Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Las Vegas Thanksgiving 2009

The waiting for this trip began back in April when, after returning from their first trip to Sin City, my mother started working my father to spend Thanksgiving in Vegas. By June we had booked the Palazzo on a $129/night rate that included some perks I will go into as they happened. The only direct flight from Louisville to LV is on southwest and we were able to secure a DING flight with only 3 price changes (love those guys). We left 11:35am Sunday after both my husband and I were coming off a few really stressful and sleep deprived months and had been moaning how much we needed this trip.

We got in 40-minutes early and out limo driver from Presidential was there to meet us. He was okay but nothing special. It took 25 minutes to kill the bottle of champagne so I had a happy buzz. We pulled up to Palazzo and were greeted by a friendly bell hop and shown to the front desk. Husband usually likes to scout out the front desk receptionist for the most likely-to-give-perks-face but the manager was there (dun-dun-duHHHHH) and put us with the most sour faced of the bunch. He asked about upgrades and we were offered half off suite upgrades, but we declined. Using his Okie charm, he was able to get her smiling and laughing and we were given a high floor with a strip/mountain/pool view. We tipped twenty to save $150 had we booked it online.
The room and view were excellent and the bed was both pillowly and firm. I love the remote control blinds and the bathroom was gorgeous. Bags were up in 15 and we were too starved to bother unpacking. Headed out for lunch at Enoteca San Marco to use our resturant.com $25GC. The atmosphere is food court, but the food was bliss. This was about 3pm so the bartender was also playing waiter and he suggested a bottle of Aglianico Campania 2007 when we told him we like the dirty, earthy reds. Great pick to go with a carne tasting of prosciutto and salami. I got the Sunday special cabonara pasta, which was simple but knocked my socks off. Hubby had the pork belly rigatoni, which was also a winner. We ordered café Americano and let the server choose a gelato trio for us in our dessert. He chose butter rum, dark chocolate and pumpkin (tasted like pumpkin pie and could have easily eaten a vat of it). Italian is pretty low on the list of cuisine we eat on a regular basis, but we would eat here again. Total including tip, tax, and $25 GC was $130.
We hiked up to MGM to get our KA tickets for Wednesday only to find the box office was closed on Sundays. Concierge helped us out and we had a nice discussion about her hometown in western KY. She also got us reservations at L’Atelier for after the show. The walk was much needed and despite the griping about the look of City Center and distance from one property to another, in person I think it is amazing architecture. We may skip Wynn next trip and give Aria a try. Speaking if which, we made the trek back to Wynn to pick up our 7pm Le Reve tickets. Roundtrip walking time was in the 90 minute range.
We had section D row E seats 1 & 2 for Le Reve and grabbed some good popcorn and average cookies with a couple of waters for $23. As it is a theater in the round, there are no bad seas in the house. Well, unless you are sitting by some chatter boxes who have to comment on every molecule that makes a movement or a sound in the theater. Luckily, the music was loud enough to drown out the chatty ladies so we could not hear their running commentary (I am not a snob, but I think we need some remedial theater etiquette training beginning with 4th grade social studies). I spent most of the show with my mouth hanging open partially because of the amazing acrobatic and artistic tableaus that were being performed, and partially because my two biggest fears are falling and drowning - this makes everything the actors did more impressive. As with most shows of this genre, the “plot” is merely an excuse to show some amazing athleticism and artistry, not to make you think philosophically about your morals or the sate of society. It is entertainment that makes you think, “wow” and then makes you feel like you need to hit the gym.
After the show, we headed over to Parasol Down for our first Side Car of the trip which was good but a bit weak. He had his favorite specialty cocktail, the Asian Equation (a coconut-lemongrass concoction) and I gave their seasonal Louisiana Lemon Drop (basically a lemon drop with some cayenne on the sugared rim – yee haw) a try. My favorite of the Lake of Dream shows, the one where the red and blue glowing balls flirt and dance together then have a little purple baby ball, was a disappointment as they changed the music from a moving piece that told a story to lame sexual grunting – I guess the former was too subtle? 4 cocktails with tip ran nearly $70.
