Friday, March 20, 2009

Trip Number One - LAs Vegas

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything in these pages. Most of the reason behind that is that I’ve just been so busy traveling that I haven’t been able to take the time to write. My travels aren’t over yet. Next month I’ll be spending a week in Arizona to visit my family and another 4 days in San Francisco to see the band Throbbing Gristle play live. After that, I have no concrete plans. I would like to travel more and have plans in the back of my head to visit both Thailand and London, England. Lack of money may sidetrack those plans though. The next few months will tell. But for now, let me tell you about the last month or so and the events that have taken up all my time.

The first two trips we took were to Las Vegas. This is going to piss off several friends I have in the city. We had a very limited time there and we decided not to tell friends we were visiting either trip so that we could make complete use of that time. All I can do is apologize and let you know that we have tentative plans to visit again and this time we will make time to get together with friends we rarely see.

The first trip was at the end of January. It came about because Buffalo Bill’s Hotel ( in Primm Valley on the Stateline offered us a free two night stay. We couldn’t pass that up. Primm is about 40 minutes from Las Vegas and we decided that we would drive to the hotel and get there late on Thursday. We would pass up all the free offers that Buffalo Bill’s tried to give us. (Those included a free showing of their show “The Sin City Kitties” and free tickets to see Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers play live in their auditorium. We did take them up on their $25 of free gambling for each of us. Skip turned that into a $100 profit and I made and extra $25.) Instead, we would spend all day Friday in Las Vegas. Then we would leave early Saturday for home.

That was pretty much how it went, except that we arrived a lot earlier on Wednesday then we thought we would due to a lack of traffic. We took advantage of this by driving into Vegas and having dinner at Lavo Restaurant ( at the Palazzo Hotel. We had eaten Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s food several times before here in Los Angeles at several food festivals. He is a very creative chef; one dish I remember is pasta with shrimp in a cinnamon cream sauce, so we were looking forward to eating his food at his own place. Unfortunately, we found a rather standard menu and when we asked about it, our serve told us that the menu was very creative at the beginning, but it was confusing all the tourists, so the owners made the chef tone it down. That was depressing, but there’s no accounting for taste, especially when it comes to the mainstream American tourist. The food was very good, but unremarkable, with the exception of a plate of various Crudo (Italian style raw fish) that was just amazing. So we left our first meal rather disappointed.

We would have loved to have dined at Restaurant Charlie ( in the same hotel. This is Charlie Trotter’s new place. Trotter is a chef from Chicago who is one of America’s finest. The best meal I’ve ever eaten in my life was at his Chicago restaurant. But this restaurant in Las Vegas is too expensive for us at this time. We figured that to do it correctly would have cost us about $600 each. That’s not do-able at the place we are right now in this economy. But after Lavo, we walked over to look at the restaurant and when the receptionist saw us staring in the doorway, she invited us in and gave us a full tour of the place, including the kitchen and the chef’s table. They even gave us chocolates that were being freshly made by the pastry chef. That was a really nice thing to do and the restaurant looks great. Someday, if we ever win the lottery, we’ll try to eat there.

After our Restaurant Charlie tour, we made our way upstairs to the Double Helix Wine Bar ( where we enjoyed a couple of glasses of great wine from their impressive “by the glass” list. We talked for awhile with some of the servers about wine and travel, but it was getting late, so we decided to head back to Buffalo Bill’s and call it a night. We were afraid that the rooms would be cheesy and cheap, but our room there was large and very comfortable. Quite a deal for free!

We had a lot to do on Friday. It had been nine years since we had been to Las Vegas and the whole strip had grown and changed so that it was barely recognizable. We wanted to tour each and every hotel and casino on the Strip and we started out early to do so.

We walked the whole way, from one end of the Strip to the other and we managed to see it all. Some of the older hotels, like Caesar’s Palace, hadn’t changed much at all, except for some new towers that had been built onto the hotel. But others, like the MGM Grand, had completely changed on the inside, adding many more shops and restaurants to areas of the hotels. We also saw the Palazzo, The Wynn and the Encore, and the new Trump Hotel, where we actually saw Donald Trump as we were sitting in the bar enjoying a glass of champagne. (A very expensive glass that was provided free due to the bar being out of the bubbly we originally wanted.) And we managed to walk up and see the Palms Hotel that was used in MTV’s “Real World Las Vegas”. We also studied the new “city-within-a-city” being built, called “CityCenter” ( between the Monte Carlo and the Bellagio. This place is massive and is the most expensive privately funded construction project in US history. It’s really going to be impressive when it’s done. There are at least several more construction projects going on. The growth is insane. But I also found it distracting. You used to be able to stand on the Strip and make out each and every unique hotel/casino placed there. Now, so much has been built that it kind of all fades into one big mess, with bits of Italy, France, New York, etc. sticking out here and there. It’s kind of stunning and overwhelming to see, but it substitutes the artificial beauty that I love about the Las Vegas of a decade or more ago, with an artificial chaos that is not as pleasurable to experience.

