The Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon

In Las Vegas, the buffet is king. After the ubiquitous slot machine — few are “one armed bandits” anymore, alas — the most common species is your high school cafeteria, reimagined with a prime rib carving station.

There’s even been a documentary made on the subject: “Buffet: All You Can Eat Las Vegas.” In the film, one carver says, “The buffet is the happiest and saddest place.” He’s likely talking about the fact that with all those losses at the casino, the buffet may be the only place where some gamblers feel they’re actually winning. But it might just as well have been a comment on the food itself.

In a city more recently earning its stripes as a fine dining destination thanks to the likes of celebrity chefs, even the best buffets come off like the hillbilly cousin.

That’s why one buffet on a list of the 10 best in Las Vegas sounded particularly intriguing, especially because this one promised to be different and potentially better for The Restaurant Dieter. “The atmosphere is modern, chic and sophisticated,” it said. “Food is served in individual small portions on plates, but you can take as many as you like and create your own 10 course meal.”

It sounded like discovering a choose-your-own tasting menu for around 30 bucks. Not bad considering the $155-a-person 9-course tasting menu two nights before at L’Atelier Joel Robuchon. A chunk of the price differential, perhaps, lay in the name — Menu Decouverte de Saison (Seasonal Discovery Menu) — but you know how those French are.

The Wicked Spoon did indeed live up to the buildup. The room is dark with dramatic lighting in keeping with the youthful hip vibe of The Cosmopolitan. Many of the dishes are presented in discreet, individual servings, but there are some big league carving stations in concession to the pile-it-on crowd.

More than the sizes itself, though, there were plentiful options a dieter could love.

Watermelon and pineapple with cucumber and mint

Tiny servings of blueberry-raspberry fruit soup or gelato on the dessert bar, which also had two sugarless options: a sugar free cheesecake with berries on top and a pistachio/chocolate mousse. Lemongrass cod with a light coconut broth, asparagus and broccoli. Two-ounce portions of salmon with artichoke hearts and blistered cherry tomatoes. Sushi of several varieties. An inventive salad of watermelon and pineapple medallions dressed with razor-thin shavings of cucumber and mint.

The Wicked Spoon even has the temerity to offer red curry vegetables with tofu.

Lemongrass cod in coconut broth

Small individual portions

Should one want to taste the asiago stuffed gnocchi, or the au gratin potatoes with truffle oil, the portions were small enough to mitigate any diet damage.

I stuck to three carefully chosen servings, starting with the pedestrian cold boiled shrimp. At 28 calories and 0 fat per ounce, it’s lots of healthy protein for minimal investment. To that I added a couple tastes of gazpachos and a ceviche, an excellent heirloom tomato salad with basil and a so-so asparagus salad. The gazpacho tastes and ceviche were served in the tiny plastic cups a nurse might hand you in the hospital with your meds.

On a mains plate, I selected the salmon, lemongrass cod with coconut broth and some cavatelli with gorgonzola and walnuts. Buffets can be uneven; the remaining two items had sat around too long and were left unfinished, though around the time I was on dessert, both had been replenished with fresh.

Dessert was easy — the fruit soups and the two sugar free entries, which were a little less sweet but exactly the size you’d get from one of the Seasons 52 chain’s “mini-indulgences,” which can still add up.

Overall, you’d have to say hillbilly cousin hasn’t exactly moved uptown yet, but he’s at least in the suburbs.

Small indulgences

Protein and some healthful tastes as a starter