Saturday, September 29, 2012

Leaving Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Day Two dawned while I watched from our 16th floor window at The Venetian.  I woke at about 4:30 a.m. Vegas time, not unusual for me, since I'm an early riser.  In fact, I had overslept a little bit.  I was craving a cup of tea and an English muffin.  I called room service just before 5 a.m. and spoke with a very polite young woman who, I'm sure, has had her share of dealing with early-morning inebriates.  She seemed relieved that I was sober, albeit still a little sleepy, and was very efficient about taking my order.

Not actually the view from our room.  Photo courtesty of CBS Detroit.

Less than 10 minutes later, a tray was delivered by a very personable server.  On the tray was an amazing assortment of jams and honey, two English muffins, beautifully toasted and still warm, swaddled in their napkin, and an entire thermal pot of hot water, along with a box of assorted teabags, various sweeteners, a plate of lemon wedges and a small pitcher of milk.  And, thoughtfully, two cups.  I had a very leisurely early morning and enjoyed an English muffin and several cups of tea over the book I've been devouring.  When my husband woke, he was grateful to have both hot tea and an English muffin.  Shortly after that, he was showered and gone, off to seek his fortune in the casino.

Sadly, I can tell you that this never happened.  We had a false start (like later that afternoon, when he won $500 at The Mirage, only to lose it all at Mandalay Bay).  But one magical thing did happen while he was gambling in Las Vegas: I think he finally understood that if it's OK for him to lose a significant amount of money gambling, then it's OK for me to spend a significant amount of money on food and wine.  Unfortunately, that understanding seems to have only been good for the 48 hours we were in Las Vegas.

Our suite had a sunken livingroom.  I've always wanted one.
I enjoyed lounging in our suite that morning, reading.  This is something I so seldom have time for and it felt really luxurious to be in such a beautiful room taking my time about arranging my day and getting ready.  I called the box office at The Mirage to secure our tickets for that night's show--Ron White, and I mapped out a plan for the afternoon.  I located the addresses of several places I wanted to see and experience before we had dinner that night at Alize.

Alize is on the 56th floor of The Palms Casino.

I met my husband in the casino later that morning (after a long, enjoyable pampering in our grandiosely overscaled bathroom) and, although I'm not a very good nor willing gambler, I decided to put $20 in the slot machine next to my husband.  Within 3 minutes, I had made $61.  "I'm stopping now and cashing out," I announced.  "This is our cab fare for tonight."  My husband stated, "That's probably very smart."  I didn't ask him where he was in his gaming, up or down.  It wouldn't have helped matters.  What mattered to me was that I had won enough money to get us where we needed to go that evening because walking the length of The Strip would have been difficult from many perspectives.

I had discovered the 2nd floor of The Venetian yesterday afternoon during my wanderings (right before the auspicious discovery of Bouchon Bakery and macarons, my new crush) and my husband was curious about what I had described: a charming reproduction of a Venice canal, beautiful shoppes and restaurants that wended their way along both sides of the canal and a very realistic-looking canopy of sky, dimly lit so that you either thought you were experiencing dawn or dusk.  When I first saw that sky the previous day, it had toyed with my sense of time and reality in a very surreal way.  So that's where we headed for lunch.  There's nothing like surreal food under a surreal sky by a reproduction of a Venetian canal.  But that's partly what Vegas is all about--reproduction and imitation.  And of course, delivering the surreal in a very real way.

We wound up at an interior Mexican restaurant called Taqueria Canonita. We chose it mainly for its open-air dining area that allowed us to see the gondoliers as they steered their passengers up and down the canal, singing Italian arias.  There are some fine voices aboard those gondolas.

Truly a delight to be serenaded by wonderful Italian opera music.

