Friday, August 29, 2008

Virginia City Buffet - Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey

It has been quite some time since I have been to a casino buffet. I am not much of a gambler despite a rich fantasy life of playing against foreign spies in a Monte Carlo casino. I find myself in Atlantic City for two days and an opportunity to try two of the casino buffets. The first that I will tell you about is one that I have written about before. This has been my favorite Atlantic City casino buffet – the buffet at The Wild, Wild West Casino, one of the Bally casinos and it is called The Virginia City Buffet. The theme here is – you guessed it – the wild, Wild West and the theme throughout the casino and the buffet is just that.

This is an unusual buffet in one way. It is an adult only buffet. Yes, no children allowed in this buffet restaurant. In fact no one under twenty one is allowed in this buffet. Why? Because the only access to the restaurant is directly through the casino – and unlike other casinos, there is no public space other than the lobby and one must walk across the casino floor to get to the escalator that leads you up to the restaurant.

It has been several years since I have been to the Wild, Wild West’s buffet and some things have changed while others have stayed the same. The most evident change is where you pay to get into the buffet. Like most casino buffets you pay as you enter. In the past you took the escalator up to the restaurant where you were guided along to a cashier line. Now the cashier is on the casino level just to the left of the escalator. There are three lines – which is not evident unless you know to look for the signs above the alcove that holds the cashier area. Two lines are for the general public – regular folks like you and me. The third line is for Diamond Card holders. These are the casino’s high rollers and not only do they get their own line – and probably free eats – they have their own dining room separated by a fence from the rest of us regular folk. Another change that may just be evidenced by the Sunday night that I went to the buffet is that it was not crowded, there was no line to get in, and no need to make advanced (in person) reservations. Years back when I would come here more often there was always a need to get to the restaurant early – sometimes mid-afternoon to make a reservation for dinner and then you would be reserving a spot on a line no earlier than 8:30 pm. We anticipated this and when we arrived at 6 we were told there was no wait. We did not want to eat that early and went back and hour later at 7:00 pm and walked right in. Sign of the times and the economy? The factor may be Sunday night because on Monday casino buffets were jammed.

The hours of the buffet seem to be earlier as well with the buffet closing now at 9:00 pm Sunday through Friday and 10 pm on Saturday night. Dinner is now $21.99 per person. This is not that far off from the better buffets and certainly worth the money for you get. Soft drinks are included and they serve Pepsi products. Some casino buffets are more expensive on Saturday nights and expand their menu. This buffet is the same price every night and the menu is not expanded. You will get the same great meal no matter what evening you go.

The buffet is laid out in counter stations with different themes at each. The first that you come upon is a large counter of soup tureens with a choice of five soups including both red and white clam chowders, cabbage soup, mushroom barley, and chicken noodle. Here there is another change from the past. There used to be won tons and matzo balls to put into the chicken soup. Now it is just chicken noodle soup.

Follow the soup area around and you come to a selection of rolls and breads. Keep going and you come to the salad area. There is a variety of prepared, mixed, and tossed salad here. You can have plain mixed lettuces that you create a salad with from the many toppings and dressings. You could also pick a mixed Greek salad or a Caesar salad. For the side there were tuna salad and chicken salad. I tried the chicken salad which was very good with tender small chunks of chicken. I also tried the Caesar salad which was as good as “fancy” restaurant Caesar salads that I have had. At the end of the salad area just before the dressings, there is a large bowl on ice of large peel and eat shrimp. These shrimp were very good and what you would expect in a good shrimp cocktail.

Next to the salad area is a counter with Italian specialties. Here, on this night, there were stuffed baked shells, shrimp parmesan, pasta with oil and garlic, bow tie pasta in an alfredo sauce with peas and ham, sausage and peppers, and mixed Italian vegetables. At the side of the counter was pizza. It was all good – between us we sampled it all. (This is the best part of a buffet – you can sample. Take small amounts of many things that you would like to try and then if you are still wanting more – go back and take some more of what you liked best. Now, don’t mush it all on your plate at once. Remember the rules – you can go back!) This is not you usual stainless buffet server. This is all inset into a stone – marble or granite – counter, and behind, there is a chef who is cooking the sauté items and replenishing the dishes. The Italian area is just as I remember it. There are no changes here since I was last at the buffet.

