Friday, September 05, 2008

La Piazza - Buffet at Caesars Casino in Atlantic City, NJ

The second day that we were in Atlantic City we spent part of the day checking out the buffets in each casino to decide which we would have dinner in that evening - the quest is a story in itself, and perhaps in the future I will tell it. The buffet that we did decide on is called La Piazza located at Caesars Casino on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

La Piazza goes along with the theme of the rest of Caesars hotel and casino - ancient Rome. The menu only partially reflects this them but the decor puts you in a Roman courtyard. To start out I want to say that the food was excellent, but I wish I could say that the rest of the experience was the same.

The wait on a Monday night in early August was one hour of standing on line to get in. This buffet has three lines to get in. The long line is for us common people - those who are paying cash or have a "gold card", the lowest of the casino's promotions and comp cards. With that card you can earn points by gambling (for an excessive amount of time) and you can use those points for a free buffet (or whatever else is offered). There is a much shorter line for "platinum" card holders. This is the same as the gold card, but these cards are earned by gambling a lot and for this you wait on line much shorter. Both of these lines fed into the same seating line after you paid and the platinum folks and the common folks were taken to tables from the same line. There was also the "diamond" card holders line which was very short and these people were taken to their own short, seating line and were seated first.

While we were waiting they temporarily closed the gold and platinum cashiers to allow the seating line to get shorter - and to allow the "diamond" people to all get to their tables as quickly as possible. Wasn't that nice! In about ten minutes the cashiers were opened again and we continued to advance up the line. We paid and went to the seating line which had about four tables ahead of us. When we were finally taken in to the dining room we were walked through the quaintly Roman decor dining room with columns and a fountain and brought into a dining room that looked lime a catering hall dining room - plain cream color walls and plain decor. This room adjoined the main dining room but it clearly was an overflow room. We were seated and our soft drink orders were taken. Later we found that walking past that pretty fountain was a problem if more than one person wanted to get through - and when someone in a wheelchair came through they could barely pass around it.

Ah yes, let me get the details out of the way before I continue. The price for the buffet is $23.99. (The website lists the price at a dollar less.) With sales tax dinner for two comes to just about $52. Add a tip to that and you come out to $60 or more. This includes soft drinks. There is also a breakfast buffet and a lunch buffet. This price is for weeknights. Saturday and Sunday the price is higher. If you are a gambler, get one of the gold promotions cards and play all day at Caesars and you will probably eat for free. Either way you are giving your money to Caesar.

So... we went up to the buffet to start our meal. The buffet is laid out in a long continuous line. At the far end the line breaks to two stations. What this means is that people interpret this to be a cafeteria. They start a line (a long line) at the salad end and work their way across filling plates to the brim. (No one this night had read the "Rules".) If you made an attempt to reach in and grab a plate and then move around you were met with angry and dangerous looks. This line snaked all along the buffet server. It was such that it was impossible to just walk around and see what there was to offer. Not only this but there was an atmosphere of confusion and tension throughout. This dining experience was far from relaxing as a result - and at theses prices this is not good. We got on the end of the line and moved along slowly until it was our turns at the salad area. One thing that I can not speak about this buffet in terms of section by section or area by area because as we later learned things were scattered all over the place with no reasoning to their placement. There were mixed salad greens and the fixings for Chicken Caesar salad along with other salad toppings and dressings at the start of the serving counter and moving past that there were several prepared Italian salads. The best of these was grape tomatoes with balls of fresh mozzarella cheese in an oil and vinegar dressing and a salad of olives, peppers and other vegetables in an oil dressing. At this point there were no other salads, but three quarters of the way down the counter there were more salads and at the seafood station there were other salads. As you could not walk down the line, look, and choose without waiting for everyone to get what they were taking along the way you would not know about these other salads. After the Italian prepared salads there was a soup server - just one. It had Creme of Broccoli soup - not my favorite choice, but I took some to try and it was very good. Later I found another soup server - half way down the counter - next to a variety of carafes of cold juices. This soup was a spicy Mexican chicken and noodle. I wound up trying this mid-meal. It was tasty but you have to like spice. We returned to our table with salads - and I took the broccoli soup so as not to get back on line. Back at the table my wife commented that some of the serving dishes were so far back in the server that they were almost impossible to reach if you are short.

I had ordered an ice tea and it came to the table with a large sprig of mint in it. It made a nice presentation and was very refreshing. The second glass that I received had smaller sprig of mint. After that there was no more mint in my glasses of tea (they were not large glasses) - yet others were getting ice tea with mint.

Going back up after soup and salad, we decided to forget the line, ignore the stares and attitude and make our way along the outside of the line of people and try to see what there was to offer. I made my way over to the end of the buffet area where there is a pasta station and a seafood station. At the seafood station I tried the seafood salad and the large peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp were big and good. Larger and nicer than most most peel and eat shrimp that you get a buffets. The seafood salad looked like crab, but it was not real crab. I tried it but it was not worth finishing. It was a disappointment - looks are deceiving.

I next went to the Pasta Station. Here there were small meatballs Parmesan, pasta Bolognese (pasta in oil and garlic with finely chopped broccoli and peppers, small cap shaped pasta in tomato sauce backed with mozzarella cheese, and mussels cooked in tomato sauce. There was also small whole sausages and peppers. I took the two pasta dishes and a sausage. All were very good. The pastas were excellent.

