Monday, July 15, 2019

Eating well in and around Vancouver

It's been a while since eating well at several restaurants in a row in Vancouver. Something I expect in Vegas, which is why I go there. It was quite a revelation that I could have half a dozen fine meals in as many restaurants all in the city where I live, and its environs, as well as one slightly outside, in Whistler. I first came to Vancouver in 72 and have lived here constantly since 88, but had never visited Whistler. Why would I go there? I don't ski. But Fumiyo's friend Tomoko came to visit us for the first time since 76, and as she'd visited Whistler that distant year, wanted to see how the town had changed since then. I went along. Seems pleasant enough, though somewhat artificial, like a kind of Disney city. Online, I found a Crepe place called Crepe Montagne. We are in the mountains, after all, with people carrying skis everywhere you look.  I had the seafood crepe, which was full of delicious seafood, and made with white and buckwheat flour. Wait a minute. Isn't buckwheat flour the sign of a galette? It sure looked like a galette, as you can see in this picture.

 Rectangular and dark like a galette, rather than round and minus buckwheat like a crepe. Perhaps they don't expect us to not know the difference. It wouldn't make it at the Breizh Cafe in Paris or Tokyo, but it was pretty good for Canada. Pricey, but so is everything else in Whistler. I guess they figure if you can afford to ski, you can afford to spend $30 on a small meal.
My birthday is always a time for feasting with friends. I have been listening to a radio commercial for La Piazza Dario for years. Was their food that good? Certainly an interesting restaurant, inside the Italian Cultural Centre. Full of interesting stuff, but what about the food. Studying the menu, I planned to try their salmon. Always on the lookout for new salmon recipes, but one of the specials was my favourite fish, halibut. I have rarely had really exceptional halibut in a restaurant, but this was one of those times. Very Italian in its ingredients, but like the halibut I had at the great German restaurant Bauhaus some years ago, it never lost in connection with the fish. And that chef has a Michelin star (or did then). Even unstarred, this dish was in that league. Miraculous for a city I do not expect to eat well in.
Some of the friends I usually dine with for my birthday dinner got the day wrong, so instead we went to another, far newer Italian place called Piva for lunch in New Westminster, a Vancouver suburb. Again after the studying the menu online, I went with the gnocchi. Am really glad I did. There was some roasted lemon on the gnocchi which perfectly matched up with the citrussy cocktail I'd ordered.
Gnocchi V   13/20
eggplant, broccolini, tomato, chickpea, cipollini onion, artichoke, roasted lemon

The orange coloured beverage in the top left is called an Orange Kiss: Grapefruit infused aperol, soda, Haywire "Pink Bub," orange blossom mist. One of my friends had the mushroom pizza and raved about it. Will try it next visit.
And speaking of great drinks, my favourite lunch (and occasionally dinner) spot in Van used to be Market by Michelin starred Jean George. I was there on its first night of operation and was greeted warmly by JG. But that was a decade ago. I was particularly fond of its truffle pizza. Still, the menu never changes so I let my curiosity govern my restaurant choices and hadn't dined at Market in years. Still, after the great cocktails I'd had in Vegas in February, particularly the yuzu-based drinks, upon seeing a yuzu mocktail at JG on its online menu, I ventured back there on a trip downtown to see a recent Monet show at the Art Gallery. Alas, the truffle pizza was no longer exquisite. Instead of a mocktail, I asked the bar tender what he could to with yuzu and booze. The bartender surprised me with a drink made from yuzu, pineapple and orange juices, orange citric acid, orange peel and lemon peel, simple syrup and vodka. It was so good I thought I was back in Vegas! That rarely happens in Vancouver.
While Tomoko was in town, she wanted to take us out for dinner someplace close so we went to my favourite Greek place Mythos. I always have the eggplant stuffed with crab. It is wondrous. That never changes. Their sangria too!
My daughter used to take me out for a meal for Father's Day. I continue the tradition in her absence. While searching for places to go for my birthday, I noticed the sesame-crusted tuna at Cardero's. Not long ago, I watched Jose Andres' PBS series about the food of his native Spain. The one dish I wanted to make was sesame-crusted tuna, which appeared to be deep fried, like the Japanese pork dish Tonkatsu. Hot oil is not my friend in the kitchen, so I decided to see what a real chef could do with it. It was a superb lunch, very Vancouveresque. There are a lot of casual restaurants that serve seared tuna in this town. The day after Cardero's, I met my daughter's old boy friend and asked if he recalled having that dish with her. He did. It's not fine dining, but certainly fine lunching. And like Dario's, the restaurant had wonderful vibes. Plus, a great view of the harbour!

Twice recently my wife and I, plus Japanese friends visited a place in what was once Japantown, now one of the sleazier parts of Vancouver, called Dosanko. Menu and vibes reminded me of Sapporo, where we had lived in 76. The restaurant has Tonkatsu on the menu. I've only had good Tonkatsu once in Vancouver, maybe 20 years ago, and that place closed down for health reasons long ago. Maybe the rats came for the Tonkatsu too. The first time at Dosanko, I was surprised at how good the Tonkatsu was. Not as good as the pork I used to eat in Japan, but I haven't lived in Japan in over 30 years. Also had the sake flight, which was just as good. Both good sake and good pork have been unknown to my taste buds since moving to Vancouver. Oh well, there are other things to eat and drink. In Japan, Tonkatsu is usually accompanied by cold beer. Two nights ago, I was back at Dosanko. This time the Tonkatsu transported me to the great Tonkatsu restaurants of Tokyo, where I had pigged out on my last trip there in 07. Just like the yuzu cocktail at Market cancels out my longing for the great Vegas mixologists, this Tonkatsu no longer makes me wish I were back in Tokyo. The sake flight began with Tengumai, the dry one. On its left, one not as dry called Yauemon. Both of these are very good. At the far right, Tatenokawa, a sake as good as I would encounter in the great sake bars of Tokyo. Very fruity and thus a perfect pairing with the Tonkatsu, which demands an apple-based sauce to bring out is full goodness. 
The kind of food and drinks I've had to travel great distances to enjoy are finally here. Hooray!


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Bishop: A Fifty-year Conversation

When I was a student at Carleton University, 69-70, I had two friends named Steve. One was Steve Bishop, the other Steve Huddart. To simplify things, I just called them by their last names. The Steve above I referred to as Bishop.
I had the best conversations of my life, before and since, with Bishop. I remember late nights basking in the vast beauty of  Steve Miller's Sailor and Vince Guaraldi at Grace Cathedral with him. One of the things we discussed was something we called The Infinite Option Theory. Anything can happen. If something as wondrous as Grace Cathedral could happen, there is no limit to beauty. That's a good idea to have when you're 18. One thing I was never expecting to happen was Bishop's death, which I learned of recently.  Our options are vast, but not infinite. I feel the universe has suddenly become much smaller.
I learned from his obituary that his nieces and nephews called him Uncle Step. Fitting. Any interactions with him were taking steps up, getting a better view.  I've never known anyone with such an expansive perspective.  I've spent most of my life reading, but Bishop read more than me, and brought the width and depth of that learning to all our conversations. Re-reading half a century of his letters, I discover they were all part of continual conversations. Anyone would be lucky to have had such conversations over such a length of time.
With the Toronto Blue Jays playing dismally this year (the last time I visited him in Toronto, we went to the last Jays game of the year, 2006), I no longer have Bishop to give me hope about their eventual triumphs, however distant in the future.  As a creative person, it now seems pointless to write anything new, as my best critic is no longer around to offer constructive criticism. On the other hand, my life has been vastly enriched by the half century of our friendship, and our conversations will echo in my mind as long as I have one. May all of us be so lucky as to have such a friend.



Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Vegas Ate: Sunday and Monday


Feb 10 Sunday

By booking early, I was lucky enough to get a noon flight from Vancouver to Vegas. Appeared overcast out the plane window and the shuttle to the Luxor had a few drops on the windshield, but they did not prepare me for the evening's soaking. Yelp reviews warned against the long wait to check in and were not inaccurate, though Luxor had sent me an email earlier telling me I had pre-checked in. This did not keep me from waiting in line. More detail on how to avoid said line would have been appreciated. I got into my room, which seemed pleasant, and changed into another shirt. Did the appropriate unpacking. Decided to find out how to get to the Strip from Luxor. It was more complicated than I expected. A considerable outside walk took me to the Excalibur, my previous home base, and connected by a bridge to New York, New York, a good place to start one's venture into the Strip. I leave the hotel by the back and the rain has commenced, but I have brought an umbrella. I make it to the Park MGM without serious wetness. Then a long indoor walk to their tram to the Bellagio and my welcomed meal at Le Cirque. The Park was the Monte Carlo when I was last here, and Eataly tempts as I discover it on my way to the distant tram. It's surprisingly cold outside, though I am warmly dressed. Wind is no friend.
Le Cirque is a great place to start, and a great place to finish one's culinary explorations in Vegas. You don't have to worry if it will be good or not. Your only concern is to how good it will be. I'm cold, so request a cup of chamomile. It warms me up. For an amuse bouche, I get a tiny tartlette of duck in a duck-friendly collection of pretend plants. It is not the best duck I've ever eaten, but not bad. Next, a veloute of artichokes, poured over an egg. Well, the veloute was a good idea in itself. Egg should have remained in its shell.
Veloute sounds like velvet, and that's what the dish should resemble. Thickly luxurious. Make those vegetables sing! Chickens, remain unborn for a bit. My tea cup is refilled. I'm happy dining and tea-ing at the same time, no booze needed. Next, lobster risotto. OK, I'm not really capable of eating rice, but in tiny quantities, this can work. It is a Le Cirque-quality dish, and suitably tiny. But diminutude was just warming up. I requested a glass of wine for the langoustine.

Roasted Brittany Langoustine
caviar lemon, buerre blanc
Supplement additional



I assumed it would be a big langoustine, and a small glass of wine. The opposite occurred. The langoustine was the size of my thumb. It would have worked better in a restaurant in Lilliput. The glass of wine loomed over the rest of the meal. It was a very good langoustine, Was it worth a supplement of $40 plus an equal amount for said glass of once-grapes? Of course not. Nothing is worth $80 for a few grams of protein and some grapey confluence. But I'm still in my appetizer phase. Next up, the Meat. The best piece of chicken I've ever had in a restaurant.

Roasted Organid Jidori Chicken
wild mushrooms, asparagus, foie gras sauce
That's what the online menu says. A typo I assume, but maybe Le Cirque has a new kind of chicken, the organid. Maybe it plays the organ.



It's bigger than a thumb. It has asparagus and mushrooms, which fight over whether to compliment or subtract (the asparagus) from my enjoyment of the dead bird. The meal itself is the winner. Some peary ice creamy thing follows.
I have always left Le Cirque happy.

Had a reservation at L'Atelier for their version of langoustines later. Had some time and had to go through the new Park MGM Hotel on my way to the MGM Grand. Heard wondrous things about the NoMad bar, both the hamburger and the cocktails. One of NYC's top bars can certainly do wondrous things for my cocktail-loving palate. OK, gimme your yuzu drink. It's called Nod to Nothing and it consists of gin, lemon, green tea, apricot liqueur, yuzu, sage. It was largely ice. There was enough of that going on outside. The drink wasn't bad and I thank it for getting me into yuzu, an old friend from many years in Japan. Would later go on to some amazing yuzu cocktails elsewhere. Still, it was a tiny cocktail. Mostly ice.
Then out into the snow. It's not a long walk from the Park MGM to the New York, New York which has a bridge over to the MGM Grand. While walking over said bridge, people around me were yelling about the snow. OK. I came down here from Vancouver to get away from that weather.
I had a great cocktail with the langoustine fritters at L'Atelier before. I requested it. It was so far off their menu, they had no recollection of ever having it. When I mentioned yuzu, they brought out an actual yuzu fruit and grated it over my drink. It was considerably bigger than the drink at NoMad. I'm not sure I'd say better, but it wasn't bad and its vastness impressed me. It's hard to say which langoustine was better. At L'Atelier, there were two, which is twice as much as Le Cirque offered. As always, they bring me the foamy fois amuse and the little bowl of Robuchon's potato-flavoured butter. It took a long time to finish the cocktail. My servers began calling me by name as soon as I sat down and went on throughout the small meal and large drink. Did they remember me from my frequent appearances at L'Atelier or just from the reservation? It was pleasant. I was there not just to compare shellfish but to pay my respects to the founder of the feast, the late Joel Robuchon. May his potatoes keep on clogging arteries forever. 

 
Back across the bridge to the NYNY and then on its other bridge to Excalibur. Then through its tunnel to the Luxor. I had read terrible reviews of the hotel, and it did take a LONG time to check in, but aside from that, it's quite nice. My room is great. On the 3rd floor so close to the main floor and therefore, to the Excalibur and the Mandalay Bay, making it very convenient. 

 
Audio: https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/autobkiography/Vegas+Ate%2C+Sunday.mp3

MONDAY

Bought a 3-day Deuce pass for $20. The Deuce doesn't stop at the Venetian, for 2 years in a row now but, though cold and windy, I take Wynn's bridge to the Palazzo, a hotel I don't know. Saw its conservatory's pig decoration for Chinese New Years. Not as impressive as the Bellagio's amazing display, but not bad.

 Then through the acres of slot machines to the elevator up to Bouchon. Of course, they no longer feature exquisite soup, but I can count on their Quiche Florentine. It doesn't disappoint. Always makes you feel good to walk through the Venetian. Then the Deuce to Flamingo. I must have just missed the Flamingo bus because I wait half an hour for another. Then a considerable ride to Pizzeria Monzu, which I had read great things about. Special dough from Sicily. Interesting appetizers. Swordfish! At night, you can only get a whole pie, but for lunch they promise one big slice. Actually it's two, plus a salad. My server raves about a fennel salad so I go with that as it seems to be part of the lunch set. Small amount of money (I'm drinking tap water. It's considerably better than the tea at Bouchon, which used to have great tea, long ago). I order mushrooms and peppers on the pizza, but they are few and their moisture is missed. The 2 slices are actually more than I can eat, and they aren't very good to begin with. Same with the salad. They give me a serious saw of a knife expecting my difficulty cutting it. But it's not worth the effort.

 Another long, cold wait and then back to my hotel. Will try ride sharing for the first time to get me to Partage for dinner.
Had no idea Lyft rides come so quickly. Drivers only stick around for 5 minutes. I barely make it from my room out to the front of the Luxor where the rides are. Thankfully they have my picture and I'm easy to spot. No more having to worry about having the right amount of money for the ride. Everyone who doesn't live in Vancouver knows about this already. And it's much cheaper than a cab.
I'm at Partage before it opens. When it finally does, not surprisingly, I'm the only person there. I had studied both food and drink menus on line, but discover the passion fruit cocktail on their online menu isn't on the day's cocktail menu. They agree to make it for me. I ordered 3 small dishes: crab, lobster and scallop.

SCALLOP

Cooked in citrus & herbs salt crust dough, sunchoke puree, candied Chinese artichokes, crispy ginger

$12


LOBSTER

Raviolini stuffed with mascarpone, Candied lemon zest & Ginger paste lobster bisque puffed rice
$11


KING CRAB

French rouille sauce, fennel & Ricard jelly, Imperial ossetra caviar
$17



They are sensational. So is my passion fruit off-menu cocktail.

Passion rosemary

Gin, Aperol, lime juice, grapefruit juice, passion fruit, rosemary
$12

I have a craving for bananas, so order the banana cocktail. It's terrible. I complain. They replace it with a drink on their real menu called The Tropical. It is astonishing. It's a very thick drink, and I'm not fond of thick drinks unless they're tomato juice or gazpacho. A splendid blend of tropical fruit and it's a sizable libation. I'm not that full, so make the mistake of ordering the Nigerian prawn. When is a shrimp not a shrimp? I should have anticipated its vastness by the menu which tells me it's for 2 people. It comes in a pleasant sauce and the salad is great, but there's just too much.

SHRIMP U2 (for 1 or 2 persons)

Grilled & flambée with VSOP cognac, celeriac remoulade, tangerine segments, couscous & shrimp coral
$28



My tropical cocktail is also very filling.

