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Vegas, Baby!

The only time I have been in Vegas before this past weekend was in 1993. The New York New York was an empty lot with a construction trailer on it, and a model of the future hotel/casino. Our friend Nikki turned 40 on Friday the 10th and wanted to ring in her new year in Las Vegas, so Mark and I joined her family and some other friends last weekend. Things have changed! Here is a little trip report for you, with the major focus being on food, of course! And let me just say here: Thank God for air miles! Our air and hotel were covered and that was fabulous!!

Travel tips that that we love: Travel light! Only taking carry-on luggage greatly increased our freedom and we got through the airports very quickly. Check in for your flight online and print out your boarding pass. This allows you to head straight for the gate, no waiting in any lines! Vegas Tip: A taxi is cheaper than the $12 per person shuttle if you are staying at the south end of the strip.

Dinner was just the two of us at B & B Ristorante at the Venetian (this is the restaurant of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, who’s mother Lidia I love!) I try really hard not to have expectations. I try to focus on enjoying the experience of whatever we may be doing, and sometimes I am not good at it: I was REALLY excited to eat here!

The ambience was a big let down for me. The decor is beautiful but the seats are open to the hall of the hotel and it is noisy and bright out there; not the intimate restaurant experience I was hoping for. The food and service however, where fabulous. Once we figured out our food choices we talked to the sommelier about wine. The all-Italian list was completely overwhelming with pages upon pages of choices, all quite expensive. The sommelier came over (this is definitely one of the most upscale places I have ever eaten in terms of service) twice because he made me nervous and after he left the first time, I forgot nearly everything he said. (sigh) I guess high class makes me nervous. We decided on a Cos Nero d’Avola and then the show began. They ‘seasoned’ the glasses and decanted the wine into this amazing wide-bottomed decanter. Every time we took a few sips someone would come by and pour more wine for us. Lovely!

As we were perusing the menus we were brought an amuse bouche of bruschetta with garbanzo beans and olive tapenade. So New York! They also served fresh bread with premium olive oil with the meals. The waiter told us that the portions were small (not!) and so we over-ordered, but we loved every morsel we tasted. We started with marinated fresh anchovies with fire roasted peppers: the BEST anchovies I have ever had: lemony and light. We also had grilled octopus with marinated borlotti beans and limoncello vinaigrette. This was not the baby octopus I have had in the past, and it was literally grilled over a fire! The outside was charred and smoky, and the inside was tender and sweet. These were my favorite two dishes and I loved them enough to marry them!

The pasta course came next. Mark had Bucatini allAmatriciana with Guanciale (an unsmoked bacon made of pig’s jowl), Hot Peppers and Pecorino (sheep cheese). He LOVED it. I had pici (a long pasta similar to bucatini but more dense) with lamb ragu and it was sublime. In fact the pastas were so perfect that I regretted not opting for the pasta tasting menu! Although, I did order pasta for the main course as well and I kind of wish I would have gone a different way just to try something completely different. The pastas were so amazing that I am certain that is what they will be serving in heaven!

For the main course Mark had Brasato al Barolo (beef braised in barolo wine) with Horseradish Gremolata. I had Strachetti (similar to bow-tie pasta, only it was the most beautiful, delicate pasta that I have ever had. Definitely NOT the heavy farfalle that we get dried in the store!) with goat. It was very brave of me, completely different from what anything I have ever ordered. It was amazing!

Unfortunately we were running a bit behind. Our room had not been ready when we checked in so we had to push the dinner reservation back, and I had taken so long with the wine list, so we were unable to linger over dessert and/or coffee. We ordered some espresso and again, in the manner of New York’s finer restaurants they brought us tiny treats of chocolates and gelees. I just love the posh life!

We hurried back to the MGM for the Cirque du Soleil show ‘Ka‘. The theatre seats were the most comfortable I have ever sat in! With speakers in the headrest you don’t miss a thing. The show was amazing, as all Cirque shows are, and very different from any other that we had seen. It was a wonderful way to start our Vegas adventure.

Our other meals in Vegas were less notable than the B&B, though each had notable moments. We checked out Il Fornaio Patisserie and wished we had a way to bring some wonderful Italian bread back. The larger Il Fornaiorestaurant offered a full menu and we had breakfast there the next day. We visited Freed’s Bakery just to check it out and their cakes are beautiful! Plus they have cannoli. I love cannoli! Nikki’s birthday cake was easy to pick out and we stashed it in our room for a little party later. She chose Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Margaritaville‘ for her birthday dinner. We took the monorail over to the Flamingo (what a great deal that is! Too bad it doesn’t go to the airport!) and while Mark and I waited for the rest of the party to arrive we enjoyed Jimmy’s ‘perfect margarita’. Holy strong agave, batman! These tasted, well, perfect! The ambience is extremely noisy, perfect for large groups, and the food was exactly what you would expect.

Mark loves roller coasters and I have never been on a ‘good’ one. So we went to the New York New York roller coaster and Mark was queasy the rest of the day. For my part I think everyone with control issues (I can talk!) should ride this thing. You definitely do not have control up there!

Mark really wanted to try a Vegas buffet. We had read that the Bellagio has the best Gourmet Dinner Buffet anywhere so we stood in the line to get in. (The Bellagio is an AMAZING world-class hotel!) This king of all buffets is so big I can’t even remember everything there was. If you dig buffets, this one is a must-see. Hand-rolled sushi made to order; fresh fish; main and side dishes from all over the world; meats galore including prime rib, venison, lamb, braised beef, turkey, chicken, and more. Salads, soups, and an entire section of desserts that was so big it was practically its own room. I did not enjoy it and that had nothing to do with the quality of the food.

I understand the draw of Vegas and I know that millions of people love to go there and enjoy and relax by the pools, the gambling, the excessive food and booze, the neon, the shows, the nightclubs, the party atmosphere, the shopping and everything else that is Vegas. Most of that is not so much for me. Once I get past the first glance, I don’t enjoy what I see as much as I want to. For a vibrant city full of energy and life give me New York City any day! There is nothing false or misleading about Manhattan and I love every inch of that island. Barring a trip east I love Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and Victoria and I can get my city fix around here just fine.

For relaxation I far prefer a saltwater beach to a chlorine pool. There are fabulous restaurants right here in our area and I have no desire to party at a nightclub anymore. The excess and waste of Vegas left me feeling uneasy and even guilty while we were there, I couldn’t just relax and go with it.

A couple of final tips: When you are ready to check out but not quite ready to head out to the airport, leave your luggage with the bellmen. When it is time to go tell them and they bring your bags out to you and take you to the front of the (very long) taxi line to get you in a cab right away. It is so worth the tip!!! Also, if you can leave yourself some lead time with your flight, you could get a chance to get bumped. They downgraded our flight and we volunteered to go a bit later. We flew first class to Portland (my first trip in first class!) and it really is all that it is chalked up to be!!! We got food vouchers for any restaurant at PDX as well as round trip tickets to anywhere US Air flies. All we have to do is book it within the next year, and fly within the next 2 years! No restrictions and fully transferrable! We felt like it was completely worth the indirect route home and we finally hit the jackpot! Woo hoo!