The resort is in the middle of a massive makeover that will also include the first Vegas restaurants from Michael Symon and Marc Vetri.
A.Y.C.E. at Palms
Credit: Sam Abrams

A.Y.C.E (pronounced "ace"), the new buffet at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, has had days where it’s served more than 2,000 people. Part of the attraction is price: It’s just $12.99 for breakfast, $15.99 for lunch and $21.99 for dinner or Sunday brunch, with discounts available if you sign up for a players-club card.

But there are a lot of ways to eat cheap in Vegas. What makes this buffet attractive for both locals and tourists is the attention to detail involved in the mass-produced food.

Palms executive chef Joseph Kudrak says he wanted to take A.Y.C.E. beyond the typical Italian, Mexican and Chinese food you’ll find at many buffets.

“There are so many flavors to play with,” he says. “We don’t want to limit ourselves.”

When we visit for lunch, there are delicious smoked turkey wings and hot links at the section of the buffet named Smoke & Fire. (There are seven different food stations at A.Y.C.E.)

“Every culture has barbecue, open-fire cooking,” says Kudrak, who adds that ribs and brisket, smoked on-site, are popular at dinner.

A.Y.C.E. is packed with comfort food: French onion soup is another popular dinner item. We are impressed by the vat of fresh rice next to the vat of chicken-and-sausage gumbo, which allows customers to add the exact amount of rice they want while ensuring that they’re eating not-mushy rice that’s been sitting in soup for hours. We also enjoy the chicken pot pie in an individual-sized ramekin. There’s made-to-order, customizable mac-and-cheese.

A.Y.C.E. at Palms
Credit: Sam Abrams

The vegetable and salad offerings at A.YC.E. are also impressive. The ratatouille here is smoked. On the day we come by for lunch, there’s rainbow chard hash and farro with roasted vegetables. It was good to see a collection of Mediterranean salads that would be expensive at a gourmet grocery store: A.Y.C.E’s spread includes an olive salad, pesto mozzarella, marinated mushrooms, an artichoke salad, roasted eggplant salad, couscous salad and an antipasto salad. There’s hummus and babaganoush.

Kudrak and his team have no doubt though a lot about food trends. A.Y.C.E. has tuna poke bowls, Spam fried rice, fresh-pressed juices and, for the Instagram crowd, elotes dusted with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. For dessert, there’s housemade gelato alongside the requisite mini cupcakes and cream puffs.

A.Y.C.E. is part of a $485 million makeover at Palms. Lucky Penny, the new 24-hour café at Palms, is where guests can pair a waffle grilled cheese with a gin and tonic. Having a server there recommend the brick chicken with arugula is another way to understand that Lucky Penny wants to do more than standard diner fare.

During our visit to the resort, Kudrak is also overseeing a tasting at Send Noodles, an Asian noodle bar that’s opening soon. It’s Kudrak’s birthday, but he’s in the no-days-off mode of working on multiple restaurants simultaneously. The staff tries jellyfish while we sample a fragrant bowl of beef-cheek noodle soup and a nicely balanced order of dandan mein. (“I’m scared and excited at the same time,” says one employee who’s eating jellyfish for the first time.)

When Send Noodles debuts in about a week, you can expect traditional Asian dishes as well as mashups like ramen mac-and-cheese and udon carbonara from executive chef Francis Mo. Desserts will include fresh sesame balls that are made on-site.

Palms general manager Jon Gray sits down at the tasting and tells us about all that’s going on at Palms. He’s been eating like a madman recently.

“There have been no less than 30 tasting for the new steakhouse,” Gray says. (And don’t get him started on how many tastings there were for the buffet.)

That steakhouse, name to be announced, is in the former N9NE Steakhouse space and should open in May.

A.Y.C.E. at Palms
Credit: Sam Abrams

“It’s a much more elevated experience than what N9NE was,” Gray says. “We still have the same chef, Barry Dakake, but it’s above and beyond anything we did at N9NE. There’s an extensive scotch list. We’ve got some wagyu coming in, some kobe, a lot of grass-fed beef.”

May is also when Palms expects to open Apex Social Club, a Clique Hospitality nightclub in the old Ghostbar space. Clique Hospitality is also working on the May opening of Camden Cocktail Lounge, a casino-level bar.

Beyond May, Gray expects that chef MIchael Symon will open his barbecue restaurant at Palms in the third quarter of the year. Marc Vetri’s Vetri Cucina will follow shortly after, and then a seafood/sushi restaurant from Bobby Flay and Vandal from Chris Santos will come after that. Tao Group will operate Vandal as well as two forthcoming party spots at Palms: a mega-nightclub (in the former Rain space) and a pool club.

Symon and Vetri are making their Vegas debuts, so this really feels like a new era for a resort that opened in 2001. The staff tastings are just getting started at Palms.