Las Vegas and Grand Canyon Report--Thanksgiving Week (Very Long)
Here is my report from our traditional Thanksgiving week trip. This year the theme was value for money, but at just about any price level. Of course that let out the Guy Savoy’s of the world, but we tried to do the best we could with the rest given schedule and other constraints. Thanks to the regulars on this board who provided many good suggestions. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to try all we wanted to—better luck next year. This is from memory so some of the details are a bit fuzzy.
Arrival Saturday: Dinner at Circus Circus Steak House. This is a gem, as described by many others. After getting past the zoo in the lobby (for those more accustomed to the Bellagios and Venetians, CC shows a “different” side of Las Vegas tourism) we made it to the steakhouse. The aging room is right there near the entrance, and the various slabs of meat appear to be the real thing. Though early, we were promptly given a pretty good table in one of the side rooms. The steaks are ample in size, and mostly priced in the high $30’s including all sides and a choice of salad or bean soup starter. The grills (two big old grills, with “CC” emblazoned in them) are in the center of the main room, are charcoal fired, and they are hot—the old boys doing the work look like they’ve been there for years, and they certainly seem to know what they’re doing. My companions chose steaks of various cuts, and I decided to go for the prime rib. The latter was probably not the best choice, but the steaks were excellent. The wine list is more than adequate and very reasonable—for example, there were 5 pinot noirs, and the most expensive was only $45—we had that one (I don’t recall what it was) and it was very good. The sides and soup were all first class. Service was efficient. All in all, a bargain. For four the check was $275 including wine, tip, and tax, and we were too full to finish everything.
Sunday brunch: We did the Sterling brunch at Bally’s. This is an amazing buffet and everyone should go at least once. Though a brunch, it was more like a seafood buffet, with just about anything you can imagine. We were seated in the raised corner just inside the main room, a very good spot I thought. Service was also good, and the champagne was not only good but they were very generous with it. The lobsters are of course the most popular—split Maine lobsters broiled. There is shrimp in many forms, oysters, smoked fish, various fruits and cold meats, various breakfast items including an action omelet station, several slice-off roasted meats, caviar, sushi, and a wide assortment of desserts, just to name a few. Overall quality is very good for a buffet—the only disappointment to me was the oysters on the half shell, which showed signs of having been shucked too far in advance. Still, well worth the $65 pp ticket.
Sunday afternoon/eve.: Drive to the Grand Canyon. Knowing that good food on the way was scarce, we stopped at Capriotti’s branch in Henderson, just off I-215, for sandwiches to take along and eat upon arrival. Two of us shared a 20” Italian which was really excellent. One had their popular turkey dinner on a roll, which I tried and thought was just OK. On the way to GC we discovered that In-N-Out has now opened up a location in Kingman, which certainly makes that trip less of a chow wasteland.
Monday: Grand Canyon. We had breakfast at the Bright Angel Café, which is a Fred Harvey operation (for perhaps the last 100 years!). It was about what you’d expect—competent but not thrilling by any stretch. We had dinner at El Tovar. It was better than I remembered from a previous trip. I had the chicken and black bean empanadas and the lamb shank. Both were OK if not exceptional, but one doesn’t to the GC for fine dining. The check for 4, all-in, was about $200 including a bottle of decent cabernet.
Tuesday: On the way back from the GC, we stopped at the Kingman In-N-Out for lunch. Had the usual animal style that was really good as always. For dinner we had a reservation at Emeril’s Fish House at the MGM. We waited about 20 min. for a table. Once seated, the service was about the best I’ve ever experienced, due to the personality of our server, Jill—if you ever go to EFH, ask for Jill. I asked whether they offered the soup trio a la Commander’s Palace, which they don’t but when I noted that, after all, it was Emeril who started that when he was at Commander’s, the manager offered to feed me all three and charge for only one, which I thought was very reasonable. The “gumbo” soup was very good, as was the Fall River chowder; the soup of the day, a squash soup, was fair. I also had a dozen oysters which were good if not more. Also had BBQ shrimp which I hoped would be made according to the original Pascal’s Manale recipe (head on, butter, and black pepper) but wasn’t. They were peeled and head-off, grilled, and covered with a complex sauce. Very good, but not as good as the original (even when I make them at home), and certainly not authentic. Others in the group ordered crab cakes, which I thought weren’t very good—claw meat and an overly browned surface. Overall, a fine experience, with terrific service and good if not inspired food. $346 all in for 4 including a bottle of wine.
