Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vegas report part deux

Friday, the plan for food was to go to either the Wynn or Bellagio buffet for dinner, with the rest of the day very casual. Daryl and several others decided to buy tickets to see Ka by Cirque du Soleil that night, but I declined to join.

For lunch, we went walked next door to New York, New York to go to a place that Jason had been the previous night, Gonzalez y Gonzalez. The diners were Daryl, Katy, Jason, Kurt, Peter, and me, and we ordered several appetizers to share. Fresh guacamole, nachos, and taquitos. The taquitos were awesome. Kurt, Jason, and Peter each got 48oz margaritas. They enjoyed the first ones, but they unanimously agreed the refills weren't a good idea...after the fact.

The chips and salsa at Gonzalez y Gonzalez were excellent, and I ended up full enough from the appetizers that I didn't go with the others to the Bellagio buffet. Instead, Peter, Jason and I went to the cafe at the Monte Carlo. Nothing special there.

On Saturday, we went to Bouchon at the Venetian for brunch. Katy, Ed, and Kurt went there last year, and their descriptions of the food made my mouth water, so I was glad to have the chance to try it this year. From a fancy French restaurant, I ordered chicken and waffles...but not your ordinary chicken and waffles. The waffle was a chive & bacon waffle, and came with Tahitian vanilla butter. Mmmm...vanilla butter...So very good. The chicken was roasted and came with what they called an au jus, but to me seemed more a gravy.

Saturday's dinner was my favorite. We went to Mesa Grill at Ceasar's Palace. I am a huge Food Network fan, and have long wanted to try Bobby Flay's food, so this was what I'd be looking forward to the most. The diners that went were Daryl, Katy, Kurt, Peter, Ed, and me.

Daryl, Katy, Ed, Peter, and I decided to split two appetizers. We ordered:

Tiger shrimp + roasted garlic corn tamale with corn-cilantro sauce.
Blue corn pancake with barbecued duck + habanero chile-star anise sauce.

They were both small, and each of us got about one bite, but that was okay, because I mostly just wanted to try them out. The tamale was excellent, and I say this as somebody that's not a big fan of tamales. The duck and blue corn pancake were also delicious.

For the entree, I ordered the Black Angus New York strip steak with house-made MESA steak sauce, cooked medium. My side was roasted corn with smoked chiles, cotija cheese + lime.

The steak arrived and was a good 1.5-2 inches thick, but to my amazement, it was cooked perfectly medium. It's hard enough to find a place that can cook a steak to order correctly, but to get one that thick and perfectly seared on the outside and a nice medium inside...awesome. And the flavor was out of this world. Bar none, the best steak I've ever had. The corn was excellent, as well...very fresh.

For dessert, Ed and I decided to share fresh made churros. They came with a chocolate and star anise dipping sauce, but since neither of us particularly cares for star anise, we asked if we could get a different one. The waiter suggested the anglaise that normally comes with the bread pudding, and said he'd also bring the chocolate. The churros were clearly made fresh, and very good. I confirmed that I didn't much care for the star anise chocolate, although Ed said he liked it more than the anglaise.

Peter and I walked back to the Monte Carlo from Caesar's Palace, and as we walked past the Bellagio, its water show going, two Jack Sparrow impersonators got out of a car and were immediately mobbed by 15 screaming girls. It was funny to see how crazy they went over the imitations, although to be fair, they were nearly dead ringers.

We left for home on Sunday, and everybody got together at the Monte Carlo cafe for breakfast. Again, it was nothing special...not bad, but not worth reporting on.

All in all, it was a great trip. The food was superb, and thanks to some good luck early, I ended up barely losing any money at blackjack and pai gow poker. Looking forward to next year.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Back from Vegas

I was back on Sunday, actually, but I'm just now getting around to posting about it.

My fellow travelers were:

Daryl (my brother)
Katy (Daryl's girlfriend)
Kurt (friend from World of Warcraft)
Jason (friend from World of Warcraft)
Ed (friend from World of Warcraft)
Suzy (Ed's wife)
Peter (friend from World of Warcraft)

We stayed at the Monte Carlo for a very reasonable rate. It's a nice hotel, and the location is excellent. We were nearly dead center on the strip, which made most of the hotels within walking distance. The use of a car/taxi was only required twice...and actually, one of those times it wasn't needed. The thing I liked most about the Monte Carlo, however, was that it held almost none of the stale smoke smell that permeates so many casinos. Sure, people smoked, but there was no sunk in smell.

I didn't gamble a lot, but I hit up the paigow poker and blackjack tables, as well as a few slot machines (just enough to give myself a shot at a big jackpot). I ended up losing some, but not too much...just what I expected.

The highlight of the trip was the food. We planned out our dining itinerary in advance, and went to some awesome restaurants.

We arrived Wednesday afternoon, and went to the Monte Carlo's buffet for dinner. They had these loaded roasted potatoes that were more cheese, bacon, sour cream, etc. than they were potatoes. The roast beef was nice, especially with au jus.

