I loathe Vegas-the leathery lounge singers, the toga'd waitresses, the tired magicians. And yet. Something about it catcalls me to the desert, beckons me into its blinking lair with a curled press-on nail. I must visit it from time to time, gnaw on the bread and gasp at the circus-have sex in a three-thousand-room hotel, my retinas blasted by the perpetual throbbing lights, drunk on the garish cocktails served to me in themed lobby bars by aging mermaids and cancan girls. And then. Of course. I need a tumble with the beast, the gleaming Minotaur that lives in the belly of each labyrinthine casino: the buffet.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Cuisine: American, Italian, Japanese,
Seafood, Chinese, you name it.
Price: Monday to Friday breakfast, $13.95 per person;
Saturday & Sunday champagne brunch, $27.95 per person
(taxes and tip not included)
Drinks: Wine, starting at $8 a glass
and $29 a bottle; mixed drinks, $12
Vegetarian Option: Yes
Smoking: In the restaurant, no;
everywhere else, yes
Payment: American Express, Discover, Mastercard,
Visa, traveller's cheque, cash
Veronica's Verdict: For bacon, veni, vidi, vici.
I feel about buffets the way I feel about Las Vegas: disgust overwhelmed by a predatory lust I cannot resist or explain. The mere plenty of it-mountains of cold cuts, collapsing towers of unripe melon, quivering statues of Jell-O-coupled with the fleshy fact of hands victoriously wielding fistfuls of crustacean are enough to repel even the most gluttonous gourmand. Surely, this is not what it is to eat in the best sense. Yet I can't say I'm above it. The phenomenon sincerely fascinates me as an observer, and also, ashamedly, as an eater. It's the mini-muffins that do me in. And the bottomless barrels of bacon. Rarely do I indulge in this perversion-though I've had my moments, much regretted. But, in Vegas, I feel exempt from exercising good taste. When I roam the strip, dead is the deadpan woman in her pearls; awakened is the tasselled shrimp-guzzling gorilla that I assume lives in us all.
I was sober and starving by the time I and my Captain America reached Paris-or, rather, its evil cardboard twin: Paris Las Vegas. The moon was low and yellow-a round, winking coin. It was raining here and there. Barry Manilow smiled bovinely from his billboard. We were disoriented, our pupils ablaze, from our drive down the boulevard. All those flashing, neon bulbs of light that brighten even the blackest of skies. Dizzy as all hell, I changed into my fringed, harlot-red Vegas wear: in order to truly enjoy a buffet, one must dress the part.
It was not to be. Though it was 9 PM, the wait for the Le village buffet at our hotel-and-casino was an hour and a half long. This was the first of many disappointments. Buffets, I came to understand, are like rides at Disney World. The lines for the popular ones are interminable, snake-like entities, composed mainly of fanny-packing behemoths. I am far too much of a misanthropist and an agoraphobe to endure anything of the kind. Even in the name of bacon.
We drank dinner, a sorry consolation, slumped on the sweaty couch of the Paris' lobby bar, Le central. There, beneath a bright blue ceiling of painted sky, studded with fluffy white cloud, you can watch old people gamble away pails of quarters, whilst you sip the signature drink: the Couchette. Made with Hpnotiq liqueur and citrus vodka, the drink was the colour of the faux ciel above us. Mildly toxic-looking and frightfully strong in taste, one is enough to sear the lining of your stomach forever. But it did the trick. I forgot, if only for the briefest of hours, my beloved buffet. We went to bed, our stomachs aflame and growling.
When we missed the breakfast buffet the next morning, I nearly screamed. I had dreamed of pouring high-fructose corn syrup over a stack of sludgy pancakes, slathering the stack in cream, topping it with bacteria-laden berries. I thought, for certain, if we got downstairs by 9:30 AM, we would make it. But no. We were told by a greasy man in a suit that by the time we arrived at the front of this line, it would be lunch.
We made do with bad three-dollar coffee. As it was still raining, we spent the better part of the day indoors, wasting away in cocktail lounges, smoking too many cigarettes, the jazzy stylings of muzak and jangling coins deafening our already ringing ears. I have a weakness for the bars at Caesars Palace. The Seahorse Lounge, for instance, boasts a 1,700 gallon aquarium and a 360 degree view of Australian pot-belly sea horses. The drinks menu features twenty different champagnes and a myriad of specialty martinis, which frowning mermaid waitresses shake and pour for you at the table (leaving you the shaker and its considerable dregs). Ludicrously expensive but ridiculously alcoholic, one each was enough to make us late for dinner.
By the time we dragged ourselves to the evening buffet, we knew it was not to be, once more-a five-, nay six-hour wait or so it seemed. No longer able to endure the catacombs of mall, the sorry music of swallowed money and clinking plastic cups, we took to the outdoors. We found temporary shelter at the Spanish Steps, an outdoor, heated bar among the plaster roman ruins of Caesars. The place serves up slushy drinks named after gods, goddesses and emperors. I had a Medusa's Stare, watched the rain fall and the fat people waddle, no doubt happily emerging from their buffets. Our flight out of Las Vegas was the next afternoon. We vowed then and there; we would make it to breakfast.
We woke early, ran in the rain toward our holy grail: The Buffet at the Bellagio, apparently the best breakfast in town. The line was as long and intimidating as anything else we'd seen thus far, but we stood our ground, waited, weaving our way through, guided by bastions of velvet rope. We were made to pay first. Then. Finally. Finally. Finally, reader. We were led to a table and told to go ahead and serve ourselves.
1 ounce Hpnotiq liqueur
(a blend of vodka, cognac and tropical fruit juices)
1 ounce citrus vodka
1 ounce sour mix
splash of lemon-lime soda
- Shake over ice;
- Strain into a chilled martini glass;
- Garnish with a lemon twist.
I suppose I suffer something of a Madame Bovary syndrome: fed, as I am, on my own silly dreams of perfection, I am often rendered hysterical and crushingly disappointed when my expectations are not realized. I had been fantasizing about my buffet meal since I arrived. I wanted it to be transcendent.
Well. It had everything, and I do mean everything, in eye-pleasing piles the height of heaven. Eggs Benedict and eggs florentine. Omelette stations. Sundae machines. Wood-oven pizza. Every species of animal from jungle, farm and forest. All the glistening creatures of the deep. Blintzes. Berries unknown to man. Good, bottomless coffee. And, on top of it all, as it was a weekday, the buffet was very inexpensive.
But alas, the choice, like the lights, the hotels, the city itself, was too much. Overwhelmed by it all, I couldn't think things through. I made stupid selections, becoming full on muffins, eggs and a few strips of bacon. The atmosphere, too, was wanting-nothing but mazes of tables, running busboys and drunk people in stretch pants, hunched over massacres of disembowelled crab. The buffet etiquette was atrocious. Everyone seemed terrified that the food would disappear. One woman actually smirked triumphantly at me, as she dumped the last of the marinated strawberries onto her oozing plate.
After one helping, I was stuffed. Unhappily stuffed. And anxious to leave. We lay down in our darkened hotel room, awaiting checkout time or the hairy hand of death. I vowed never to eat again. Though I soon did. On the plane. Those little sesame-seed coated pretzel shavings they give you. And some rubbery pasta. I did so out of sorrow. For I was leaving the city I loved and hated in equal parts, having barely even braved the tail, let alone the belly, of the beast.
Veronica Tartley (Mona Awad) has eaten, shamelessly or barely at all, in nearly every city in the world. She enjoys rain, hurling things against walls and walks on the beach. She lives beautifully in an undisclosed location at the edge of the known universe. There, she weeps her mascara tears, churns butter in the old style and listens to French accordion music.