Harrah's Buffet is Half Decent
Surprisingly good service, well prepared Asian food and several fresh food stations couldn't make up for the mediocrity of half the selections.
This week I conned two fellow non-smokers into joining me for Harrah’s Buffet. It’s impressive, but let me first say if you’re asthmatic, have a sinus infection, or are particularly fond of your lungs you might want to think twice.
It’s no surprise I couldn’t smell any of my food. The sheer concentration of smoke was almost a physical assault, and I’m no wuss.
If I’m in a crowded restaurant I’ll sometimes ask for the smoking section because these days that will take a good 15 minutes off a Saturday night wait. This was more like boarding an airplane in 1960 when everyone inside lit up nonstop and the air had nowhere else to go. My lungs still burn.
Harrah’s wisely makes up for patron’s complete inability to smell their food with genuinely attractive presentation. The first thing you see is the massive selection of desserts like red velvet cake, chocolate shells filled with fresh berries and cream filled cannelloni.
And that’s before you reach the crepe station.
The rest of the buffet is divided into four sections: Homestyle, Asian, Cold Foods and Meat. I sampled a little from each and was genuinely surprised with the high quality of the Asian section.
I’m a big fan of well-prepared green beans. I shied away from those in the Homestyle section, which were a limp and faded army-green. The Asian stir-fried green beans were tender-crisp whole beans served in a light, sweet, slightly spicy sauce with hints of Thai style chili. I went back for seconds, which is something I rarely do at a buffet.
The stir-fried beef and vegetables consisted of tender, fat free cuts of beef with carrots and snow peas in something reminiscent of Hosin sauce.
I was impressed with the firmness of the vegetables. I’m not a fan of deep fried balls of mystery meat coated in a thick, sugary paste. Apparently neither is the head chef at Harrah’s, because the Asian section was entirely free of that stereotype in favor of fresh vegetables, light but flavorful sauces and simple ingredients.
The small selection of sushi was great. The deep red of the tuna spoke to freshness and quality and the presence of eel showed they weren’t padding out the buffet with the cheapest possible ingredients.
For people who want more traditional American food, Harrah’s has an entire kiosk devoted to nothing but fresh grilled meat. They have brisket, eye of round and T-bone steak among other things.
The brisket made me want to apologize to the poor, dead cow who sacrificed her life for this meal. This confusing mass of stringy protein had no flavor. It could’ve just as easily been texturized vegetable protein. The grill master gave me a massive portion but I couldn’t force down more than three flavorless, gristly bites.
The T-Bone, on the other hand, wasn’t bad. It was understandably the thinnest cut I’d ever seen on a bone-in steak, but this is an all you can eat buffet where small portions are a good idea. I asked for mine medium rare and it came out medium well. The generic steakhouse spice rub was perfectly serviceable, though the char from the well-used grill added a heartier, well-appreciated flavor.
A T-Bone is half sirloin, half tenderloin, so it should be a buttery soft cut of meat. However, the entire table shook as I aggressively tried to saw through my half inch of meat. Eventually, I gave up and started ripping meat off the bone with my hands just so I could get a few bites.
The Homestyle section offered perfectly servicable renditions of breakfast foods. In every way that the Asian section excelled, but the Homestyle section set a new bar for mediocrity.
Harrah’s had helpful staff manning the well-stocked omelet and crepe bars. When told to use their imagination, the woman manning the omelet stand came up with a delicious combination of tomatoes, basil, chives and a dash of hot sauce. When I requested a mystery crepe the friendly server filled mine with fresh caramel, bananas and nuts with a splash of blueberry on top.
At $20 per person, I don’t know if I can really recommend Harrah’s buffet. It wasn’t poorly executed, and they did a good job ensuring the food was attractive enough to make up for the fact you couldn’t smell it over the omnipresent smoke. However, for $20 per person I could have a fantastic, freshly made meal at IceKitchen, a night of drinking at Maryland Yards or a great lunch at Thai Kitchen with money left over.
The well-executed fresh food stations bump Harrah’s buffet up from a C to a B-.