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We tried Wynn’s ‘re-imagined’ buffet. Here’s what we found.

Updated June 24, 2020 - 3:10 pm

It’s hard to imagine Las Vegas without its buffets; at least it was until the onset of COVID-19. Yet, as casinos shut down in March in response to the virus, many began to muse aloud over whether the self-serve, all-you-can-eat meal that’s become synonymous with the Strip would ever return.

Reports of the buffets’ demise, however, appear to have been at least somewhat exaggerated. On June 18, The Buffet at Wynn reopened to customers with what the resort called “a re-imagined all-you-can-eat concept that combines the abundance of the traditional buffet with the benefits of a full-service restaurant.”

The menu remains extensive. Weekday dinner options include about 50 savory items in seven categories: soups, salads and charcuterie; sushi and chilled seafood; Mediterranean feast; Far East flavors; carved specialties; side dishes; and “buffet specialties” such as steamed king crab legs, beer-braised mussels and basked oysters. The dessert section offers another 20 choices, (not counting all the ice cream flavors). And the weekend menus are even more extensive.

So what’s it like to sample this abundance in the new environment? To find out, we paid The Buffet at Wynn a visit on a Tuesday evening.

The first noticeable difference is the need for a reservation. While a sign in front offers walk-ups the chance to join a wait list by scanning a QR code, a hostess reports few openings on that list. Moreover, those reservations can be made only online, and they fill up quickly (as we learned when trying to book the weekend “gourmet brunch” on Father’s Day weekend). To be safe, anyone looking to experience The Buffet during prime dinner hours (let’s say 5 to 8 p.m.) will want to book a spot a week in advance.

The new system does have the advantage of eliminating lines at the entrance. Arriving at 5:45, there were two parties ahead of us, spaced well over 6 feet apart in the large entranceway. The wait to be seated was about five minutes.

Despite what was apparently maximum booking, there was enough space between parties to feel comfortable, with some tables intentionally left empty. Guests choose from single-use physical menus or a coaster marked with QR codes for online access. Those arriving with masks are provided with miniature place mats where they can set them as they eat. The place is sparkling clean, and employees with sanitizer are visible, but not too intrusive.

The chef, we were told, recommends limiting orders to three or four at a time, to make sure everything is fresh when you eat it. It’s good advice, as the service is so quick and the staff so attentive, there’s no reason to worry about your table sitting vacant for long. Each order is entered into your server’s mobile device while he’s at your table, to allow the team to begin assembling it as you speak.

As you might expect, portions are small — even smaller than the modest images on the menu. There are two medium shrimp, for example, in a “small” shrimp cocktail, and four in a “large.” (The photo shows six.) But guests are free to order as many as they like, should they want to replicate the classic buffet experience of loading up a massive plate of shrimp, crab legs or other favorites.

Some dishes, such chili-marinated lamb T-bone with eggplant puree or miniature pans of seafood paella, are plated far more beautifully than any self-serve option probably would be. Others, such as the carved turkey, offer a distinctly no-frills presentation. The overwhelming majority, however, are of the quality one would expect from Wynn Las Vegas.

The overall experience is very close to, yet still distinct from, the classic high-end buffet. Whether the small but noticeable differences make it better or worse depends on why you go to a buffet in the first place.

If you’re primarily there for a massive feast, interested in trying a lot of different things and/or want to make a disparate group of diners happy, this is hands down a better experience.

If, however, you get enjoyment from browsing a cornucopia of cuisines, or loading up a plate to the point where you can barely get it back to the table without spilling, the new system may be a little disappointing and you may want to think twice before shelling out Wynn’s premium price tag.

Dinner at The Buffet is $60 a person on weekdays, with the “gourmet” weekend version $66. (Brunch is $37 and $49, respectively.) That puts the unlimited feast in a similar ballpark as the three-course “Welcome Back” menus being offered Mondays through Thursdays at Wynn’s Lakeside ($75), Costa Di Mare ($85), Sinatra ($75), SW Steakhouse ($75) and Wing Lei ($75.88), as well as the three-course Summer Preview Menu at Elio ($70). Whether that constitutes a value depends on what you value in a meal.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter and Instagram.

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