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Jul 4, 2013 05:07 PM

My extended trip to Vegas

Drove to Vegas from Tulsa (via a stop in Las Vegas New Mexico) - spent 8 days in LV and then drove back via Albuquerque. Lost my shirt playing in poker tournaments but actually won a Breitling Transocean watch in a draw associated with a Blackjack tournament.

Spent the first 3 days comped at Aria and had $150 in dining credits to use up there.

First day, I hit American Fish right at happy hour and they had hors d'oeuvres for a flat price of $5/serving(or was it $3?). Grabbed 6 oysters that were tasty and fresh but not those large and meaty ones. Had some kind of deconstructed smoked salmon appetizer that was OK - not great. Had some other app that I do not remember. Verdict - good but not great - might revisit for a regular meal. Later that night after poker I went to the Aria Thai place for a spicy dish (I usually order a 10) - again I can't remember details - but Lemongrass is passable for spending comp dollars - not a patch on Lotus or Chada for real dollars.

Second day I hit Julian Serrano for late breakfast - had my customary eggs with chorizo sausage and matchstick fries - lovely Spanish version of comfort food that melts in your mouth and goes well with mild hangovers and sleep deprivation. Went to play in an event at the World Series of Poker and made my customary donation late in the day - went looking for a place called KJ for dim sum but couldn't find it. So I burned up some more comp dollars at Lemongrass as Sage was closed.

Next day, between poker tournaments, I had lunch at Shaanxi Gourmet (near Jones and Spring Mountain behind China Mama) - this time I had the hot Shaanxi noodles (had cold noodles on a previous visit) and they were excellent. These noodles are hand cut, very wide and seemingly endless - I figure you eat them by slurping them into your mouth and then biting them off. Also had a side order of mushrooms on skewers. This place is CHEAP. The food is GOOD. The portions are LARGE and so would work best with a party of 4-6 splitting a variety of dishes.

Went to Palace Station to look for Ping Pang Pang. Couldn't find it because it isn't there (trust me I looked everywhere). Finally turned on my car's navigation system and it took me to the Gold Coast where you actually can find Ping Pang Pong. Started with mu shu pork as a nostalgia appetizer - good taster that brought back memories of the first time my wife and I had the dish at Chef Chu's in Mountain View California 40 years ago. Followed this up with a dish that was described on the menu as "Chinese Menudo" and on the check as "Farmer's Stew(or was it hotpot)". Lovely gloppy spicy dish with plenty of chewy cow innards - definitely a hit.

On day 4 I had to check out of Aria and check into another comp at Cosmopolitan. Went to Chada Thai for lunch - it's in the same mini-mall as Shaanxi Gourmet and China Mama. I'd noticed they had a sign saying they were open for lunch. They have lunch special menus that are $15 (including wine) or $9 excluding wine. I ordered without wine. Got the pork larb (I think there was an appetizer that came first) - very nice with fresh tasting ingredients - perhaps a little salty. Grabbed a bottle of Dogfishhead beer (at about half the price of Todd English's PUB) and then decided to go for broke with an a la carte spicy duck dish. Again tasty and way more than I needed. Much smaller menu than Lotus, similar prices, smaller and better decor. I wish they also had Nam Kao Tod on the menu.

At the Cosmopolitan I managed to miss dinner. It got very late and I went looking for the secret pizza place and found it right after it closed. Ended up grabbing an overpriced but tasty burger and fries at their late night bar.

Next day, being hung over, I skipped lunch but went to Charlie Palmer's for the $48 steak special. This all works pretty much as described. I love the bread they serve there. The wines that are included are good but not spectacular. The appetizer was kobe beef with ponzu - tasty but slightly on the vinegary side. Main course was bone-in ribeye with mashed potato and corn bits hacked off the cob. Ribeye was tasty but a little chewy and gristly. Potatoes were sadly nowhere near as good as the yukon gold potatoes with truffles I had had at CP's earlier. Dessert was CP's version of creme brulee which is very nice. You do NOT feel like a second class citizen if yo get the $48 special. My mood might have been better if San Antonio had not blown a 15 point lead against Miami in game 6 of the finals - but what can you do.

Had a second attempt to grab some secret pizza from the Cosmopolitan. This involved a chaotic half-hour wait in the tunnel leading up to the place. Got myself a slice of white pizza and (since they were out of Sicilian) a slice of Pepperoni and mushroom. At $4 or $5/slice you get huge slices of great tasting pizza made with good ingredients. NOT a ripoff.

