Saturday, December 21, 2013

Vegas 2013: Days 3 & 4

  They were predicting snow on the TV news last night with snowplows at the ready. Actually it's a pretty nice, though very cold day. The view from my hotel window does not include snow:

  After fruit and tea in my room, and the fantastic tomato soup at Schlotsky's, I walk over to Paris where I've made a lunch reservation at Eiffel Tower. One of my favourite things in Vegas is the baked vegetarian crepes there. This will be the 4th time I've had them. Chef Joho has never let me down. So far. I had a glass of wine with my crepes when I had them late in the evening on my 2 trips here in 2011 and a great cup of peach ginger tea when I lunched on them in Feb. 2012, but as I've been hearing about the great cocktails here, I order an Autumn in Paris from their list, thinking pears would go well with the walnutty intensity of the crepes.
  It really luxuriates in its pearness but adds nothing to the crepes, which don't taste nearly as good as they did the previous 3 times I've eaten them.
  The pear drink gets better as it warms but still of no use to the rather insipid crepes. Has Chef Joho lost his touch here? I am in a hurry to return to the Excalibur by 1:00 so I decide to take the monorail. Bad decision. Moving through the departing army of conventioneers at Ballys, waiting for the train, then the long long walk from the back of the MGM to my hotel takes longer than just walking from Paris. And wastes $5. I've never had mononucleosis, but could it be worse than the Vegas monorail? The people I was supposed to meet at the Excalibur lobby bar never showed up. Afraid of the promised snow? Whatever, I've got better apple cidre at the Excalibur than I can find for the same price in Vancouver and lots of Thoreau to read. From the introduction, Henry David is described as "refusing all alcoholic drinks because, so he said, they might destroy his taste for water." What a strange idea! Water is the ultimate palate cleanser, but as any European knows, a good drink adds as much to the enjoyability of good food as does salt, pepper, or appropriate herbs. The spinach pictured overwhelming the crepes in the above picture did nothing to help them: the anti-Popeye on a plate.
  Dinner reservations made a month in advance at Tetsu, the teppanyaki restaurant within a restaurant at Bar Masa where I'd had exquisite maitaki and black truffles on my previous visit to Vegas. Tetsu is highly recommended by local food critics, who may or may not know what the good stuff tastes like in Japan. The first meal I ever ate in Japan, when I moved there for work in August, 1971, was teppanyaki, comped by my hotel which was anxious to discover what my Caucasian palate thought of their signature dish. I told them I did not know food could taste that good. 4 more times I've sampled this wonder between 1971-2007 in trips to and extended living in Japan, and once at Kobe restaurant  in Vancouver. The secret is the sauce. It even cancels out less than stellar beef. But if the sauce isn't top of the line, you might as well order a hamburger.
  Things went poorly from the start. The reason I'm here is the menu promises Ohmi beef. I've actually had Ohmi beef teppanyaki in Ohmi,which is near Kyoto. As good as beef gets. The website says $25 an ounce. The menu says $34 an ounce. Sound fair. Gimme 2. Then I'm told I can only order 9 oz, or more, not less. Sorry, Masa, NOTHING IN THE WORLD is worth $300 an entree. I order the Australian Wagyu Filet Mignon for a sane price, along with a scallop, some asparagus, a shiitake, some maitaki in truffled butter (raved about online and I'm in love with the truffled maitaki a few feet away in Bar Masa,) and some eggplant with miso. The shrimp and spinach things I wanted must have heard I was coming so they ran away and hid. Actually a small quantity of food. Here it is.




  The scallop was OK. The asparagus actually went well with one of the sauces. The beef, the reason for the existence of teppanyaki, was edible at best with no sauce to help it out. The less said about the mushroom dishes, the better. Eggplant with miso is bar food in Japan. Cheap bar food. Actually what was a pretty dismal meal was improved by this cocktail, full of shiso, one of the best plants you can put into your mouth.
  The sauces, alas, were intended for folks who think sauces come out of bottles or cans. The shiso drink worked well with the veggies and scallop so I ordered a glass of the rather esoteric Japanese beer Hitachino Nest Classic, which Bar Masa bartender Susan had turned me on to with the maitaki and black truffles 2 years ago. Did it work with the beef? Irrelevant. If the sauces don't work, neither does the meal. That one sauce worked with the asparagus makes it 1 for 4 and you can't even get out of the minor leagues hitting .250. I still had more than half a glass of beer left after the "meal" so I walked the few yards over to the bar and met Susan. I told her my Tetsu meal, for 3 times the price wasn't 1/10th as good as the maitaki she'd served me in the past. She had no idea who I was. I gave her my card. "Oh, that's YOU" she exclaimed, telling me she'd just discovered my card in her collection 2 days before and wondered who I was. I sure don't look like someone named Ishikawa. I had forgotten how good her voice was so I reminded her. She agreed, and said she'd tried to get commercial voice work, but couldn't do other voices. I think my ear is more attuned to voices after my new radio show went on the air in November. I've been on and off radio since 1965. Fun to be on again. She tells me I was in luck coming that day, as the restaurant would be closed for the next 5 days. Luck wouldn't be the word I'd use. It's great to see and hear her again, but I think Masa should just forget about the teppanyaki thing entirely.     
                                                                    Bad Masa.

