Sunday, December 19, 2010

Italy: Collio December 2010

This was a quick trip packed with as much of the local culture and history as our hosts could fit. I predict this emerging region is going to be the “it” place for white wine in the next 10 years.
After being bumped from my Memphis flight due to they typical Newark delays, I flew Continental to Toronto and then Air Canada to Munich. I managed to score an exit row or free and sat next to a lovely gentleman from Nova Scotia. The flight to Trieste was delayed so to "a problem with the plane" resulting in a net dely of 5 hours. If you have a choice, I recommend getting a seat on the left side of the plane to enjoy the beautiful views of the Adriatic and Alps as you fly in. Customs was . . . non-existent and I literally walked from the plan to the car in less than 5 minutes.
As with many of the wineries in this area, they include hospitality (aka a Bead and Breakfast). This one was closed for the season, but between the pool, the vineyards, and the rooms, this would make a lovely vacation spot during the spring or summer. After a tour by the spirited proprietor, we went to the tasting room for samplings of many Collio Biancos: Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Ronco delle Cime, Ronco delle Mele, Pinot Bianco, and Pino Grigio Jesera.
This restaurant is on the property of the Zuani wine estate managed by an amazing brother-sister duo and their mother who was, unfortunately, in the hospital during our visit. This dinner featured a tasting of 10 different wines Collio Bianco varieties with most of the wine producers present. High notes of the dinner were the white fish with polenta crisp (this was a new preparation of polenta for me and one I would love to replicate), beet risotto, roasted pear with berries and gelato, and Italian cookies. Interesting was the pumpkin soup with oyster dish. Espresso and grappa topped off the dinner, a common combo of the region. They had an amazing Jazz trio that would bring you to New Orleans of you closed your eyes.
Ahhh, bed! And a lovely bed it was. Free wi-fi is available at this B&B/Winery. In-room TV is not. The views of the town and mountains are amazing with a pool to be built soon. Breakfast was juice, espresso/cappuccino, farm fresh eggs, crusty bread, cheese, croissants, and pancetta. If you are lucky, you will also get a visit from Vinkie the poodle. The wine cellar is beautiful with rows of barrels aging this year’s harvest and stacks of vintage bottles that have not been touched in decades. You can almost see the horse-drawn carriage pulling in to load up for market. 
Oh goody, a castle! This was a quick stop so there was not a lot of time to explore the interior, but the grounds were amazing. I imagine change of season would be the optimum time to visit., especially for golfers. They showed a movie featuring some of the history complete with John Malkovich as Casanova and a couple of girls happily picking grapes during harvest. In the great hall, I imagine many a fate was decided by politicos of the day. Good thing the dungeon, I mean barreling room, was a few feet away with a convenient automated ramp next to the stairwell! The gift shop features an excellent variety of Grappa, and I regret not purchasing a few of their specialties while I had the opportunity.
The town museum is worth a visit for the statues and trinkets of every-day life during the early ages of Western civilization. No pictures allowed and you will be called out if you try. The restoration at the Basicilia was beautiful, especially the original mosaic flooring and crypt that created some artistic dedications using the bones of martyrs, but beware of tripods and flash – you will be chastised severely if the guardians see them. Take to opportunity to walk the grounds, and stop by the local café for drinking chocolate and lemon cookies or whatever caffeine and sweet variety you desire (especially if you need the restroom).
A devilishly humorous producer who enjoys entertaining guests and riding around town in his “Collio yellow” Vespa and glasses owns this 10-hectar vineyard. Again you will see the interweaving of art and wine – Keber is home to a cartoonish “wine god” figure created by a local artist. I had the most incredible barley soup here with homemade sausage, cheese, and bread.
This vinegar producer was vibrant, passionate, and a little salacious in an entertaining way. The evening started with Parmesan lollipops and preparation of polenta on an open fire in the dining room. The tour involved a small hike and look around the vacation cabins. Anyone interested in escaping for the holidays should consider this warm, homey, and private get-away. We sampled the two vinegars and the master developed his own “official” method of tasting since there is no established standard. When we came back from the tasting, the polenta was removed from the pot and sliced up to accompany prosciutto cut fresh from the hindquarters, hen –on-a-stick, cheese, and bread.