Thursday for lunch, Daryl, Katy, Kurt, Ed, Suzy, and I went to the Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay. I got a burger with Wagyu beef (America's version of Kobe beef) with peppered bacon. The burger was juicy, tender, and excellent. One of the best burgers I've eaten.

Dinner on Thursday was at Joël Robuchon for me, Katy, Suzy, Ed, and Kurt. It's the only restaurant in Vegas with 3 Michelin stars, and he's considered by many to be the best chef in the world. Needless to say, this was a very expensive dinner, but the experience alone was worth it.

I got the $89 meal. This was described as:


Un Poisson ou une Viande
Seafood or Meat


Moka ou Thé
escorté de mignardises
Coffee or tea served with mignardises

The first thing they brought out was a selection of ~15 breads, all described in detail by one of the waiters. I got a brioche ball with a rosemary leaf in it. The leaf was a little crunchy, but the flavor excellent.

After the bread, they brought out the amuse-bouche. This was a caviar tin with a layer of caviar on top of a lobster and crab puree with fennel. Here's a picture of the course after I took a few bites (forgive the poor quality. These were taken by my iPhone):

I am not much of a fan of seafood, so I was a little hesitant, but I tried it anyway. It wasn't quite as bad as I thought it would be, but the seafood flavor was just too strong for me after another two bites. Suzy didn't like this course either, but Ed loved it and ate hers.

When a waiter came to clear the amuse-bouches, he saw most of mine remaining.

Waiter: You're just letting it breathe, sir?
Me: No, I'm just not big on caviar.
Waiter: You should have told me.
Me: I wanted to try it.
Waiter: Let me get you something else.
Me: That's okay, I don't need a replacement.
Waiter: I insist, sir.
(above is paraphrased)

He took the caviar dish and returned in a few minutes with:

This was an apple dish. It had diced apples seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon and an apple foam on top. There was also some mint in there. It was much better than the caviar dish for me, although the mint was a bit too strong.

Next they brought out appetizers. Everybody but me ordered one, so I watched them eat. Katy's was exceptionally noteworthy. The menu described it as:

La Tomate
en salade, huile d’olive au basilic, tomate et mozzarella en gelée
Salad of tomato, basil infused olive oil, tomato gelée topped with mozzarella

Sounds simple and tasty. This is what they brought out:

On the left is a roasted tomato with herbs. The right was truly baffling. The waiter described it as tomato water, but tomato gelatin would be a better description. It was actually clear - the black is simply the color of the dish. The "eyes" in the gelatin were bits of fresh mozarella topped with puree of basil and tomato.

The entrees were next.

Joue de Veau
confite, jus Thaï épicé et légumes croquants
Braised veal cheeks with Thai herbs and green curry

Two pieces of braised veal cheeks - the most tender meat I've ever eaten. Baby vegetables on top, and garnished with 3 cubes of pan seared tofu. The tofu surprised me. I didn't expect to like it, but it was quite tasty, especially with the delicious sauce.

The next course was dessert. I ordered:

La Framboise
perle de chou, crème Madame à la vanille de Tahiti
A perle of chou, Tahitian vanilla cream with fresh raspberry

This was exactly what it looked like. Some small pastries with vanilla cream and fresh raspberries, and a raspberry sauce. It was excellent.

Suzy ordered a fresh berries with champagne rosé, but she said the champagne made it bitter, and only took a few bites. The waiter repeated our discussion earlier, insisting on bringing her a replacement dessert.

Around this time, Daryl texted Katy, asking when we'd be done. Our reservation was at 8:30, and we arrived on time. The text came in around 10:30. Since were on the dessert course, Katy replied that we would be done pretty soon.

Not so much.

Next out was a choice of ice cream. They had vanilla, caramel, or raspberry sorbet. I choose the caramel, and it was good, although nothing special, frankly.

After the ice cream, they asked us if we wanted coffee. Everybody declined, and after a bit, the mignardise tray was rolled over. I had to take a picture of this thing, because it was seriously impressive.

The waiter went over in great detail every single item on this cart. He asked Suzy what she wanted, and she choose one. He gestured after picking it up.

Suzy: I can get more than one?
Waiter: Madam, there are 40. Of course you can.

He went around the table, with each person selecting three. The vanilla bean caramel was very popular at our table. I chose three, and the waiter suggested one more, based off the ones I picked. I wasn't going to turn him down, so I ended up with four.

From left to right:

Strawberry cheesecake covered in white chocolate. This one was to die for.
Lemon marshmallow. Yummy.
Chocolate pastry. This was kind of a mini eclair.
White chocolate exterior, lemon cream interior. The lemon was too strong for my taste in this one.

That was, finally, the last course. My bill ended up, tax and tip included, at $120. The bill for the table was $904. We left at midnight on the dot.

I'm not sure I'd go back, but the experience was worth it.

The rest of my report will have to wait for another day. It will be considerably less detailed, as the rest of the food, while good, wasn't quite the works of art as those from Joël Robuchon.