My trip to Vegas over New Year
Had a comp to New York New York from December 30th thru January 3.
Got in late on Sunday and had planned to go to Raku but discovered they were closed (dang!). Gambled thru the night and went for an early lunch on Monday to Lotus of Siam. Had the usual Nam Kao Tod - extra good this time, also had some En Tuan soup (spicy and sour with tendon, beef and bean sprouts) quite tasty but not a clone of vietnamese pho, and also had Tub Wharn (charbroiled liver mixed with green onion and chili) - this was nice but the texture clash with the En Tuan meant that I did not finish it.
Monday night I made my way down to Mandalay Bay and Charlie Palmer Steak (This was no easy feat because not only was the Strip closed to traffic, but the NYNY parking lot was locked up. I resolved to walk to the Tram from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay - even that was difficult as each casino was locked up like a prison camp - I had to wander around randomly to found out which of the pedestrian entrances had not been closed off.) I had hoped to get the $45 steak special but was not surprised to find that on New Year's Eve that the only menu was a $100 prix fixe. This was an excellent menu, I had an amuse bouche - nice little palate cleanser, then a pumpkin squash soup with hints of foie gras and other goodies blended in - excellent. Then a nicely sized fillet steak with spinach and yukon potatoes - the potatoes had some black truffles and were delicious as was the steak - I was less happy about the spinach but after Lotus and also pigging out on the excellent bread I was conserving myself. Dessert finally arrived after the wrong choice had been apologetically removed and was a very nice crème brulee. I may have missed out a course here (memory failing) but I don't think so. Adding a couple of wines and a tip took the bill over $150 - a little steep compared to my hoped for $45 but it was New Year's Eve. I'd definitely go back to Charlie Palmer's.
Being an old fart, I crashed on Monday night before midnight. Got up bright and early on Tuesday and ambled off to Aria for a modest brunch at Julian Serrano. Had the huevos estrella (eggs with French fries and chorizo sausage) which is my idea of an excellent comfort food way to start the day (I really strongly recommend this as a great non-tapasy tapas) - also had a nice plate of roasted green peppers.
Fresh out of Julian Serrano I started to amble towards the poker room for the daily tournament but noticed a Superman slot machine and, on a whim, I stuck $20 in and on my second $2.50 pull somehow managed to win the grand jackpot of slightly over $4,000. Go figure! This improved my mood enormously, even though I had to wait half an hour to get paid and to be given a W2 form - barely made it past noon on Jan 1 and I already had a tax bill!
Tuesday evening, I drove down to Origin India - which is right next to the Hard Rock Casino. I had a Groupon which effectively made the meal half price. Started with an appetizer that was mostly some form of potato spiced with thyme and was very tasty. I followed this up with a lamb nihari (I hadn't had a nihari for almost 3 years) and also a veggie lentil dish with 5 different types of lentils blended together. Nihari is always a bit sloppy/liquidy but with lots of meat and the lentil dish was almost like a soup. I didn't get rice but I labored away with lots of nan to mop up both delicious dishes. I have had bad experiences with indifferent Indian food in Las Vegas (namely Gaylord at the Rio - which sucks and also with Namaste under its previous ownership. Admittedly these were both buffets and that may have been part of the problem) but the food at Origin was definitely worth the trip.
On Wednesday, I trotted past Aria to the Cosmopolitan and discovered that I had $40 on my players club card. So I went into Milos for the $21 3 course lunch special. Decided to pony up the extra $10 for the octopus (well it was covered by my comp credit). This was absolutely the best tasting cephalopod (and that includes cuttlefish) that I have ever had, tender and juicy and excellent prepared - definitely worth the extra $10. This was followed up by a nicely grilled salmon and dessert was a yogurt martini. I had a glass of white greek wine - I tried to get Syderitis but they were out and had another one whose name I do not remember but it was 2 spaces away from the Syderitis on the menu. The wine was very nice - nothing like retsina (which I actually find quite acceptable with Greek food). The total tab came to just $2 more than my comp and I then added a nice tip. The bread that comes with the meal was nice and was lightly toasted. The service was very attentive and the décor is light and bright.
On Wednesday night, feeling rich after my slot jackpot, I decided to give Gordon Ramsay Steak a try. Now my wife and I have been big fans of Ramsay for years and even got to see him give a cooking presentation in London when he admitted he was completely hung over from his 40th birthday party. So I was inclined to like the place. I had read a Vegas review that said that the shepherd's pie was spectacular. (Memo to self - don't believe everything that you read), This was half of a lamb duet. Basically you got some shepherd's pie and some lamb chops. Make that about 3 ounces of shepherd's pie swimming in about 3 ounces of (olive?) oil and two small overcooked chops. Now the shepherd's pie did taste like shepherd's pie but neither the potato nor the lamb were exactly solid - I'm used to seeing recognizable ground lamb covered in a blanket of mashed potato and the grilling should have created a nice crust on the mash. The duet cost $46 and I have trouble believing that the materials cost for the shepherd's pie was more than $1. I did grumble about the dish to the server and opined that no English person would recognize the dish as acceptably within the definition of the dish. They did offer to replace the dish but I declined (frankly I didn't need another steak and, besides, any fool with good ingredients can cook a steak). I ordered the banoffee pie for dessert and it was really quite good. Then, miraculously, my server showed up with a complementary serving of sticky toffee pudding. I have heard rave reviews of this dish - I had two mouthfuls and I was done - it was neither sticky, nor tasted of toffee and the sponge cake on which the "toffee" was poured was very uninteresting.
The place was fully booked on a Wednesday (Jan 2nd). So obviously it is a wild success. But IMHO Gordon Ramsay and Caesars World(who own Paris) have severe financial problems and I have to think the plan is to squeeze out as much profit as possible and also to cut corners on costs. Would I go again? Nope, no way. I'll go back to Charlie Palmer's for the special and, if I want a great full size steak, I'll go to Del Friscos.
On Thursday, my wife sent me to pick up some items from Trader Joes on Decatur, so I looped over to Jones and down to 3400 - which is where Shaanxi Gourmet is located. I entered the place at 11:01 am and was the first person in there. I had no language problems with the servers. I got the cold noodles for roughly $3 and also some mushrooms on skewers and also some sour and spicy soup with pig tripe. After I ordered, almost the entire stuff sat down to eat their lunch.
The noodle plate was huge - thick wide noodles with some kind of almost peanut buttery coating and with a spicy oil base - there were little cubes of bread interspersed here and there. I didn't recognize the skewered mushrooms but they were quite tasty. The bowl of soup must have had at least 4 pints of soup in it. Tripe is not icky. Sliced and cooked properly it is nice and tender if slightly chewy. It wasn't pho but there were some similarities to be noted - for example it came with a generous amount of fresh coriander. I have to say that the noodles definitely qualify as a comfort food - perhaps the Chinese equivalent of Mac and cheese. The whole meal was great and for $15 ($20 with tip) I was served with enough food to feed 3 people. Service was friendly. When I left, the place had filled up with a dozen diners - all Asian. I noticed that Chada Thai is in the same parking lot and ambled over - they only open for dinner.