Verdi, NV — Well it couldn’t last forever. My paid dining winning streak. Having come off a wonderful experience at the New Moon Cafe in Nevada City, CA, I knew my editor would send me to a place that would challenge my culinary tolerances.
At first, when Lou told me I was going to Nevada on my next assignment, I was excited. I never had been to a casino as an adult before. Heck, I had never been to Nevada before. So when he told me I was going to a Nevada casino, and that uniquely American experience, the all-you-can-eat-buffet, I assumed I was going to write some quiche piece about Americana; a kind of Jack Kerouac meets Hometown Buffet. (Admit it, you know Neal Cassady would have loved it. Would have stuffed his pants will Salisbury Steak, gravy and all for a late night snack.)
Anyhow, this brings me to Verdi, NV, which is I guess is a suburb of Reno, but not really. More like an oasis for RVs who forgot to gas up in Sparks. Whatever. Back to Boomtown…
Like all buffets in casinos, there is much fanfare before one reaches the restaurant, which is typically buried in an obscure location within the bowels of the building. I have to admit, I was excited seeing all the billboards on my approach. If you’ve been there, you’ve seen them promising all kinds of things like limitless lobsters and eternal life through Jesus. (I might be mixing up my billboards).
I arrived at the Boomtown Casino around 6pm and found a parking spot on the east end of the complex. And I mean complex. It’s not that the casino is all that big. It’s not that. It’s that it’s like a fortress to get into, and as I would find out later, also equally difficult to escape.
Navigating to the Buffet
One of the first things you’ll notice when entering the Casino is the smoke. The second thing you’ll notice is the dizzying array of largely non-white people gambling and drinking. (Casinos are now filled with an ethnically diverse demographic. This says a lot about America’s changing ethnographic make-up, and the fact that rising minority populations are not immune from the trappings of middle class mediocrity. Welcome to the cruise ship we call crap.) When I was a kid, my parents shuffled me through a Casino in Las Vegas to my first buffet. I felt odd and out-of-place among the middle class white people with their Pall Malls and weak Rum and Cokes. My Mother noticed my uncomfortable disposition and told me, “it’s OK for kids to be in here if you’re with your parents and you are going to a restaurant.”
To this day, I still feel like an illegal alien way walking into a Casino.
I made my way through the Casino looking for the World Famous Lobster Buffet, finally finding it in the least likely place in the entire building: the end. It felt like one of the undeveloped parts of an old Shopping Mall. You know, the obscure ends of the complex down by where the closed. old ice skating rinks used to be. Sometimes there’s a Spenser’s Gifts or a smoke shop there.
The World Famous Buffet
They wanted $29.00 for the buffet. I told them that I wouldn’t pay $29.00 to see my Mother perform (sorry Mom) with Alice Cooper and I started to leaving, conjuring up an excuse to tell my editor. As I left, the nice hostess told me that if I signed up for the “Player’s Card” in the lobby, I could get $10.00 off my dinner. After a brief trip back through the smoke-fog of the casino, I had my Player’s Card in hand, and I was being seated by an abrupt, yet efficient buffet “seater.” After a moment or two, a kind server arrived with water, silverware and a large, somewhat hastily rinsed stainless steel bucket. I peered into the bucket and noticed what appeared to be various remnants of a previous lobster feast: an antenna here; a shell bit there. This raised an eyebrow, however I was still in reporting mode.
Being a fully qualified Midwesterner, I know how to tackle a buffet. And I am abreast of all buffet protocols unlike the legend Don Turnbee. God bless you Don, but you’re a buffet idiot.
I marched towards the back towards the buffet line. As usual, there are patrons who have no idea how to queue in a buffet line. They didn’t queue, but attempted to cut in line after seeing the food stuff they wanted. These buffet anarchists, can be seen elsewhere in our culture.
There were 5 sections in the buffet tables. At the front, there was the dessert area. In the middle back, was the “salad bar” (more on that in a minute), and at the back was the main buffet.
The Main Buffet: An Overview
At the right was a selection of mediocre pizzas, presumably for children and adults with a culinary IQ similar to that of a credit card collection call center employee.
The middle of the buffet offered the “star” of the event, the lobster, complete with all the New England-ish trappings including red potatoes, corn on the cob and various shell-fish, all served by an under-paid and somewhat disinterested Latino woman.
