Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Las Vegas--One of the Strangest Places on Earth


It is Tuesday morning and I have just returned from the breakfast buffet here at Treasure Island. I am spending 2 days and 3 nites in Vegas with my wife and 3 other couples mostly eating, taking in shows and watching one friend play craps intermittently. 5 of our group just headed off in my truck (actually my wife's) to visit Hoover Dam. Having seen it before, and having driven 55,000 miles so far this year, I opted to stay here and do a blog entry.

Sunday afternoon was a bit tense because my wife and another couple were all delayed flying in from Dallas. As a result the dinner plans for a bit looked like they were going to have to be scrapped. Fortunately they arrived just in time for all of us to jump into 2 cabs to get to our dinner spot--Rosemary's. This is a restaurant that is not on the strip, but according to our chef friends--Ben and Karen--it is the place that all the chefs in Vegas go to eat.

We all opted for the $55 prix fixe 3 course dinner. Starters included pan fried sweetbreads with black beluga lentils and bloody mary butter, twice baked parmesan souffle with garlic cream and wild mushrooms, beef and Maytag blue cheese carpaccio, and salmon tartar. Entrees selected by our group included the daily special of Australian barramundi (like a redfish) with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed greens; roasted rack of lamb with kalamata olive creamed potatoes and a balsamic reduction sauce; seared sea scallops with a parsnip potato puree, apple cider buerre blanc, and crispy prosciutto and parnsip strips; and Alaskan day boat halibut with sauteed garlic spinach, sizzled leeks and chive muscadet butter sauce. The weakest part of the meal was the desserts--solid but nothing special. The petit fours (lemon squares, chocolate squares and peanutbutter balls) were very good though.

Another reason we chose Rosemary's was that on Sunday evenings the wine is 1/2 price. Our starter wines were a 2009 arneis from Vietti and an 2008 albarino from Alicia. For a main course we drank 2 bottles of Fogcrest, Laguna West pinot noir. This is a small producer in the Russian River Valley that I had not heard of, but the wine was quite good--medium weight with good structure and fruit.

The service was quite good, and our main wait person, a young woman from Philly, was particularly attentive and I will say unpretentious--no snooty, stuffy, jaded server as can happen in places like Vegas.

Our next event for the nite was to see Cirque du Soleil's Mystere show. For those who may not know about Cirque, it was founded in 1984 in Quebec, Canada, and over the past 25+ years has grown into a worldwide phenomenon with several permanent shows in Vegas plus traveling shows. I first saw Mystere in 1995 and was so blown away by it that just 3 weeks later, after meeting my wife and 2 kids in San Francisco on their way back from Australia, we all went to see it. I have seen mystere now 4 times, and 3 of the traveling shows. I find there is nothing quite like it, and always greatly enjoy their artistic rendition of a circus without any animals.

Yesterday was pretty low key during the day. Late buffet breakfast followed by a stroll thru the Wynn and Encore hotel/casinos. I watched one of my friends play craps, which is a pretty complex casino game that supposedly you have the best odds of winning at provided you know how to play. Of course, the house in the end always wins. I am not a gambler because it seems like a waste of money. It took me a long time to understand why some of my friends like to gamble, but I finally realized that they get an adrenaline rush from the prospect of winning whether they are betting on a sports event, or playing craps in Vegas.

Yesterday was so low key that I even took a nap. I also checked on what was happening with the rare birds around the country. I found that the arctic loon had not been re-reported, and the green violetear hummer had been a one day wonder. But a lesser sand-plover did show up in Bandon Marsh--the same place I had chased unsuccessfully sharp-tailed sandpiper and ruff a couple of weeks ago.

Last nite we all had drinks at the sea breeze bar here at TI, thoroughly enjoying our sassy waitress before heading next door to the Mirage to have dinner at Kokomo's, a steak house. This was part of our package of dinner and tickets to Cirque's show Love which premiered in 2006 and is based on the music of the Beatles.

Our prix fixe meal was pretty straight forward steak house cuisine. Starters of duck confit salad, beet salad or pepper shrimp. Entrees were roast chicken, salmon or filet mignon. Desserts were either a chocolate mouse cake or a spice cake with ice cream. None of it was great, but all was respectable. The best part of the meal was the 2008 Navarro gewurztraminer, the 2009 Caymus conundrum, the 2006 Stag's Leap petite syrah, and the 2007 Ridge Lytton Springs zin.

Unquestionably the highlight so far of being in Vegas (besides seeing my good friends and wife) was the Cirque Love show. I felt like I had back in 1995 when I saw Mystere for the 1st time. I was spellbound for 90 minutes watching the marriage of Beatles songs, costumes, stage set and dancing/acrobatics by the 60 performers in the show. The combination took the songs to a higher place for me than just hearing them alone, and the visual impact of the show was totally mesmerizing. I did not want it to end, and I would go see it again tonite if we were not already booked to eat at Bouchon--one of my very favorite restaurants. Stay tuned!

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