Headed back to Palazzo for dinner at Dos Caminos using our $25 coupon we got with our package. Sangria was fair, hubby had two margaritas on the rocks and commented it was the first time he felt drunk. Of the trio of salsas they brought out, the mild and hot were favorites. We got the spicy tableside guacamole that was comparable to what we get at a Cuban place at home. The Asada and Lamb taco dishes with Mexican corn and refried beans, however, were on another level of goodness. Add this one to the list of places worth a second visit. We were stuffed and skipped dessert – total with tip, tax and discount was $75.
Even though it was only 10:30 we were spent and headed up to the room for some shuteye.
Day Two 
What an awesome sleep! We did not even miss the Tempurpedic we have at home! I was up at dawn – I love watching the shift change on the strip, especially with our view. I received a disappointing message that my parents had to back out of the trip last minute for an unexpected health sort-of-emergency. We gave ourselves 2 hours to have emotions then get over it and, after a few quick phone calls, the financial ramifications of their decision were settled and we were ready to move on with the trip.
We decide on Grand Lux for breakfast. We each had a mimosa and hubby ordered the smoked salmon and eggs while I had the Tuscan Farmhouse eggs – this deserves an “OMG.” I can even delude myself into thinking fluffy egg whites, grape tomato, shaved parmesan, crushed basil with a drizzle of olive oil on wheat toast is healthy. Total bill $60
Next headed over to Bills where husband decided he wanted to pop his black-jack cherry. Our daily gambling budget was $40/day/person and this is the first time we really really made an attempt to spend it. We signed up for the player’s card and he headed to the one $5 table available. I split my time between the Star Trek slot, video poker and another random slot machine. I lost about $13 and he won $65. I also realized cheap gin they use to make the “free” gin and tonics seeps out of my pores and after two I smelled like I had been on a 3-day bender. And no buzz. I made the decision to stick to well side cars. I took a stroll over to Caesars to get a player card but apparently I had signed up for one during a trip to Laughlin years ago.
We decided to walk up to City Center and check out Monte Carlo. While I was at the Player’s Club desk to pick up a card I had also signed up for at some point, hubby sat down at a table assuming it was Black Jack when it was really Let It Ride. Explaining that not only should you know what game you are playing before you sit down and the payout table was hilariously fruitless. As we were walking back, we stopped by Hawaiian Marketplaces where two performers were giving “Let it Whip” all they had. This was followed up with equally entertaining renditions of “Give it to Me, Baby” and “Brick House” that deserved a fat tip.
We went to Petrussion Paris at the Bellagio (our happy place) for afternoon tea service. For $35 each you get 2 scones with lemon curd, clotted cream and butter, a plate of sweets and choice of 4 finger sandwiches from the menu. They offered both loose and bagged tea and we were mostly happy with the Earl Gray and Darjeeling. They were running a bit behind so we received a couple of complementary champagnes. I will save my criticism for our tea snob blog, but for those who are into tea rooms I will say this: they keep pouring hot water over the same loose tea that is continually steeping in the little pot they bring to your table. Despite this, and the fact the whole thing is situated only a few feet from the casino, it was good experience. After tea was over, hubby ordered a scotch and cigar and I decided to try one of their specialty cocktails our waitress had won an award for. It was subtle, but potent. Total damage $160.
After leaving Bellagio we saw our one and only fountain show of the trip and it was set to “Tis the gift to be simple” – a tear jerker for me (I am a sap).
We had tickets for Phantom and decided to chill in the room with some wine and music before the show. I have to say this is the first time we felt we were not missing any essential action by longing in the room. It was kind of a shame the TI show was on hiatus, as I would have liked to see it from our window, but not a huge loss.
We get into our show duds and head to the theater. Our seats were Q29 and 30 right under the chandelier and we used a coupon code I found here for $50 off each ticket.
I have seen this performance in NYC and Chicago but this version flows far better. I was hoping in this one I might like Raoule, but no, I still think he was a macho jerk. I mean he saves Christine’s red scarf when they were kids and that entitles him to a life commitment after being away for decade or so? At least the phantom had money, artistic talent, and some serious engineering ability. Probably some really good bottles of wine in that labyrinth too.
But I digress.
Of course the effects and the theater are stunning and the actor who played phantom was phenomenal. I do want to mention there are a few scenes with gun-fire, firecrackers, and lightning for anyone who might be sensitive to that. My husband has been singing the soundtrack to me since that night and he claims it as his favorite Vegas show.
