Thursday, September 09, 2010

Vacation part 3 - Las Vegas

I didn't want to post anything that I've done since my return to Paris before I wrote up my most fabulously awesome trip to Las Vegas!

And why yes, that is the real Caesar's Palace. Who knew it would be so much fun? I always though that if I ever went to Las Vegas, I'd be easily bored and 3 days would be the maximum I could stay there without going crazy. Well, we stayed 3 days and I was craving more (gambling addiction anyone???). I actually only lost a total of about $100 over the course of the 3 days ($33.33/day on entertainment? Not bad...) playing mainly (a) video blackjack and (b) roulette, where I kept betting on red and kept winning...most of the time. The video blackjack was a completely different story. I'd lose all my money and then put more in and start making $5 bets per hand. Luckily, I won most of my money back but moving on from what is my obvious addiction to gambling...

We stayed in the Vdara which is in the new CityCenter complex, which, in my opinion is kind of a modern eyesore compared to the endearing kitchy-ness of the rest of the strip. After arriving on our early flight from Miami, we dropped our stuff off and went in search of food. It had to be special enough since it was JP's and my 3rd year anniversary (I know, I can't believe we've put up with each other so long without ever getting into a real fight. Is that normal? Yo no se....) so I already had a plan in my head - Batali's and Bastianich's Enoteca San Marco at the Venetian. And so we started weaving our way through the casinos - first the Bellagio (to which the Vdara is connected) which not only has Dale Chihuly blown glass flowers covering the lobby ceiling but also a super-sized garden with snails and buckets and butterflies made out of plants and flowers!

Wandering over to Caesar's (where we may or may not have started gambling...) we explored the Forum shops a little and then braved the 100F+ degree heat to cross the street and walk over to the Venetian, which, by the way, is RIDICULOUS in that you have such a huge structure including a river, "open-air" plazas and a mall all in one area. I was really amazed at how big most of these casino's are! We didn't take a gondola ride but we did manage to get ourselves to Enoteca San Marco which is in the "Piazza San Marco", and have a delicious lunch. The "piazza" is essentially cavernous hall with the super high ceiling painted to resemble the sky and the indoor "street lamps" dimmed so you feel as if you really are sitting on a plaza somewhere in the early evening. Not sure where the air conditioning on full blast comes in but I'll forgive.

We started with an appetizer of bruschetta with fig jam, proscuitto and aged balsamic vinegar, and fried squash blossoms. I've wanted to try fried squash blossoms for a while but never got around to it. I'm not sure if I like them. Maybe it was the filling which had a tinge of crab or something seafoody in it; I'll have to try them again elsewhere.

But the bruschetta was fantastic (and Mr. Picky Eater loved it...I was afraid he wouldn't like it because of the fig jam). Sweet + salty is always a good combination in my book.

For our entrees I went with the Gemelli with house made sausage and broccoli rabe (one of my favorite combinations) and JP went for the Buccatini all'Amatriciana. I think you can never go wrong with that but it wasn't meaty/porky enough for him. I liked mine a lot but it the pasta was very al dente, which generally I'm not a fan of.

I should have known since I don't like OTTO in NYC (their pasta on both occasions seemed undercooked to me) and was not a huge fan of Lupa so really I don't know why I picked this place but I actually enjoyed it a lot.

And for dessert? Well we couldn't forgo dessert. Espresso and blackberry gelato which just looked so pretty and tasted delicious together. All in all, a delicious (in my opinion) anniversary lunch in a pleasant (and excellent for people-watching, of which there is a lot to be had in Vegas) surroundings.

The rest of the day was spent on: (a) trying to break even on our gambling losses while treking back from the Venetian through The Mirage and back to Caesar's and the Bellagio, (b) relaxing and (c) meeting more member's of JP's family (cousins) at a Mexican restaurant for dinner, which was actually quite tasty but so much food...oy.

The following day was spend exploring the other side of the strip - the Monte Carlo, MGM, New York New York, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur and Tropicana (which is remodeling and has a tiny tiny casino floor at the moment). We were actually on a quest for burgers at Mandalay Bay - burgers at Hubert Keller's Burger Bar

After getting a little distracted by the slot machines and the video blackjack machines (I was quickly whisked away from the roulette tables), we sat ourselves at the counter with two diet Cokes (actually they were Pepsi's and only mine was diet) and pored over the options. So many! What kind of meat? What kind of bun? Which toppings? Do you want fries with that? Skinny of fat? Whew, overwhelming. Good thing I know my tastes and I always go for the classic - a cheeseburger. A Country Natural burger (locally sourced beef) with American cheese (the only time I will eat it) and bacon (this was an extra, I wouldn't normally go for it but it worked out great this time!), on a seasame seed bun (...why would you get yours on a ciabatta???) with skinny fries!

Some people decided to go fancy and get a Kobe beef burger with provolone (I don't know why) on a sesame seed bun with zucchini fries. My burger was mouth-wateringly delicious with the soft bun cradling the patty, gooey cheese providing extra moisture and the bacon imparting a hint of smokiness. I scarfed it down. I think the other burger would've been delicious had someone not tried to be fancy with the provolone. The Kobe beef was definitely juicer than my patty, but I don't know if it was worth the price. Or maybe the provolone just took it down a notch. Cheeseburgers must have American cheese. Period. And unfortunately the zucchini fries failed - imagine a mozzarella stick but instead of the mozzarella its a zucchini stick. Fail Mr. Keller - too much breading.