Next day I had to check out of the Cosmopolitan and had to PAY (!!!!) for one night's stay at the Golden Nugget downtown. Although I had not won any money playing poker, I did manage to acquire some germs that gave me a mean cough and cold that started around then. This curbed my appetite a little and I skipped most of the meals that day. I did sample some of the food at Red Sushi in the Golden Nugget. The salmon sashimi there was surprisingly fresh and delicate - not the best I've ever had but pretty good - mildly overpriced.

The following day I had to check out of the Golden Nugget and into New York New York for my final 2 day comp. Breakfast was a private affair catered by Red Sushi as part of a Blackjack tournament I had signed up for at the last minute (didn't win the tournament but that was where I won my $5,000 Breitling Transocean watch). Skipped lunch (cold getting worse), but persuaded myself to burn some more comp dollars at the NYNY steakhouse Gallaghers. I'd eaten there previously and it's no great shakes but I particularly liked the salad with palm hearts. Well, they have now figured a way to mess up that salad. Had one of their famous dry aged steaks, not quite sure why they felt it necessary to cook it without any detectable seasoning but maybe that was due to my cold. As far as steak value goes - Charlie Palmers beats Gallaghers by a mile.

Later that night, despite having consumed way too much at Gallaghers I made it over to Raku for my first ever visit there. It was definitely worth the trip. Started with some draft Sapporo and ordered a daily special of maguro sashimi, a dish of uni with salmon eggs and a poached egg, and a half order of their tofu. The sashimi was good but maybe a little pricy at $18. The uni (the Japanese always say you pair eggs with eggs) with ikura and poached egg was fabulous. (If you can handle uni, you should not be put off by the poached egg still being extremely liquid). The delicate flavors and texturesbounced off each other beautifully. The half order of tofu came with instructions on how to eat it (first by itself, then with soy sauce, was wasabi, or bonito flakes.) and this is an excellent dish (for about $4). The tofu is like a white canvas and you get to experiment with the different flavors you blend with it. Encouraged by this experience, I decided to order a flight of unfiltered saki (about $12) and kobe beef liver and also pigs ears from the hibachi. The beef liver was spectacular - four substantial grilled cubes that melted in my mouth. (My basic rule is I'll eat any liver except puffer fish and polar bear - and you can even eat a little polar bear before it poisons you.) $4 for a delightful kobe beef liver treat. The $2.50 pig's ear was sliced up and deep fried. Slightly chewy with a delicate bacony flavor. I was seated right in front of the sushi chef and I commented that he was a very skillful knife man - practically the Musashi Miyamoto of knife handling. Definitely the standout meal of my trip.

On the penultimate day, I was still feeling bad and not gustatorially adventurous. I did get some fries with duck poutine from Gordon Ramsay Bar and Grill at Caesar's Palace. I got them with comp dollars and got them to go as I was in yet another poker tournament at Caesar's. Had to wait half an hour for them - which ought to be good as they are making them fresh. And maybe they were fresh or maybe they were left too long waiting to be picked up, because 5 minutes later at the poker table it was a rather congealed mess - nice flavor but . . .
Finished the day at the Chinese place in NYNY. Burned comp dollars on their sashimi sample plate (YAWN) and some spicy noodles (REYAWN).

Next day was time to leave and I was still sick as a dog, Not only that, in part due to being ill, I'd missed out on revisiting Lotus, Milos and checking out the Wicked Spoon. As I drove East on Tropicana looking for a drugstore and some gas, I spied a Vietnamese place Thanh Huong a couple of miles past the airport. Feeling weak, I figured a bowl of pho would replenish fluids and act medicinally like chicken soup. Menus were brightly illustrated, and the pho was acceptable definitely not outstanding.

On my trip out to Las Vegas I had a chile relleno combo plate with christmas saucein Las Vegas New Mexico. Pretty good. The place had a sign saying Mexican Restaurant and is practically the first eatery you come to on the main drag after you exit the freeway.

Returning from Las Vegas, I grabbed a bite to eat at the Roadkill Inn in Seligman Arizona. Friendly people, halfway decent chili cheese fries. On the morning of my final road day I made it to Mary & Tito's in Albuquerque NM. Had huevos rancheros with a side order of chili relleno all drenched in spectacularly good red sauce - definitely worth a visit.

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  1. Thanks for the great report. The last two times I got sick in LV, I downed some pho. You managed well even if your style was cramped a tad.

    It isn't clear if you were at Aria or the Rio when you were looking for KJ's. If it wasn't the Rio, you pulled another Palace Station/Gold Coast mistake. As far as I know, KJ's is still going strong at the Rio.

