Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Vegas 2016: Get on the bus!



Schlotsky’s tomato soup in the 2nd floor food court has been excellent on previous trips. I order it hungrily. The woman takes my order. A few minutes later, I’m called back and told they’re out of it. At 7:30 in the morning? She offers Chicken and Dumpling soup instead so I go with that. It’s full of carrots, dumplings and a bit of chicken. I really don’t want to fill up on starch in the morning, or at any other time of day, but dumpling overload aside, it’s a decent breakfast. I get a fruit cup and some tea from the sundries store. These fruit cups are always 80% melon, one of my least favourite fruit, but there are a few tasty bits of pineapple and the odd grape. Tea is tea. I do my morning Tai Chi and watch a bit of TV. A primary election looms. I wonder how Trump’s “deport all the Mexicans” rhetoric will play in a state with a large Mexican population, like Nevada. I wonder how many Mexicans work in his hotel here? It’s much more enjoyable to read the book I’ve brought along, Strip Cultures: Finding America in Las Vegas by four female academics calling themselves The Project on Vegas. Turns out to be by far the best book I’ve brought for any of my trips here.
Milos has changed the lunch fish. Has lavraki gone extinct? Instead, it’s sea bream dorade. I’ve had nothing but bad luck with sea bream in the past. They rave about it, and they’re a fish restaurant.Their raves were right. It looks and tastes exactly like the sea bass (lavraki).
The chamomile tea isn’t so good until they bring the honey I’d requested. It is extraordinarily good, wonderfully floral, and of course, elevates the tea. Turns out it’s their own home-made thyme honey. After my waitress told me that, I could taste the thyme. Lucky me! 





I take The Deuce over to the Downtown Cocktail Room. Strip Cultures also begins with one of its authors riding this bus that goes up and down the Strip. I get off at the wrong place, then can’t find Las Vegas Blvd. until I ask a cop, so I show up at DCR half an hour after I’d planned to. They have brought back the arrack drink I had last year and I can discover its name: ”Dread Pirate Roberts: Batavia Arrack, mint, cranberry, lime. $10 Is it as good as last year’s? Not sure, but it’s quite good. Lee, the woman behind the bar may well be the inspiration for the Groucho Marx song Lydia the Tattooed Lady. After the pirate drink, I see a warm grappa drink. I’d had some superb lemon grappa at a long gone Italian joint at the Venetian on my 2nd trip to Vegas; though the grappa I had in Italy was undrinkable. I try my luck with the Snuggie Surprise: warm grappa, clove, sherry, orange. I tell Lee it reminds me of oatmeal, which I haven’t had in at least 50 years. Thanks to the clove, it is tasty. I’m the only customer in the bar when I enter at 4:30, and still am when I leave at 5:30 to catch the Deuce down to the SLS for some Bazaar beef. 4 drinks for slightly more than the single gin and tonic at Bazaar Meat. It’s a very good gin tonic with juniper berries, marigold leaves, kafir lime leaves, Fever Tree tonic and a good pour of a gin I don’t recognize, but still!  I’m supposed to call the Ivys at this time. As I’m one of the few humans without a cell phone, David has assured me I’d be able to find a public phone in the new hotel. Au contraire. I might as well have asked for a unicorn. They do let me use the desk phone and the Ivys agree to meet me the following day at 7:00 at the Excalibur lobby bar. Only after the phone call, I remember I’d made a reservation for Rivea for Tuesday. Later, from my hotel, I call them to cancel. But back at the Bazaar: The 5 beef sticks are still daunting. What’s with all the bread in restaurants? I relentlessly avoid it in most restaurants, but for this dish, well, it’s most of the dish. 5 towering sticks wrapped with thin strips of beef, dipped in a tangy cheese sauce. 
 
“We’re one of only 5 restaurants in the US that can get this grade of Japanese beef,” the chatty chef tells me. If I hadn’t lived in Japan for a long time, I might possibly be impressed.  1 Beef Grissini, $26.00 Jose Gin Tonic $20.00, the tax and tip and I’ve just spent a lot of money for an appy and a drink. And it’s not even a Vesper drink. Thankfully  the $8.00 I spent earlier this afternoon buys me a lot of travel on the Deuce.
At Vesper, my bartender, hearing I like fruity, Tiki-type cocktails, uses the following: orange, Passoa passion fruit liqueur. caramelized pineapple. Pineapple fusion Bacardi, Peychaud’s bitters and lemon. A wonderful collection of ingredients. I’m getting thoughts of Tang (which I loved as a kid), thoughts of orange creamsicle though the prevalent flavour isn’t orange. Layers and layers of flavour. It isn’t one thing. I can have a sip and then the next sip tastes different. A second or two after I’ve swallowed it, there’s a different flavour in my mouth. I discover Jeff Smith made this cocktail, but each of the 3 drinks I have at Vesper over 5 days, though made by different bar tenders, are all excellent. As the cocktails are all $17 (indeed, everywhere on the strip, though none as worthy of the price as here) and change and I round up to $20 as a tip, I drink them Very Slowly. I take an hour to savour the whole small drink. A Very Good hour.
At Bar Masa, it turns out I’m here on the night that Susan is celebrating her birthday so she’s not here. When I was here before, I recall only one Hitachino Nest beer but there are now 3: the original, a ginger one and what I order, an IPA made with the Japanese orange called “mikan.” I fail to find any mikan flavour. After that extraordinary fruity cocktail at Vesper- maybe my palate has been so overwhelmed with citrus that the subtle mikan flavour here is too delicate for me to perceive. Maybe my tongue is saying, “there’s orange in this? Are you kidding?”
The non-Susan, a tall young man, knows a lot about the Vegas food scene. He explains my lack of good luck with Le Cirque’s Sea Bad as the owner family is going through some turbulence now and their food is hit and miss, though the service excellence remains. Great union jobs keep the men there forever, though the sommelier and my very young greeter girl are obviously not old-timers. When I tell him my favourite lunch is the lavraki at Milos, he says or course, the best lunch in town. Really seems like someone to know. The bar check id’s him as Thomas L. The tiny dish of truffled fungus (David Ivy would identify it as “decadent”) is $42.00 and it is the best thing I eat the whole trip, though, to reiterate, TINY. Thankfully I was still full from the beef-wrapped bread sticks. Susan had turned me on to the beer pairing, but the beer is $15.00 for a Little Bottle. Next time, I’ll skip the beer. OK, it does go well with the fungi, but so would ice water, hopefully cheaper. I wonder if I can make this in Vancouver? Yes. truffles are pricey there, but maitaki are dirt cheap and one truffle, thinly sliced should produce several of these meals. I’ll look into it when I get home. Well, I’m in Vegas now and the Bar Masa in NYC is the most expensive restaurant in that expensive city. I didn’t have this dish last trip but the two times I’ve had it previously, it tasted exactly the same, just as stunning. As you’ll notice from the blog posts of the whole trip, Nothing Else in Vegas Except This Fungi Dish is exactly as fantastic as previously encountered. Le Cirque’s fish dish is just sad. I greatly amuse myself shooting Vegas night lights reflected on the strip and go back to my hotel. The next day, I discover the camera had been shifted into Nightshot mode. I had no idea such a thing existed, a switch on the side of the camera that had never been employed the 10 years I’ve had my Sony Full HD 1080 Handycam. I try and fix it from the menu but that doesn’t work. After overexposed shots the following morning, I abandon photography for the rest of the trip. Alas!

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