will add Oysters Rockefeller Soup, roast duck with orange sauce, seared salmon with winter grains, an action station with Cherries Jubilee flamed to order and hot minced pie, which, “believe it or not, is very popular,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you don’t see everywhere.”
“We feel if somebody’s coming here for Christmas, we should make the effort and do something a little different for them,” Johns said.
But there’s another thing to consider: “If you get too fancy on some of these buffets, it scares some people off.”
“Our demographic really likes those traditional dishes,” said Natasha Gonzalez, assistant food and beverage director of the J.W. Marriott Las Vegas. “We like to offer traditional dishes on Christmas, like the ham, turkey, prime rib.”
They will add some special things, though, such as barbecued roast duck, roasted leg of lamb and chicken tamales.
Bellagio executive sous chef Stephan Dermendziev said they’ll take what they usually feature on weekend gourmet nights and offer it daily Dec. 18-31.
“We’re doing oysters on the half shell, some seasonal salads from our garde manger team, sushi specialty rolls,” he said. “And we’re going to have a caviar bar, with waffles, creme fraiche and blinis every night. A teppan action station, and we’ll be making duck confit in-house, serving duck confit and quail.”
Caesars’ Bacchanal Buffet will add grilled quail with dried cherry and mustard vinaigrette, osso bucco and leg of lamb on the carving station.
“Cassoulet of duck confit, you don’t traditionally see,” Hillberry said. “Things like that don’t work very well in a buffet environment where you have like a trough. It just looks like a mess. We have so many individual dishes out, we have the luxury of making a crafted cassoulet.”
And they reconfigure stations to handle the crowds.
“We’ve started to add additional points of access, like an additional carving station,” he said. “Cocktail shrimp and crab legs in the back where salads would have gone. We doubled up on some of these things to give more points of access and shorten some of the lines.”
Which can be formidable. At 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, he said, they had to tell people they wouldn’t be able to serve them.
“If you were to come down at 3 o’clock, you’d be told there would be a 3 1/2 to 4-hour wait,” he said. “Get there early.”
Here’s to the New Year
Las Vegas resorts bump up their buffets for Christmas, but for New Year’s Eve, the bar goes even higher.
“We do pretty much all we can to make it elegant,” said Jonathan Bauman, executive chef of Wynn Las Vegas. “We try to do as much lobster as possible, everything from po-boy sandwiches for lunch to lobster mac and cheese for dinner, all sorts of pasta dishes that contain lobster, of course lobster claws, too, Jonah crab claws, tons of seafood. It’s a feast. We don’t hold anything back.”
“We go up a notch,” said Ashley Archer, executive chef of the Silverton. “Because of the popularity of our lobster buffet, we’re just going to utilize that. We’re actually going to offer lobster all day on New Year’s Eve.”
“We’re going to throw some really fancy stuff out this year,” said Zach Hillberry, director of restaurants at Caesars Palace. That will include Lobster Thermidor, King crab risotto, little potato souffles with Petrossian caviar.
“It’s New Year’s Eve,” he said. “You have to have caviar, right?”