Friday, August 27, 2010

FRENCH QUARTER BUFFET- Showboat Casino, Atlantic City, NJ - PART 1

When I started writing this I had intended it to be one single article, but it grew to be so long that I have split it into two parts -

Part 1

For two years I have been told that the best casino buffet in Atlantic City, New Jersey is at the Showboat Casino. When the casino first opened many years ago, I went to the Showboat's buffet a number of times. They were known THEN for their all you can eat lobster buffet and way back then it was served every night. I guess there were a lot more lobsters around then and they were more affordable because at the time the buffet's price at that time was not higher than any of the others. Now, you may ask - how could they do that? Well, the answer is they couldn't and the every night lobster buffet became history at the Showboat. After that the buffet at the Showboat became just so, so. Nothing really to brag about and there were better at other casinos.

Flash forward several years later and the buffet at the Showboat moved from one part of the second floor to another. It became a little more open - though the view that you had of the ocean in its original location was gone. But the offerings remained just average and after trying it again, I was not all that impressed and looked to other casino buffets.

Now we come to the present and as I said, I have been told by a number of people that the best buffet in a casino at Atlantic City is at the Showboat. It had to be really good to top what I consider to be the best Atlantic City casino buffet which is at the Wild, Wild West Bally's Casino. We recently went to Atlantic City pretty much just to have dinner at the French Quarter, Buffet at the Showboat Casino.

We went on a Friday night which is called Seafood Festival. Sounded good on the signs around the casino. We also passed a sign that said - Saturday Night - ALL YOU CAN EAT WHOLE LOBSTER. So hey, they have brought that back too, at least for one night a week. Other nights of the week there are other features and I am assuming a lower price. The Seafood Festival was $27.99 per person and the Saturday Lobster is $29.99 per person. I am going to base this review on my experience at the Seafood Festival Friday night feature. The Lobster may be wonderful and more than worth every penny of the $30 per person (which is reasonable for all the whole lobsters that you can eat), but there was no value in what was paid for the Friday night Seafood Festival. Does the French Quarter Buffet hold up to the claims that it is the best casino buffet in Atlantic City - not in my opinion. Let me tell you about the whole night and I will tell you why.

The buffet is located on the second floor of the casino building, above the gambling area and in the middle of the floor that it shares with a theater, banquet rooms, and the House of Blues nightclub/bar. The second floor is reached by escalated at either end of the building. You walk down the hallway and you will see the buffet - a large open area along the middle of the hall. Getting in was confusing. There are three entrances - each for a different "comp" card holder - holders of the silver, gold, or platinum cards each go into a different entrance and those without cards enter where the silver card holders go in. All of this and all three entrances enter into the same cashier area with the same cashier desk. I am certain that when there is a crowd - on this Friday night on the last weekend of July there was surprisingly no crowd and no line at all (???) - you will wait much less time depending on which card you have in your hand. You have to earn that gold or platinum card with how much gambling that you do.

So, we finally find the right entrance opening and go to the same cashier that everyone else would go to and we pay - $27.99 each. If you do have a card it is swiped and "points" are added to it. The more points you have (from this or gambling- the more things you get from the casino - which are called "comps" for complimentaries). We go to the side of the cashier and are met by a young woman who escorted us to a table. A server came along almost as soon as we arrived and we were asked for our drink orders which are unlimited soft drinks included in the meal price. If you want wine or beer that is extra, but available with a per drink charge. They seem to be serving Pepsi products as that is what my wife thinks her diet soda was - Diet Pepsi - though she commented that she could not be sure it was not a no name brand.

The layout of the buffet is this - there is a dining room that forms an L around the very long serving area. The entire rear wall is the serving area with a salad and dessert island in front of that closest to the dining tables. Each type of cuisine is SUPPOSED to be in its own section along the serving area - Chinese in the Chinese section, meat in the carving section, Italian in the Italian section, seafood in the seafood section and so on. I say supposed because it was actually scattered all over the place with no sense or reason at all. What should have been in one was mixed into another area. It really was necessary to walk completely around and take note of what was offered to be able to find everything because if you skipped say the Chinese area because you were not in the mood for Asian food but you really wanted some plain string beans (NOT Chinese style string beans) you were not going to find them because they were next to the trays of fried rice and lo mein. Behind each serving counter was an open area for chefs to cook what was being served. Nothing was being cooked to order but they were cooking and refilling what needed to be out - at least as some stations - but not all.

