Vegas! at John Mackey's Blog

April 1, 2006

Vegas!

People seem to enjoy the photo blog entries, and this will be the biggest yet. If you’re using a dialup connection, you may want to skip this one!

AEJ and I headed to Vegas on Wednesday morning. It’s a 4-hour drive, and very pretty, with lots of varied terrain. Here’s a photo from the car, taken as we headed up the mountains near Pasadena.

We arrived in Vegas and checked into our hotel — The Venetian — around 3pm. As its name would imply, the Venetian is inspired by Venice. Here, a random woman hangs out next to a strolling accordion player. Note that she’s smoking. I had no idea — until I saw Vegas — that so many people smoke. Having lived in New York and Los Angeles for the past 10+ years — two cities where smoking in restaurants and bars is illegal — I’d kind of forgotten that it’s still prevalent in many places. Vegas is a smoker’s paradise, except in the fancy-schmancy restaurants. Fortunately, the ventilation in the newer hotels is very good.

Here is a (crooked) photo of our room. There are steps down from the “bedroom” to the “seating area.” The room was pretty sweet.

Before we headed out to pick up our concert tickets for the evening (oh, just wait!), AEJ brushed her hair at the vanity in our great big bathroom.

We played some quarter slots downstairs, and won a whopping $2.50 on a $1 “investment.” (Sadly, this was one of our bigger payouts.)
After picking up our concert tickets at the Hilton, we drove to the newest Vegas hotel, The Wynn. The Wynn felt very nice, and also fun. (AEJ said it felt as if it had been designed by Willy Wonka.)

After walking the Wynn casino floor (which had great ventilation, and seemed almost smoke-free), it was time for dinner. We opted for The Wynn’s buffet.

The buffet was awesome. Dozens of stations to choose from, all you could eat. Crab legs (you wouldn’t believe how many crab legs people were piling onto their plates, apparently thinking that by eating far more crab legs than they could possibly ever enjoy, they were sticking it to The Man), sushi, Chinese, risotto, pizza, salad, salmon, Italian, Indian… it goes on and on. I started with sushi (which, I was sorry to learn, wasn’t very good at all) and shrimp cocktail (which was quite tasty).

The next plate was dominated by risotto from the Risotto Bar. You could pick from a number of options — grilled onions, marinated mushrooms, shrimp, Parmesan cheese, scallions, etc. — and this guy would prepare your risotto to order. I had mushrooms and Parmesan, and AEJ had grilled onion and Parmesan.

In addition to the risotto, I had some pizza and some Indian food. (Believe it or not, the Indian food was great, and probably the best thing we had in the entire buffet.)

For my third plate of food, I had some vegetable potstickers from the Asian Bar, some beef teriyaki, prime rib, and (delicious) mashed potatoes.

Next it was time for dessert. The buffet has an entire Desert Room with candied apples, cupcakes, pies, cakes, ice cream — you name it. (I had pecan pie, vanilla bean ice cream, bread pudding, and caramelized bananas. Sure, a little excessive, but I was sticking it to The Man.)

A shot of the Wynn buffet dining room. Like the rest of the hotel (from what we saw), it was very pleasant. (You’d hope so, at $30 a person.)

From dinner, we headed to the Hilton for the concert. (Oh, just you wait.) As had become our tradition, we played some penny slots at the Hilton. This time, we won $1.34.

And then… The Barry Manilow concert. It was at the Hilton — where you can see Barry Manilow, and then head to Star Trek: The Experience. The sad thing, according to their big sign, Star Trek:The Experience seems to be the headliner.

The concert was AWESOME. Sure, we were the youngest people there — by, like, 35 years. But it was a blast. The concert was 90 minutes long. (It could have been longer — it flew by — but with him doing, at times, two concerts a night, I can understand why it would be relatively brief.) We had great seats, which was lucky, considering we bought the tickets a week before the show, and the show appeared to be completely sold out. Barry did old songs, some newer songs, and a few songs from his new album of songs from the 50’s. There were, as you’d expect for Vegas, several costume changes, and a few big production numbers. Here’s one of his quieter numbers, performed on the mini-stage right next to us.

And here’s one of the numbers that just screamed “Vegas.” Woo-hoo, lots of lights!

For the last big production number — Copacabana, of course — a big steel catwalk lowered down above the audience. Barry ascended the stairs, and sang and danced like few 60-year-olds could. This guy still has pipes.