During this trek, we stopped frequently for a drink at one bar or another, but we made three longer stops. For lunch, we ate at the Mesa Grill (, which is Iron Chef Bobby Flay’s restaurant in Caesar’s Palace. With that, I have now eaten food from each one of the Iron Chef’s! We had been warned that Mesa Grill was not very good, but I found the food tasty and very good, although not remarkable. I suspect it would have been much better at dinnertime.

We stopped at Red Square ( in Mandalay Bay for glasses of really good vodka and found that they had a Happy Hour offer of a free ounce of great caviar for every two shots of Russian Vodka ordered. We drank two shots and consumed an ounce of the wonderful caviar each. Good caviar has gotten so expensive that I rarely eat it these days. This was such a great deal that I wanted to sit there all night, but our dinner reservations were calling and we had to leave.

Dinner that evening was at the MGM Grand. We wanted to eat at Restaurant Joel Robuchon, but we were faced with the same expense problem that we faced at Restaurant Charlie. It was just too much for us to afford. So we opted for his next level restaurant right next door, L’Atelier de Joel Rubuchon ( This restaurant was more affordable, although still a bit expensive. We couldn’t resist eating food from one of France’s greatest chefs though. In fact, he is known as “the chef of the century” in most food circles. It is a one-star Michelin restaurant. This restaurant was a strange and different experience. Most diners sit at a counter facing the kitchen where you are able to watch your dinner prepared right before your eyes. (There are tables, but they are reserved for larger parties.) The plates are all small and designed to be shared. It was absolutely delicious, easily one of the best ten meals of my life. There were too many dishes to list here, but everything was wonderful. There was not a bad dish among them. And the wines that were paired with each phase of dishes were lovely and spot on. This is just an amazing restaurant. The food and wine, added with the overall experience makes it a one-of-a-kind special kind of place. I hope I can return someday.

It was late by the time we finished dinner, which took us more than three hours, so we decided to call it a day and return back to Buffalo Bill’s.

The next morning we woke and decided to ride the roller coaster at Buffalo Bill’s, the Desperado, which for a short time a decade or so ago was the World’s tallest and fastest coaster. It was still a whole lot of fun, although a bit old and rough these days. As we were getting ready to leave, Skip saw a poster saying that Blondie was playing the hotel in February. Skip had never seen Blondie back in the day and made a quick decision that we were going to go see them now. So he went to the hotel’s ticket office and managed to get tickets for the show that were in the 5th row center.

While we were walking around the hotels the day before, we made our way to the Mirage. The big show there at the moment is a Cirque De Soleil production called “The Beatles’ Love”. I’m not much on Cirque shows, but we discussed how if we were going to see any of them, this would be the one since we were both huge Beatles fans. So, instead of leaving for home as we originally planned, we headed back into Las Vegas to see what kind of deal we could get on a room/show package at the Mirage. We got a good one that included two great seats for the “Love” show and two nights for the price of the show and $30 for the room. We booked that for the night before Blondie. That meant we would be returning to Vegas within a few weeks.

It was now well past noon and we realized that we were very hungry, so we walked to the Bellagio Hotel and had lunch at another restaurant we had been wanting to eat at for awhile. Olives (, the Las Vegas version of Todd English’s original Boston restaurant, was another very good restaurant that would probably be great at dinner time. My salmon was a wee bit overcooked, but was still delicious. I’m not used to eating that much food that early in the day though, and I left overstuffed and uncomfortable. I should have stuck to a salad or a sandwich, but that’s my own fault.

And with that, we left for the four hour drive home. There were a few things that we hadn’t got to yet, such as the ultimately scary rides on the top of the Stratosphere, but we knew we would be back soon, so I wasn’t too worried about missing them.

That’s it for this segment. I’ll be back soon with the tales of our second trip to Las Vegas, a trip that included room upgrades, late-night burgers, Beatles’ music, and those rides that took the fight out of me.


By the way, I heartily recommend “Coraline” ( if you haven’t seen it by now. See it in 3D if you can. It really adds to the experience. The story is rather dark and scary, so I would leave the youngsters at home. But it was still beautifully written and animated. It should easily be one of the animated pictures of the year.

The other movie I’ve seen this year is “Watchmen” ( I liked it. In fact, I really liked it. But I didn’t love it. It was beautiful to watch and they stayed true to the source material. I think they did the best job possible with a movie I never thought could be made. But the film also felt like it was trying to hard. I kind of wish the director would have stayed truer to the heart of the story instead of trying to shove so much information into every second of the film. I recommend it, but only for people who know the original graphic novel.


  1. Sounds like a food road trip!

    Keep those Thailand plans alive!

  2. By the way, I don't recall any review or visit to a Japanese restaurant. Don't you guys like Japanese food and if so, why not?