|By Ron Sylvester, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 17, 2013--The executive chef at one of the most polished hotels on the Strip heard customers comparing his buffet to a bathroom.
"We used to have these tiles everywhere, and people said it reminded them of a shower," said Shawn Smilie, head chef of the Buffet at Aria. "That had to change."
Today, just a hint of tile remains. The buffet recently got a facelift. It was only 3 years old.
Owners wanted to make it more appealing and appetizing and display a larger selection of food. More importantly, they hope to position the Buffet at Aria with other high-end Strip buffets, such as Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan and the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace.
The buffet closed for remodeling in October and reopened last month with a new look. Bright colors and grainy wood adorn the space. Low-hanging barriers that once divided the room are gone.
"It's a large space, but the openness actually makes it more intimate," said Bernard Ibarra, executive chef of the Aria.
The buffet is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Breakfast costs $17.99, lunch $20.99 and dinner $31.99. Weekend brunch is $27.99. Food is available from 11 serving stations.
Here's a taste of what's new:
Wood, not tile
Goodbye, shower comparisons. Wood is now the dominant surface at the Buffet at Aria.
Smooth finishes and sleek curving lines give the buffet a softer look, more like a restaurant and less like a cafeteria.
A clear view
At a buffet, diners should be able to see as much food as possible.
Now, that's the case at the Buffet at Aria, where serving counters can be seen from across the room. Recessed lighting provides for a bright atmosphere, which is awash in orange accents.
"We didn't (always) have the bright colors," General Manager Michelle Cabrera said. "It just seems more welcoming."
The buffet features several Indian dishes, including chicken masala, chana masala and basmati rice. There's even a tandoor oven that bakes fresh naan bread.
Much of the food served at the Aria buffet is gluten free.
"I have an allergy to gluten, and I have to be able to taste it," Smilie said.
One of Smilie's favorites is gluten-free pizza.
Made to order
Freshness is always a concern at buffets. The Buffet at Aria has joined many other local buffets in bringing kitchens to the forefront. Chefs cook in front of guests.
"A lot of our food is made to order, so it's not sitting in big bins for four hours," Smilie said.
The salad bar at the buffet isn't self-serve. Instead, guests pick the ingredients while a salad chef mixes them together.
Wheel of gelato
Rather than a traditional ice cream case, the buffet has a turning gelato station. Cabrera compared it to a roulette wheel. Because, you know, this is Las Vegas.
Other homemade desserts continue the whimsical theme. Offerings include chocolate pops, grasshopper cupcakes and rocky road Rice Krispie treats.
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