I walk over to Mon Ami Gabi for its splendid grapefruit with
mint leaves and candied ginger and a pot of mint tea. Somehow, the grapefruit
isn’t as good as it was in my previous visits. It’s still very good. This is
the first time I’ve had it with mint tea- my previous tea choices have
vanished. The mint pairs with the mint leaves on the fruit to good effect. Mon
Ami expects me to order more food but the grapefruit was filling enough for me.
After looking at their menu online, I was really looking forward to lunch at
Julian Serrano’s new restaurant Lago. Julian can cook, and I look forward to
see him do outside of Spain
what he does so well with Spanish themes. Mediterranean cuisine escaped me at
Rivea, though replaced by unpleasant tastes and by, sort of, ambassadors from a
universe where Bit was still alive.
I’m the first person in the restaurant. Beautiful view of
the Eiffel Tower
outside. Very pleasant, airy restaurant. Reading the last few sentences of
chapter 6 of Strip Cultures. The chapter is called The Whole World on a Plate.
I’d just ordered the seafood salad and the long-awaited Branzino Livornese but
the waitress keeps hustling me to order their ham thing. What is this, Spain?
I stay with the seafood only. The seafood salad enchants my eyes. I wish I had
a functioning camera to shoot it. Said to come with a grapefruit dressing, and
featuring a fat chunk of grapefruit atop a palette of vegies and seafood. The
salad is very fresh, without actually being tasty. When I’m able to cram other
things in my mouth along with the grapefruit slice, it’s pretty good. I’ll use
this information at home. However, minus that singular chunk of citrus, the
salad slides back into tastelessness. I’m eating a menu.
language learner might strive for cultural immersion,” p. 195, reminds me of
the robot in Ex Machina who wanted to stand in the busiest crossroads in large
cities. “How do we make sense of our surroundings when the eye is so bewildered
or absorbed in pretense?” kind of sums up my salad. Gorgeous, but largely
tasteless. At least better than Moonen’s crab assassination last night.
The branzino sounded great on the website menu. Smells
wonderful in front of me. Looks fabulous, but so did the tasteless salad. Lots
of Japanese food looks beautiful and tastes terrible. This however, tastes as
good as it looks. The waitress asks how I like the fish and I tell her it’s outstanding.
I must learn how to make this myself. I can’t say that I’ve thought of black olives
with fish before, assuming the olives would overwhelm a mild fish like this.
But combined with the cherry tomatoes and the capers (how Mediterranean
can you get?) the fish seems to sing. The asparagus is unnecessary. Pretty,
I ask what the
desert was and am told it’ll be a surprise. I should have warned the waitress I
don’t eat chocolate. Too late, she proudly offers a plate full of chocolate.
Some surprise, like a serious disease. I send it back. She returns with lemony
and thus edible things.
After using one of
the best restrooms in the planet at the Mandarin Oriental, I settle in the
wondrously comfortable Tea Lounge and await my Jasmine Tea-Off that had so
enchanted me here last year. Had some difficulty getting it. I thought it was
on the tea menu, but when I ask for it, although there are 3 jasmine teas, none
meet my specifications. “Must be discontinued” my waitress tells me. I tell her
about the pear, and recall the name Jasmine Tea Off. “Oh, that’s on our
mocktail menu!” “One of the best things
I’ve had in Vegas,” I inform her. Along with the overwhelmingly Zen experience
of being in this wonderful place. People speak so softly here, it’s extraordinary
after the relentless noise of the Strip. As I begin sipping the mocktail, I’m
hit by the strong jasmine flavour. More so as it enters my nose. Yet the
flavour is surprisingly bland. I remain in search of pear. It should be paired
perfectly with the jasmine for this drink to work. I have yet to encounter it.
Must be hiding somewhere in this jasmine forest. Call the florist. The drink
continues, still pearless. It reminds me of what Gertrude Stein said of Oakland:
There’s no there, there. Here, there’s no pear. There may be some anonymous
fruit involved, to keep the drink from being just jasmine water. The flaw of
Zen: you can’t live on nothing. Unlike Vegas, with its relentless there-ness.