Tropical temptation

Rum, orgeat syrup, pineapple & mango juice, lime juice, passion fruit, angostura bitter
$12

Tropical

Orange pineapple and mango juice, coconut foam
$9

I find myself once more sawing my meal, just as I was doing at lunch, for no greater reward.
Excessive lumber-jacking aside, I'm vastly impressed with the meal and 2 of the 3 cocktails. Maybe I'll come back to Partage again? For now, it's off to Sparrow and Wolf. 6 blocks away but its neither snowing nor raining and I'm dressed warmly enough. Also hoping the walk would give me an appetite for Sparrow's maitake dish.

WOOD ROASTED MAITAKE MUSHROOMS

Turkish Hummus, Cascabel Chili





They tell me they just took it off the menu two days before. I complain that I had walked to this restaurant from its competitor, Partage and flown down here from Canada specifically to eat it. I was depressed at the closure of Bar Masa in the Aria, whose maitake and truffles was one of my favourite things to eat. Could Sparrow and Wolf work similar magic with its maitakes? The bartender told me it was the best thing on the menu and that made it worse. Thankfully, the woman who seemed to be in charge informed me that the chef still has the ingredients and can make me one. I'm elated. My sore feet suddenly feel much less sore. I start talking with the bartender about what drinks she recommends. I tell her of the exquisite cocktails I've just consumed at Partage. She recommends Tea Thyme:
Tea Thyme
  • Jameson Black, Lemon, Earl Grey Ginger Syrup, Thyme Tincture
Should have remembered that Jameson is a whiskey. I have no love for whiskeys. The drink reflects my long standing prejudice against that spirit. The other ingredients are wonderful but the whiskey poisons them. I tell her of the yuzu cocktail I had the previous night at NoMad Bar and she says she'll make me one. She does. It's amazing. It greatly adds to my enjoyment of the maitake dish. The dish uses mushrooms as chips. Unfortunately, the hummus suffocates their excellence. The yuzu drink mitigates the maitake's suffering. It appears to be on the menu, as she makes it for many guests, but Alannah tells me she's added a few things. It's Plymouth Gin, Aperol, yuzu juice, lavender bitters, scrappies, smidgen of syrup, muddled mint, egg white. It flashes me back to the first time I had yuzu in 1971. I feel I'm suddenly sitting under a yuzu tree. She insists the male bartender Terry is the real drink wizard and he proves it by following her yuzu spectacular with his drink made from St. Germain liqueur, macha, yuzu juice, egg white and I can't read my handwriting, along with what appears to be a Chinese character on top. Quite pretty, and effective in canceling the hummus onslaught. Suddenly, my phone locks. How am I to summon a Lyft? Have I been hacked through Sparrow's wi fi? Thankfully one of the servers knows how to fix it and as soon as it works, I summon my ride. Outside waiting for my Lyft, I am accosted, although not that malevolently by a group of young men. One of them insists I interact with him, which I do as briefly as possible before the Lyft arrives. My first Lyft was there too quickly, this one, not quickly enough. I think the provocative one was the most intoxicated of the group, and his friends were very good about distracting him. Maybe I should have stayed inside Sparrow until the Lyft was actually waiting for me outside, although I found myself frequently confused by exactly where I was to be picked up. Should be able to follow them on my phone in real time, which more use of the app would no doubt facilitate. Perhaps one day it will come to Vancouver. 

audio: https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/autobkiography/Vegas+Ate%2C+Monday.mp3 

Vegas Ate: Tuesday and Wednesday

Tuesday and Wednesday

My favourite restaurants in Vegas keep disappearing. But that's okay, I usually find new ones just as good. This is what happened for my 2nd breakfast in Vegas. Instead of going outside even briefly into the cold, I walked through the Mandalay shops and then through its vast casino to the Four Seasons to sample its Veranda, a place I'd found online in searching breakfast places in Vegas. I was assured by the fact that it was in the Four Seasons that it would be good. Just had no idea how good. I ordered the frittata Bianca, which I'd lusted after on its menu online. It was extraordinary. And the service was worthy of Le Cirque. I'm given a daily paper to peruse, constantly called by name and served endless chamomile tea as good as that fine tea can get. Initially I can't open my honey jar. Nor can the server. I am then brought two pre-opened jars and my love affair with the tea commences. The Bianca looks daunting. How can I eat that much food at 7 AM? That's serious dinner quantities. But instead of overwhelming me with its quantity, it thrills me with its quality, to such an extent that as its ending looms, I try and cut smaller and smaller pieces to avoid the depression of its cessation.

 I walk by a large statue of Michael Jackson, who must have loomed as large over the young boys he preyed upon, and fill a cup of the filtered sparkling water they are offering on tap in the lobby. It's cold and good.
Back to the NoMad Bar for lunch. I'd heard Humm makes a mean burger.

 The last hamburger I recall eating was Daniel Bouloud's deluxe burger when he ran a couple of restaurants in Vancouver long ago. It was the day of Obama's inauguration. The day was very cold. The burger took me two days to eat. Two very good days. Humm's burger lived up to my expectations but the cocktail I had with it did not. No midget like its sister yuzu-implied beverage, it instead swaggered onto my table with a cucumber sash as bold as Mohamed Ali in drag. You do not want to drink a cocktail with cucumber when you're enjoying a pickle. The pickle really made the burger, but the pairing was destructive.
A great piece of art brings me as much enjoyment as a great meal or drink. Yayoi Kusama was having a show at the Bellagio so that was my afternoon plan. Still had an hour to kill before her show, stopped by Vesper, my favourite Vegas bar to see what extraordinary concoction they could create. Long benefited from their creativity, and today is not different. 

Bar queen Jennifer Yim discerns I like Tiki drinks, so she makes me one combining Alva Cachaca “Amurana,” Plantation over proof rum, Gifford banana liqueur and passion fruit liqueur, pineapple, lemon and lime juices, shook and topped with passion fruit pearls. It is a miraculous drink. Yayoi's mirrored balls are thought-provoking and her room of mirrored lights does great things to my eyes.

 An extraordinary breakfast frittata, a great burger, a wondrous drink and an art experience that expands my enjoyment of the lights I encounter while wandering the shiny, sparkly halls of the hotels means this is a great day, right? And then my Lyft takes me to Mordeo.
A kind of Mordor for food. Well, the staff is real nice. When I tell the clinging service person (owner? Chef?) that I had wondrous crab at Partage the night before, he insists that his crab is better. It is superb.

 And then things begin to descend. Trusting the online menu and reviews more than I should, I order the trout ceviche. It is hotter than the sun. Unlike Jennifer's healing helio-trophic Tiki drink, this sun is not my friend. I complain, and the cheffy guy exchanges it for another trout dish; this one, he insists isn't so strong. Well, maybe Superman isn't as strong as Superduperman but they're both coming from the wrong place. Cheffy guy sends out a glass of white wine to go with his ardently promoted crab dish and unfortunately it doesn't extend its charms to my charring tongue from the spice insult. Forced to flee from the conflagration, I summon the wetness of a white sangria. Not as good as what I drink at home, and not as wine-knowledgeable as I'd expect from a wine bar, it at least puts out the fire. Next, I risk a dish of baby scallops. Alas. They reeked of the sea. And not in a good way. That's one good dish, and three really bad dishes, plus drinks that functioned more as amelioration than even the suburbs of beverage pleasure, I vastly over tip (they are so Enthusiastic, and maybe when they learn to avoid spices and fishy seafood, they'll eventually feature edible food) I depart for what I expect to be an easy walk over to Edo tapas, which on my phone is only a few blocks away. Well, maybe I should have called for another Lyft. I have great difficulty finding the place in time for my reservation. So many strip malls! But find it I do. The chef is from Barcelona, where tapas first entered my life in a serious way. Would these be as good? I begin with a kiwi based cocktail. “We have really fresh kiwi today,” my server tells me, but I appreciate it insufficiently. Last year's was the kiwi trip. I make the mistake of ordering the lobster thing, which my menu does not mention, comes with avocado. I go out of my way to avoid this evil fruit. If only I could escape to a universe without avocados. Nonetheless, with careful, selective forking, I avoid their poison and enjoy the lobster thingie. Luckily, I order some bread with tomato gratings. The bread is from Spain, I am told. Well traveled, yes, but well flavoured? Outstanding. And remember, I'm still full from the bad food at Mordor or whatever it's called. Next up, the mushroom dish. Once more it has vanished from their real menu, but because it lives on on their online menu, they create it for me. Maitake and other mushrooms dance and cavort atop a custard of cauliflower which is so good it validates the whole trip. And that's saying a lot!