Dog Chapman and crew were also in attendance – I read his bio a few years ago and all I could think was a phrase I heard in the Golden Girls “soggiorno a partire da me, siete sfortuna” (stay away from me, you are bad luck). And yes, he was wearing his vest, but no bear mace.
Hit up Woo for dinner since we had $30 off as part of our package. The place was nearly dead but the servers were upbeat and speedy. We had a glass of wine each and stared with the ginger chicken ravioli and seared beef tenderloin with Asian salsa. Both good dishes but the utensils were awkward - chopsticks much better. For main course, my ribeye in a garlic soy sauce reduction over crispy rice was divine and his Peking duck was good, but not super. There is so much Asian to try, we will probably not go back, but it was worth the visit. Total bill $98.
After dinner we headed to Lavo for a couple of comp drinks that came with the show tickets and had the best side-car of the trip so far. I like the feel of the place, but I am not sure we met the minimum cool level for the nightclub. And maybe not even for the restaurant. A few of the older hipsters at the bar even gave us the southern crossways stare when we sat down in their vicinity – it made us happy some lounge seating was available, but not happy enough to stick around for another drink.
We walked into the casino and parked it in Liquid Lounge. Much more our style and our cocktail waitress was a doll. My husband and I played the “who is going to get some” game with the several groups of guys and girls who were traveling in quaffed packs through the casino. This comfy and swanky blue lounge has a great variety of champagne cocktails and an okay side car, although at this point my judgment was rather impaired. So impaired hat I blew a $25 slot credit plus $10 on the Dean Martin slots. Now ain’t THAT a kick in the head. At least the CWs were friendly, even though mine thought a side car was an amaretto sour. I decided to save some of my daily gambling budget for down town, so I call it a night and head upstairs with hubby following shortly thereafter.
Day 3 
Up at dawn again and starting to get that sleep deprived feeling. Grabbed a quick bite at illy – why don’t we have more of those in this country? 2 breakfast sandwiches and two extra large coffees were $24, although my husband charmed his way into a second large coffee for free.
He met with Palo, the Master som from Alex for most of the morning while I met up with big brother. First thing he does is play 20 on the roulette wheel on his favorite number combination than off to his room with a great view of the Wynn golf course and pool. We had some quality conversation while taking his first walk through Lagasse Stadium and the Wynn/Encore, then headed to O’Shea’s for some 3-card poker. He called me his good luck charm when he got a straight flush on the first hand and cashed out $150 up after a half an hour.
Onto Bills where the Star Trek Slot gave me back my stake from yesterday – I seem to do best in terms of hitting bonuses on the first two of the 3 games I unlocked. We stopped for a bite of red chili dumplings and shrimp dim sum at Asia Noodle in Venetian for $30, then swung by Rhumbar, where hubby was doing a photo shoot:
I had the weirdest and most potent Mai Tai of my life there called the 1944. Brother had the Hemingway Daiquiri garnished with pink grapefruit, which was also excellent. That made me declare Tuesday rum day, which set up the pattern for the rest of day’s drinking. The vibe of Rhumbar was nice – football on the big screens and techno remixes of a lot of Michael Jackson hits. $31 for two very nice cocktails.
Hubby and I met with Evoni and BigVegasFan from TA for drinks atSushisamba. $6 happy hour was good for 2 mojitos each, an okay spicy tuna roll and delicious chicken skewers. As a gambling neophyte, I learned more in an hour with this crew than I have in reading strategy books and our weekly blackjack practice. It makes me long to be a high, hey, even a medium roller, but alas, out miniscule discretionary cash will likely bring comps in the form of drinks only.
Although we had managed to resist, this time the lure of cupcakes from Sweet Surrender called. The lemon vanilla and chocolate are worth the $7! It was nap time for a couple of hours before dinner and was much needed.
Since we were planning a couple of high-brow foodie meals, we decided to hit BLT burger in the Mirage for dinner before hitting downtown. Brother had Shaft’s Blue, Hubby the classic, and me the “BLT” burger with avocado. We split an order of average hot wings and decent sweet potato fries. After looking at the massive chocolate shake the table next to us ordered, I was glad I stuck with diet coke (I needed the caffeine). We grabbed a taxi ready for my first time in Glitter Gulch.
