Even if you're not a betting person, dining at the renewed Indulge Show Kitchen Buffet at the Grand Victoria Casino is well worth a gamble.
Recently upgraded, the buffet features more choices than a multiline slot machine. From woodburning-oven pizza to Brazilian bouillabaisse, the buffet now offers some 150 choices at any one time.
Indulge Show Kitchen BuffetGrand Victoria Casino, 250 S. Grove Ave., Elgin, (847) 468-7000, grandvictoriacasino.com
Cuisine: American and international
Setting: Contemporary with hints of Victorian era
Fixed-meal prices: $14.99 to $24.99
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Like most buffets, this one requires payment upfront, starting at $14.99 for lunch to $29.99 for the Friday night seafood buffet and $24.99 for the the Saturday night prime rib feast. Seniors, as is custom, pay slightly less. Those fixed prices include all foods and nonalcoholic beverages. There is no bar in the buffet dining room, but alcohol is served on request for an extra charge. There are three bars elsewhere in the complex.
The 300-seat buffet dining room space has a good assortment of seating areas, with a combination of booths and tables. Basic color scheme is black and white, accented with framed mirrors that hint of Victorian times and whimsical ceiling lamps that appear to be table lamps hanging upside down. Boldly patterned carpeting and scalloped booth dividers give further clues to the casino's overall Victorian theme.
Nearly every food offering starts from scratch, according to Clement Wong, food and beverage director, with some stations featuring cooks at work performing tasks like wok stir-frying and hand-carving meats to order. I was impressed to learn that the casino employs a butcher who makes the buffet's delicious sausages on site.
There is no appetizer section per se, but I spotted some attractive ceviche in small shot glasses at the Brazilian station that made a refreshing beginning to what would prove to be a leisurely tapas-style repast. The ceviche contained a tail-on whole shrimp with finely chopped pico de gallo ingredients, including the essential lime juice. This was the first of many both hot and cold dishes pre-made in an assortment of small dishes.
Sections can be loosely classified as American comfort and smokehouse, Asian, Mediterranean, Latin, salads and pastry, which includes a luscious-looking gelato bar that guests have to pass en route to their seats.
Busers pass by tables frequently to pick up soiled plates, yet don't wipe away food bits that may have escaped the plates. They usually leave soiled flatware, unless you ask for replacements. Refilling water and other beverage glasses is self-serve, easily accomplished at centrally located beverage stations.
Two soups of the day are available, which were cream of mushroom and Philly pepper pot during our visit. Both were excellent, with the pepper pot mixture of tender beef and bountiful vegetable chunks in a peppery gravy-like broth being especially comforting.
Moving on to the salad bar, we were faced with bountiful choices of lettuces and other tossed salad ingredients and dressings and an array of interesting small prepared salads. We opted for some of the latter, including a jicama, grilled pineapple, apple and marinated onion assortment, along with another winner of cold roasted asparagus, orange slices and cranberries.
My very favorite was a simple assortment of diced watermelon with chopped fresh basil, a chunk of fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar. The flavor combinations really worked. Another standout was a combo of roasted red and yellow beets, arugula, toasted pecans and crumbled feta cheese with balsamic vinaigrette.
One improvement I'd suggest for these small dishes is to put self-serve salad dressings in side dishes instead of in the salad dish, as is done now. Most of the vinaigrettes fall to the bottom of the dishes, leaving the salads dry. Those made with chicken particularly suffered from dryness.
Some of the simple hot vegetable dishes at various stations are worth trying. We particularly liked the al dente seasoned green beans, grilled mini corn on the cob, Chinese broccoli and a couple of fresh vegetable medleys, like the ratatouille and the similar Brazilian variation.
The Brazilian (Latin) section repeatedly called to us. My favorite main course of the day was the fish stew (bouillabaisse) -- impeccably fresh mussels, scallops and shrimp in a creamy golden broth (colored by achiote and not costly saffron).
Another excellent choice was the Chinese broad noodle stir-fry with beef tenderloin, scallions and bean sprouts flavored with ginger, garlic and dark and regular soy sauces. The meat was tender, the noodle consistency just right and the salt level not overpowering.
I also favored a small dish in the American comfort food section of a slice of whitefish over a sauté of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, mild Vidalia onions and greens. Again, the fish tasted like it was just off the boat.
Glenn Keenan, executive chef, explained that whole fish is delivered five days a week and fileted in-house. Fresh sushi is served on weekends.
Meat lovers will gravitate to the carving station, where the selections vary somewhat from day to day, giving the buffet's many regular customers good variety. A tri-tip beef cut prepared rare was especially good, as were the slightly sweet chicken sausages.
Be careful when grabbing some of the small hot dishes, especially if they're made of clay -- they can burn your fingers if they've been sitting too long under the heat lamps.
With barely enough room left for dessert, we walked over to the pastry station stocked with tiny portions of some 20 delicacies like chocolate mousse, cheesecakes, cannoli and fruit cobblers. Not all desserts are made in-house, but plans are to do so in the future.
Fully satiated, we wandered over to the casino to play a few slots. Beginners luck was with me, and I quit while I was ahead. All in all, we had a very good meal at an excellent value, as well as a little Las Vegas-style fun.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.