Sunday, February 18, 2018

Vegas Day 4 and out

Day 4

On my way to Rivea at the Delano on Monday evening, I walked by a cafe called Della's and noticed a chia pudding on its breakfast menu. That sounded intriguing. Chia is supposed to be super healthy and combined with needed berries and granola, it sounded like a great breakfast. Unfortunately, the tram doesn't start running til 9, and as it's only 7:30, I walked through the Luxor to the Mandalay Bay and through it to the Delano for Della's pudding. Tea is OK. I'm reading The Dispossessed. What could possibly intrude? The “chia pudding” tastes like yogurt. Unless it's an ingredient of Tzatziki sauce, I have no use for yogurt. Is this a chia seed's hell?
 A breakfast as bad as my hotel, which is slightly above my aesthetic-crushing “hotel” room in Paris last summer but at least there I wasn't afraid of unexpected entrants, though a bullet from the terrorist incident at next door Notre Dame was a possibility.
For lunch I'm back at the ridiculously beautiful Aria for lunch at Julian Serrano's. Hoping to feast on Pinxtos in San Sebastian next year, maybe Julian can give me some ideas. I've had both great (stuffed red peppers) and terrible tapas here before. The croquette-ized mushroom soup I'd had at Jose's Jaleo was kinda what I expected from Molecular Andres. Studying the menu online, I was entranced by the possibility of apricots and scallops. Always on the lookout for new ways to combine fruit with protein (My great uncle invented fruit, so just carrying on the family tradition) I order this tapa along with
bronzino donostiarra*
sea bass | tapenade | tomato | patata panadera | nora

and some of Julian's sangria. Naturally sangria's gonna work with with an apricot dish, but with the fish? Hmm, I'm thinking cava here.
Seared scallop skewer*
piquillo pepper | apricot | romesco

This is almost as good as the mushroom dish at Twist. This is why one goes to Vegas, or Spain, or the kitchen, or anywhere. This is why one gets out of bed. To eat things that taste as good as this.
In between dishes, I converse with the young man behind the counter. He has become a fan of the new Vegas hockey team, which has vaulted unexpectedly into great success and given the whole town a boost. He tells me of getting his son into sports, though he had never been into them. A childhood I also avoided, aside from pick up games with friends and the sports one does at school. I begin to observe the avenues to strength in this assaulted community, such as I felt hanging out at a bar near the Bataclan in Paris last summer. As I'm still a bit hungry (these are tapas after all) I chance the Padron peppers with orange zest. Not once was I told they were hot peppers. I cannot eat hot anything. I try, and find the orange zest a splendid idea, but I have no interest in setting my tongue on fire. I flee.
The Tea Lounge back at the Mandarin is about as mellow a place as you'll find on the strip (not that there's competition). I have had exquisite teas and tea-based cocktails in its Zen-flavoured sea of tranquility. Enough fiery peppers, a glass of tranquility, please!
I sink back into Le Guin. My taste buds are soon enchanted by:

Pearbellini 19.
Inspired by our property mixologist, William
Perbellini, this concoction features Grey Goose
vodka, elderflower liqueur, lime, pear and
homemade chamomile tea syrup, which are
enhanced with the crispy and floral notes of
Perrier-Jouët Champagne and torched rosemary.

I've had great drinks here before, so I order the other one on their menu:

The Golden Leaf 18.
Created specifically for Mandarin Oriental,
Las Vegas. The Golden Leaf uses Hendricks gin,
Aperol, muddled mandarin oranges,
pineapple juice, fresh lime juice and
housemade simple syrup.

