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Las Vegas buffets go upscale

A caviar station is one of a features you can find as Las Vegas buffets go upscale.
A caviar station is one of a features you can find as Las Vegas buffets go upscale.

OK, I admit it, I have a soft spot in my heart, not to mentioned my stomach, for a good buffet.

My fondness for the endless stream of food probably stems from my childhood visits to the smorgasbord at the Sweden House restaurant in Arlington Heights, Ill., the town where I spent most of my youth. We didn’t go often, every other month or so, but did I ever make the most of it when I was there.

Hand-carved ham and roast beef, multiple types of potatoes and a seemingly endless array of desserts had this 12-year-old hooked.

I’m a bit more discerning these days, as well as being keenly aware of the potential caloric intake a buffet offers, so my trips to the all-you-can-eat meccas are far less frequent. In fact, they’re almost non-existent. Until I wind up in Las Vegas.

For decades, Vegas was home to the inexpensive buffet meant to lure diners into the casinos with the offer of endless, cheap eats. My, how times have changed. Today’s Vegas buffets are nothing like the ones featuring shrimp cocktail for $2.99. No, buffets on the Vegas Strip now cost more, offer more and sometimes even provide a gourmet culinary experience. This article is about one such experience: the buffet at the Bellagio and the brand new chef’s table.

“Buffets represent the ultimate indulgence, and the chef’s table is our way of offering the attentive service of a fine dining restaurant with the variety of offerings afforded at a buffet,” the Bellagio’s executive chef, Edmund Wong, said.

The goal is to “engage guests with a blend of luxury, chef interaction and entertainment,” he said.

I didn’t get the chance to experience the Bellagio’s chef’s table, but I did partake of the buffet’s gourmet dinner service, which was absolutely awesome. The gourmet dinner service is available on Friday and Saturdays from mid-afternoon through the evening.

In addition to a stunning array of high-quality choices, including sushi and salumi among dozens of other taste temptations, the gourmet dinner service features an unlimited caviar station. Yep, for less than $40, diners can opt for a decadent option featuring American, Tobiko and salmon roe caviars.

House-made blinis, miniature buckwheat waffles and ahi tuna cones can also be found, along with a variety of traditional caviar garnishes such as chopped egg, onions and crème fraiche. I could have stopped at the sushi, salumi and caviar, but, of course, I didn’t.

How could I when there was also Kobe beef, rack of lamb and quail to be savored? And you can have all that and more at the executive chef’s table. Assistant chef Tina Pipitone said the bookings for the executive chef’s table had exceeded their expectations, with 10 to 12 tables being booked a week. Those guests make up a relatively small percentage of the thousands of customers the Bellagio buffet serves every day.

It’s all new. It’s all gourmet. And it’s all delicious.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.

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