Move along from the Italian station and you come to the biggest change in what is offered since I was here last. This area USED TO be a deli counter with hot pastrami and hot corned beef, and a variety of hot delicatessen dishes. NOW, this station is called “New Frontiers” and the selection here changes on a schedule each time to a different theme. This theme was Barbecue and apparently, according to a nearby sign, this is the second incarnation of the barbecue offerings because they call this Barbecue II. There was an interesting selection of barbecue here. A chef was carving beef brisket and basting it in a sauce that a sign proclaimed as Bo Diddly barbecue brisket. Along the line there was pulled pork that was in a mild red sauce, fried fish, barbecued chicken in sauce, smoked sausages (they called it “grilled Milwaukee bratwurst”) in sauerkraut, and several other barbecue dishes. There was also corn on the cob. I tried the beef, the pork, and the sausage – all good.

Move past the Barbecue station and you will be at the Chinese station. Here there are woks full of oriental dishes. Each is being made just behind the counter by a chef who replenishes woks as they need be. The dishes are good and make both entrees and serve as good side dishes to go with items from other stations.

At this point in the buffet area you take a jump back to the beginning and cross to the other side. The whole buffet area is shaped like a horseshoe. By moving across to the opposite side of the front you come to the carving stations and meats. Included here is steak and Prime Rib, along with carved turkey and chicken. The steak and Prime Rib require a ticket and with each meal you are given one ticket. This is done to put a one steak or Prime Rib limit per person. Read my last article about the Wild, Wild West Casino buffet and you will see that I go on about how wonderful this steak is (was). Here is another change. The steaks USED to be large, thick sirloin steaks. They were cooked over a flame grill and were like good steakhouse steaks. There always seemed to be the same lady cooking the steaks and she always got the requested doneness perfect. Well, she appears to be gone and the steak that is served NOW is a Strip Steak. The steak is thin and the cut of meat is not as tender as it once was. The taste was good, but nowhere as good as it was. My requested rare steak was more like medium well and seemed to continue to cook on my plate because it was well done as I finished it. Frankly, it had been the steak that made this particular buffet my favorite casino buffet (years back we would make this trip often as a one day diversion – I like walking on the Boardwalk – and then there is that casino fantasy thing (from the first paragraph). We would try a lot of the buffets and this one wound up on top of the list). With that fabulous steak a thing of the past this buffet (for me) is not what it had been. It is still good but what I liked best is just not the same.

Past the meats is a serving counter with side dishes and these include sweet potato fries, fried potato pancakes, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with garlic, carrots, and a few more assorted vegetables. Side dishes here are good but the least of everything else that is served and for me, I would rather go over the Chinese station or the Italian station and take some of those dishes to serve as sides. I must say that the mashed sweet potatoes were very good.

Ready for dessert? Go back to the buffet area and head for the center of the horseshoe. There you will find a rectangular serving station with a serving person in the inside. On one side of the rectangle are regular desserts – the other side is all sugar free. There are a number of cakes to pick from and real cheesecake. There is a sundae bar in the middle and the serving person is scooping hard ice cream for you. Put hot fudge, strawberries and a variety of other toppings with whipped cream on your sundae. Still want something else- there are hot cobblers. On a diet? There are a number of sugar free desserts – some of which look more tempting than the sugar desserts. Here is just a small warning about “sugar-free” – some sugar free items, especially commercial ones, are sweetened with an artificial sweetener that is actually a laxative. These sugar-alcohol sweeteners are very common and if you look at any sugar free item in your grocery store and read the ingredients you are going to find a word that ends in “tol”. It might be sorbitol or malitol or a large number of other “tols”. These are not something that you really want to put into your system. Not much of it will make you need to make a quick trip to the nearest restroom. Now I am not saying that this buffet is using this to sweeten their sugar free desserts, but I never take that risk and I always avoid the sugar free. In actuality, they are just as high in carbohydrates as their sugar equivalents. So much for the science lesson. Back to the buffet.

Service is excellent. A server is assigned to your table and he/she will bring your soft drinks and coffee with dessert, as well as pick up your plates regularly.

You are getting plenty and there is plenty of variety. The quality is a cut above many of the buffets that I have written about. Here the casinos have buffets and menu restaurants – some which cater to the “elite”. What you are getting at the buffet is not much different (it at all) than the food being served in those “fancy” restaurants.

If you are going to Atlantic City and you want to try a good buffet, try the Virginia City Buffet at Wild, Wild West Casino – but as I said, leave the kids at home.

There is a website link at the side of this page to the casino which will lead you to a brief description of the buffet.


Anonymous said...

The Virginia City buffet is decent, but it is not close to what you get in the fine dining restaurants.

Robert A said...

That may be true, but here we are talking buffets.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite buffet in AC. The steak is almost as yummy as you will find in a regular steakhouse. All the food that I've ever had there is good and I LOVE the ambience. For $22 + tip, it's a pretty good deal in AC.