Wednesday lunch: Commander’s Palace, taking advantage of the $18.80 special and the .25 martini’s. I supplemented the lunch with the soup trio @ $8 I think it was. All the soups were very rich and excellent. The salad was a riff on a muffaletta, including Italian cold cuts and cheese over romaine, and was really good, as were the bananas Foster for dessert. Martini’s were excellent. Overall, certainly a good deal. Very slow service however. They asked at the start if we were in a rush and we said no. Mistake.
Wednesday dinner: Todd’s Unique. We went on Wednesday to take advantage of the free corkage, then didn’t bring any wine anyway, since we were showing the effects of over indulgence by then. Short take—Todd’s is excellent, and can definitely give Rosemary’s a run for the money. It’s smaller and less formal (décor, presentation) than Rosemary’s, but the food is right up there. I had the signature short ribs, which were extremely rich and flavorful. Others in the group had various seafoods and steak. All good to excellent. Todd’s should be on everybody’s must-go list.
Thursday (Thanksgiving day) lunch: I had tried for Hash House a Go Go but they were closed for the day. But since I knew we wouldn’t be having turkey for dinner, and the special $11.95 Thanksgiving buffet where we were staying (The Palms) started at 11am, I figured what the heck and tried it for brunch. Bad mistake, even tho The Palms is supposed to have a half-decent buffet. Nothing was interesting, least of all the turkey (seemed cut off a roll) or the stuffing (gummy). The Middle-Eastern items had a special corner spot and were at least passable (perhaps due to the Maloof influence??), and there was one decent dessert (“bread and butter pudding” I think it was called—cake with vanilla pudding). On the whole, to be avoided.
Dinner: For dinner on T’giving day we went as far as possible from tradition and had reservations at Okada in the Wynn, in part because our traveling companions wanted sushi and can’t get anything decent near where they live. Based on comments here on the board I tried to switch to Koto, but it turns out they aren’t open T’giving day either, so we stuck with Okada. The sushi was extremely fresh and good, even if you don’t get much for the money. I tried the Omakase route, and got mostly things right off the menu, including a spicy toro roll and some baby yellow tail sashimi. Everybody agreed it was great sushi, and the setting, especially with the waterfall outside, is unsurpassed. $245 for four. Not cheap but fair value anyway.
Friday breakfast: Having read good things, we tried Verandah at the Four Seasons. The place, which drips class and breeding, is really pleasant, and it actually was warm enough to sit outside. I especially wanted to try the huevos rancheros. They were good, but even better was the corned beef and pastrami hash that my wife had. The third member of our party wanted pancakes, and reported they were very good as well. A very nice place to pass an hour at breakfast, especially on a day when sitting outside is doable. The check came to about $100 all in for three.
Friday snack: After touring the western outskirts for the afternoon we stopped at Glacier Ice Cream, first mentioned here on the board by jackattack on Oct. 10. Jack is right—this ice cream is good. Everything is homemade in the stores including the caramel and chocolate toppings. It’s an outfit out of Boulder Colo., just starting to expand. I tried several flavors of ice cream and one of gelato, and they were all great. I’m not enough of an ice cream connoisseur to say how it ranks compared to others, but it’s good. Better than what I remember about Luv-it Custard. The place is on west Tropicana, as far west as you can go—the very last commercial outpost. Worth the trip.
Friday dinner: For our last act before going to the airport we decided to try Ventano’s in Henderson. A good choice. Great view of the Strip. Excellent seafood. They started us with the regular brown bag of “breadsticks”, which are actually mini loaves, fairly soft but nice and warm, served with olive oil and balsamic dip. I had a half-dozen oysters, about $11, and they were easily the best of the trip. Followed that with their version of cioppino, which turned out to be a huge bowl of really good fresh seafood of all kinds. I could barely finish it. A steal at $25 or so. This place is certainly worth the drive, and is the best answer I know of to the question of where to have classic Italian in LV.
I'm not sure how well we stuck to the value theme, but it was a good trip anyway. So many places we still couldn’t get to. I especially missed Koto, and even Hash House a Go Go, and Peppermill, not to mention a return to LOS. Maybe next year!
We were at Koto the night before thanksgiving...it was really packed and a lot of fun. It's a family owned place, hence the T/G closure. Okada is great, tho, and the ambiance is terrific. Next time, definitely try the corkage deal at Todd's...it's a good deal, plus most everyone in there on a Wed. has a couple of bottles on the table, and from time to time people will share.
Thanks for the detailed report!