Back at my hotel early, I decide to check out its central bar, as it's on my way through the casino. I order its blackberry drink, but it somehow forgets to be a drink. It isn't shaken. It isn't stirred. It's some blackberry spirit on the bottom, and then a bunch of gin. Now, I'm no enemy of gin. Tanqueray is a fave. But I didn't order a glass of gin, I ordered an attempt to see what the bar could do with my favourite fruit. It flunked.
I had planned to venture off into Gehry land today, lulled by the unusual sun, though it was Vancouver-like cold outside; but decided Yayoi was enough art and getting out and about for one day. Didn't use my 3-day Deuce pass at all. Lyft seems reliable, and beats waiting out in the cold for a bus for half an hour. 

audio:  https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/autobkiography/Vegas+Ate%2CTuesday.mp3

Up Wednesday morning anxious to see if Veranda's Italian omelet could be as good as Tuesday's palate-boggling frittata. Once more, I am papered, spoken to pleasantly, and am generally enchanted. Their Italian omelet was perhaps the best thing I've had with eggs.


There was a time in university when I basically lived on omelets. All kinds of omelets. Tangerine omelets. Peanut butter and honey omelets. I could drift away into eggy possibility but then, as now, craved a cheese and tomato omelet above all others. Veranda's eggy wonder earthquake of tongue pleasure arose from the enchanting mushroom sauce that filled the omelet like Coltrane fills a solo. This is really what I come to Vegas, or go to any restaurant for. My wife can get these inspirations from friends or even TV shows. You always want to find a better version of what you already love. If you love pizza, there is really no Best Possible Pizza. Same with omelets, grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, and many other rather pedestrian things. This isn't fine dining or serious expense. This is paying attention to your tongue and following where it points. Your taste buds can't let you down. They are you. This Italian omelet, along with yesterday's frittata Bianca are things that I can make at home. These are not impossible. What Edo did with its mushrooms and cauliflower would require Dona Flor to come to life with her cook books from the great Jorge Amado novel Dona Flor and her Two Husbands. (flick ain't bad, but read the book and droool.). Spending the travel points and staying in a hotel long enough to eat at all the restaurants I want to explore, and increasingly, the physical demands of endless walking takes a greater toll than it did 8 years ago, I have to evaluate, is this trip worth it? Were it to be the last, have I gotten everything I could get out of this city; these excursions, these expenses and the wear and tear on my tendons this city requires, do they balance out in my favour? That doesn't happen often in this town.

It rains on and off. Can I go downtown to bask in the expected torrents of pleasure I expect from the Gehry building? It is the last day of my 3-day pass so I must do it.
Lunch at Milos.

 It requires some convincing that I don't want the whole lunch meal, just the shrimp. They reluctantly subtract the appetizer Greek salad, which is big enough to float me to Greece on a raft of bad dreams, and the desert fruit plate. I meliorate their greed for my dracmas by ordering a wine pairing with the tomato partnering shrimpy protein. They all yelled “Opa!” I left unfull but that was a good thing. Back at Vesper, Jennifer makes me a blackberry beverage which serves as an excellent prologue to the sangrias at Hexx bar whose berry-intelligent sangrias had so besotted me last year. But alas, the micro-sangrias flunked out. They were served warm. Does any serious bartender serve a glass of sangria warm? There was ice as an afterthought but it did not mitigate the horror of warm booze uncoupling its most appealing molecules and drifting into a taste dungeon that defies all hope. The drinks were that bad. As bad as Mordeo's food. Uh, we haven't gotten to the scary bad food yet, but keep reading. Sauron lives and lives well on the Vegas strip.
The Deuce delivers me to the Bonneville Centre. I make my way to the Cleveland Center for Brain Research, the Gehry Building I had come to Vegas to gawk at. It is gawk-worthy.


 It is also a long walk, and overcast clouds diminished visual enthrallment. I walked as briskly as possible to the Downtown Cocktail Room. It is a long walk, but their cocktails are renowned in this town. I was in need of one. Instead I had 3, but none of them were very good. The three together were smaller in size than the drink I'd had earlier at Vesper, which was infinitely better. There is a lesson here. The brain center building by Gehry spoke eloquently to the disordered brain. I have watched my parents and others drift off into dementia, where perception is gradually at odd angles to reality. Maybe this center can help. With some difficulty and help from a fellow patron at Downtown, I catch my Lyft ride to the Palms. Serious traffic, so I call to explain my tardiness. It is appreciated, but seemingly unnecessary. I am called “darling,” but not for the first time. It turns out to be my longest Lyft ride. The driver tells me there are 40,000 shared ride drivers cruising Vegas. My next driver tells me it's 80,000. No wonder its easy to get a lift. I take the lift up to Vetri, the Italian restaurant I had such high expectations of. Were the expectations met?
Hmm.
Beautiful view. Really nice toilet. Decent cocktail. Opening with the porcetta, it shuffled into the territory of fine dining. It didn't live there, but it flirted with my palate. Alas, I was next delivered a board of dishes so vast, I could never consume them and live. A token bite or two was imperiling enough, and I had another dish ordered, the gnocchi. As I said, the view was exquisite. The server kept calling me “darling,” although she appeared not much older than my grand daughters, it was kind of endearing, as opposed to the food. The dishes reminded me of General Grant's strategy in the American Civil War. The Chinese in the Korean war. Prevail with numbers, despite the casualties. That's what I felt was attempted by Vetri's dishes, but in vain. The wall held. Really great food never made its appearance amidst the onslaught of food that struggled feebly to be very good.

 I could have been depressed, but the setting was impressive and I'd changed my reservation for 2nd dinner from the highly anticipated swordfish at Pizzeria Monzu to return to Partage to see if its drinks and bites were really that good. Uh, no. Should have stuck with the swordfish.
The crab divinity at Partage still retained a shadow of it previous excellence, but the drinks plummeted into a hellish negation of what they had been not many hours before. The passion fruit pleasure fell into a kind of metallic grating that attacked my tongue beyond its capacity for defence. The Tropical seemed like seeing a person with a head and feet but with no body. The drink's qualities were so distantly apart, you could spot a distant universe from their boundaries. And what's worse, the bartenders had no interest in fixing this oddity. Only a waiter who looked like the Firesign patron and popular actor John Goodman was at all friendly. Perhaps because they were so much busier on Wednesday than Monday, they may have not had time to humour my tastes as they did when I was their only challenge. But the result of their disinterest creates my disinterest of ever dining with them again, of ever trusting that something on their online or real menu would resonate with the excellence it displayed on previous consumption. OK, on to Sparrow and Wolf to see it it yuzu cocktails still cook. Yes they do. Yuzu still shines in the excellence with which it is displayed. I spend a long time talking with a man from NoMad. I tell him he makes good burgers. He knows already.

audio: https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/autobkiography/Vegas+Ate%2C+Wednesday.mp3

Vegas Ate: Thursday and Friday

Thursday

Back to Veranda to see if it's frittata Bianca is as good as it was 2 days ago. Well, not quite, but it's still a splendid way to break one's fast. I decline the toast this time, and instead, I'm brought a small plate of fruit. Exactly what I wanted, but hadn't known possible. Veranda is the kind of place that, when you wake up, you're ecstatic knowing you'd be going there and plunging into its divine food soon. Not many places like that.
It is pissing outside. Great waves of water pummel the strip. Thankfully, not much outdoorsing in planned today. Instead, I have the first lunch at Eataly, specifically their sit down restaurant where I order the seafood Misti after bringing over a limoncello-based cocktail (not as good as it should have been. Maybe soda instead of
Proseco? Had an unpleasant bitter edge which did not help it pair with the seafood.) Barely above food-court food and drink. I had such high hopes for Eataly. Alas. I make my way over to the Aria for Julian Serrano's apricots and scallops that so delighted me last year. This time, the delight factor had vanished. It was like eating a picture of food. The wonders that Partage explored with its scallop dish, the fine contribution apricots made to recent cocktails and a lifetime of fruit love fail to appear. In the 6 (or more?) times I've dined on Serrano's cuisine, it has been hit and miss. Sometimes, amazing. Sometimes, downright terrible. Maybe Julian should leave the restaurant business entirely, and make a living doing something more predictable, or at least something where lack of predictability is not so sorely felt. Gambling, perhaps. That's two bad lunches in a row. Even Julian's sangria was subpar, compared to previous sangrias I've enjoyed enthusiastically at this restaurant. Last year, the server here told me how much the local hockey team had helped the city heal from its recent horrific massacre. This time, with the team not doing as well, maybe the sangria too has drifted from its glory. 