As if the appetizers were not enough, we went up to the private dining area for a tasting of several Friulano wines with a lovely dinner, although the things that stuck out most were the venison (both because it was nicely done and because I would have liked one of the local red Refoscos to accompany) and three dessert courses! The evening ended with a gift of aceto d’uva vinegar to all of the ladies . . . an instruction art book was included and I will not spoil the joke for those thinking of paying a visit. And you should.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Las Vegas "In My 5 Year Working at the Wynn I Never . . . " November 2010

“Hi, I’m JaXPrat. And you have come to my trip report like most for information.
But unlike other trip reports, we’ve filled it with surprises.
Even we are not sure where they are, though.”
Pre-Trip Preamble
I bought the package for this trip back in August for my husband’s birthday. Being a Okie and OSU grad, he is a huge Garth Brooks fan and never had a chance to see him. I got a deal at the Wynn Tower suites for 2 front row tickets, $600 spa credit, $300 Switch credit, $150 Country Club Jazz Brunch, and $100 GB merchandise. We have wanted to stay at the Wynn for a long time so were were pumped to finally have an “excuse.”
Day One
As usual, we flew SW direct and were lucky enough to get exit row seats on the way over. We nearly always get a limo with Presidential and he was waiting at baggage claim. We are way past the “picture at the sign” but he did take us on the loop through downtown so we could enjoy our champagne. We talked shows and he suggested Terry Fator highly, so we added it to the list.
The Tower Suites Check-In
You are important here, even if you are not IMPORTANT. Everything is Feng Shui and from the moment I walked in I felt I had taken the biggest exhale of my life. Since there was a big Tony Hawk event, there were many skaters buzzing in and out of the lobby, including a very nonchalant Shawn White. Cool. Robert, the most distinguished concierge I have ever met (he will come up again later, my husband is still trying to copy his mannerisms) printed out our Garth Tickets and set hubs up with a shave at the spa on Tuesday. Our room was not ready yet so we decided to give the Wynn buffet a try (thank you line pass!).
Wynn Champagne Brunch
We keep trying buffets even though we came to the conclusion we are not buffet people. We still try to get one in per trip and this time we had two. The high points on this one were a white fish dish, BBQ hen, a pancake, cheese/cured meat/olive station, and a few of the desserts. Refill service was slow, and most of the other food was average including the bacon. I give Aria’s champagne brunch higher marks. We will try Bellagio at some point, but not in any urgent way.
Quick advertisement: By the Wynn buffet near the bathrooms you will find Levi, one the men who rents space to shine shoes. Hubs swears by a good shoe shine so I went in with him for my first. Go see Levi - it is $6 well spent!
Breeder’s Cup
After some slots and blackjack that put us ahead by a bit, we headed over to the sports book. We felt like we were cheating somehow not being at Churchill Downs, and chatted with a lot of folks in the area who though because we live in Louisville, KY we somehow knew something about how the race would go down. I wish. Naturally, we had Makers and a cigar to watch Zynyatta almost pull it off. There were more than a few wet faces around me, and not because of a lost dollar.
The Room
Yes, Steve Wynn does verbally greet you when you turn on the TV. The room was great, and we had an okay strip view, however we are beyond caring about that after we had the un-toppable killer view from Mandalay Bay last time. It is not the size of the room that is impressive, but rather the quality of the details and bed and the linens and the obscene amount of toiletries. We have a couple hours before the show and decide to take a nap. Thankfully the automated curtains almost totally block out the light!
Garth Brooks
While hubs is a huge fan, I knew about two of his songs, but I am a personal fan because I used to work for IATSE in college and he always went out of the way to make sure the local crew had access to craft services and extra pay.
The show blew my mind!
If you have not read the countless reviews, this is like a memoir of influence set to music, comedy, tearjerker stories, and appreciation for the fans. Rare is the performer who can command that level of attention and not come off as an ego-maniac. He came out in jeans, tee-shirt, guitar, and baseball on a bare stage save for a stool and a couple water bottles. It really felt like you were sitting in on a jam session with your buddy talking about the old days. He moves through each decade singing songs from some of the greats a well as some of his own and has great stories about his family, James Taylor, George Strait, and his own early days. He had the whole audience singing “American Pie” and “Low Places” and laughing at many of the tales he told, many of which where he made fun of himself and some of his own music. Trisha came out (not a country fan so again, I knew who she was but not a lick of her music) and she sang a solo and duet that was killer. After the show, we chatted with a few neighbors, all of whom were awestruck. One of the husbands had planed the trip as a surprise and told his wife an hour before the show they had tickets!