  Back at the Vesper bar for some seriously needed flavour, I request a cocktail filled with passion fruit. My bartender Roger Gillespie spends a lot of time creating something with a bit of my fave drink fruit and a whole bunch of other things. The glass is encrusted with ice and served with a crown carved out of orange peel. Apparently it has tequila in it (I tell him I prefer clear spirits, and heavy on the fruit). Maybe he'll tell me everything else in the drink at some point as he does give me his email address.  It is a masterpiece the useless Masa could never duplicate. It does not surprise me that he's been in several of the same international cocktail competitions as my cousin. He tells me of the difficulty he has transporting ingredients and tools through airports where they must arouse suspicion. The life of a mixologist must be a hard one, but he is so committed, he tells me after work he'll spend the night boiling down ingredients for tomorrows cocktails. I tell him I'm new to serious mixology. Well, not that new. Roger is younger than some of my clothes. It's a real treat  to be served by an alchemist who knows how to make gold out of gold threads.
  As I'm filming my drink, the couple next to me takes notice. Suddenly I'm acknowledged by a tall, talkative man I had mistaken for a cowboy, which so clog the streets, hotels and bars of this city at this moment in frozen Vegas time. Actually he works for a medical supply company that makes an item Kobe Bryant uses. That's good ad copy. He turns to me and says, "Wow. You're filming your drink. I've never seen anyone do that." It would have made more sense to film Roger making the drink, but it's better than not filming at all.

People of his generation all have cell phones to capture images so the idea of a camera is somewhat obscure to them. His female companion, who hadn't uttered an audible word before, chimes in, "Wow. That's so interesting. You're filming your drink." So I don't forget it, I inform her. "That's so interesting," she repeats. The young are so easily entertained. I finish my fine beverage, and as I'm leaving, the couple turns to me and says, "Good night, sir."  I love being old.

  Sunday morning I awake at a quarter to eight to see my phone blinking. Is someone actually calling me? No, its the hotel asking me to go to its spa and spend lots of money. That will never happen. More great Schlotsky tomato soup, then a short tunnel to Mandalay Bay Place for Rick Moonen's jumbo lump crab cake I'd been raving about with John Curtas on Friday. Is it still as good? Lunch has been a continuing disappointment thus far, with Joho's crepes and the lavraki at Milos both being far below what I was expecting. But surely Mr Sustainable Seafood, Rick Moonen would come through, right? I'm still full from the great soup, but to call this Jumbo, you'd have to be a Lilliputian.


 

 Unfortunately, you can't eat memories. The crab cake was oddly neither crabby nor cakey. The luxuriousness of a well made cake and the proud sea taste of a good crab were nowhere to be found here. Instead, a blitzkrieg of chipotle aioli pounded my palate and was thereafter scrupulously avoided. What to do with this uh, "crab"  "cake?" I had had a fine, very subtle and stimulating cocktail when I'd first had this crab cake 2 years before. Quickly, I summoned Superdrink to the rescue. Called The Caribbean Dream, surely it would save the day. Yes, a fine beverage indeed. The boring crabcake is brought a few degrees closer to taste and I'm pleased to see it gone. A few nights before, I had a delicious cocktail called a Poire Drakkar at RX Boiler Room, the more cocktail oriented joint upstairs. My learned local companions told me Rick was doing well. That's 3 for 3 with the cocktails, but only one for three on entrees. His catfish Sloppy Joe was curiously devoid of fish. Was it Rick's lesson for his guests about vanishing fish stocks? The crab cake home run of 2 years ago is replaced by a crab cake devoid of virtue, jumbo only in clumsy irony, and finally, just a lump. Mighty Ricky has struck out.
  Things did not improve when I went to Top of the World. Rather quick by bus and walked the last couple of blocks against the fierce wind to give me a good appetite. I'd been advised to go to the lounge first to view the sunset from 107 floors up and enjoy 2 for one drinks and half price appys. Yeah, well the word "enjoy" shouldn't be in the same sentence. The pork belly should really have stayed on the pig. Even half price, it squealed meatily as I attempted to eat it. The 2-for-1 sangrias were perhaps Mexico's revenge on Spain. The sun slowly set. I went downstairs to eat. 
  The restaurant revolves. This is a good thing. I could not say that about the branzino. It was oddly oblivious to the concept of taste. It did not REQUIRE a wine intervention to bring it into the realms of edibility, as did its cousin the lavraki at Milos, but it never coalesced into actual flavour. Instead, I bathe in the beauty of revolving city lights. Maybe I'll post a vid. Maybe not.
  Cab back to the hotel was surprisingly cheap, a much better value than the "food." Back in my room in time to watch The Simpsons. Hi-light of the day.
  Three more days to go. This is turning into a LONG trip.


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