 
Thankfully, Jennifer's great Tiki-type beverage retains it excellence. Sitting in the Vesper bar on a rain-soaked afternoon, with no commitments or plans until the evening at Michael Mina, I bask in contentment. And then a strange thing happens. A young woman sits down next to me and asks what I'm drinking. I tell her it doesn't have a name but Jennifer could make her one. She demands a sip, and I extract the straw and allow her to sip from the rim. She is blown away by how good the drink is. She wants more. I tell her to order one for herself. She asks me to buy her one. I tell her to get her own drink and she complains she's lost all her money gambling. Then what is she doing in a bar? I soon discover. Her breasts advance on me like an army of cantankerous cantaloupes. “Would you like to party?” she invites, in a strangely druggy voice. “No,” I reply, feeling both disgust and pity for her plight. What wrong decisions in her life have led her to this occupation? Can she find something less destructive? Immediately, Miss Hooker is seized by Security and escorted from the premises, Mr Security asks if I wish to press charges, but I tell him I'm just glad to be alone again. Jennifer tells me it happens all the time here, but the first time for me. General Cantaloupe must have been really desperate.

So Michael Mina has returned to his fishy roots, I read. Greatly look forward to seeing what he can do with John Dory. His Lion-fish at his far too short-lived American Fish was one of the best things I've eaten in Vegas. What can he do with Sir John? Well, I guess I'll never know. Valentine's Day has pre-empted the menu. The less said about the food the better. Being bitten by a rat and getting the plague would be a step up. I felt I had suddenly fallen into another, more evil universe.
I retreat to Le Cirque to practice my long-vanished Nihongo with Nomura-san and drink champagne courtesy Ivo. It is a perfect antidote to Mina's nihilistic food void. Le Cirque is worth going to Vegas for. Not many places can say that. Guy Savoy? I had ventured over to his place at Caesar's Palace on Sunday after the Le Cirque meal to inquire about his pea dish, which had vanished mysteriously between December and January's menu postings on their website. Peas were used magnificently in my two dinners at Guy's sister restaurant Les Bouquenistes 2 years ago, and I wanted to see what the Vegas chapter of Guy's culinary brain could do with this small but mighty tasty vegetable. The person in charge was horrified. Peas are only served IN Season, which is spring, not February! Come back in March or April. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. But avoiding this weather hostility does make later months more attractive, were I to return to this city, sometime in an unknown future.
Dinner reservations at Zuma at 9. Wanted to try their lime crab. It was on par with the other great crab dishes I've consumed this trip, at Partage and Mordeo. Crab has dominated the list of things I've enjoyed this trip, but it's a rather insubstantial meat. Doing things with crab is a slight skill at best. It's like being skilled at fencing. Uh huh, and?

Friday

Back to Veranda for the last time. No fruit this time, and the Italian omelet, though still outstanding, does not stand out far enough. The neural pathways have been established, and the pleasure is no longer new. That can be said with almost everything I've consumed here. The purpose of Great Things Happening To Us is that we can use them into the future. Their resonance brings us a staircase of evolving pleasure, against the chaos of random slings and arrows. But bad things too have their resonances, their echoes tearing at our ears deep into our nightmares. A good thing is a flight back home. My wife awaits me at the airport with my winter coat worthy of the weather; only slightly colder than Vegas, but still. No greater pleasure exists than being home. 

audio:  https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/autobkiography/Vegas+Ate%2CThursday+and+Friday.mp3

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Flight of Vegetarian Menus: Vegas, Day 1


My 7th trip to Vegas and one with a purpose. The vegetarian menus of 3 great French restaurants in Vegas. Like the great veggie palaces of Paris I dined in last year, Vegas should be non- stop vegetable pleasure. Plus I can get some great tapas ideas from Julian Serrano and Jaleo for upcoming Iberian adventure. Flowing from that, a new sangria bar had just opened, promising 9 kinds of sangria. I wanted to try them all, and learn from the most promising. And you could buy them by flights! 3 small sangrias a night, I could do that.
My flight finally took off, more than an hour late. I began re-reading The Dispossessed, one of my favourite novels by my late favourite author, Ursula K Le Guin. I had thought to be in Vegas by 4 but it was well after 5 when I arrived. Reservation at Rivea in the Delano at 7. Hoped to be there earlier but was only able to make it in time. Rivea has taken over the old Mix restaurant, though kept Alain Ducasse's name and hopefully credibility. One of the best meals of my life was at Ducasse's Le Jules Verne at the Real Eiffel Tower last summer. The single best morsel of food that has ever entered my mouth was the 3rd prawn from the classic Ducasse menu at Mix, my first meal on my first trip to Vegas 7 years ago, almost to the day. I have been warned that Rivea food is a great distance from that. Indeed, it proves to be but it isn't bad at all. I had come for the John Dory, and reluctantly agreed to an appy because I was very hungry and not planning to go to Zuma til later. Appy turned out to be better than the main, just like my initial Mix meal. The John Dory wasn't bad at all. Just in concept, better than I get in most places in Vancouver.

 I was dragooned into the gnocchi as appy and I love gnocchi, but not in to filling up on non-protein. A small collection of starchies, with some wafer grills of Parmesan splendour. The grills made the dish. One of the supposed basil fragments on one of the gnocchi tasted of cannabis instead of basil. I know it's now legal here, but with gnocchi? Odd. But the Parmesan so overwhelmed the rest of the dish that even when Ducasse's John Dory, plus baby octopus and other things comes, with a credible cocktail, I'm quite happy with it. It does not strike out.

 I leave contentedly, but hurriedly. I am off to Sangria land, specifically the bar Alexxa, by cab, fearing it would be full if I dallied at the Delano. Although there were people at the tables in the outside terrace, at the long bar, I was all alone. I requested my first flight of mini-sangrias. The Bubbly, dubbed their most popular, earned every drop of its popularity. I'm a big fan of peaches and raspberries, but peaches, strawberries and sparkling wine properly balanced? This is skilled mixology. 
 
Had menu plans for the new Japanese restaurant Zuma in my favourite building in Vegas, the Cosmopolitan. The menu features considerably higher prices than listed on the website, and warnings from reviews. Nonetheless, I just had a John Dory and want to see what they do with a similar fish. It takes a while to get to me, but it is delicious. While waiting, I order a lychee cocktail because I'd been recommended a lychee cocktail at tomorrow's Le Cirque (which i never end up having). It has no flavour. A sweetness lingers in my mouth like a bad cold, but flavour never enters my palate. The fish is served skin side up.

 An affront to my eyes and taste buds. Skin should only exist in a distant past tense. But once the useful protein was revealed, the fish was better than the John Dory at Rivea. Not much done with it, a la Robota style fish but I am impressed. I'm not $29 impressed but it's not a bad piece of fish. Fully sated, I walk back to the Excalibur and fall asleep.

