LAS VEGAS -- Meet the new Bacchanal. It's not the same as the old Bacchanal.
If you've been around Las Vegas for a while, either as a resident or a visitor, you might remember Bacchanal at Caesars Palace, which closed in 2000.
It was an expansive room lined with classic columns and centered with a reflecting pool complete with nymph fountain, water flowing from her urn. The menu - printed as a parchment scroll - described it as "the most sumptuous of Roman dining experiences," and indeed it was, six courses (plus "intermezzo") accompanied by wines, with "goddesses" on hand to massage the shoulders of and feed grapes to the guests.
Yeah, that's not going to happen in the new one.
But the Bacchanal Buffet - the latest incarnation of the Caesars buffet, set to open Tuesday - is designed as an over-the-top experience to evoke memories both of the old Bacchanal and the word itself.
Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner said the name was resurrected because guests missed the old spot, and because "the word 'bacchanal' means 'a feast of food and wine' and that's literally what you're going to get in the new Bacchanal Buffet."
Dictionary definitions lean more toward "orgy" and "drunken revelry," but we think you catch Selesner's drift.
Debbie Munch, vice president of public relations for Caesars Entertainment's Nevada region, said the original Bacchanal opened with the resort in 1966 and was a pet project of founder Jay Sarno.
"It was completely his project from the beginning," Munch said. "It was designed to create an extraordinary experience that people would talk about, and bring their friends and relatives.
"Our guests really enjoyed seeing their Caesar salad prepared right at their elbow, and bananas Foster flambe. Many of the dishes involved fresh ingredients customized to the guest's preference."
Plus, Munch said, a remodeling added murals to the walls so that guests had the illusion of sitting on a terrace surrounded by pools.
Many of those elements are reflected in the new project.
Selesner said the "very turned-on staff" has been trained to be interactive with guests. Everything about the buffet, he added, is "designed to make food entertaining." He estimated that 80 to 90 percent will be cooked in front of guests.
The 25,000-square-foot space, which seats 600 people, also reflects the "sumptuous" feel of the original. It's on the same footprint as Caesars' most recent buffet, Cafe Lago, but was enlarged with the removal of a large back kitchen area, executive chef Scott Green said.
"We basically destroyed everything from wall to wall," he noted.
Some of those new walls are glass, which reveal an expansive view of the resort's Garden of the Gods pool. Actually, much of the Bacchanal Buffet is glass; that was one of three major elements used by the Japanese firm Super Potato in designing the project. Besides the windows emitting the light from the pool, other glass elements in this area closest to the buffet's entrance, such as divider walls and chandeliers, reflect light.
Wood is the element featured in the next area entered, which also is home to the buffet's private dining room. Wood is used as floors, blocks stacked to form walls and blocks spaced across the ceiling, light streaming through to evoke the filtered light from a tree canopy. The steel area has the expected industrial feel, and was finished with 4,500 sheets of new steel and weathered plates from old industrial applications.
And if the devil is in the details, this is one bacchanal suited for Beelzebub: Some 16,000 bowls, plates, etc., were used as decorative elements, with more than 3,600 glass jars, filled with food-related items. And then there's the practical stuff: seven table designs, 10 chair designs, 17 fabrics. The original Bacchanal couldn't claim any of that.
But no doubt the food is of most interest, and that also will uphold the tradition.
"We're just trying to do something a little bit different, a little bit better," Selesner said.
The operative question, according to Green: "What would we like to see in a buffet?"
Green said he thinks of the buffet as "nine little restaurants," all with open kitchens, which will serve more than 500 items.
"There are still classic buffet items," Green said, "but we've just elevated it in terms of quality and execution."
And lots of not-so-classic buffet items as well, such as chicken and waffles, which will be served in individual fryer baskets, which are starting to show up in more forward-thinking Las Vegas buffets.
"We looked at competitors to see what the benchmark was," Green said, although "the overall development happened before we even started shopping around. In combining a bit of that and a little bit of this across the board, it really helps us identify our own specialties."
Some of those will include red velvet pancakes, which will be served during breakfast and brunch. Shrimp and grits. Sliders. Individual souffles.
"What was most daunting was how do we do all of it at the same time?" Green said. "We just kind of broke it down. Looking at any given item, how could we prepare it at its best?"
Sushi rolls will be made to order.
"There will be a lot of conversation with the cook, so it'll be interactive," he said.
It's all made from scratch, Green added, with original recipes for things like the red velvet pancakes. There's a wood-burning pizza oven, wood-burning grill and a smoker. Even the wood used to smoke the meats will be customized, a blend of peach, red oak, cherry and hickory.
"If you go to barbecue competitions and talk to master smokers, they have a blend. Instead of looking at it from one perspective, we wanted to make sure we have that blend," Green said.
Prices in the new Bacchanal Buffet will be $19.99 for breakfast, $31.99 for weekend brunch, $24.99 for weekday lunch, $34.99 for dinner Sundays through Thursdays and $39.99 for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. There are discounts for children and players club card holders, and the Bacchanal will be included on the company's Buffet of Buffets pass for a $10 supplement.
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