My first thought as we walked along Fremont street was that this was like 4th street live at home only with gambling. We arrived in the middle of Don McLean’s American Pie on viva vision. I took a quick look around Golden Nugget before the boys were lured by the dancing girls at 4 Queens. I found a row of full pay video poker machines and played even there for 2 rum and cokes before doubling my money. Decided to see what all the fuss about Glenda at the Wizard of Oz slots was about and the witch took all my winnings. Phfffft.
I played a little craps with brother than decided to check out the souvenir shops after watching the Queen show. Nothing caught my eye, well, nothing I would spend money on, so we headed over to Mermaids where a couple of showgirlish types gave us beads. Triple black cherry, my favorite machine from back in the coin days was there, so I plunked in my cash and won back everything I had lost to the glorious sound of quarters crashing into the well when I cashed out. Ahh, cash money.
Went to Binions for some three-card poker and brother hit a 3-of-a-kind in the first few hands before walking away. Then we headed over to Fitzgerald’s, which was my favorite of the casinos. In the span of an hour I saw 3 people get thrown out and one of the pit bosses accused me of pretending not to know him (supposedly he knew me from hanging out at a TGIFridays in Louisville, but seriously – no clue who the guy was). I won three spins in a row at roulette, then had a great time leaning black jack switch from an awesome dealer named Yang. Hubby lost most of his winnings at Fitz so around 1am we decide to wrap it up.
The guys decided we needed a snack so I went along. Keeping in theme, I ordered a mojito with some duck potstickers, brother had a sandwich of some sort, and hubby got chicken and waffles. I am sure it was perfect late night drunk food, but I refused the offered bite. Played a little more at Palazzo before crashing around 3am.

Day 4
I had been looking forward to a day at Canyon Ranch Spa Club for years and was eager to check out Aquavana. I also really wanted to get a cupping massage since I went through some of the training and practice Chinese Medicine style cupping anyway.
Aquavana was really interesting. I did one of the assigned programs starting with the Finnish sauna followed by a turn in the tropical experiential rains. My body rebelled and I couldn’t breath for a moment after the shock of the cold after the warm. But I am trooper, so I tried the Caribbean storm rain next and did much better. Next went to the little herbal laconium room which was relaxing and warm, then went into igloo with eucalyptus arctic mist and was able to man through it. Went into the crystal steam room next where I felt all of the previous night’s alcohol pour out, then back to the igloo with peppermint, then into the cool fog rains. I finished it up with the whirlpool and about 6 glasses of cucumber water and a banana.
I would not pay to do Aquavana by itself, but it is a great thing to have available for free before your services. If you go for a spa treatment, make sure to come an hour early so you can make the most out of it.
The cupping massage was delightful and got deep into some places that needed it. I also fell asleep 3 times during the course of the massage. Afterward I grabbed some tea and an apple and hung out in co-ed conservatory then stepped into the salt grotto. Eeh – I liked to warm seats but I was expecting to smell some sea air along with the changing led lights.
Next was the wave room with inverted chairs. It was oddly reminiscent of a chill room at a really high class rave. At first I though it was lame but the more I hung out, the more relaxing it got. But the belly beckoned so I packed up to meet the guys atDos Caminos.
It is usually a hard and fast rule not to eat the same place twice in one trip, but sometimes exceptions must be made. We had the chorizo fundito, brother the lamb tacos, husband the short rib tachos, and myself the dos tachitos (should have ordered the enchilada). I gave their side car a shot but it was served on the rocks with far to much sweet.
At this point I am feeling the effects of the spa experience and excuse myself to pass out into a lovely and restful coma. I also pick up a cupcake and drop $20 on Star Trek on the way.
It was a great nap.
The boys spent the afternoon at O’Sheas then came back to change for Ka. I had a lovely nap and was still butter from the massage. Brother had an icky blister so we decided to cab it over MGM. Since we had some time to kill, we took advantage of the happy hour 2-4-1 drink specials at West Wing Bar where they made a decent side car and provided an excellent snack mix.