At one point, Barry was talking about how lucky he’s been to have so many great songs that have been warmly embraced by the audiences — “Big Titty Hits,” he called them. That’s right, he said, “I’ve been lucky to have so many big titty hits.” The audience seemed perplexed, and he responded, “come on — this is Vegas. You can say ‘titty’ in Vegas.” Yes, Barry, but I’m pretty sure that “big titty anything” is not an expression that anybody should say. I may try to work it into the lexicon, though. “Dude, I totally wrote you a big titty trombone solo.” Yeah, maybe that does work.

The next morning, we headed downstairs to the shops at the Venetian. They’ve built this huge indoor mall in the style of the canals of Venice, complete with gondola rides. (That’s right — this is indoors. That sky is totally fake. Welcome to Vegas.)

And here is their town square.

And an “outdoor” gelato stand.

From there, we headed outside — the real outside — to do some sightseeing. Madame Tussaud’s — the wax museum — is part of The Venetian. We didn’t go inside, but outside, AEJ posed with her hero, Whoopi Goldberg. Is it just me, or does Whoopi’s hand look immense?

Here’s a picture of one of the outdoor gondolas. This one is just crazy to me. I mean, look at the color of the water! And the gondola looks like I photoshopped it in there.

Next stop — The Mirage, across the street from The Venetian.

First we played some more penny slots — Lobstermania! (We lost our entire dollar.)

The Mirage no longer has Siegfried & Roy (due to the crazy tiger attack), but you can still see the white tigers. This kitty was sleepy. I guess biting some guy’s head will do that. (Just ask Loki.)

From The Mirage, we went next door to Caesar’s Palace. My camera battery was half-dead, and I’d forgotten my charger, so we went to The Sony Store at the shopping mall there and I asked about purchasing a spare battery. They explained that the batteries are sold uncharged, but they’d be happy to charge my own battery for me for free while I shopped around the mall. Nice! We browsed the very fancy shops (and bought nothing, of course), and then returned to pick up the battery before heading to lunch. We ate at Mesa Grill, right in the heart of Caesar’s. I had this very tasty spiced pork tenderloin sandwich.

Feeling much better after a delicious lunch, we went outside to check out the Caesar’s Palace pool. We felt very safe, thanks to the detail of Roman security.

Where did Corigliano get the idea for Circus Maximus? Ah HAH! It must have been here that he came up with his original working title — Snackus Maximus. Now that would have been a delicious piece.

And this is one of the (several) giant Caesar’s Palace towers.

Next stop — The Bellagio. Whereas The Wynn is very nice and fancy and fun, much of The Bellagio (Steve Wynn’s original casino, before selling it to build The Wynn) is nice and clean but kind of safe and boring. (It’s kind of trying too hard to be tasteful, whereas The Wynn has more of a “fantasy (while still tasteful) quality.”) I mean, the fountains outside are genius, but most of the place, to me, at least, is dull. Besides the fountains, there were a few exceptions — like this crazy room with giant glass flowers, butterflies, and dragonflies.

The room also had animals made of flowers — like this snail…

… and these storks (or whatever they are).

The lobby is also stunning, with a ceiling covered with 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers.

Outside The Bellagio, we saw a favorite Vegas attraction — no, not the fountains — the Zealots! I took their advice, and immediately repented.

I think this is my favorite zealot — the guy who’s too lazy to even stand up to condemn me.

Next up: The Paris hotel & casino.

We had much more luck with this penny slot than we had at any other. With our original $1, we eventually made over $4 — before blowing it all on further pulls of the lever.

After a nap, we headed to dinner. Our pre-dinner drink was at a really nice bar / restaurant called Mix, on the 64th floor of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. I couldn’t capture the entire view with my camera, so imagine this, but 360-degrees.

It was stunning.

And then, our fancy dinner. After much deliberation, we decided on Fleur de Lys, a French restaurant in Mandalay Bay. AEJ ordered the vegetarian 5-course meal (just because it sounded fun, not because she’s a vegetarian), and I went with the standard 5-course. First up for me was this: a lobster gelee.

AEJ, though, had the cutest looking food I’ve ever seen: Lady Bug of Plum Tomato — a plum tomato with fresh mozzarella, basil, virgin olive oil, and banyuls vinegar inside!

My next course was this: jumbo lump crab with cantaloupe gazpacho. Wow.

AEJ, meanwhile, had ravioli of miniature ratatouille — fall vegetable diamonds and ratatouille emulsion. (I’ll admit to not knowing what that means, but it was delicious.)

My next course was my favorite — pan seared scallops with truffles in a smoky broth.