I would see this show again without hesitation, even with the new price hike. I feel like I really got to see something special because once his contract is up with Wynn, it is back on the road with the cowboy hat and pyrotechnics. Oh yes, and without the “Hi, I’m Steve Wynn” voice-over introduction.
Eastside Lounge
So maybe the dueling piano guys were not Garth Brooks caliber talent, but we had no problem meeting our 2-drink minimum and enjoying the tunes. The place had a wait so next time I would make reservations. The all organic cocktail menu had more delights on it than I could get without a trip to the hospital, so I picked two (one of which was a fruit-punch mocktail that I had them add rum to). It was an all request-show, and when the players got to Alisha Keys, an inebriated craps player crashed the party and tried to lead everyone in the bar in some hand waving. It worked. Security let him finish the song before scooting him out. Ahh, those lovely Vegas moments.
Society Café
What better way to top off the night with mini-chili dogs, wings, and beer. This gets us thinking we need to ask the concierge about hot dogs. Naturally, they are closed down for the night, but the receptionist at TS, after laughing at us in surprise, called one of her coworkers who excitedly said “Pinks – open until 3! We never get that question.” Somehow we feel good about that and march off to bed "where like most, you came here looking for sleep, but unlike most other beds, there are a few surprises." Like, wow, turndown service - have not seen that in a while!
Day Two
Started with a purifying facial at Wynn. The spa is smallish and very warm with gold/pink/red hues. There are the usual whirlpool, sauna, steam room, cold plunge, and experiential shower with an assortment of tea, juice, fruit, water, and coffee. If they could move the Aquavana experience from Canyon Ranch it would be perfect! I snuck in some pictures because the place was dead. Friend me on face book if you want to check them out:
The staff is excellent and my facial was well done considering the shape my face has been in lately. The gym was also well stocked and I hit the free-weights before grabbing a shower and heading back to the room.
A Visit to the Concierge
Not that we did not trust our gal from last nigh, be we needed to know what smooth-operator Robert suggests. Thus, the title of this TR – “In my 5 years working at the Wynn I have never been asked for a hot dog recommendation! I have to think.” Thanks to his super-powers and a gentleman waiting in line behind us, the consensus was the Country Club put out a good dog and it was worth a special order if it was not on the brunch menu.
Country Club Jazz Brunch
Now this was a buffet worth going to! We were seated outside with a view of the golf course and with all the lush greenery and waterfalls, I momentarily forgot I was in Vegas. This brunch has a cold station inside with fruit, veggies, pastries, desserts, fish, meats, cheeses, and salads; a warm station outside with carved meats, pasta, and sides; and kitchen menu with, oh yeah, a hot dog. . . . plus a pulled-pork eggs Benedict that was rockin! The band played a lot of my favorites of the genera, including “St. James Infirmary” so I was won over several ways.
A Private Event
One of the wine guys we met a couple of trips ago invited us to a small party at this house in the north end. This was my first venture into Las Vegas suburbia and it bares a striking resemblance to most suburban areas I have visited in the southwest. Great party, great people, but not "Vegas" Vegas related so I will skip the story.
On the other hand, we hired a driver who used to be one of the managers of the poker room at Bellagio who was full of stories of celebrities behaving badly (Paris Hilton, the entire crew from Jersey Shore), thieves, and carting around some of the richest people I have never heard of (like the guy who invented frozen burritos). Entertaining, but ASD is no match for Presidential.
And the Evening Continues Into Morning
We always seem to wind up at Parasol Down so we opted to sit in the Up bar instead. I am still in love with the spicy lemon drop cocktail from the last visit, but we were itchy to take in the night view of the strip and head to our favorite romance lounge, Petrossian Bar in Bellagio. Since the piano player had retired for the evening, we opted to sit at the bar and have a great chat with the staff. They specialize in classic cocktails and we always order the traditional side car to start. I opted for a Singapore Sling for round two and let me tell you, I was slung! Hubs and I traded "I love you mans" as we stumbled back down the strip around 3am and feeling like this whole trip was a second honeymoon.
The Wynn will do that to you.
Day Three
Don’t Speak to Me of Breakfast, Speak to Me of Rum!
. . . and cookies.
. . .and maybe some coffee, but that’s it! Thankfully The Drugstore Café was stocked with what we needed to wake the heck up and get our butts over to Mandalay Bay for a late lunch at RM Seafood. Having met one of the chefs the previous evening, we were allowed a look at the kitchen and were able to tip back some brew with RM himself who was in town and sociable with everyone in his place. If you are a sushi person, here is what you order:
Ringo Roll
Futo-Fireball Roll
Shot and Roll
Don’t read the menu, just order and eat and thank me later. Honorable mention goes to the selection of loose-leaf teas and the chic server uniform.