Wow. Almost as good as the Pear drink. Two in a row. Even Vesper isn't That good.
M Life tells me of a new bar from Tony Abou-Ganim at the Mandalay Bay. It opens at 3 so I go back to the Excalibur to charge my phone and then take the tram to the Mandalay and walk over to Libertine Social to see what Tony's up to these days. I had met him at the first For the Love of the Cocktail breast cancer event at the Cromwell on my last trip to Vegas, just had his Bellagio cocktail at the Petrossian on Tuesday. Let's see what he brings to his new venture. The bartenders tell me he's most famous for the Sunsplash: Grey goose l'orange vodka, Cointreau, orange and lemon juices, cranberry juice so I order that and seek to take a picture of it with my phone. Where's my phone? Oh no!, I'd left it back in my hotel. I gulp the splash and zip back to the Ex-calibre and find my phone on the bed waiting for me. Why did you abandon me, it asks, plaintively? Sorry, phone, I'm new at phone marriage. It's too easy to sink back into the vastness of my phone-less life.
I had a reservation at Picasso for 530 so was able to meet friend John at Prime in the adjacent space in the netherworlds of the Bellagio. Prime is a wonderful space, full of sort of steam-punk silver from the coca-addled brain of Pizarro after he'd just sacked the Incan empire. John is having a more complex drink, I go for a palate cleansing Gin n Tonic. It was the wrong choice, but I'm here for the companionship, not the inadequate beverage. John has been to many places since I last saw him 4 years ago, but not to Maisen, the best tonkatsu place on the planet, on his recent trip to Tokyo. Every bite of hire katsu at Maisen is as good as the mushroom dish at Twist. Nuf said. John warns me that my level of food consciousness is unusual in this town, and that surprises me, considering what's available to educate one's palate in Vegas. I have gotten into lengthy (by my standards) conversations with restaurant staff about food yet it was always from the point of view of my wanting to have the best possible experience at their establishment and isn't that what they were in business for?
And then I go to Picasso. It is a beautiful restaurant. Le Cirque hit a home run with its Vegetarian Menu. Twist walked (the pumpkin thing), then struck out twice with rabbit food and abused chicken embryo, and then hit a grand slam winning the World Series with its mushroom dish. Picasso was menu 3 of the flight. It had 2 Michelin stars. It's creator was Julian Serrano, whose exquisite apricot/scallop wedding I'd just attended. This guy was good. So I order. And the food appears. I truly wish it had not.
Cold Ajo Blanco
    white almonds, grape jus, vinegar, and olive oil
  • Plancha Chinese Eggplant
    macadamia nuts, sun-dried tomato, caramelized onions, and raisins
  • Sautéed Imported Jumbo White Asparagus
    fresh morels and fennel jus
  • Ragout of Vegetables
    sunchoke raviolis

What you see here are a lot of ideas for good dishes. Thankfully, you are not eating them. There was so much unrealized potential here. Serrano had not mocked vegetables, as fly-too-close-to-the-sun Gagnaire does relentlessly. I'm just not getting cheffery here. The number of beverages I've consumed at this point, added to the drinks with the dinner, undoubtedly contribute to my lack of memory of just what I ate. The point is, none of it registered. I have photos of the food, but I might as well have eaten the photos. I try to avoid being nasty but I felt insulted by what I had just eaten and its price. I left them a note: This food could have been much better.
Not only is Le Cirque a great place to eat, they go over and beyond what you'd expect from a restaurant, or any commercial establishment, even in service industry capital Vegas. They had promised I'd be able to pick up the sweets for Fumiyo and the grand kids on Thursday. It gave me the chance to talk to the ever-helpful GM and the young lady who had chased after me to deliver sweets when I last dined here.  It was the difference between night and day, going from the Picasso to Le Cirque. Actually, Picasso is more open and full of greenery and interesting art, which intensifies your time there, as well as your expectation. When I was a child, my mother disliked cooking and my dad and I disliked what she did cook so we cooked for ourselves, or ate out. All the time. But it wasn't fine dining. These were the days before ubiquitous fast food so it was a “family” restaurant like Dupar's where we would eat whatever didn't contain meat on the menu. Canned and frozen food played a large part in my diet. Picasso food reminded me of that. Very bad attempts to do good things with vegetables.
Hearing stories of the demise of Le Cirque's origin in NYC reminded me of the fall of Rome. The city fell, the western Roman Empire became the empires of others, but Constantinople, and the Byzantine Empire lasted for another thousand years. The Vegas Le Cirque can be the Byzantium of restaurants. May we all continue to be delighted by it. 
I had read that Bar Masa had closed, but there it was next to Julian Serrano, and it still had the truffled Maitaki on its menu. I regret not going there this trip. Also regret not getting over to L'Atelier for Robuchon's great langoustine fritters. A breakfast at usual breakfast joint Mon Ami Gabi could have been much more enjoyable than the supposed pudding at Della's Kitchen. I would like to go back to Zuma and try their lime crab as well as a few more tapas from Jaleo and Julian. Four days is my shortest trip to Vegas, but I assume it won't be my last. This was my last time to stay at the Excalibur. If their housekeeping staff didn't notice the door to a stranger's suite was unlocked, what else didn't they notice? I saw a very seductive lady at the Luxor. Maybe I'll give them my patronage next trip.

At a Wolfgang Puck's eatery at the airport the following day, I noticed my neighbours were having a Chicken Caesar wrap so I ordered one of those, remembering my daughter Monique's unintentional Caesar salad experience from long ago.

We were at Red Robin and when the waiter asked us what we wanted to drink, Mo ordered a Coke and I asked for a Virgin Caesar. Ten minutes later, the waiter brought Mo her Coke but a bowl of Caesar Salad for me. I told him in my politest manner that I'd ordered a Caesar as in DRINK. This seemed beyond the waiter who called for the manager. We explained it to him, but when the manager brought my drink, he chucked it at us, nearly spilling it on Mo and me. Mo emptied the salt shaker on the table and in the salt, wrote, "WE HATE YOU," which we left as a "tip."

Stephanie Scott


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