Vegas Day 2


Day 2
I am cold. I was offered 2 beds, but as there is only 1 of me, I stupidly agreed to one bed. If I had taken two, I could have had the other bed's blanket, but NO. Also offered a room next to the elevator. Would it's comings and going annoy me? I thought I'd be too tired to notice, and that was largely the case. Upon waking up, I requested a blanket, and a different room. The elevator noise, though not annoying when within the gravitational pull of sleep need, became a real obstacle to resumed sleep once awakened.
Last Vegas trip 2 years ago, I had the best breakfast ever, a lettuce and gnocchi soup at Bouchon. I'm up at 630, do my morning Tai Chi, have a cup of tea and a fruit cup with way too much melon and then buy a 24 hour Deuce pass and head off to the distant Venetian. It is an enchanting building to walk through. Music takes a break from 70s rock to mellow out a bit with Mozart. I walk by spaces where restaurants have served me marvelous meals, and then vanished, like dreams. The slot machines gleam. The security guy asks for my room number and I tell him I'm going to Bouchon. He allows me on the elevator. Probably the 7th time I've come to Bouchon for breakfast. The last time was probably the best breakfast – soup - ever. OK, Keller. Whaddya got? Not the magical lettuce soup, as long gone as the wondrous grapefruit I'd had here my first visit. I go with the crepe. Keller is one of the US's most famous “French” chefs, How much harm can he do to French peasant food? Well.....
I had always loved Bouchon's tea, until NOW. This barely functions as tea. An insult to the souls of the fruit picked to make this poor excuse for tea. I'm immersed in The Dispossessed, and no poverty of food could shake me from its grip, but the crepe arrived. The ham and brie did not displease, but the texture of the crepe challenged my dentition more than necessary. In other words, too chewy. The bibb lettuce lent a pungency that propelled my palate to further plunge in to the dry dungeon of taste Keller's crepes were driving me to. Balloons of bibb, thanks to the strong taste of the dressing and the crispy water-worlds of the lettuce (I'm reading about a planet where water is precious) I am not unhappy with the breakfast. But one does not travel great distances to be merely not unhappy.
Upon awakening, my body insists on fruit, and Keller refused any resemblance there of from his menu. I think he's just being mean to me for accurately describing my meal at Per Se as the the worst value for dollar spent in imagination. His soup last trip here was as good as a breakfast soup can get. This breakfast is OK, thanks to cheap bus instead of expensive cab, and the wonderful morning vibe of transversing the Venetian tower and other calm and comforting spaces. Also, I like being on the street in early morning Vegas where the people who are going to bring about The Show are going about the business of bringing that into being with their own dedication. The Show that is Las Vegas would not exist without them. I usually get up early when I travel, for some reason. I seem to need to get my bearings about the place I newly find myself in as soon as possible in day light. When I was here 2 years ago, something was being built next to New York, a bridge away from where I've always stayed, the Excalibur. I now saw it in the light of day. It's called a Park. I am called Cat. That doesn't necessarily mean the names match what those words usually mean. I walk on. The Monte Carlo has a tram that isn't particularly faster than just walking to the Bellagio but it does get you inside the hotel sooner than trudging toward it. And it it is wondrous place to be within. The Monte Carlo was a construction site.
I found my way to Milos at the Cosmopolitan. After last night's John Dory at Rivea and similar fish Branzino at Zuma, I was sorely tempted to once again have the lunch fish at Milos, which I'd had before after being assured, quite accurately, that it tasted the same as the Lavraki. But the brave new frontier of Milos shrimp beckoned.


 I allowed myself to be seduced by its siren song. It was very similar to basically the same shrimp dish I've had some several local Greek places, but it is a wonderful dish. I am reminded of my daughter's shared love of shrimp. When she got back from visiting her friend's family's condo in Puerto Vallarta, I asked her what she did down there. She said she ate shrimp. It was really good down there. Later I visited that town, and she was right.
I thought about that when a shrimp appeared with the John Dory and the baby octopus in Rivea last night. Alain Ducasse's first prawn sent me into another dimension. Vegas is a nice place because everyone who works here is dependent on it. I am within the gravitational force of their niceness.The hustle is as constant as the sun. Around me as I go from my room to an other hotel, there are people at slot machines, and other places designed to take their money, and they don't seem to mind. I feel like Shavek in The Dispossessed, an alien here. But like him, I am on a mission. I think Vegas is the answer to my quest. I think the best food I am capable of eating, the food that takes me into another universe, is from here, for the reason that two restaurants in a row took me to the same place. Two chefs, two bites. Same, shall we say meta-universe. Is this portal into a better tasting universe dependent on me or those meals? Am I the portal or are there sudden alignments, Ducasse's prawns, my palate, Gagnaire's John Dory as a female singer crooned Crimson and Clover as that fish entered my mouth . The taste buds we bring to the table matter. Our buds are our buddies. 
The Paris is across the street from the Cosmopolitan. I decided to walk over there and make a reservation for lunch tomorrow at the Eiffel Tower restaurant, which I assume still has the great vegetarian crepes I have cherished in each of my previous 6 trips here. It is dark in Paris, so I take my sunglasses off. It takes me a few minutes to adjust to the darkness and find the desk in front of the elevator and make my reservation.. The bar I was swigging sangrias at the night before appears to be open in the day time too. Maybe I can escape the “live” music and try more sangrias. Instead, as there are so many things to do in Vegas, I leave Paris and enter the sun-soaked city. Where are my shades? They aren't in my bag, nor in my jacket pockets. Did I leave them at Milos? I thought I recalled wearing them into Paris but maybe not? I go back to Milos but they aren't there. I go back to Alexxa but they aren't there either, and the bar tender tells me I must have dropped them somewhere else. Bummer!. I buy a pair of clip-ons that only covers the top half of my glasses but makes the glare bearable and go back to my room at the Excalibur. I carry around The Dispossessed to read in bars and restaurants and am reading my friend David Ossman's latest novel The Flying Saucer Murder Case which takes place in 1953 LA. As my family moved to LA in 56, many of the places Ossman writes about dwell distantly in my memory. A chunk of the novel is taken from Ossman's play New Mexican Overdrive which I saw when it premiered at the Whidby Island Center for the Arts about 20 years ago. My dinner reservation at Le Cirque is for 5:00, one of the earliest opening times of any restaurant I go to this trip. The idea is to eat early, maybe meet some friends in the evening, drink another flight of sangrias and then have a late snack, as I had done on Monday. Every room at an MGM-owned hotel (of which there are many on the strip) comes equipped with the MGM house organ, M Life. M Life comes with a section on cocktails to try this month. This month's recommended cocktails are all tea-based. I've had some amazing tea-based cocktails over the years and am delighted that the Petrossian bar at the Bellagio, where I have been hanging out pre-Le Cirque meals on previous 2 Vegas trips, has an “afternoon tea” in which the tea is augmented with useful booze: Double Dutch Tea. To quote from M Life, “At Petrossian at Bellagio, red velvet couches and lively notes from a Steinway Grand piano call to those with sophisticated tastes (that's me!). Here traditional High Tea – complete with scones and clotted cream, sandwiches and pastries – is served every afternoon. If you prefer your tea with a little something extra, the Double Dutch Tea, with Kettle One vodka, honey, cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange rind and fresh mint leaves is served with your choice of loose-leaf tea. Whether Darjeeling, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Jasmine Pearl or Tung Ting Oolong, we think you'll find it just your cup of, well, tea.” Sounds good to me. I wander through the construction site that is the Monte Carlo to the tram WAY in the back that delivers me into the bowels of the Bellagio. I make my way over to the Petrossian and order the Double Dutch Tea. The bartender has no idea what I'm talking about. He has never heard of it. I plead the M Life article but he remains in blissful ignorance. I order Tony Abou-Ganim's Bellagio cocktail, a serious passion fruit beverage that actually would have benefited from some ice. Although their nuts are very good, I decline them to save room for the upcoming feast at Le Cirque.
When I learned of the Vegetarian menu at Twist from vegetable-skeptic but vastly food knowledgeable Vegas food critic John Curtas,
I wanted to go there and dive into it. Then I discover that Le Cirque and its neighbour, Picasso also have vegetarian menus and the plan for a flight of vegetarian menus took shape in my hungry mind. Le Cirque would be meal number one in said flight. Before going to the restaurant, I wander through the conservatory. It is one of the best places in Vegas. The February theme is always Chinese New Years and as this is the year of the dog, lots of toy dogs are to be seen leaping and frisking about the floral displays. I am intensely moved by them. I had two dogs, briefly, in my childhood and two dogs for long periods as an increasingly aged adult.
To quote from Le Guin's The Dispossessed,
She had always known that all lives are in common, rejoicing in her kinship with the fish in her tanks of her laboratories, seeking the experience of existence outside the human boundary.”
I am nearly in tears when I enter Le Cirque after it opens, after my brief interaction with the dog dolls at the Conservatory. The loves that I've shared with the dogs in my life comes rushing back, my long ago canine companions leaping into joyous reunion.
From one of my early collages:
At the close of Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus returns home after many years of adventures and discovers that only his dog Argos still recognizes him. Writing of this long awaited re-union, Anthropologist Loren Eiseley writes, “the magic that gleams between Argos and Odysseus is both the recognition of diversity and the need for affection across the illusions of form. It is nature's cry to homeless, insatiable man. Do not forget your brethren, or the green wood from which you sprang.”

