Sunday, February 18, 2018

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.


At 9:41 AM, Blogger Elayne said...

I teared up a bit when you were talking about the shrimp and Bit. What a lovely way to remember her (provided the shrimp is indeed tasty!).


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