Strip Action
Woe is the number of porn slappers soliciting on the strip, for it is cold and many of their numbers have gone into hibernation for the winter. I am pleased! We walk over to NYNY and it is windy! After hubs buys a CD from a random mixmaster on the bridge for a $20 “donation”, we catch a cab back to the Wynn and have the driver put in this sure-fire musical masterpiece to revel in the beat. After browsing through the first several tracks, hubs decides the poor guy needed the $20 more than we did.
We needed to use our credit otherwise this would not have been my first choice, despite to cool theme of a restaurant automatically switching it’s décor every quarter hour or so. Figuring we are in need of vegetables, I start with the field greens and tomato while hubs gets the endive-bosc pear salad. So far, delicious, especially with a respectable Rhone wine from a very personable sommelier. Then the steaks arrive. Quick fact, Costco sells USDA Prime with a lot better marbling than what they have at Switch. I would swear the cow was choice grass-fed which is great if you are on a diet and don’t require a dental apparatus to chew, but not if you are anticipating the delicious juicy fatty fat fat flavor of a New York Strip. In other words, the steak was fair – that’s it. However, the roasted garlic, Parmesan fries, and woodland mushrooms were well done and the Lemon Frangipane dessert cake was the best sweet of the trip.
Thoughts on the Beautiful People
If I were a hard bodied young male looking for a stays-in-Vegas moment, I would hit Aria – Wynn just did not attract the quality to their clubs. Even Bellagio was an upgrade. For myself, I quite enjoyed the man cornucopia at Mirage. We agree being on the wrong side of 30 is far better than having to compete for attention in the current meat market spray-on mini-dress fashion – if I still have my abs when jeans with bare midriffs are back in style, watch out!
Rhum Bar
Yes, speaking of a club scene I CAN get into, we arrive at Rhum Bar and our favorite chill n’ groove spot in Vegas. The classic 1944 Mai Tai, the Hemingway, the Totonga, some drink with raspberries in it – all were mine! This particular Pink Sugar Monday had a great Reggae band and between sets, an awesome DJ that played, among other gems, “I Want to Sex You Up” without a hint of irony. You better believe the patrons were getting funky while laughing. Spying a group of baby marines (was 21 really that long ago), hubs buys them a secret round of drinks after watching them strike out, uniform and all. It takes the boys a while to figure it out, but they do and we have a lovely time welcoming them home from Afghanistan before they have to return for a second tour next year. Alas, the good times close up around 1am on weekdays, so it is back to the Wynn for a win.
Oh Right, Gambling!
Normally a black jack man, hubs had come out even for the trip thus far and we decide to play slots. I am a Wild Cherry girl mainly because you never win or loose big but you can play for a long time on $0.50 a pull and with it, many rum a cokes. Not in his right mind for strategy, hubs proceeds to win a $1300 jackpot – our first hand-pay ever! While waiting for the cash, I make the bad call of following his slot advice (as if there is such a thing) and blow nearly $200 on one of the glittery machines that I normally can’t stand. Now I have 200 more reasons why I don’t play those beasts! I shoot him the raspberry, as I am pleasantly inebriated but ready for bed, while he proceeds to win another $500. Hot dog – monthly mortgage is paid!
Or is it?
Day Four
On the advice of many a Wynn expert, we decided to get in a good breakfast before hitting the spa. Now I have marinated a lot of things in my life, but bread? In white chocolate and orange honey? I kept looking to see if something was stuffed in the French toast, but no, it was just that smooth. Hubs had the duck and eggs which was so rich, he couldn’t finish it, but we traded enough bites to polish most of it off. Apparently we were smiling like twiterpated teenagers because one of the bussers looked under the table “to see if there is a reason you are smiling that big at each other.”
Encore Spa
More opulent, larger, brown/blue/gold décor with a juice bar are some of the distinguishing characteristics from the Wynn spa. And their robes lacked pockets. Since I had some time before my treatment, I did the shower, sauna, steam, whirpool, cold plunge, and experiential rain routine before lying in the heated stone lounger. One thing I neglected to mention before is those of you who are in any way nude-phobic, both spas had a mix of unclothed and suited patrons. I had the Good Luck Ritual with a male therapist who beat me up in the manner I requested. This treatment is a head-to-toe massage with an oiled scalp massage followed by a hand and foot scrub. I felt like I needed a recovery drink! I followed my therapist’s advice and hit the water again before getting ready for a late lunch with hubs.