To the left, were miscellaneous proteins like Tri-Tip Sirloin and a Ham, both dehydrating under heat lamps, which were served and carved by a rather large white man with a filthy, stained smock who might have been on probation.
The food was horrible. There I said it. It was probably some of the worst things I’ve put in my mouth. And dear reader, that is saying a lot given my youthful indulgences.
The pizza, as you might have guessed, was more than likely pre-prepared and frozen. I noticed that the staff had several waiting to be assembly lined through the small pizza oven. It was more like a glorified toaster. These pizzas were about as inspiring as a Christian Rock concert presented to a bunch of Atheists.
The meat proteins, on the left side of the table, were good enough I suppose, but it’s hard to screw up a marinated Tri-Tip roast unless one is dumber than a box of rocks.
However the real disappointment was the lobster.
The lobster was just plain horrible. More horrible than an ex-spouse with his new partner at a school function. More horrible than an untreated outhouse out on Ridge Road near Graniteville. More horrible than the editorial style of Gish Gallop editors.
It all started with the under-paid server I mentioned above. There was an anger in her serving style; the way she stabbed the lobsters with her 12 inch metal tongs and slapped them onto the waiting middle-class patrons’ plates. Normally I would appreciate this kind of rebellion, but it was clear from the very second that my lobster hit my cheap porcelain plate, that this was going to be a dreadful experience.
The lobster was massively overcooked. And in my opinion, when one sees this kind of cooking it means that the management is trying to kill any kind of spoilage and bacteria than might poison its patrons. The red potatoes were steamed into oblivion, which is an achievement. (reader, please consider how much cooking it takes to ruin a red potato).
I thought I might, I said might, find salvation in the mussels in a butter/garlic preparation, but sadly they were destroyed as well.
The Second Assault
I made an attempt, as my Protestant upbringing instructed, to eat all the food I had gathered at the main buffet table. So I decided to embrace the salad bar because I wanted to see how such a “Famous” operation implemented something as straightforward as a salad.
I would say the Salad Bar was below average. The arrangement was on two sides. One side having traditional, and frankly cheaper fair, and the other side with more expensive items like prepared salads and proteins.
Generally the items smacked of Sysco-type crap, augmented with suitable green leaf and iceberg lettuces. I found them acceptable. My only criticism is that the execution seemed confused and disorganized, like motherless children at a birthday party. I found myself asking, “Is there a manager here who has food and beverage experience?”
The Third Attempt
My third and final attempt was directed towards the dessert section towards the front of the restaurant. Dessert, like the last act in play, must not screw up.
I found the dessert selection to be the high point of this otherwise dreadful experience. That is not to say that the desserts were notable; they were not. They were, as my German friends like to say, “adequate.” I had a Cream Puff, a mixed fruit tart and a brownie. All were acceptable, but nothing like the items I’ve come to expect at places like our local Flour Garden.
The [Barf] Bucket
Back to that Bucket. I didn’t even get a chance to fill it up. I had one lobster and refused to eat another. And as you can see from the picture, I managed to force down a few mussels. But frankly, both tasks were just that: chores.
I was very disappointed with this spread. Not that my expectations were that high. I just expected a bit of effort. But to insult middle class America, who is certainly losing buying power each day with this kind of crap, is not only offensive to this writer’s culinary sensibilities, but also to this writer’s sense of middle-class justice. The people who patronize a place like this obviously work very hard. And I suppose the most heartbreaking aspect of this experience is the fact than many of the patrons will walk away thinking something like this: “It was OK, I suppose. But I don’t think I’ll go back there again.”
That’s not good enough for this writer. It’s one thing to serve crap; it’s another thing to advertise one’s offering as “World Famous” and take people’s hard-earned money and give them such a poor performance. I suggest, as always, looking local for better offerings. One would be better off to bring food with them to Boomtown Casino and Resort sourced from local places.
After finishing my dinner, and just before rushing to my car to start my 15 minute journey out of the Boomtown Casino and Resort, I made a trip to the toilet. Because it seemed the proper thing to do after swallowing the toxic buffet waste. As I left the restroom, I washed my hands and noticed that the Casino had installed some eco-groovy hand drivers, like the ones they have at our local Briar Patch. Here’s hoping that the rest of the establishment gets in tune like the facilities have.