We usually start our meal with soup and soup was scattered all around the different stations. Over by the raw bar and some of the seafood there was Manhattan Clam Chowder (the red kind). At the Chinese area there was egg drop soup. At the Italian area there was Minestrone soup. And then between the Italian area and the carving, hidden so well that I did not find this until mid-meal was another soup - Turtle and Snapper Soup. I took the clam chowder and it was fine - nothing much different than the clam chowder that is served every night at every diner on Long Island where I live (yes, in some areas there is always Chili offered, on Long Island in a diner there is always Manhattan clam chowder). Anyway, the clam chowder was nice - lots of clam pieces but nothing special. I will say here that later I went and had to try the Turtle and Snapper soup. I have had mock turtle soup before and I have had red snapper soup before - usually made with sherry. I have liked both when I have had them. The serving tureen of this soup was skimmed over with a thick layer of cooled soup. I took the ladle and stirred a lot to blend this thickened layer into the soup. I started to scoop and long, thick strands of soup hung from the ladle. Was this supposed to happen with this type of soup? None of those other soups that I have had - the mock turtle or the snapper did this. I scooped a half cup. It looked like brown gravy. I thought to myself that perhaps this was not soup at all but brown gravy for the beef. It was actually thicker than the thickest brown gravy would be. Back at the table I took a taste - the thick reddish brown soup clung to the sides of the cup and again, a long strand of something came up with the spoon and down into the soup. I bravely, broke the strand and tasted. It tasted like other snapper soup that I have had. There was the distinct subtle taste of sherry. The taste was pleasant - the consistency was odd. It was super thick and those strands kept coming up with the soup. There was no pieces of anything in the soup - just these stringy strands. I did finish most of the half cup, leaving behind what was clinging to all of the sides that the soup touched.

My wife visited the salad bar next and I went on to the raw bar. The salad bar was very extensive with a variety of salad toppings to go along with the greens and then a number of prepared salads including a Caesar salad that was prepared. I tried the Caesar salad later on and it looked a lot better than it was. The dressing - and most of what is Caesar salad is the dressing - was weak. My wife was upset that a number of the salad toppings contained drippings and pieces from other toppings containers. I commented to her that this was the fault of the people serving themselves moving one spoon to another container but she pointed out to me that at many salad bars at buffets - including the chain buffets - the employees come around and correct this when it happens - removing whatever does not belong or even replacing the container. Here this did not happen and the - let's call them "contaminated" containers remained that way the entire time that we were there. While eating her salad, my wife discovered that the slices of cucumber that she had taken were all spoiled.

As I said, while my wife had salad, I went to the Raw Bar and there were raw oysters and clams on the half shell. The oysters were large - perhaps too large to eat comfortably for raw oysters. I took three oysters and one clam. The oysters were not wet as they should be and instead of silvery grey in color they were a dry, pale yellow. I ate the first one and thought that it was slightly off in taste - not bad but not with that fresh ocean taste that raw clams should have. They were served on a large bed of ice so they should have kept fresh but it is hard to tell how often they are taken and replaced. I tried one more with more concern - and the last thing that I wanted on this night was raw shell fish poisoning. It did not have that fresh ocean taste and that was it for oysters for me that night. I did try the clam and it was OK - too large really to be very good. The Raw Bar also had shrimp in the shell - large shrimp that had been de-veined. The ones that I picked were fine. My wife took some later that she said were under cooked and not good. So far the Seafood Festival was not so festive.

END OF PART 1 - Come back next week for PART 2


Anonymous said...

I am surprised many people have told you that the best Atlantic City buffet is the Showboat. The Borgata and Harrahs are generally considered the best.

The different lines to get in the buffet are gold, platinum and diamond. Dimaond is given the priority, then platinum... gold is last.

BTW Ballys Wild Wild West buffet has significantly depreciated in recent years.

Robert A said...

As you can see from this article, that from my experience at the Showboat it is far from the best.

I have not been back to the buffet at the Wild, Wild West in two years - when last there it was still pretty good - not as great as it had been years back - but still pretty good.