The anonymous fruit is like a very thick canvas pretending to be a
painting. Pears could be out of season,
but that never stops the unending fruit delivery here. Gotta keep the gamblers
happy. Maybe the recipe for this drink has become so obscure, they’ve forgotten
what goes into it, like their neighbours at Twist with its total forgetting of
the recipe for their Passion Fruit Sour Martini, their signature cocktail a few
years ago. Jasmine permeates this drink as I read in Strip Cultures about how
smoke permeates Vegas. A ubiquitous waste product. Jasmine saturates this
drink, yet does not remind me of jasmine tea, which I drink often at home. It
kind of symbolizes the whole trip so far: things aren’t as good as they were in
my memory (sea bass at Le Cirque, grapefruit at Gabi, several teas). Things are
hit and miss, as Non-Susan the Bar Masa Bartender told me about Le Cirque. Have
I become so saturated with Vegas that there’s no room for new impressions? That
certainly wasn’t the case at Artisanal Foods or Lago’s Fish Livornese. The
young woman at Le Cirque spoke so slowly. The young should speak slowly. They
have all the time in the world to compose their sentences. They needn’t fill
every second with chatter (the young women next to me machine-gun each other
with chatter). For oldsters like me, it would make more sense to speak quickly,
to get as much out as possible before death shuts us up permanently. The
pear-lessness reminds me of a scene in the John Barth novel The End of the
Road. The main character is trying to find out the day’s weather prediction. It
isn’t in the paper, or the TV news, oddly. He calls the weather station and is
told that today there is no weather.
I hadn’t read Eater Vegas for a long time. For some reason I
decided to check it out before my upcoming trip. An expensive mistake.
For the Love of the Cocktail was a charity event I bought a
ticket to, expecting to have a wide variety of cocktails with 4 of the world’s
best mixologists. I did chat at some length with the drink maestros, but alas,
only a single cocktail from each of them was to be had.
I first learned of the existence of Tony Abou-Ganim from an interview
on Al Mancini’s Vegas Video Network TV show Top of the Food Chain a few years
ago. Sounded like a serious cocktail creator and a jovial guy. The M Life
magazine that appears in every hotel room in the MGM chain of hotels had
alerted me to the Bellagio cocktail when I was in Vegas last year. I went to
the Petrossian Bar and tried one. Not bad. Then the bartender turned me on to
another of Tony’s inventions, Skye Vodka infused with fresh pineapple,
blueberries, raspberries and vanilla bean. See my blog for Sunday. So I had
something to talk to Abou about.
Google informed me that Francesco LaFranconi first became
famous for concocting a drink called The Gambler for an Italian competition:
fresh white peach, pineapple puree, sparkling wine and lemon rum. I wondered
how he could keep the peach from being overwhelmed by the pineapple.
Cuban mixologist Julio Cabrera had won the same award,
World’s Most Innovative Bartender, as my cousin. I had something to talk to him
The event was taking place in The Brand Bar and the maestro
of the bar and thus, host of the event was Salvatore Calabrese, creator of the
world’s most expensive cocktail and the world’s foremost authority on cognac.
I’ve enjoyed a tasty snifter of cognac or two in my time. I had something to
talk to Salvatore about. So, lots of good talk and good drinks, right?
The World’s 4 Best Mixologists (yeah, like that isn’t
subjective) were introduced with great fanfare. They each entered the bar
heralded by young women carrying bottles of their sponsoring spirits. They each
spoke about their histories and motivations. They each created their solitary
signature cocktail of the evening behind the bar while phones merrily recorded
Salvatore bragged a
lot. “I’m celebrating my 50th year as a bartender next year,” he
proclaimed, and people actually clapped. Why? Doing something for a long time
doesn’t mean you’re any good at it. I celebrated the 50th
anniversary of my first DJ appearance on radio last November. Does that make me
a good DJ? Not at all. You’re a good bartender if you make a drink that I like.
Period. I’m a good DJ if you like what I play. Period. Length of time has
nothing to do with it.
Upon moving to Vegas, “the city that never sleeps,”
Salvatore decided to create a cocktail to fight sleepiness. Coffee, made with
champagne instead of water. I never tried it. Preparing for the event, I looked
him up on YouTube, and unlike Francesco’s Gambler fame, Salvatore has many,
many YouTube videos of his many cocktail creations. One of them must appeal to
me. I told him I liked fruity, Tiki-type cocktails and asked what he’d suggest.
Instead of pleasantly answering, he thrust a menu in my face. I studied it. A
woman standing next to me at the bar was drinking one of his cocktails called
the Spicy 51 and recommended it. I should have been wary, I have no tolerance
for spicy anything. Not only was the cocktail undrinkable, they actually
charged me for it. The price of admission to the event was steep, and now
they’re ripping me off for this palate violation? Weren’t all the cocktails
included? Not this one, apparently. Things began to go downhill when I
discovered there were to be only single cocktails from each of the mixologists.
I had been led to believe there was to be a competition. New drinks created in
front of me. I even met one of judges. But judges of what? After they created
their signature drinks for the cell phones, the mixologists created no more.
The event was deceptively promoted. Was I the only one who cared?
