Monday, March 16, 2009

TRAVEL: Vegas.........Las Vegas


What can I say that hasn’t already been said? A lot I hope.

My husband and I went to Las Vegas as so many before us had....for a convention. While my husband sat in class....I sat by the pool. Thanks honey. Both of us were Vegas virgins and I have to say, I wish we had done more research before our "first time".

We though it was a free ride. Hotel paid for, flights paid for, half of our meals paid for and all of that meant that we could eat and drink like kings and spend the rest of our budget on gambling. We would get wonderful comps and be treated like royalty. They would be throwing free drinks at us and rolling out the red carpet while they escorted us to our upgraded room with a view of the Bellagio Fountain! Now, my husband and I are avid travelers and generally down to earth folks, so we’re normally not this delusional, but hey, it’s Vegas baby! The land of $2.95 buffets and liquor flowing from the water fountains right? I guess it’s like all other "first times". You’ll definitely do it again and it was nice, but definitely not what you had imagined. Here goes.........

We flew Air Tran and upgraded to the oh so affordable first class that Air Tran offers(really, it’s dirt cheap) for the free booze. And I’m happy to say that it was worth it. We landed in Vegas nicely buzzed and ready to lose our inhibitions....and perhaps some money.

We stayed at Caesars Palace. All Vegas hotels are huge, but Caesars Palace is massive. I have a friend that lived in Vegas for a few years who said that she ventured in there once, got completely lost, couldn’t find her way out, almost started crying in desperation and never went back. I can see it. BUT it is lovely. By husband wants to go big ballin’ and stay at the Wynn if/when we go back but I’d recommend pretty much any hotel in the middle of the strip(between the Tropicana and the Wynn).

I think the Vegas strip is like an oasis. The big ritzy hotels are that deep pool of cold water in the middle of hot, dry, nothingness. They can get away with things like not having a coffee pot in your room so you have to go downstairs to spend $8 on a cup of joe because you can’t go anywhere else for it. They can get away with charging $10 for a beer or $14 for a food court sandwich because you’re there, and you’re hungry or thirsty, and by the time you find your way out you’ll be too famished to find your way to the Subway or Denny’s, but MOSTLY because you’re in Vegas dammit and you’re not going to eat at a chain restaurant. You want to eat in the big, beautiful casino....and you do. But I can help avoid getting ripped least getting TOO ripped off. Here goes.......

1.) Walk tall and carry a big bag:

We tried gambling for our free drinks but goodness gracious do you have to wait a long time for that waitress to bring you a small, watered down vodka and cranberry. Instead carry a big bag. Yes. I bought a 12 pack at the gas station behind the strip, chilled it off in the sink(wash your hands in the tub...the sink is always used as a cooler in our room), lined my big purse with a plastic bag and toted ice cold beers around with us all afternoon. If that sounds silly, and a bit "much" here is option 2...and a great options I must say:

2.) Do the "movie theater" thing:

We all had that mom who would sneak soda and popcorn into the movie theater in her big, mom-sized purse. I use the same idea, minus the big, ugly hag bag. Street vendors are your key to making this happen. The strip is full of sidewalk vendors selling cheap drinks...... dirt cheap drinks to be more precise. It's legal to walk the streets with an open container and it helps make the long, hot walk down the strip more bearable. So take full advantage and grab a fresh drink before you go into a pricey casino. Hell, double fist it if you think you're going to be there for a while. No one frowns upon it and everyone does it, and those who don't are just paying way to much for their buzz. And that is a true buzz kill.

Food: I love to eat. I love to eat new things. I love to eat new things in new places. Vegas is a veritable smörgåsbord at your fingertips. There is food everywhere. Famous chefs have famous restaurants around every corner. And they're f-in expensive. But I refused, downright refused to eat shitty food while I was there(and trust me, there's plenty). So here are my hits and misses:

Mesa Grill, by Bobby Flay, in Caesar's Palace:

My food was delicious. I met my husband there for lunch one day as a sort of "splurge". Two entrees and three beers later we had just bought ourselves a $75 lunch. Ridiculous price. Really good food. Best chile rellenos I've ever had. Perfect execution. Amazing flavor. Small portion(really small, with none of the usual “chips and salsa” crap to fill you up). But tasty as can be.

Le Village buffet, in Paris:

Yes. We went to a buffet. But we did our research first. There are only a handful of what they consider to be "gourmet" buffets on the strip and this was one of them. Once again, it was pricey. Like $55/person pricey and that didn't include adult beverages. But it was worth it if you know what to eat and what not to eat while you're circling the biggest room(beautiful room) full of food you've ever seen. They had a MASSIVE cold seafood bar. Shellfish abound! They had antipasto bars and poultry bars and red meat bars(obviously they called them prettier names, but you get the idea). I had a wonderful piece of prime rib(a Vegas must of course), stuffed grape leaves that were noteworthy, some great braised meats(true to the Parisian theme) some so-so other things(really, you don't want me to mention it all...the wedsite gives you a pretty good description) and enough pick and peel shrimp and crab legs to choke a horse. Now, I don't normally stuff myself to the point of vomiting, but something came over me when I saw all of that food….and the price tag. It's nothing like Paris(my Paris article is coming soon), but it was good.

