Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vegas: Day 6

Friday we packed up, checked out (11am) and left our bags with the Bell hop. Our flight wasn't until 3:30 so we had some time before we had to be at the airport.

We walked around a bit, soaking up the last bit of potent sun and then stopped back at the Hawaiian Tropic Zone to use up a buy-one-entree-get-one-free coupon someone had handed us. I had my first ever Cuban sandwich, with both pork and ham. Though it was too much for me to eat in one sitting, I am now a fan and will seek more out in the future. I went with what turned out to be my standard Vegas drink, the mojito.

And that was our last indulgence in Vegas. Our flight had us back in Seattle that night at 6, a welcome change from most of our recent trips that get us back after dark.

We returned to a very needy cat, ate Taco Bell (tradition for returning home from travels) and caught up on TV.

Fun trip. Not sure when we'll be back, but I will definitely have my eyes on another Cirque show, another celebrity chef experience and maybe a day trip to check out Lake Las Vegas.

Oh yeah, Vegas doesn't really recycle.

Vegas: Day 5

Thursday would be our last full day, and last night in Vegas. After a return to Starbuck's in the morning for my iced coffee fix, we caught a cab to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.

Our primary reason for the trip was to view the traveling exhibit on Forensic Entomoloy since Dan studied Entomology in college and loves all things bug-related.

The exhibit featured real crime scenes and detailed how insect evidence was used to solve the crime. There was a video featuring CSI's William Petersen as you walked in, and plenty of information on how insects swarm to a corpse and the various stages of bodily decay.

It turned out it was a pretty neat museum, with an impressive display of taxidermy and some well-executed living history exhibits.

The person working the ticket office was kind enough to call us a cab (the museum is pretty far from the main drag of the Strip) and we had the driver drop us off at the Hilton for one last meal at Quark's. We sat up at the bar and I ordered fish-and-chips and drank two James Tea Kirk (sort of like a blue version of a Long Island).

The food was just what I wanted, and the drinks wonderfully toxic. We then made one last trip to the gift store so Dan could pick up a memento. On the way out, we were taken by the walls of fan mail, hundreds (at least) of people celebrating their fond memories and staking claim that the Hilton was making a horrible mistake.

It was very touching, especially one that simply read "Thank you for providing a place where I could forget about my problems."

Here is a Klingon drawing from a kid:

The rest of the day was mellow. We spent some time by the pool again, and later I worked out. That night we ordered room service, which was awesome. I had a chicken caesar salad with an entire warmed chicken breast on top.

We also split a piece of chocolate cake.

We sipped a moderately priced bottle of white wine that we ordered, and watched "Smart People," the dramedy starring Ellen Page, Sarah Jessica Parker and Dennis Quaid. The characters are frustrating but compelling, and I liked the story. At times it was very dreary, but that was kind of the point I think.

Vegas: Day 4

Wednesday morning I broke from routine and started the day at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, as there was one in the Miracle Miles Shops. I worked at the Los Feliz store in LA for about 8 months back in 1999/2000 and ever since I've had a soft spot for their vanilla powder. Whether it be in a Cafe Vanilla (drip coffee, steamed milk, stirred-in vanilla), a Vanilla Latte or the favorite Vanilla Iced Blended, the stuff is golden. Addictive. Yum. I ordered an Iced Blended and picked up a couple muffins for our breakfast. Lighter fare is better for us in the morning, we've learned.

We spent the late morning strolling up and down the Strip, checking out the new Palazzo Casino Hotel, an expansion of the Venetian. Nicely done, very upscale.

Nursing minor sunburns and weathering the heat, we stopped at La Salsa Cantina in the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace for some refreshments. There are two locations of this chain Mexican restaurant in the shops, and the other we had been to a few years back. Our server was extremely animated, and would constantly shout "Showtime" and clap his hands when drinks were ready. This location was more subdued, but our bartender was very friendly and made a mean mojito.

She also recommended we check out the Atrium at the Bellagio to see the train exhibit. It was very cute - and popular!

After ambling our way back to the hotel and spending a short amount of time by the pool (mostly in the shade this time), we headed back to Cheeseburger Las Vegas for a late lunch/early dinner. It was just so good! This time I had the Island Cheeseburger, with pineapple and teri sauce. And it wouldn't be the same without some liquid aloha.

Then it was back to the MGM Grand, as we had tickets to see Cirque du Soleil's Ka. It's something we've been wanting to do for a few years now, but have always balked at the ticket price. This time, we planned ahead and sucked up the cost. It was worth it. The show was spectacular, and our seats were amazing. Having been in involved in many theater projects, I thought I had seen the limits of what could be accomplished on stage. This opened my eyes to a whole other world of expression and entertainment. The show is a technical feat, featuring a stage inverting to a 90 degree angle at one point in the show. As cliche as it sounds, it is truly a visual feast and as I understand it, Ka is one of the first to attempt a linear plot. I think they succeeded. As an acrophobic, I did feel my heart racing at several points during the show. The performers were often hanging loosely from cables, being shoved off moving stage pieces or flying across the audience.