My big course was “Le Steak” — a 12 oz. aged prime rib eye steak with rustic potato stew “en Cocotte,” young spinach, and sauced with a red wine and shallot reduction. It came with this fun plate of spices — sea salt, Hawaiian salt, cracked pepper, a homemade butter, and a homemade mustard. (It was fun mixing-and-matching the topping on each bite. In that way, is was a lot like fajitas at Chili’s!) The flavor of the potatoes was a bit too strong for my taste.

Next up: a cheese course. This was the big failure of the meal. Three of the four cheeses were way too strong and stinky. The only mild cheese was lost in the richness (and, I’ll say again — stink) of the other three. It felt clumsy, as if the chef thought, “you’re eating at a fancy place, so you probably expect nasty cheese.” Actually, no.

Dessert. To be honest, it was rather disappointing too. This pina colada ice cream was pretty good, but way too strong, and it overpowered everything else on the plate. The caramelized bananas were great, but everything else in this course was a little bit of a let down.

So, overall, the dinner was excellent. Beautiful presentation (I mean, really — a tomato decorated to look like a ladybug!), and an excellent first three courses. I think they need a new pastry chef to rethink the desserts, and somebody needs to tell the main chef — Hubert Keller, a superstar who certainly doesn’t need input from some dumb kid like me — that this is not the way to do a cheese plate. (It felt forced and aggressive, much like the potato side-dish.) For a price somewhat comparable to Jean-Georges — where I’ve had the best meals I’ve ever had in my life — it was a fun and delicious two hours of eating, but it was no Jean-Georges.

The next morning, we somehow found the strength to eat again. This time, we headed downstairs at our own hotel to Bouchon. Voted Best Breakfast in Las Vegas by Las Vegas Life Magazine, it certainly delivered — not just the best breakfast I’ve had in ages, but the best meal I had on this vacation. We started with an assortment of pastries — a sticky pecan roll, a cheese danish, a chocolate croissant, and a standard traditional croissant.

AEJ’s breakfast — the Bouchon French Toast: bread pudding style with warm layers of brioche, custard, fresh fruit, and maple syrup.

I had the sourdough waffles: sourdough waffles with fresh fruit, syrup, and whipped vanilla butter.

The cheese danish was the best I’ve ever had. The cheese even had a hint of lemon zest — but just a tiny amount. I don’t like too much lemon flavor, and this was perfect.

Stuffed after breakfast, we hit a few more hotels. First up, Circus Circus. Owned by Ty Pennington’s dad, this place is mad-tacky — and fun!

And it wouldn’t be Circus Circus without hourly circus acts, like this tightrope guy — a frightening 3 feet off the ground with no net! His 10-minute act was actually quite entertaining. In this picture, he’s about to kick that tea cup up onto his head, where it would land perfectly on the saucer. Note the golden McDonald’s arches behind him.

Next up was the MGM Grand. Huge, but kind of generic — except for the lion exhibit.

MGM Grand does have some nice restaurants. They have this CRAZY new restaurant, “Joel Robuchon at the Mansion,” where you can get this 17-course dinner (I kid you not) for $350 per person.

It was a jam-packed 48-hours in Vegas, and the most fun I’ve had on a vacation since I can remember. We LOVED Las Vegas, and can’t wait to get back. We saw a lot, but there’s still so much we didn’t get to do. One casino we didn’t visit was the Hooters Casino. Next time. Next time…

6 Comments

4 Comments to “Vegas!”  

    1
  1. At 3:50 pm on April 1, 2006
    Newman Says:

    Wow. Just, wow.

    During my junkets to Vegas I always ate at Carl’s Jr. Not quite as glamorous. Or photogenic.

    Great to finally see The Wynn .. I was really curious…

  2. 2
  3. At 10:12 am on April 3, 2006
    jim Says:

    Looks like you and AEJ had a nice big titty time! (if it’s good enough for Barry, it’s good enough for me)

    Best big titties,

    Jim

  4. 3
  5. At 5:42 am on October 5, 2007
    carolina garcia rizo Says:

    Dear Super Blogger…I am quite amazed by yor trip. I ma from Europe but living noew in USA (Boston & SF) I have never gone to LAS VEGAS but your blogg really described it like a place I should go..THANKS for it!!!! I wanted to aks you, as you are so into FOOD…have you ever tried the super delicatesen porcini? I have not seen it in USA, but in Europe we have this great porcini Oil and paste… you can add it to stuffed pasta, sauces or soups… you should try it..it is great!
    Carolina

  6. 4
  7. At 11:52 am on April 19, 2010
    Jon Holloway Says:

    Hey! Looks like you visited all of the great places Vegas has to offer. It’s like living in a fantasy land.
    You should come back now, check out CityCenter and Planet Hollywood Casino.
    Crazy cool places…
    They’re basically Big Titty.

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