Noodles, at the Bellagio,

I recently moved to Philly and I live in Old City, about 8 blocks from China Town. I have what some would call a noodle-bowl addiction. Before I moved to Philly, this noodle bowl in the Bellagio was the best bowl of broth and noodles that I've ever put in my mouth and it was reasonably priced! Rejoice!!! Well executed and oh so flavorful noodle bowls were the name of the game there. And this is also where we stumbled upon one of the most amazing things I've ever put in my mouth. A century egg. Here's the picture, and I promise you, it didn't look any more appetizing in person, but it was scrumptious. Basically, they take and egg and bury it in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice straw for a few weeks or months. What you get is a whole new egg. The yolk becomes a dark green with a hint of sulfur smell, and the white becomes dark brown and jelly-like(see picture above). It looked like a pre-historic rock.......but a yummy, meat flavored rock. It tasted to me like chicken-flavored egg(I know, shitty description, but you have to taste it to understand). It reminded me of head cheese(gelatin speckled with lots of, "junk" bits of animals). I love head cheese and I love century eggs. You have to try this. You just have to.

Triple 7 Restaurant, in the Main Street Station Hotel & Casino

We went down to Fremont Street. The "original" Vegas. My husband loved it. The gaudy lights. The 65 year old cocktail waitresses in mini-skirts. The dirty, smoke filled casinos with the "real" gamblers in them. You're immediately put in the classic Vegas mood. And what better way to celebrate that mood than a cheap steak dinner. We stumbled upon this place by pure luck(P.S. Don't stay here....just eat here...walking through most of it made me very, very depressed). But this place was a hit. I mean it. A hit. We stumbled upon it after passing by some less tempting establishments(and there are plenty). We had perfectly cooked steaks, loaded baked potatoes, salad, soup, veg, their own micro-brew beers(a lot of them) and a full, happy tummy for about $35....for the both of us! It wasn't daring New American cuisine or fusion or anything of the sort, but it was really good steakhouse food at a good price(which will be a very welcome sight after a few days in this town). This is the place to go for your "cheap steak dinner” fix. You won't be disappointed. I guarantee it!

Les Artistes Steakhouse, in Paris

This is what I hate about Vegas. We got a coupon for a discounted dinner at our choice of “high falutin” restaurants with our Zoomanity show tickets. Good show, bad choice of restaurant. I know, I know. We ate at Paris twice! I never do that. I almost think think that's a travel “sin”. But we looked down the list of participating establishments and this one looked wonderful. Classic French dishes draped the menu! Shit I tell you. Pure and utter poopie. Everything was A La Carte. Now I don't mind this normally, but each A La Carte item came out horribly prepared. My husband ordered mashed potatoes with brie(for the cost of an arm and a leg) and he sent it back 3 times because it had blue cheese and a thick layer of grease on top each time. The servers were rude(and we looked damn nice that night I might add), the food was horrible, the atmosphere was stuffy and pretentious and it seemed as though if you wanted lemon in your water you needed to pay $7 for it AND promise your first born to the Maitre D'. Don't go there. Don't go there. Please, go somewhere, anywhere else.

Daily Sustenance:

As much as I didn't want to, we did eat some meals in the food courts. You need snacks, quick lunches, sustenance. And the food isn't bad. I had a really good fish taco at Caesar's. I wish I had gone across the street for a $1 hot dog once just to try it out. I think even if it turned out to be crap it was still a good deal. So I suppose you have to pick and choose your battles. We were there for a week, and if we tried to eat great, gourmet food at every meal we would be broke AND we would have had no time to get drunk and loose with our money at the roulette table. Grab a hot dog at lunch. Munch on a food court fish taco if you're hungry. Then enjoy a good meal for dinner and try not to get ripped off. That's about the best advice I can give on the subject.


  1. Nice site - came here via Reddit, BTW. I spent 20+ years in the slot machine biz, so I've been to Vegas more times than I can remember (and, no, I don't gamble). Here are a couple of recommendations for the next time you go: The Tillerman on East Flamingo is a great seafood restaurant with decent prices. The Palms (west of the strip) has a nice Mexican restaurant with about a hundred different kinds of margaritas. The Flame is a steak place just off the Strip that will remind you of 1950s Vegas - plus the food is very good. If you like Mideastern food, the best place is Habib's on West Sahara. Don't let the strip-mall location throw you; it's delicious. Finally, I think the Paris weekend breakfast buffet is the best one in town.

  2. Your blog is well written and fun...but seems kind of insensitive given what is going on in the world around us right now. I had just finished reading three articles on the global economy tanking and looking at several photo-journals of homeless people living in tents, and this was the next post. It was pretty jarring, and I'm afraid I just couldn't enjoy the "rare and well-done life" right on the heels of the people cooking ketchup and water soup over a hibatchi.

  3. I love this! It's great. I'm impressed with all the photos.

    Bell has an interesting comment, although I've noticed that despite the economic situation, hospitality and dining seem to be going strong. There are always polar ends of the spectrum, presenting the worst-case economic scenarios, as well as the unattainably best-case scenarios. But we have to be realistic that most of us are not yet at either pole. We're still somewhere on a sliding scale of "belt tightening" and "entertainment" for the much needed relief.

    This is awesome!

  4. I read more, and have to post another comment. Again, I respect Bell's insightful feedback, but I appreciate that you are able to highlight on this blog the inexpensive ways to enjoy healthy food. That's very responsive to the current economic crisis. A lot of families are looking for ways to save on food bills, but don't want to feed their kids crap, either. These are great ideas!!! Keep it up!!!