Highlight #2 of the trip, and our second and last big splurge.

After the show we ordered some room service and pizza and relaxed in the room.

Vegas: Day 3

Tuesday I awoke a new man, replenished with a good night's sleep and plenty of fluids. After another Starbuck's run, we headed back to Planet Dailies in time for breakfast. I had the eggs benedict while Dan ordered an omelette. Both came with tasty home fries.

I'm a big eggs benedict conoisseur. This one rates in the middle. Eggs were cooked well, and not too much sauce (a good thing), but the english muffin was a little too thick and overwhelmed the dish.

After breakfast, we walked around and did a little shopping at H&M and the Ben Sherman Store. We then headed back down to the pool. We sat next to a girl from Dallas who asked us where we were the night before. When we told her we had stayed in and watched a movie in our room, she was a little shocked and bewildered. Vegas is different things to different people, I guess. As I was getting ready to go work out, Dan ordered us frozen margaritas that really hit the spot in the heat. I then checked out the hotel's fitness center and spa. It had a fair number of machines and some mats. After a quick work-out I used their sauna and shower and then headed back to meet Dan in the room.

We didn't want to spoil our appetites since we had reservations at a hot restaurant that night so we had cocktails for lunch at Trader Vic's in Miracle Miles Shops.

The drink menu was inspired and fun. I had their classic mai tai and then went with some other fruity drink with Bastard in the title. Both were well made, and worth the cost. Dan's first drink was the "Menehune Juice" and came with a little menehune doll!

This was our third experience at a Trader Vic's, having been to the one in Bellevue, WA twice. They do a nice job. It's a nice blend of tiki kitsch and Polynesian class if that makes any sense.

After changing into our suits (the wedding ones), it was time to head over to the MGM Grand where we had dinner reservations at L'Atelier by Joel Robuchon. Robuchon is a famous French chef, one of the most renowned in the world and he has two restaurants at the MGM. One is a more traditional, fine dining experience while L'Atelier allows the diner to peer into the inner-workings of a gourmet kitchen. Seating is around a bar, with the chefs preparing the dishes right in front of your very eyes. Angry French epithets and all!

We went with the Discovery Menu, which was 9 courses served over the course of the evening (roughly 2 hours). Dan will discuss this in greater detail with enticing photos on his blog so I won't ramble on too much.

Let's just say that at $148 per person it was well worth it. Perhaps my favorite dish was the Capuccino of green asparagus with parmesan.

Or was it the first of TWO desserts, strawberries with basil infusion and olive ice cream? Or perhaps the chilled leek soup with Maine lobster? Or the free-range quail stuff with foie gras and served with truffle-mashed potatoes?

Clearly, this was one of the major highlights of the trip. To accompany the meal, I had two glasses of a very nice white wine, though I cannot remember the name. As the cheapest on the menu, it was $15/glass.

Highly recommended for an indulgence!

How does one follow up such a meal? First we stopped at Trader Vic's for a nightcap. and watched some Olympic diving. Then, spent and full-but-not-gross-full, we trotted back to our room and watched another movie. This time we went with another comedy, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" that was pretty funny and was filmed on the North Shore of Oahu and featured some great Hawaiian musicians.

God I love French food.

Vegas: Day 2

Thanks to the warped core beach feast on Day 1, Day 2 was slow-going. It was close to noon by the time we started to stir (hurray for black-out drapes!).

I got up a bit before Dan and headed down to the casino level and found a very busy Starbucks. After ordering my usual (grande iced coffee, no sweetener, room for cream), I was a bit shocked that it cost $4.30 when it is less than 3 bucks in Seattle. Oh, well. Vacation mode!

Each of the major casino hotels has its own version of a 24-hour diner with a host of options, including breakfast. Planet Hollywood's is called Planet Dailies. It's located on the main casino floor, an open atmosphere with around 50 TV screens that are mostly playing Extra interviews (there is an Extra tie-in with the hotel - even an Extra lounge!). We missed the breakfast cut-off so went with sandwiches. I went with a ham and cheese with fries.

After each eating half, we made it back to our room and decided to check out the pool area. It's located on the 6th floor of Planet Hollywood, and is comprised of 2 pools, 2 hot tubs/whirlpools, a big area in between the two pools with umbrellas and lawn chairs, an outdoor bar (was closed the whole time we were there) and an indoor bar.

Spacing out in the triple digit heat with some magazines was just about my speed that day.

After a few dips and one beer it was time for another nap and some downtime in the room. I checked email and learned that my sister was in London craving good Mexican food. This made me crave Mexican food so that night we wandered over to the Luxor, where we stayed on our last visit in May 2007. There was a Mexican restaurant and margarita bar on the mezzanine level that we really enjoyed and were excited to go back. Unfortunately, it was closed for construction. This led us to wandering around the Strip, still slightly hungover and dehydrated, in search of a decent Mexican meal.