    Did you get the full menu at Chada or just the special lunch menu? I've never been there for lunch, but it was my impression that you could order anything off of the main dinner menu.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Dave Feldman

      Yes I was at the Rio looking for KJ - where the heck is it?
      Ordered the lunch menu AND ordered a dish off the regular menu at Chada.

      1. re: kagemusha49

        Very close to the western entrance to the casino.

        1. re: kagemusha49

          It's directly across from the Carnival World Buffet.

          1. re: ah6tyfour

            Which is, itself, the size of Montana. :-)

            1. re: Dave Feldman

              Have you eaten at that buffet, Dave? I just looked it up and it sounds great but I'm confused. Is it all one price or is there a per item charge? Their webpage says entrée prices range from $25-40.

              1. re: mucho gordo

                Buffets in Las Vegas are always one flat price for all you can eat. I've eaten at their buffet. As a Las Vegas local I receive half off of their buffet. At half price I don't think the buffet is worth the money.

                1. re: Eric

                  Agreed. The Carnival World Buffet used to be decent, but has gotten worse and worse over the years. It's a huge quantity of options, but nothing stands out as being tasty. It's essentially a Hometown Buffet on steroids.

                  I also get the 50% off discount and it is still too expensive. Perhaps if I wanted a cheap breakfast, the $7 it'd cost to go to the buffet might be worth it.

                  1. re: ah6tyfour

                    I'd rather spend the $7 for a breakfast buffet at the Orleans.

                  2. re: Eric

                    I'm also local but you're saying, even with the discount, it isn't worth it and the buffet at the Orleans is better?

                      1. re: Eric

                        Thanks, Eric. That's good to know. My son also said the Orleans buffet is good but I don't always trust his taste.

                  3. re: mucho gordo

                    I haven't eaten at a Rio buffet in more than ten years, and that was the (awful) seafood buffet. I had heard some reports that the Carnival buffet had improved a bit in the last two years, but don't know if it's true, and the comments from the locals here indicate they don't agree. I was never a fan of the Carnival buffet; it is huge, though, possibly the biggest in LV.

                    1. re: Dave Feldman

                      Carnival World has been about the same for a few years now. It's a very stagnant place that could really use some re-imagining and a grand re-opening.

                      I've had dinner a month or so ago and had lunch last week. Both completely forgettable. There are exactly TWO excellent item offered that I look forward to eating again the next time I end up there. The menudo is cooked fresh daily, has tons of tripe, and is incredibly flavored. There is also this chocolate hazelnut mousse cake with a crispy bottom crust that is like a Ferrero Rocher in cake form. I'd pay the 50% off breakfast price just to get a bowl of that menudo and a slice of that cake.

                      The rest of the food is lacking in flavor or any finesse. The Asian food, including the noodle soup bar, is barely passable. Everything is really bland in that section for some reason. The whole section with corn dogs, country fried steak, meat wrapped inside fish, etc is a section you just walk by without any desire to take anything. The Mexican section is a throwaway (a few build-your-own taco ingredients), except for that menudo. The carving station meats are usually overdone (it's very rare to get a prime rib served anything less than medium well to well). The sushi is really mushy, the miso soup comes out of a self-serve machine (and is, therefore, from powder and very salty). Two stations of fried stuff that's again a throwaway and often over-fried. A few pasta dishes are offered and they're again strangely tasteless. And a large pizza section is offered, but it's very generic and the crust is often soaked in grease. Dinner adds in crab, but it's a really bad quality crab that has no bite to it. It's really mushy and almost impossible to get out of the shell in one piece.

                      For the 50% off price, it's the most affordable place to have a real dessert station with items made in-house instead of the same premade Sysco stuff the Stations Casinos, Orleans, South Point, etc use. But even in this section, they have been cutting costs. They removed the dark chocolate berry cups and a few other desserts that were staples and replaced them with a poorly made cheesecake and a flan which is consistently overcooked/curdled. Every time I see it, I wonder why it was put out.

                      I really feel bad when I see big families of tourists eating at the buffet. They're most likely paying the full price of $30 per person. But they're on vacation and they seem happy, so I guess that's all that matters. I often forget not everyone has a Chowhound kind of palate.

          2. Solid report..

            Glad you found the secret pizza place..good pizza.
            Love hearing about your poker tourneys..winning a Breitling Transocean watch is sweet..hopefully, you got the leather strap version.

            Friends love Kinh Do for pho on Spring Mountain..have to let them know about your move on eating pho to replenish while your sick.

            I've been to Red at Golden Nugget but I thought it was a noodle house..
            Have you been to the poker tourneys at Binion's?

            Aria is a great hotel and though I have not stayed there, we love the vibe and have been a winner chicken dinner there..
            Love chandelier bar for drinks too.