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Anneli Rufus

Anneli Rufus

Posted: January 4, 2011 03:20 PM

Mussel-clam risotto crowned with whipped ricotta. Glorious ham-hock mac-and-cheese. Greek loukaniko sausages with roasted black grapes. Tender gnocchi with life-changing lamb-tomato ragú. Macadamia pizza. Currant pilaf. Custom-rolled sushi. Dim sum. Grilled quail in a pomegranate glaze. Actual silvered eggshells filled with faux eggs fashioned of mango and coconut cream. Chocolate mousse topped with shiny golden marshmallows. Nut tarts aglitter with gold leaf.

This is the food of fantasy, the sort of fare you'd expect to be served in a fairytale palace, in your loving grandmother's kitchen, and at elite urban hotspots where no one mentions the price. It's not the sort of fare you'd expect to serve yourself at a buffet restaurant, much less a buffet restaurant in the Nevada desert.

But this is what $3.9 billion buys. Well -- this and more.

At a staggering cost of $3.9 billion, the Cosmopolitan casino resort opened on the Las Vegas strip two weeks ago, and its Wicked Spoon buffet -- which redefines the very notion of buffets -- is just one of a dozen edgy restaurants staffed by award-winning chefs.

Chef David Myers helms glass-walled French bistro Comme Ça, which boasts a pewter bar, wraparound patio and tableside-carved steaks. Chef Scott Conant helms both the enoteca/espresso bar D.O.C.G. and Scarpetta, which also has outposts in New York and Miami and sports a 3,000-bottle wine cellar. Seafood is flown in from Japan and from the Atlantic daily to Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, headed by Cordon Bleu-educated brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg. Other restaurants include Spanish Chef José Andrés' Jaleo tapas bar as well as his innovative China Poblano, which merges Chinese and Mexican street eats.

"We're not like the buffets up the street that just throw basic things in metal hot boxes and serve mountains of watered-down American food," the Wicked Spoon's Chef de Cuisine Bradley Manchester told me when I visited on opening weekend. "Our concept is not for everybody."

Carried out by Manchester and executive pastry chef Thomas Trevethen, this concept mandates that nearly everything served at the Wicked Spoon is made in-house, from breads to jams to dressings to gelato, and of course all those gourmet-style entrees. Other Vegas buffets, says Manchester -- a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning Texas native whose past gigs include Houston's Hotel ZaZa, Paris' Four Seasons Hotel George V, and Las Vegas' Renaissance -- use food cooked at distant warehouse-like kitchens and delivered by truck.

A stone's throw from the Bellagio, the fifty-story, 2,995-unit Cosmopolitan offers bespoke guest-room decor, a multilevel cocktail bar designed to look and feel like the inside of a gigantic chandelier, and a 100,000-square foot casino -- which, along with the restaurants feature the work of interior architects David Rockwell, Jeffrey Beers, Adam D.Tihany and the Friedmutter Group.

Guest rooms feature Japanese soaking tubs and rain showers. Some of those rooms occupy more than 5,400 square feet.

You might not win at the roulette table. In this economy, you might not even bet. But at least you can score some gold leaf.