We finally opted to try a place at New York-New York called "Gonzalez y Gonzalez." During our very first trip to Vegas in 2004, a waiter at this very establishment was quite rude to us so we had avoided going back. But we figured time had passed and this time we were actually eating food (that was the problem last time - they were angry that we were only drinking).

We both had the Perfect Petron Margarita - nice and smooth.

For dinner I ordered a combination of a chili relleno and chicken tamale. The relleno was particularly tasty, with some good heat to it. Dan had some shrimp tacos.

We felt a bit rushed, and the space was a little cramped. But overall a much more positive experience.

After dinner we were both pretty wiped out so we just picked up some beverages from a store on the Strip and went back to our hotel and watched "Baby Mama." Perfect hangover flick. Love Tina Tey and Amy Poehler and the supporting cast was terrific. Sigourney Weaver was marvelously bizzarre and nuanced, as always.

So, Day 2, while not a complete bust was a little reminder of what happens when you drink too much the night before! The cloudy feeling never really went away until the next morning....

Day 3 to come!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Vegas: Day 1

Per usual, I am behind on posting about our recent trip to Vegas so I will attempt to do it in pieces.

This was our fifth trip in as many years, and the longest we've stayed there (5 nights). It was also our first late-summer visit. Temperatures ran in the triple digits the entire time we were there, which didn't bother us at all.

Day 1: Sunday, August 17th.

Our flight was at 10:20. We always fly Alaska to Vegas, though flights are often delayed/cancelled. After a quick cab ride from Beacon Hill, in which we had to instruct the cab driver how to get to the airport from our house (cab drivers are so confused by Beacon Hill!) we arrived at Sea-Tac around 8:15 or so. After checking in, we learned that the flight was oversold and seats would be assigned at the gate. This was a little concerning, but we arrived early and at the gate we got our seats without any problem.

We landed in Vegas around 12:45 and at the baggage claim I ran into an old co-worker. Pleasantly random! The taxi line at the Vegas airport was unbelievable, but we were impressed by how quickly it moved. Checking into Planet Hollywood was a bit of a disappointment. Even though it was close to the check-in time of 3pm, only a smoking room was available.

So we opted to wait for a non-smoking room and walked around the attached Miracle Miles Shops. We were excited to try the Hawaiian Tropic Zone restaurant, new since our last trip, so we stopped in there for our first Vegas cocktails. A guy handed us a few coupons on the way in so we were able to get 4 drinks for the price of two. I had mojitos, while Dan opted for a classic margarita.

The drinks were smooth and refreshing, but the atmosphere was less Hawaiian than we expected. It was afternoon so we couldn't really get a sense of what the "scene" was like, but there was a platform above the bar that is apparently where women dance. It had a pretty sleek interior with some outside seating with covered cabanas also available.

After checking back for a room once with no luck, we decided to head back into the mall for dinner. We opted for Chesseburger Las Vegas, one of the newer locations in the expanding franchise that began with Cheeseburger Waikiki. Two surfer girls from California started the company after realizing there was no place in Hawai`i to get a mai tai and a cheeseburger.

The interior of this place was definitely Hawaiian! We felt right at home.

Dan tried their mai tai, which was reportedly very good while I couldn't resist a Kona Fire Rock Ale on tap. We split the "It's all Good" burger with some onion rings. Mmmm...heaven in a bun.

Feeling satiated by food and drink, we were finally ready for room 3217. The hotel used to be the Aladdin, but the new owners are slowly making updates to reflect the new image. The room itself was a little on the small side, but the bathroom was awesome. It must have been recently remodeled: double doors, separate deep tub from the walk-in shower, toilet room with door, plenty of space.

Our view wasn't so bad, either.

We took a nap on the comfy bed.

Then it was off to the monorail for a quick ride over to the Las Vegas Hilton.

The monorail is an easy way to get from South to North strip. It costs $5 per ride, or you can buy unlimited 3-day passes for $28. I've never had to wait long, and they are nice and cool inside.

After being dumped off at the Hilton, we cruised right into Quark's bar. As mentioned in previous post, the Star Trek Experience is closing on September 1st so this would be our last trip to enjoy it. We pushed our way in, grabbed two seats at the bar and began sharing a Warped Core Beach.

It is less scary than it looks, and actually tastes pretty good. It contains five types of rum, and plenty of raspberry flavorings. We normally only share one, but we got caught up in the nostalgia of the impending closure and ordered a second one! Uh-oh.

Apparently on our way back to our hotel, this 15 year old Elvis impersonator talked us into posing with him.

Also, I found my fashion twin!

The rest if somewhat blurry, but the night ended in alka seltzer and proved to be the only night we attempted to drink like twenty year olds.

More to come....