We bought the Ka tickets for 50% off though the cirque web offer in section 201 row cc the first three seats closest to the aisle. The ushers win the award for best costumes and commitment to character. As you enter the lobby, there is some eerie string music being played by musicians above your head. I realize I am a Star Trek geek, but the theater seriously reminded me of a Borg cube. Pre-show activities included a lot of cool flying tricks around the theater and scaring audience members as they were walking in.
On our first trip to Vegas together in 2005 we were on a tight budget and stayed in the MGM wishing we had the cash to see Ka. So after 4 years of buildup we were a bit disappointed. I had expected to see something like a dark Shaw Brothers movie given the Cirque treatment with lots of cool martial arts and a story of honor, redemption, betrayal and what not. What we got was fine – good music, amazing stage, some really touching moments (the drowning rescue and shadow puppets being my 2 favorites), but it didn’t come together for me. My brother took a nap and my husband wanted to, although this is partially because he said some of the music was really soothing.
I think the stage, while amazing, took away from the acrobatics – there was some incredible stuff going on but I don’t think I appreciated it because it all looked too easy. There were some gasping moments in there, but not as many as I had expected. So Ka is on the one and done list.
L’Atelier, however – what can I say? We did the Discovery Menu with a bottle of Pinot Noir and every single thing on the tasting was superb. It began with the Foie gras parfait with port wine and parmesan foam – quite creative. High notes for me were the scallop cooked with seaweed butter, caramelized duck foie gras with quince puree, hanger steak, and the foie gras stuffed quail with truffled-mashed potatoes.
One of the desserts had pink grapefruit in some sort of cram base that crackled in your mouth – it made me smile. The other was a chocolate something-or-other that was great but desserts are not my thing lately so I did not note the specifics. My only regret was they did not offer a wine paring and that I did not request a regular table as opposed to the bistro style table. Reservations were defiantly necessary. $148/pp was more than worth it and this experience convinced me we have to splurge on Joel Robuchon’s proper restaurant next time.
We cabbed it back to Palazzo for some more light gambling – I lost $30 in the Venetian’s Star Trek slot then earned a double stake from my Strar Trek slot in the Palazzo for the next day!
Day5 – Happy Thanksgiving!
Adding to the list of broken unofficial rules, we head down to Grand Lux for breakfast and I have the Tuscan Eggs again – I have a feeling I will be making this for many breakfasts in our house (I already have twice). My brother and I go on a little shopping excursion for my niece at the Forum shops and drop a little in his favorite machine, Top Dollar. No love!
I manage to make it to the meet a great at First Food and Bar at 1:30 where BigVegasFan and her hubby and my friend MexicoIsabel (who has yet on post on TA) were waiting. They had reserved us two tables in the lounge as promised, which I thought was great considering they were having a $39 Thanksgiving dinner special.
We had scored a bunch of 2-4-1 drink coupons and after a dissatisfying candy kiss, I stuck with the refreshingly intoxicating cucumber gimlet. The lollipop wings were good, but the conversation was better. Chocopenguin and Yourstarla came by and after whooping it up for a bit, we wrapped it up around 5:30.
This was my first M&G and I was a little bummed more people did not turn out, however many folks remarked First is a little hard to find and hey, it was on Thanksgiving. I do think it is a great venue though as the food, drinks, and service were excellent and the atmosphere is great for talking.
A friend of mine had arrived earlier that morning and checked into a GoRoom at Flamingo that I was eager to explore. I had not been into the depths of Flamingo for a while and still have not seen the habitat or the Bugsy memorial! The GoRoom was fun and the DVD player with stereo and the in-room fridge were nice additions. For a lower budget girlfriend trip, it is perfect cheese. They were dining at the Wynn so I hitched with them and walked over to Palazzo to get ready for our 9pm reservation at Aureole.
We arrived at Mandalay Bay and walked around the casino a bit. We met with William, the master som at Aureole., who is about as unpretentious, chatty and welcoming as he could be. We decided after he gave us a bottle of his wine and talked some potential business with hubby that using the resturant.com GC was not only tacky, but unprofessional. Naturally we did the Thanksgiving tasting menu and there were elements of this dinner that I will remember for the rest of my life.