I chose two appetizers that were very delicious: The Patzcuaro Duck Relleno with Canela and Orange Duck Confit, Savory Manchamantel Sauce and Mexican Crema, and the Roasted Mussels and Shrimp Skillet with Tequila, Pasilla Oaxaca Sauce and Mexican Chorizo.  Both were beautifully presented.  You can see the mussel/shrimp skillet here, in this slide show, third slide after the picture of the bar (my own pictures did not produce good results because of the lighting).  The sauces on both dishes were rich, complex and had a depth that indicated care and thought.  The duck confit and green chile (most likely Anaheim) danced beautifully with the red chile and orange in the sauce cradling the rellenos.  And the tequilla-chorizo sauce that coated every last bite of the mussel and shrimp skillet was salty, rich and spicy.  I ordered more food than I could eat, but it was really scrumptious, and our server was fun and personable.  You can see the rest of the menu here.  My only complaint about this restaurant?  The wine list needs some work; it is very pedestrian.  But then, most of us don't go to a Mexican restaurant and expect great wine pairings.  Being in Vegas, however, had built my expectations to a degree that I expected a better wine list, even in a Mexican restaurant.  Yes, Virginia, it is possible to pair some very nice wine with Mexican food.

After lunch, there was more gambling for my husband and more resting for me.  But we had a plan: get to The Mirage box office before 5 p.m. to pick up our tickets, then take a cab up The Strip to Aureole, then to Alize, then back to The Mirage to see Ron White, who, as many of you already know, is totally shameless.  But that's why we love him.  Here is a mild example of Ron White's humor.  For those of you that have Time Warner Cable, you can catch him pretty regularly on Comedy Central.

We were able to walk to The Mirage, just across the street from The Venetian, but it was too long a walk from there to Mandalay Bay.  We had a charming cab driver who deposited us very efficiently in front of Mandalay Bay at about 6 p.m.  He had an accent I couldn't quite place and I asked him during our ride what his cultural background was.  He said that he was from Ethiopia.  I told him that I loved Ethiopian food for the most part, but just couldn't deal with injera, the flat bread that many Ethiopian meals are served on, because of the texture.  He became very animated and began talking to me about Ethiopian food, asking me what my favorite dishes were.  I replied, "Anything with goat or lamb."  The poor guy got so excited about my response he started gesturing wildly and could barely keep his hands on the wheel, which is rather a necessity late on a Saturday afternoon in Vegas.  When we exited his cab, he very warmly wished us, "Happy Holy Days."  Whether he was referring to the upcoming Labor Day Monday or other religious events, or whether this was just the way he said "holidays," I'll never know.  But it was a very pleasant $20 ride.  Our two other $20 rides were less charming, but just as efficient.

Once inside Mandalay Bay casino, you can get used to the feeling of opulence pretty quickly.  It is open, spacious and lovely.  It was a completely different experience than The Mirage, which unfortunately is a bit down-at-heels, dark, odoriferous, claustrophobic and attracts a different kind of clientele.  My only reason for being at Mandalay Bay: to see the Wine Angels.

I was there!  I saw the angels!

What, pray tell, are Wine Angels?  You will have to see it from someone else's perspective, since the battery in my camera died shortly after taking the picture of the cocktail napkin, above.  Aureole is renown for its four-story wine tower made of plexiglass and especially for its wine stewards, who access the wine by means of aerial acrobatics.  During my brief visit of less than 45 minutes, I witnessed three trips up and down the wine tower, all before 7 p.m., when very little was happening in the bar or restaurant.  It was quite amazing to watch.  I didn't get a chance to eat there, just sipped some wine and chatted up the bartender, but you can find out more about Aureole and its menues and wines here.

Two other venues that I wanted to see but couldn't because time and money were running out were Switch, where the entire restaurant and ambience is ever-changing, and Minus5 Ice Bar, where everything is made of ice, even your cocktail glass, and you suit-up in an insulated parka to experience it.  I'm sure there are other really spectacular things in Vegas to experience, but these were the ones that were on my list for this trip.

