Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Las Vegas Trip

In honor of mi amigo Jaime's pending nuptials in November, I recently joined a group of guys from all over the country for a bachelor weekend in Las Vegas. I've been to Vegas around 10 times in the past 15 years, but really only twice since coming down with foodie-itis. Now Sin City has a much different allure to me than blackjack and scantily-clad dancers, that is, enough fine dining venues to make my eyes glaze over (laugh if you will, but I'm sure I was the only partygoer who woke up at 6:30 and walked a mile to the Strip to have breakfast at Bouchon at a different bachelor party last year). I think I can truthfully say that I'd have no problem eating my way up and down Las Vegas Blvd. without so much as gambling a dime on my next trip out there.

Anyway, I touched down in Vegas on a mid-afternoon Thursday all ready to do some epicurial damage. My initial plan of going to Border Grill at the Mandalay Bay for lunch had been thwarted by a 3-hour mechanical delay at O'Hare, leaving me with only about 2 hours before the guest of honor's arrival. I opted to do an abbreviated liquid lunch at Sin City Brewing, which has an outpost near the food court in the Venetian. After getting a sample taste of five different beers, I slurped down a pint of my two favorites, the Weiss beer and the Amber. In hindsight, I probably should have eaten something first and should have skipped the second pint because, by the time I joined the groom-to-be and the best man for kickoff drinks at Gilley's in Treasure Island, I was already feeling pretty mellow. We downed a plate of nachos (which ended up being my lunch AND dinner, as luck would have it) and each drank a giant souvenir boot of cheap beer (Coors Light, I think) before retiring to our rooms. The plan was to meet up again around 8 for dinner. 8 o'clock found me fast asleep in bed, fully clothed, room spinning, with no intention or capability of getting up for further festivities that evening (never having been someone that's been able to hold his liquor, this should have come as no surprise to anyone, least of whom Mrs. Hackknife, who labeled it as an "amateur move").

So, over-refreshed, hungover, jet-lagged, and dehydrated, I awoke around 5 the next morning try to decide if I had the intestinal fortitude to make it across the street to the 24-hour Walgreens to get some bottled water and maybe a muffin-in-a-baggie (the answer was no). Luckily, the Starbucks downstairs opened at 6, and I was there at 6:10 practically begging for a juice and a plain bagel to help me right the ship. Back on course by 9 am, I got the call from the group for our first meal stop of the day: Hash House a Go Go. This breakfast outpost in the Imperial Palace originally started in San Diego and specializes in tasty plates of shock-value sizes (I'm not quite sure what it is about breakfast that makes some places want to serve gargantuan meals - I'm reminded of a pancake I had in a Banff diner once that was the size of a hubcap). The chicken and waffle tower (see photo from their website above - due to a groom-imposed media blackout on the weekend, I have no pictures of my own to share) with a basic Bloody Mary was just the thing I needed, although instead of the maple reduction, I think I'd prefer just plain maple syrup on the waffles next time, along with some guidance on how to safely deconstruct the tower. Lunch found us at Carnevino in the Palazzo, Mario Batali's Italian steakhouse, where most of the table enjoyed the house burger while I had the steak w/Tuscan fries, followed by a visit to my favorite gelatoria (Jean-Phillipe, in the Bellagio) for a tiramisu gelato. Last but not least, dinner took place at Diablo's Cantina in the Monte Carlo, scarfing down guacamole, margaritas, and crispy rock shrimp tacos. There had also been that day some handgun shooting, a little gambling, extensive listening to a mediocre 80s hair-metal cover band, many more drinks consumed, and collection of Mardi Gras beads (which were promptly given to Hackknifette upon my arrival home) from a pole dancer in the casino, but none of that is relevant here in this blog.

After the culinary excess of Friday, Saturday was scaled back a little. We ate breakfast at the coffee shop in the Treasure Island. Later, I was able to convince a small posse to cab it over with me to Mandalay Bay for burgers at Burger Bar, Hubert Keller's homage to cow-on-a-bun. I had my favorite - medium-rare American Kobe beef on ciabatta roll with blue cheese and carmelized onions, accompanied by fat fries (note to self: do onion rings next time) and a Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale. Our dinner was supposed to be at Bartolotta Di Mare in the Wynn Resort; however, I was overruled by the groom, who wanted pasta, so we ventured over to B&B Ristorante in the Venetian, another Mario Batali venture. To start the meal, the table all enjoyed a large plate of house-cured salumi (about 6 different varieties, some of which melted in the mouth) accompanied with little fried dough crostini that were about as good as the meat itself. I opted for an earthy pasta plate of beef cheek ravioli with black truffles and crushed duck liver; others at the table had veal, lamb, or steak, all washed down with a 2007 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino. Despite his best efforts, our waiter was unable to convince anyone in our party that we needed to each order a pasta plate and a meat plate (believe me, I would if I could have, but I was stuffed), so our service suffered a bit as a result. Regardless, the meal was great and the company was even better.

Sunday morning saw the band break up and head home. I had delusions of trying to get into the Wynn champagne brunch before heading to the airport, but cooler heads prevailed and I settled for a bagel and fruit plate (oh, and one last indulgence - a banana tart from an Italian bakery in the Venetian). Thanks, gentlemen, for a very successful weekend.....

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