Lucky Peach booked a hotel room for me and my boyfriend at the Cosmopolitan on the Vegas strip and instructed us to gorge ourselves. EASY!
We knew about the Cosmo because we’d seen their insane ad playing constantly on TV. It’s a flashy mishmash of models and misbehavior set to a remix of Major Lazer’s “Original Don,” a sexy, pounding, dance-party song that makes you feel like an obnoxious and morally bereft person for listening to it. We blasted it on repeat on our way to Vegas, and it became our anthem of excess. I even made up chants to go with it.
We’re sucking up resources. We’re treating money like a toy and eating too much food. We’re playing this dumb song too loud. We’re Wolf of Wallstreeting!!
Vegas hotels usually have themes. Circus Circus is a big top; the Paris and the Venetian are European. The Cosmopolitan’s theme is more subtle: “You’re interesting and rich!” It’s perfect for young narcissists like ourselves.
There are crystal chandeliers and strings of sparkly glass beads dangling from the ceiling. A Frank Sinatra–type guy is singing classy jazzy tunes on a stage while people mill around. Flat-screens in the elevators and lobby show animations of bugs morphing into steampunk gears. It’s very effective at making this place feel special, but with a touch of old-school Vegas glamour.
There are little herds of bros and bachelorettes grazing around, and we pass a man in scrubs carrying a large pizza.
Our hotel suite is palatial. It takes eight full seconds to sprint from one side to the other after removing all your clothing, swinging your pants above your head, and yelling, “GOODBYE FOREVER, PANTS!” Plus the balcony has an amazing view of the strip.
The Wicked Spoon is the Cosmo’s buffet, and it’s fancier than what I’d imagine for an all-you-can-eat venue. There are classy amuse-bouches and teeny-tiny plates that subliminally discourage guests from being horrible gorge-beasts.
Oh ho, but you can still go SO gross here if you want to. There’s a mountain of crab legs that bachelorettes are grabbing at. There’s a full butcher shop in house—like, they chop up entire cows and pigs in the casino—so the buffet has freshly smoked pork belly, steak, and bone-marrow chunks.
There’s a big, beefy customer loading up his plate with fried chicken, pizza, mac-n-cheese, sliders, and whatever the hell else, and who can blame him for going a little nuts? Whether you’re this big guy or a snotty foodie, you can fill up here. There’s something for everyone.
I start out kinda heavy with a giant meatball and a mini shepherd’s pie. Then I go real dainty with a delicate shrimp ceviche and a mini Nicoise salad with a quail egg. Then I don’t know what happens—my plate is a blur of steak and crab legs and some Korean bulgogi that is too chewy to do anything with but suck on.
I try one scoop of an artichoke salad that is past its prime and needs to be spit out, then quickly erase that error with a sampling of olives and cheeses. Buffet foods are hit or miss and often lukewarm, even at a fine establishment like this, but there’s so much of it, and it’s constantly regenerated so there’s no chance for disappointment to take hold.
Every dessert is fantastic. Twenty different kinds of tart and cake, plus interesting gelato flavors. Heaven.
The buffet staff anticipates hoarding behavior, so there are no paper napkins anywhere for carrying food away. I want to slip a coffee-flavored Rice Krispie treat into my purse, but the only option is toilet paper, which… nope. Do I think about it? Yes. Do I bring my Rice Krispie treat all the way into the restroom before summoning a scrap of dignity? Get off my back!
The next morning, we go to the older Bellagio hotel for their brunch buffet and have to wander through a casino to find it. On the way there, we get lost in an atrium decked out to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Horse, and it’s magnificent enough to make me exclaim “OH F*****CK!” in front of a bunch of surprised tourists.
This buffet has much more standard fare than the Wicked Spoon. The most exciting thing is the congee porridge. And there’s an omelet station with crab omelets. Why am I so charmed by the abundance of crab in Vegas?
I realize another benefit of buffets: you can eat like a complete idiot here.
Everyone else is so focused on loading up their plates that nobody will stop to ask you what the fuck you’re doing ladling soup dumplings onto piles of bacon. I do this, and nobody notices. Then I eat it, and nobody stops me.
You can pour three different flavors of syrup into three mugs, carry them to the omelet station, glare at the cook, and say, “Make me a three-syrup omelet.” You will not be asked to leave.
You can stick petit fours onto the ends of crab legs, tie them to your fingers, and run around calling yourself Edward CakeCrabHands, and you will simply be offered more crab.
There are no consequences to my actions here, and it’s intoxicating.
We try to walk off our brunch by browsing high-end shops at the neighboring Aria mall, where I discover that luxury goods have a laxative effect. I see a Prada skirt with a human face printed on it, and my guts cramp instantly.
We hit the hotel gym in the afternoon, still full of buffet, and I slowly prance up and down on an elliptical trainer while playing mahjong on the attached screen. Life is good here.
In the evening we go upstairs to José Andrés’s restaurant, Jaleo, to meet Renata, the Cosmo’s public-relations manager. Jaleo isn’t technically all you can eat, but Renata orders us unlimited cocktails and stuffs us with a million different dishes of inventive and extravagant food.
She also orders a porron pitcher full of beer. It’s a traditional Spanish thing and the restaurant is clearly proud of it, but it feels like a fratboy-ish stunt you have to do. You hold it above your mouth and pour the liquid down your throat in an arc without touching it to your lips. It’s very urinal.
I resent having to try this for the first time in public before practicing it alone, and of course I spill beer down the front of my blouse. Only later, after I’m already drunk, do I try the porron again and do what I feel must be a really awesome job.
We talk to Renata for an hour, which is too long because I only have like two questions and they’re both about guests being assholes at the buffet.
I share my fantasies of “hotel guests exploding after eating too much,” which I thought we’d be on the same page about, but according to Renata it isn’t an actual problem.
I try a new angle to see behind the scenes of the buffet kitchen, but Renata insists that all I’d spy back there is dishwashing. Either she’s telling the dull truth, OR she’s hiding something Willy Wonka–esque.
My personal guess? Guests who ate so many crab legs they turned into CRAB PEOPLE!! And they are adopted and forced to work in the casino kitchen.
I’d better take it easy on the seafood.
We spend our last few hours in Vegas gambling at the slots and blackjack tables.
Look, I wish I could say we went insane and blew hundreds of dollars and then earned it all back! But in reality we bet low, made low winnings, and basically broke even. Eating is the only thing I like to do to excess. I choose to gamble with my guts!