I was ready to find the entrees. I got a plate and walked away from the line of people and explored as best as I could for the choices. As the side dishes were mixed in to the entrees I will present them to you as I came upon them. There was a rice pilaf (that my wife thought was Chinese fried rice and was not very much pilaf). There was zucchini grilled with mushrooms that were too salty. The first of the entrees came next - fried chicken. There was mashed potatoes with the skins mashed in. This was good. They had a thin brown gravy to go on top of the potatoes. Finally, I came to the meats. There was slices of turkey that had been grilled - perhaps patties of boneless turkey breast. These looked dry with heavy charred grill marks. My wife, who was looking for turkey, did not take any. I passed it by. Next there was pieces of sirloin steak, also grilled. Next to the sirloin there was a chef slicing flank steak. I opted for the flank steak over the sirloin (I could have had both) because it seemed to me that it had not been sitting and was inclined to be juicier. The flank steak was good. It would have been better rarer, but that is just my taste. Between the two kinds of steak there were carrots in a sweet glaze. There was also a large leg of pork- they called it a steamship round of pork with a leg sticking straight up above the area that a chef was carving. At first glance I though it was a whole turkey with one leg - but it was pork. I took a slice of the pork and was offered pork gravy. The gravy was very good. The pork was good, but had more of ham flavor than a fresh pork flavor. The meat was white like roast pork and not pink like ham. Following the pork was a tray of bluefish in a sauce. Mixed in between there was steamed broccoli (they like broccoli at this buffet). The meats ended here and the counter turned a corner, and then there was a server of red potatoes which led to where there were three or four oriental dishes. One was a chicken in spicy orange sauce, dumplings, Thai pineapple rice (which was pleasantly not spicy and not overly pineapple tasting), and a dish of spicy pork with peppers.

The counter made another turn and here we found the other soup - the Mexican chicken soup. There were bowls here for the soup but no soup spoons. It was necessary to go back to the beginning of the counter where the other soup was to get a spoon. (There was no container for the spoons so it was not that they had all been taken.) As I said earlier, next to the soup were a number of cold carafes of fruit juices including tomato, orange, cranberry, grapefruit, apple, V-8, and others. It would have been nice to have these as an appetizer if you knew they were all the way down the line. The counter took another turn and you come upon fresh fruit - whole oranges, apples, prune, canned peaches, mandarin orange slices and cut up melons. There were also containers of yogurt. You have to wonder if this is a hold over from the breakfast buffet. Here in the fruit section there was also the only butter and margarine. Rolls had been mixed along before and after this.

What followed in two separate counters was the seafood station and the pasta station. I have not yet mentioned a dessert area. This took some looking for. Tucked into the corner of the room behind a short partition was the dessert counter. The dessert counter was an L. The short leg of the L had some very tempting cakes - which were all labeled sugar free. There was also pound cake mixed in with a hot fudge sauce and another hot sauce to put on top. This was not labeled sugar free - BUT it led off the sugar free section. All of the sugar desserts were around the corner of the L. The dessert server was labeled as to what each cake that was out should be - BUT no cake matched its label. The carrot cake was under the cheese cake label. I am not sure which one was the actual cheesecake. There was no label for Tiramisu but one of the cakes looked like it - and they were supposed to have it somewhere. There were two hot desserts - one a chocolate cake (which was very good) and the other was Danish bread pudding. There were tiny cream puffs in a bowl (labeled eclairs). Usually these are accompanied by a dipping sauce - maybe chocolate. These were not, but despite no sauce they were very good. At the end of the counter was an ice cream sundae area, but this was not a make it yourself sundae. There were two people making soft serve sundaes to your order. This sounds like a good idea, but you have not control really of your portion. I would have liked a small amount of ice cream but watching them they were filling the bowls with more ice cream that you really want after a full buffet meal - plus you were again waiting on a line to take your turn to get your sundae - a line at the pace of these two people together making them one at a time.

So how was the service? Service was JUST fair. Dishes were cleared away by the three people moving about this dining room. Drink refills took a long time to arrive. And the ultimate buffet serving problem occured. When we went up to get our dessert we came back to find our table completely cleaned off. Now, we both had caps with us that we had worn while we were out walking around this day. We put the hats on the table - right in the middle at the side. When the server came and cleared off the table of our silverware and half finished drinks, and saw no evidence of dessert having been eaten, what was he thinking when he cleaned off the table. We arrived back at the table - there were our caps where we left them and nothing else. I stood next to the table until the server saw me. He came over surprised. "Oh, not a problem. What do you want?" is what he said. Not a problem for him maybe but a nuisance for me - especially with all of the rest of confusion that this buffet exuded. I looked at him and said that we needed drinks and silverware. Again it took the drinks a while to arrive - as it did the silverware. Also to note, my wife watched an employee refill a serving dish at the buffet and just add the new on top of the old - leaving what is at the bottom to forever stay at the bottom if this continues to be done. The standard is to take take out the old, spoon in the new, and then add the old on top - so it is taken and does not go bad.

Overall, the food is good - some excellent. The set up of the buffet is the worst that I have ever encountered. As I said, it was confusing and tense. The layout seemed to have no forethought. In the world of buffets there are scatter buffets and there are cafeteria style buffets. I have been to both. This one is a cafeteria-style with no organization. There is no problem bringing children here. It is located away from the casino, but there is not much in kid food here. If your kids are picky eaters and fried chicken is not enough, this is not the place to come.

Would I go back? I was hoping for a new favorite. If you have read my recent article on the Virginia City Buffet at the Wild, Wild West Casino, you know that it was my favorite, but has changed slightly - not for the worse, but it has changed. After La Piazza at Caesars Casino, the Virginia City Buffet remains my first choice. It is in the casino next door - go there instead.

The casino has a website and there is a short write up about the buffet. There is a link to there at the side of this article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I go to AC frequently. I find Ceasars' buffet the worst of the Harrahs owned buffets. Next time try the one at Showboat or the one at Harrahs, they are both much better (tho Harrahs is expensive if you don't have comps).

In their defense, the "class system" is due to their desire to get their higher level gamblers fed and back on the casino floor as soon as possible.