By 7:10 p.m., we were in another cab at Mandalay Bay and arrived at The Palms casino just in time for our reservation.  Atop the tower, on the 56th floor and almost totally walled in glass, is Alize, a restaurant with imaginative French cuisine and a view of The Strip like no other.  I was heartbroken that I had no way to take pictures of what we ate, because it was exquisitely beautiful.  I consoled myself with the fabulous view of The Strip from our table.  When my husband's salad arrived, the Bouquet of Baby Greens, it was arranged like a flower and he commented that it was too beautiful to eat.  Yes, my husband, the former fast-food addict, said those words!  And it was very beautiful.  He attempted to take a picture with his small flip-phone, but the lighting was very dim.  Ahem, we're making progress here: it was his idea to take the picture!

I did what I normally do in a fine dining establishment and chose a variety of appetizers and wines to see what the chef and staff could do.  I started with the Baby Spinach & Duck Confit Salad with Prosciutto, Sunnyside Quail Egg, Crispy Shallots and Black Truffle Vinaigrette, then slid right into Andre’s Foie Gras Terrine with Roasted Pineapple, Proscuitto and Baby Spinach accompanied by a Grapefruit Emulsion, then hit a home run with the Prime Beef Carpaccio with Watercress, Pickled Pearl Onions and Cornichons with Dijon Cream and Parmesan.  Each plate was a work of art, precise, beautiful to look at, exquisitely delicious to eat and incredibly well-thought out.  I would have never thought of combining roasted pineapple with foie gras, but it was lovely and worked beautifully with the Sauternes our server suggested.

A word about the wine at Alize: there are some wonderful and rare choices, such as Domaine de la Romane´e-Conti (DRC) 1985, (valued at $23,000), as well as wines from all over the world (see here).  I was surprised and a little intimidated about handling the wine list, however, because it's all on an iPad.  Being a technological dinosaur and rather a bit of a neo-Luddite, I wasn't quite sure that I liked the idea of scrolling and pointing rather than holding a bound menu in my hands, but it seems to work for Alize and as I looked around, other diners seemed to be quite familiar with this form of technology.  I am not, and for a lengthy discourse on why I think technology controls us and not vice versa, stay tuned.  I might decide to blather on about it in a future post.

Consequently, I put myself in the capable hands of my server and the wine steward, as I often do in fine dining establishments, and allowed them to help pair wines for me.  Perhaps it was discomfort with the iPad technology more than anything else, but I didn't want to stare at a screen to choose wines.  That felt like too much work on my part.  I wanted to relax, be well-taken care of, and enjoy my experience without having to do too much critical thinking, squinting or things involving fine motor control.

We ended our meal with a lovely chocolate souffle that I still dream about on the astral plane.  If you've never made one, I can assure you that it sounds more intimidating than it actually is, but do take care not to slam the oven door or it will fall.  Here's a great recipe for individual chocolate souffles that is not difficult and produces wonderful results.

Some final observations about Alize: after 8 p.m., it got very busy and our server seemed significantly less attentive, even to the degree that he forgot to put in our order for our chocolate souffle, which he had encouraged us to order in advance.  This slip-up made us late to get to our show at The Mirage.  Yes, we certainly could have chosen to leave without eating the souffle, but that would be sheer madness to the likes of Vindaloo Tiramisu.  Another issue was that my husband complained his steak, a prime ribeye, was under-seasoned and tough.  I tasted it and it lacked the flourish and the texture of the ribeye he'd enjoyed the previous evening at Delmonico Steakhouse.  But overall, we had a very lovely dining experience.  I think I would like to return to Alize, sit at its small and very cozy bar, sip some wine and watch people while still getting a great view of The Strip at night.

The next morning arrived too quickly.  So quickly that I did not have time to eat another macaron before leaving The Venetian for the airport.  But, maybe that's a good thing, since I like to keep a cordial, but distant, relationship with my doctor.

Viva Las Vegas!  I'll miss you...but I'll be back!

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