The staff all remembers me from my last visit here, which was 2 years ago. What amazing memories. I request the passion fruit cocktail I'd had 2 years ago and it appears. I tell the staff that I'm interested in their vegetarian menu, one of three in a row I'd be eating in Vegas. I had emailed G.M. Ivo about that upon seeing their menu online, requesting they exclude the avocado from their artichoke salad and replace the chocolate desert with some kind of fruit dish. Both of these requests are honoured. We discuss my recent trip to Paris and when I mention dining at L'Arpege, the staff tells me their own vegetarian menu was inspired by the chef at L'Arpege, and recommend I check out the Netflix show about him. First, I'll check out their food.
My amuse bouche is a beignet with Conte cheese (the high light of my meal at David Toutain's restaurant in Paris), truffle aioli and edible gold.

 This is a far superior use of gold than I had on the langoustine meal at Le Cirque several years back. An outstanding first bite. What will come next?
Ah, the avocado-less artichoke salad! The key for my enjoyment of this dish is the croutons! It is the best use of croutons I've had since Vancouver chef Pino's crimini mushroom soup, which took the gold medal at a national food competition a decade or so ago. That's a long time not to have had a great crouton. Salad of Baby Artichokes, avocado, parmesan, dijon mustard vinaigrette says the menu, and it is spectacular without the loathsome green fruit. Its overall lightness reminds of food I've eaten in the south of France. Rivea was supposed to do that, but Le Cirque really brings the sun-splashed tricolor of Nice to my palate. 
 
Next up, Parsnip Veloute, farm egg confit, wild forest mushrooms. Here the mushrooms perform the same function at the croutons in the salad. I had read a review of this dish online and have been experimenting with roasted parsnips and other root vegetables this winter. This is a much higher level food than I'm capable of making. There is even a bit of theatre with the dish, which I'm supposed to mix before eating. The mushrooms tumble into the eggs like acrobats from another Vegas Cirque institution. 
 
I had finished my passion fruit cocktail after the amuse and the first two courses. Would I like a wine pairing with the final two dishes and the deserts? I know I can trust the sommelier.
Next, Ratatouille: kalamata olives, tomato confit, potato pearls, sauce vierge. I've been making ratatouille since 1964 but never like this, which is as much a revelation as the dish in the animated flick of that name. The potato pearls perform the same function as the croutons in the initial salad and the mushrooms in dish #2. Paired perfectly with a glass of Neveu Sancerre. I've had a lot of good dishes with sauce vierge, but this is the best yet.
Last dish, Asparagus, wild mushrooms, roasted baby potatoes, warm truffle vinaigrette. I mistake the vinaigrette for mayonnaise, but a very good mayonnaise, far superior to that ingredient that came with my shrimp at the Eiffel Tower the following day.

 This asparagus is vastly different from the various asparagus concoctions I had in Paris last year. They were much lighter, more ethereal. This is more a substantial meal. Although I've only eaten vegetables, I'm getting quite full.
A copper pineapple appears. Will Sponge-Bob pop out? No, it's a small yellow ball on ice. Well, I'm at the circus, I'm supposed to be surprised. The ball is full of pineapple juice and its casing is made of coconut, a molecular pina collada. It reminds of Jose Andres' gin and tonic in a sphere and sangria in a sphere at his "e" restaurant, along with his mentor Fernan Adria's olives. It is a perfect micro-desert.

For the real dessert, I choose a peach Bellini to accompany essentially a raspberry dish. It would have been better without the ice cream, but still vastly better than if it had been chocolate. Monday night's primo sangria was Bellini-esque and it turns out to be the best of the 9 sangrias. The bar boss tells me its his favourite too.
I am offered an artistic display of sweets to take home to Fumiyo. This happened on my previous trips to Le Cirque and other restaurants of this caliber in Vegas. I explain that it is only Tuesday, I won't be going back to Vancouver until Friday at which point the desserts will have dried out. Fumiyo complained of this from previous offerings. This time, the creative staff at Le Cirque has an idea. As I'm going to be at the Bellagio on Thursday anyway, dining at Picasso, why don't I drop by Le Cirque after that meal and pick up the sweets so they'll still be fresh when Fumiyo bites into them on Friday. Talk about going on beyond the call of duty. But it is, after all, Le Cirque and the service here is just as exceptional as the food.

Then back to Alexxa for another flight of sangrias. They barely got off the ground. Many of my favourite alcoholic beverages have been apple cidres, in British Columbia, in France and in the States. What here is called Hop Cidre features Stella Artois (yes they make cidre, not just beer and I'm quite fond of their cidre), green apples and raspberries. I make cidre at home with granny smiths so I should like this. Well... Next up, Moonshine which features Zinfandel (a pretty good choice for a sangria wine), blackberries (my favourite fruit) and currants. It is unsurprisingly good, considering its ingredients. Finally, Winter Spice with Pinot Noir, stone fruit and spices. Has a curious Kool Aid vibe. The wine I use for Sangria at home, Carlo Rossi red has been disappearing from the North Vancouver liquor store shelves the past few weeks, forcing me to experiment with other red wines. None successfully, so far. From Alexxa, I'm thinking seriously about trying to make sangria with blackberries. The peach and strawberry-sparkling wine wonder that is the Bubbly is certainly something I can concoct at home.
Then to Vesper, which has been my favourite bar because of its relentless creativity. Not this time. Too minty. Lemon is used as well as Green Chartreuse. I love both yellow and green Chartreuse's but not in this drink. An easy escalator ride takes me up to Jaleo. A young lady from Argentina promises to take care of me. She quickly delivers delicious deep fried mushroom croquettes and a fine sangria, much more pungently Spanish than any of the sangrias I had just consumed at Alexxa. I see some comfortable couches with no one sitting on them and she doesn't mind if I sit there. I wish to eat more and discuss tapas, but alas, I can eat no more. Must return to bed type place. This I do.
I am sound asleep. A door opens. The light wakes me up. “What is happening?” I ask. “Nothing,” replies the man opening the door. He pretends to close it. This is scary. I get up and close the ajar door and lock it. Why was the door unlocked in the first place? As my room is next to the elevator, I thought it might have something to do with people needing to get into the elevator machinery, but no. When I go down to the lobby to complain the following morning, I am told it's an adjoining room for families that have kids. I am not one of those. I request a room with no door. Should have done that yesterday.

Vegas Day 3

While at the Bellagio enjoying its food, drinks and dogs, I walk over to the Bellagio Cafe to inquire when a good time would be to go for breakfast there. I had read online that they have a lobster omelet. I've never had a lobster omelet. It sounds like a really good food idea, though I've never had lobster for breakfast and wonder if it is indeed a breakfast food. My bus pass expires at 8:00 so I'm out of the Excalibur shortly after 7 to walk over to the bus stop. It is Vancouver cold at that time of the morning. It is a long windy walk around a cold lake but the wind creates some exquisite waves. And then I am back in warmth, in the cocoon of the Bellagio. After saluting my dog friends, I am at the Cafe, earlier than I was told was a good time but it is large and largely empty. I sit down. A woman with a small baby is beside me. I order some tea. It's chamomile, and vastly better than Bouchon's vaguely adulterated hot water yesterday morning, but that isn't hard to do. I order the omelet and it arrives. It is a serious meal, not where I'm at in the morning. The lobster lives again in my appreciation. The red peppers, the tomatoes, and most of all, the asparagus are aligned into the sort of meal one would recommend. Lobster has always been (very rare) dinner food, and the number of times I've had lobster for lunch can be counted on the fingers of one hand, if that, but breakfast lobster? You're kidding. No, it's really good. Unlike the Venetian, the Bellagio doesn't pound you with art. It's airier, and its beauty invites your powers of discovery. Unlike Bouchon's plastic-like crepes, the omelet at the Bellagio Cafe breathes, and invites breath. The neighbouring baby shows interest in my involvement with the exemplary omelet, and the great tea matched (as Bouchon USED TO DO) with exquisite honey. I try and smile at the baby as often as I can, which, considering what I'm eating, is very often indeed.
Everyone leaves. Me too. I get a new room at the Excalibur and with some difficulty, am re-connected with its tricky Wifi. After some more reading, I wander back over to the Paris and ask about my missing shades. “We were waiting for you to come back for them,” says the lady at the entrance desk, which is where I had left them on Tuesday. She promises someone upstairs will deliver them to me, and I ascend the scenic elevator to the Eiffel Tower restaurant. It ain't in the same aesthetic galaxy as the Real Eiffel Tower, but it ain't bad at all. I am ebullient.
My favourite crepes are gone. When I inquire, I'm told they vanished from the menu 2 years ago, obviously shortly after I was last here, lapping up their savoury wonder. Well, missing crepes (and thus, crepes of memory) are Slightly less disappointing than Keller's plastic-trophic sloppiness yesterday. I order the shrimp cocktail and a real cocktail, the Hollywood Margarita. I figure the lime would amplify the shrimp. Point it in a useful direction. These trips are all about what I can learn from them. Where to go with a vegetable, a prawn, a mushroom, the most delectable piece of fruit? The knowledge of that is pouring into this city. Let it pour into me.
1960. Summer. Saskatchewan. Outside of Regina, somewhere, my family stops for dinner. I notice someone eating something pale in voluminous red sauce on ice cubes. It was summer and those ice fantasies reached out to me. My parents allowed me to order it, or more accurately, it was shared by us all. It was a shrimp cocktail. It was the first animal I'd ever eaten in my life. When we discovered we were actually eating animals, the wondrous taste of the shrimp with the seductive cocktail sauce, so alien to our bland diets- we suddenly looked upon our feast with horror. Or at least I did. As far I knew, the family never consumed any more animals until the Cuban Missile Crisis a couple of years later.
This wasn't that shrimp cocktail. 
 