And now, time the recount the "anniversary dinner" which came one day late (but that's ok). Where? Alex at the Wynn (2 Michelin stars! I'm such a star fanatic now...ugh, snobbiness). It was so fancy I was scared of taking out my camera. They even gave me something that resembled a miniature footstool for my bag!

After two amuse-bouches, I was brought my marinated heirloom tomato salad with corn "caviar" and tomato granite with tomme crayeuse (apparently a type of cheese). This was possibly my favorite dish of the night. The cheese was delicious, I am obsessed with heirloom tomatoes and the corn caviar was one of my first tastes of molecular gastronomy - tiny beads of whatever kind of emulsified and sphered corn puree concoction that was. The granite was strikingly similar to the one I had at Le Chateaubriand in Paris. Funnily enough, JP's favorite course was also the appetizer. He even went so far as to name it one of the top things he's eaten all year - Maine lobster and roasted corn risotto with butter poached tail and chanterelles (it was very lobster-y).

Even my second course was a success for me - crispy Arctic Char with baby eggplant, butterball potato puree, calamansi (a type of lime) and tamarind chicken jus. It was tiny and I scarfed it down. JP got a chunk of meat. Sure it was wagyu beef and it came with a peruvian veggie salad (I don't know what that really is either), chimichurri and red wine sauce but beef is beef most of the time. As it was here.

And here is where we go into semi-disappointment land. My warm brown butter peaches with almond and sour cream ice cream were nothing special, actually I didn't detect a hint of brown butter at all. The other dessert looked like art with an arc of chocolate over some kind of long chocolate cake with cherries but presentation is not everything and it tasted good, but nothing super special. And of course petite-fours after that which we could not help but compare to Daniel, since they were also service mini-madeleines hot out of the oven (or reheated).

We had the foresight to be classy on our OpenTable reservation to note the event and got a free extra dessert! Cheesecake with moulding chocolate flowers. The only time I dared take out my camera.

So pretty! I didn't know what moulding chocolate tasted like and asked the waiter if it was gum paste. Apparently they used to use marzipan but changed to moulding chocolate which actually kinda tastes like cardboard...the dinner was delicious but not as good as at Daniel (and it was pricier! probably because of the champagne...). What did I learn? I learned that if you go to a fancy place, ask for wine pairing even if its not on the menu but skip the dessert wine - its always too sweet and by then you're probably too full to even drink it.

And then I lost $80 at the Wynn (although I loved the atmosphere in there - so fun!) so we went back to Caesar's and eventually the Bellagio. I really don't know why I'm literally recounting my days event-by-event but I'll re-read this one day and be like "oh yeaaaa...I did do that! And so we start another day, our last one...

After a lackluster breakfast buffet at the Aria (they do have good breakfast sausages and strawberries in creme fraiche), we again headed through the Monte Carlo, over to Mandalay Bay (the trams linking some hotels are so efficient) and outside into the desert to go take pictures of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.

It was torture - a 10-12 minute walk in the desert to get there, and then a 7 minute walk back because I had the brains to cut through the Four Seasons. It was worth it but walking into the Four Seasons, with Bentleys and the like parked outside, I made a dash for the bathroom to cool (and paper towel) myself off before taking a secret, almost un-marked door back into the Mandalay Bay. Some more gambling ensued, at some point we stopped at the Luxor and Excalibur and New York New York (where we failed to take a picture with a giant slot machine) - although that may have been on the way to the sign, not back from the sign. Eventually, back at the Bellagio, we got into a taxi and made our way to the Stratosphere for low minimum-bet tables and the view. It was a pricey view with quease-inducing rides at the top (I could never go on a spinning thing strapped into a chair that would end up from 90 degrees to the ground to like...145 degrees or something. Basically, you're staring at the ground while being twirled around. No gracias, I do not feel like dying today. Nor do I feel like jumping to my death or being hurled forward in a mini-coaster off the side of the building. Maybe you do. I don't.

After we had our fun at the Stratosphere and changed back at our room at the Vdara, we headed back to the MGM (one of my favorite casinos, along with Caesar's and the Wynn) for dinner at craftsteak. Let me compare this one to the one that used to be in NYC - its delicious if you've never been to the one that used to be where Colicchio & Sons is now. If you have, its just not as good. We both ordered the same thing we had in NYC but for both of us, the meat wasn't as charred on the outside nor as juicy. Quality control Tom! The sides however, were, as expected, fabulous. Roasted asparagus, assorted roasted mushrooms and fingerling potatoes (which were definitely extra and unnecessary).

We finished with roasted figs and tres leches ice cream. Although us drinking a bottle of wine at dinner did not bode well for the showing of Cirque du Soleil's "O" during which I struggled to stay awake but gave in and fell asleep several times. Once back out on the casino floor, it was as if I was never tired / drowsy to begin with, watched JP play some blackjack (real blackjack) before heading over to the roulette table by myself and bettering against people putting on black by putting on red. I won. Multiple times. The key was knowing when to get out and I did (when someone came to find me...). This trip left me wanting more. So Vegas, until I see you again, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. For now, back to Paris.

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