What Aria’s refreshed buffet says about you, plus Simon says, ‘eat’

The vaunted Las Vegas buffet is as much a part of the local landscape as blackjack tables, strip clubs and the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. The Buffet at Aria (590-7111) has undergone a complete remodel, and it’s a considerable improvement. But what I find more interesting is what it says about what we are eating in America right now.

Twenty years ago, if you approached casino-marketing execs with the notion of eating dim sum, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza or sushi on a casino buffet, you would have gotten a disbelieving stare. Today, these are de rigueur items you will find on any reinvigorated buffet in the city.

Aria’s buffet isn’t grand as Bacchanal in Caesars or as accomplished as Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan, but it has its merits. The color scheme—burnt orange and beige highlights—is relaxing. And a formerly cramped space now feels sleek, cozy and modern.

The buffet is divided into sections with names such as Sweets, Diner and Asian, clearly displayed in signage above the various dishes. Highlights include fresh oysters and King crab legs, naan bread and tandoori chicken at the Tandoori station and three or four Indian curries created by local Indian chef Tapan Bose of Mantra Masala.

Sushi is made to order, and the Carvery stocks leg of lamb at dinner. Nice, smoky ’cue, such as beef ribs and brisket, has a proper smoke ring. The Asian station features dim sum and wok dishes, while the Italian station offers terrific cold cuts, pastas en casserole and both deep-dish and thin-crust pizza. And don’t miss a twirling display of house-made gelati for dessert.

Meanwhile, ever-young rock-star chef Kerry Simon seems to have made the transition to the new management at the Palms without a hitch. He’s still running Simon Restaurant & Lounge in Palms Place (944-3292), and several new dishes have infused his menu with energy. Say what you will about Simon, but there’s no denying he’s one of the best chefs in the city.

Take for instance, his fork-tender Spanish octopus, paired with charred potatoes and sweet peppers; or a delicious roasted cauliflower salad with burrata, aged balsamic, duck salami and the surprise of pine nut brittle shot through the greens. Sure, you’ll still find the Simon standbys of meatloaf and red Thai curry on this menu, but make room for a Morro Bay black cod with bacon cider vinaigrette, or the thickest lamb chops in the city, now glazed with honey soy in a nod toward the Pacific Rim.

Fried apple pie crowns a dangerous dessert menu, stuff Simon himself—in spite of what he might tell you—wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Hungry, yet?

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