It was a lotta shrimp, for noon. The Hollywood Margarita did not help. It's lime did not add the dose of limeness to the shrimp I was expecting initially, but that changed as the beverage warmed up into a friendlier state. Offered 2 sauces, American and French. The French tasted like mayonnaise, and was undoubtedly related. I experiment with the sauces, the limey margarita and the lemon. I have my shades back. Everything is just fine.
Behind me, some people are discussing Alexxa, from the perspective of ownership. I once again own my shades. Reading The Dispossessed, and its critique of ownership is as relevant to my hourly life as it would be to the characters of the novel's anarchist society. Could an anarchist society have created either the Paris, France or the Vegas Paris hotel's Eiffel Tower? I doubt it. What a waste of material that should be used for greater societal benefit.
The cocktail is abandoned. The shrimp is wrangled. On my way back to the Excalibur, I buy a can of Angry Orchard Easy, a brand we don't have in Vancouver, and a Mike's Black Cherry lemonade. Traveling some productive paths with blackberries and black cherries and fruit of that proclivity on this trip. Let's see what Mike can do for me. The Easy angry is really good. I drift back into 50s LA in Ossman's novel.
My reservation at Twist is at 6. The Mandarin Hotel has to be the mellowest place in Vegas. It is always a joy to come here. The corns that were making walking painful have been easily eased back into comfort by some corn pads from the drugstore on my way between hotels. A hotel person ushers me into the elevator as I enter the hotel, and, sitting on a delightful little bench, I ascend. In the lobby, a wee robot addresses me. I think we will see a lot more of their kin in days to come. I ask the robot, Pepper, if Twist is yet open? Always try to be early. Pepper does not understand, or have that information. I ask a “human” at the desk, and am told Twist will open in a couple of minutes. My belief in a future full of fun robots momentarily disabled, I am at least in a wonderful hallway of black stone, maybe the best bathroom in the western world, and finally Twist itself. Other suited men are being seated. The folks who knew of my patronage had come and gone. I'm just another guest. Unlike yesterday's seating in probably the best seat in the restaurant at Le Cirque, I am given a slightly less spectacular seat. I'm here for Gagnaire's food, not his view though that too... Twist wouldn't know a Twist cocktail if it bit their arm off, so I offer them a print out of their house cocktail from the distant days (wow, 7 years ago) I first dined here. They scramble about to acquire the ingredients.
Gagnaire is about as playful a chef as you can get without being thrown out of the sand box and his amuses have always been a serious challenge to how far we can let our palates play. 
 
Canape:
Parmesan sable
Limoncello soufflé
Black rice tartelette/parsley puree/parsley sponge
Nori chip/masago/broccoli
Grapefruit gazpacho
Twisted cocktail/orange powder
Casteveltrano olive/gin/lime
Battonet of celery



CHEF’S GARDEN
Lindenwood Gelée, Baby Vegetables
Served With Lemon Sorbet, and Fromage Blanc Snow
Yeah, it's really pretty but I don't eat with my eyes. It's basically a bunch of random words masquerading as a sentence.Raw vegetables? Uh, no. When I eat a raw carrot, I know I'm eating a carrot. It had looked like a carrot before entering my mouth,. It tastes like a carrot. Numerous receptors look forward to the healthful benefits it will soon provide. When I eat the idea of a carrot in the cuisine I expect of a great chef, that carrot has become a rocket ship taking me to the limits of pleasure. It ain't no carrot no more. Pierre served me a raw carrot. 
 
PUMPKIN AND CINNAMON ROYALE
Endive, Green Apple, Celery Salad, Roasted Spiced Apple
It was OK. Apple was good.


POACHED EGG
Spinach Velouté, Gorgonzola and Pine Nut Croquette, Tomato Concassé,
Arugula Salad, Brioche
I hate poached eggs as much as anyone hates anything. Attempting to eat this reminded me of the Battle of Borodino, as described in War and Peace.

 POTATO TUILE “NAVE”
Artichoke Cream, Cremini Mushrooms, Sweet Onions Marmalade,
Mix Wild Mushrooms
Up there with the best things I've ever eaten. Considering the vileness of some of the previous dishes, I wondered if Gagnaire can still cook. Yep. 



GRAND DESSERT
Raisins/Aloe Vera with Licorice/Kaffir Lime Vodka Coulis/Basil Lime Sherbet
Coconut Panna Cotta/Elderflower Cream/Frozen Heering Pineapple
Apple Tatin/Calvados Caramel Sauce/Vanilla Ice Cream

The best apple pie I have ever eaten. Texting Fumiyo this (and she makes some exquisite apple pastries) she wonders what makes it so good. The crust, the apples, what is done to them, it is a miraculous desert.


Manjari Parfait/Almond Nougatine/Bitter Chocolate Foam
Grand Marnier Hibiscus Gelée/Saffron Cake/White Almond Paste

I'm being gelleed to death (thankfully not by Bill Cosby).
Some dishes are better than others. They are all really pretty. The lights outside are pretty too and they're free. If it weren't for the world-altering mushroom dish, I'd probably rate this meal a B- after the rare A meal at last night's Le Cirque. But nothing ever consumed at Le Cirque has been as ridiculously good as Gagnaire's mushroomy thing. Good work, Gagnaire.
After dinner, I meet a friend at Aria, Marisol, who taught me what great service could be in my appearances at Fleur in Vegas visitations past. Now she has a job which provides her with similar levels of enjoyment. I am elated to hear her family is all well and happy. Rarely have I met anyone who lives in Vegas who isn't happy about that fact. Considering the tragedy that befell this city last year, the spirit of resilience from the people I know here is an inspiration to us all. Marisol shows me pix of her grand kids. I tell tales of mine. She complains of having to pay for parking downtown now and scurries back to her car to take advantage of a brief window of free parking.

One is always reluctant to leave great hotels (Unlike the Excalibur, which I flee with glee and only reluctantly return to) but there are sangrias to consume and rate. Fortified still by evening chamomile with my blizzard of desserts at Twist, I am back to Alexxa. The last three 4 oz, mostly ice, sangrias. The Blanco sucks. Sampling the bartender's special: he is surprised that I detect aloe. And cucumber. That doesn't mean I want to taste them in a sangria. Only the Pinky works. Again with the blackberries. Boss man shows up and notices I've been a regular, maybe the only one the last 3 days, and offers me a free dessert. One of his pumpkin dishes looks like something I'd love to compare with the pumpkin puree I just had at Twist, but I no longer have the capacity. I consume a small quantity of the sangrias, just enough to form an opinion of them and then leave them to their watery dreams of sun-soaked Spain to return to my hotel. I am not awakened by invading strangers. I sleep well.