We started with 4 canapés each and some cocktails. First course was smoked salmon and ahi tuna tart with fennel cream and caviar plus field greens and pomegranate that he paired with his vineyard’s own white wine. The next dish was roasted chestnut ravioli with Maine Lobster in sage brown butter with toasted pine nuts – my gastronomic pleasure sensors were on overload. I don’t think I have ever had such a satisfying combination of flavors – I could have floated out after half of the dish and been happy. Funny thing was, I was not full at all. This was paired (perfectly) with a German Riesling-Gewurztraminerr hybrid wine.
We had the roasted turkey with giblet gravy, cranberry chestnut stuffing, camalized yams, bacon wrapped green beans and garlic mashed potatoes to get through as well as a few bites of husband’s bison tenderloin. This was paired with a great Rhone. I managed half of my plate. William mounted the labels of the bottles for us as a memento. The pumpkin tart with some type of sugary meringue on top came out and I was in heaven. They loaded us up with extra dessert including a selection of sorbets and a chocolate lava cake. Although the tasting menu was $75pp the wine made up a huge chunk of the bill which came to 625 with tip. Can I say it? It was better that L’Atelier and the unanimous best experience of the trip.
I met up with Evoni since I wanted to see what THEHotel rooms were like and she graciously took me on a tour of the hotel. This one is defiantly on the list for a future stay. Brother and Hubby wound up at the tables for a few hours. In one of those typicalLouisville things that seem to happen no matter where you travel, hubby sat at a Blackjack table across from one of our neighbors for nearly 2 hours before they recognized each other.
I waled over to Luxor and asked Dean to please be kind. He wasn’t. I couldn’t even get the jerk to sing! I did manage to get a flying monkey bonus from Glenda for a pittance, but the best score of the night for me came from the Top Dollar and Black Cherry machines, which helped me break even. The guys faired much better bringing in a few hundred dollars each. It is great when you leave a winner.
Out last night ended about 3am and we called for a late checkout at one.
Day 6 Wrap Up
It always hurts to leave, and this time was worse!
We woke up around 11 and packed up pretty quickly to meet brother for lunch. The 1pm late checkout was perfect and we used the in-room check-out. Husband almost had a heart attack when we were on the way out and he saw the OSU basketball team was staying at Plalzzo. He almost had me convinced to stay another couple of nights.
For our last meal I thought it would be cool to check out the Wynnbuffet, but one look at the line and we opted for Stratta. It was a great decision. We started with the assorted salumi and marinated olives. Brother had the short rib sandwich, husband the rigatoni, and me the spaghetti. It was perfect pre-flight food. We hit the tables a bit and lost before the limo came to take us away. The airport was dead flying out so we had our bags checked and were through security in 10 minutes – I wish I had known about the Southwest baggage check at Palazzo before hand though. For anyone flying Southwest, I did the early bird and got A21 while hubby got B17.
So it was the best trip yet. Here are some last thoughts.
Things we meant to do but didn’t:
Use American Casino Guide coupons
Visit M Resort, Rio, Palms, or Circus Circus
Run the strip
Flamingo Bugsy memorial and wildlife habitat
Have our ceremonial Nathan’s Hot Dog or have the piano man at Petrussian Paris play our song (All the Way, for those who are wondering).
We also did not bother with the Mirage Volcano or Bellagio fountains at night.
Things we loved:
Palazzo - Relaxed casino vibe is to my liking and cocktail waitresses very quick. All staff were personable and friendly. Room spacious, comfortable, romantic. The biggest minus we could find was the sub par toilet paper quality. We would stay again.
Food – Aureole, Grand Lux, Stratta, L’Atelier, Dos Caminos
Entertainment – Le Reve, Phantom, Performers at Hawaiian Marketplace
Gambling – O’sheas, Bills, Mandalay Bay (tables only), Fitz, Mermaids, Palazzo
Transportation – Presidential limo wins again!
Things we did not love:
Food – BLT burger, Woo, Illy, Afternoon Tea at Bellagio
Entertainment – Ka, Dealtainers at Imperial Palace (amusing to watch, but 6/5 BJ not worth it)
Gambling – Most of the places downtown, Venetian, Luxor, Caesars
Solicitation – Aggressive timeshare people at Planet Hollywood and in front of City Center (we are good at ignoring the ones in the malls now)

Original Trip Report Here

No comments:

Post a Comment