I talked to Francesco about The Gambler. “But that was So
Long Ago,” he complains. Never does answer my question about how to keep the
pineapple from overwhelming the peach. He says the drink was a gamble whether
it would work or not. He tells me of his unpleasant experience working at
Harry’s Bar in Venice. I tell him
of when Fumiyo and I escaped a deluge by ducking into that bar when we were in Venice.
“We’d like some wine,” we told the bartender. We’d been drinking almost nothing
but the great Italian sparkling wine Prosecco since we came to Italy,
and expected to continue. “We only serve cocktails here,” sniffed the bartender
contemptuously. We looked around and noticed everyone in the bar seemed to be
drinking Prosecco. I asked what everyone was drinking. “Prosecco,” said the
asshole in a tie. We had some of that. It was delightful to hear Francesco
disparage that wretched excuse for a bar.
I told Tony about my experience with the Bellagio cocktail
and the infusion he created. I told him I had remembered raspberries from last
year’s infusion and that was what I’d used when I sought to recreate it at
home. Now the Petrossian bar tender told me to use strawberries. OK, though the
raspberry infusion actually tasted better. Tony said it didn’t matter,
whichever was in season. Thanks, Tony.
After Julio acknowledged the genius of my cousin, his fellow
World’s Most Imaginative human, I wanted to talk to him about Cuban native
fruit. Were there fruit you could only get in Cuba?
I told him there were in Japan.
He mentioned yuzu. A very common ingredient in high-end western cooking these
days. I told him about sudachi, a Japanese fruit we've never seen in Vancouver.
Does Cuba have
such fruit? Yes. Still, Cuba
is a lot closer to Miami, where
Julio makes drinks, than Japan
is to, well, anywhere.
It was interesting to me that Julio went to Cuban bartending
school, a 2-year course, from which one graduates as a “cantinero.” Does
everyone who becomes a cantinero become an imaginative bartender? Able to
create great new cocktails spontaneously, on demand like everyone at Vesper
does everyday? I was a teacher for a long time but I never taught creativity,
nor can I imagine how it’s done. Always
looking for new flavours is a start, new combinations. Curiosity is your
The ticket included dinner at Giada, a newish upscale
Italian place with lots of primo vino. Wish the cocktails had as much variety.
The crowd was split into various tables, so I ended up with half a dozen
tablemates. All of them seemed to live in Vegas. I expect that at the bars and
restaurants I visit, but I had expected more out-of-towners at this event.
Maybe they’re at other tables. Everyone I have met who lives here, tonight and
throughout my 6 visits to Vegas, is REALLY HAPPY to be living in Vegas. Maybe
because it’s warmer than where they left? Maybe because there’s so much money
sloshing around from all those losing gamblers. I haven’t talked to any of the
many homeless who haunt the walkways. Perhaps they’re happier pan handling here
than in some cold city.
We start out with a vast plate of antipasto. Each is
delicious. I’m ordered to eat the bacon stuffed with cheese. It is indeed as
tasty as the cheese-stuffed peppers and they pair perfectly with the vino
onslaught. We hear many lectures about the making and selling of the various
wines. I’m no oenophile. Wine to me is part of a meal and of no particular
interest by itself, particularly red wine. I use red wine to make sangria at
home, and drink it without food only when visiting friends who insist. Its
subtle charms are lost on me. I always keep a bottle of white wine in the
fridge because my default protein is fish and sometimes it’s too fishy to eat
without wine. Nonetheless, I drink so little that the bottle always goes flat
before I can finish it.
Speaking of fish, and not surprising for an Italian
restaurant, our fish course is branzino again. Not nearly as good as Julian
Serrano’s take on this fish at Lago for lunch, but no complaints. The beef dish
however is far too meaty for my tastes. Even the copious red wine pairings just
barely make it edible, momentarily mooed back to life. I turn down the desert,
without even asking if it contains chocolate. I end up eating beef three times
on this trip, which is about as often as I eat beef in the average year. David
Ivy had told me he refuses to pay a lot of money for Italian food- it’s just
not Fine Dining by his definition. True, pizza is not, even if it’s my
favourite food. Pasta should never be expensive. He’s appalled that a
restaurant would charge $60 for lasagna On the other hand, Cioppino’s food in Vancouver
is very expensive and worth every penny. Perhaps David will change his mind
once he dines there. The young are so easy to impress, perhaps because they
have yet to be pierced by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (If you
don’t know the Hamlet reference, you need to read more).
Just crossed the bridge from the Cromwell to Caesars
Palace. It’s so 3-dimensional. It IS 3D. Why does it look even more so to me
now? Was there some psychedelic substance slipped into my wine, like the Greeks
used to employ in their rituals? The tram from the Bellagio is easily used.