I was in Las Vegas for a two-day-long work conference. Everything was set up for us. They took care of our flights, hotels, transportation and food, and everything was done half-aSsed. I didn’t think I would hate the idea of a buffet until after the first night’s dinner at the Bellagio Buffet. Everything looked liked they’ve been picked over by the time we sat down at 8pm. The lamb loin was so boring. The chicken was dry. The squid salad was chewy. I walked past the sushi station and the lamps made the fish look so unappetitizing that I didn’t even bother. I wondered why everyone makes a big deal of the Bellagio Buffet. The only thing that was worth eating was the quail, which was surprisingly moist, stewed in red wine. The sundae looked promising for dessert, but the taste disappeared as fast as it melted. I looked around me and understood the type of eaters buffets attract. They most likely come from smaller towns that don’t have as many food choices as New Yorkers. The buffet to them is a splurge because it’s in a nice hotel and they’re in the middle of their dream vacation. There were so many choices, but I really would rather have two good courses than fifteen mediocre ones. I had read reviews about the long wait and the view of the Bellagio fountains from Mon Ami Gabi before I left New York. I was adamant to eat something delicious while in Las Vegas so when we finally had some time to ourselves, we took a cab from The Luxor to the Paris Hotel.
Mon Ami Gabi, which means “My Friend Gabi” in French is tucked next to the Eiffel Tower replica. It was dark when we first walked in and the tiles reminded me of the more intimate bistros in Paris, but then it opened up to an atrium bathed in sunlight. It was too windy to sit outside so our table next to the patio was perfectly situated. If the group of ladies next to us with big hair and white shorts weren’t there, it easily could have been Paris. I ordered the potato soup as an appetizer. The chicken broth was subtly flavored and the small potato chunks floated delicately with the chives. The duck confit sat on lentils. The skin of the duck was golden and crispy while the dark meat tenderly came off the bone when poked and nudged with a fork. The fries were a different kind: they were thinly sliced and deep-fried and came with my companions’ orders of steak, chicken and salmon sandwiches. Two others ordered the spinach crepe and the lobster bisque. From the looks of their empty plates at the end of our meal, they liked them, too. I visited Las Vegas for the first time three years ago. I had dinner with some friends at Nobu and I remember that the omakase was excellent. Returning this year, I realized that the country’s top chefs have at least one branch on the strip and that the food being offered have come a long way in the desert, but the buffets still have a long way to go.
Mon Ami Gabi is inside the Paris Hotel, 3655 Las Vegas Boulevard. Call 702/967.7999 to make reservations for dinner inside the restaurant. Otherwise, there is a long wait for the tables outside where diners have the view of the Bellagio Fountains.