ZooZa Crackers
Our intentions for a light lunch and Okada for dinner were thwarted by the call of New York deli. I went for the triple-decker roast beef and turkey on rye while hubs got a burger the size of an appetizer plate and smothered in a multitude of heavenly toppings and washed down with Newcastle. We could barely make it to the room as the food and the previous night’s merriment caught up with us.
Terry Fator
A 2-hour nap and a couple of more cocktails at Rhum Bar were all we needed to perk back up just in time for the show. This is another performer I knew little about, but we were in the mood for comedy. Our seats were in the center of row J. The pre-show performance from the DJ was a hilarious flow of dance moves moving from clips of one pop song to the next. The show itself was pretty clean with the adult themes subtle enough for kids. He sang one of his original songs, “Horses in Heaven” (sappy me teared up) and he is donating the proceeds of sales from that single to St. Jude. In addition to donating some of his revenue to veteran charities as well, Fator thanks vets every performance and both hubs and the WWII vet next to us enjoyed taking the moment to stand and be recognized. I love that he also thanks the crew and acknowledges the band by introducing them and showing pictures of all of the performers when they were little as a curtain call. Great show!
“Hi, I’m Steve Wynn”
We went to meet a friend at Parasol Down and none other than Steve Wynn himself was walking from a private party in Lakeside to SW steakhouse. Much as I wanted to introduce myself (I think you know how), he had his people around him and his new blond wrapped in his arms. Actually, she was guiding him more than anything else – I am not sure how much vision he has left, but I doubt there is much. After sampling every cocktail on the soon to be expired seasonal menu, we decide to end the night at Strattawhere I suspect we saw our waiter get fired on the spot after screwing up several orders, including ours. At least the pepperoni pizza and Caesar salad were delicious and the back-up staff was courteous.
Last Morning
Obiously, we did not pack the night before and hubs had run out of clean shirts. I ran down to the country club pro-shop and got him a swanky golf polo for the ride home. He was pleased. I also had to collect all of the "sweet Dreams" and "Good Night" notes the nightly turndown service leaves on the pillow. These will come in handy on random occasions! We had a 9:30 flight out - SW changed their to direct flight from 5pm and I think I may prefer leaving in the morning. Afternoon flights are such a tease. We grabbed complementary coffee from Tableau, checked-out at the desk, and had the concierge print out our boarding passes (no Robert, bummer). We left about 8:20 and got to the airport in time to by a hot dog for the flight and bored with our group - no exit row this time, the flight was packed again.
Giving up the ghost(s)
For the past several trips we have meant to check out the Rio and Palms, but have yet to make it over there. We have resigned ourselves that unless we see Penn and Teller, we probably never will. This is also the second trip in a row we ran out of time and missed afternoon tea at Mandarine Oriental. We will get to Pinks next time.
Spa vs Spa
I give the edge to Encore if you are getting a treatment since the hallways in the Wynn carry background noise into the therapy rooms. I give the edge to Wynn if you want to chill out since it is a bit more intimate and calming in design. But overall, Canyon Ranch at V/P is still my favorite.
Casino vs Casino
I had the good vibes from Wynn this time and it paid off. Last time it was Encore. This just demonstrates the randomness of gambling! It is such a pleasure to loose your money at W/E - the dealers and cocktail staff were all pleasant which was not the case at V/P or MB on our last 2 stays.
Hotel vs. Hotel
We are officially spoiled on the Tower Suits, although the term "suit" is a misnomer. We normally go with regular rooms but have stayed in the Suite Calais at Paris (pre-renovation . . . have they been renovated?), the 750GR suite at Mandalay Bay and a luxury suite at Palazzo (arguably neither of which are suites but rather lofts). Size and layout-wise, these are more suite-like then the regular TS rooms. However, I knew this before reserving the room so was not remotely disappointed that I did not have sweeping spaces in which to lounge in my Wynn embroidered robe and slippers. The bathroom was the best we have had and, hubs always feels this in necessary to include, the toilet paper was the good stuff. Normally we like to try other places and I do want to hit THEHotel and Caesars at some point, but while the economy allows, we will defiantly book W/E TS for our next trip.

Originally posted here