My husband, who is a member of IRTA (International Reciprocal Trade Association), likes to attend their annual conference, and I like to invite myself along. Since we have been going, we have been to Mexico, Pittsburgh PA and Jamaica, and this year it was in Las Vegas.
I first visited The Strip many, many years ago with a friend from New Zealand. We stayed all the way at one end, at the Sahara, which is now closed down and boarded up. Since then I have been back many times, usually with my husband, but also with my Mum, my girlfriends, and even my kids.
To be honest, I almost forget there is gambling in Las Vegas - I plan my trip for, and am most excited about the food and dining. In fact, Las Vegas is where my husband and I first developed the appetizer crawl, because there were so many amazing places we wanted to try, and not enough time to dine at them all. SushiSamba at the Palazzo and Mon Ami Gabi in Paris are two I like to frequent, although I didn't make to either one on this visit.
Almost every wonderful, renowned, fabulous chef and restaurant has gathered in the casinos and resorts in this desert city. Dining is at the cutting edge, ingredients, presentation and service are amazing.
Unlike the clothing, where it appears all sense of style and fashion disappear, the food is extremely chic and contemporary. I don't know if it is the hot, dry desert air, the constant pinging of the slot machines, or perhaps a belief that the shorter and tighter the dress and the lower the neckline, the better the luck at the Craps table! Fortunately the Las Vegas dining scene suffers from no such degradation and crude metamorphosis, but manages to maintain its integrity and elegance.
Although I have taken a plane ride over the Grand Canyon, seen several different shows, risen 50 stories above the strip in the Paris replica of the Eiffel Tower, and taken a road trip out to Death Valley - I have found the most incredible and impressive productions to be at the restaurants. Cirque de Soleil had nothing on Joel Robuchon and his amazing cuisine and exquisite service.
The other thing that always amazes me in Las Vegas is the fact that we are in the middle of the desert! Surrounded by green lawns, gorgeous gardens and multiple water features, it is easy to forget. I cannot help but think all it must take to support so many visitors, with all the showers, flushing of toilets, and washing of dishes.
One evening after dinner was served at the conference, a Trivia contest ensued. I was surprised to learn that during the 1950's, mushroom clouds could be seen, and tremors felt in Las Vegas, from Atomic testing in the area. One of the questions resulted in samples of this Atomic Cocktail, shaken and served.
To be honest, I found this mixture as noxious as the atomic bomb, and almost as powerful. I thought maybe the bartender in Las Vegas had done something wrong, that perhaps cheap liquor was making it taste awful, but it was just as dreadful when I made it at home!
1 ounce vodka
1 ounce brandy or cognac
splash of sherry
champagne or sparkling apple cider to top
In a shaker filled with ice, mix the vodka, brandy and sherry. Shake don't stir.
Drain into a cocktail glass, top with champagne and garnish with orange peel.
Following the conventions welcome reception and cocktail hour, my husband and I were excited to have the Bouchon experience. We sat outside in the pleasant night air, by the fountain - it was all very romantic. The service was wonderful, and I enjoyed my appetizer and salad, but the most memorable and delicious part of the meal was the sweet pepper stew served with my husbands' lamb dish.
TODD ENGLISH'S OLIVES - THE BELLAGIO
Although meals were included in the conference, I made sure to seek out different feasting opportunities.
I was out shopping by myself our first day there, wearing my sensible shoes - which is not like me - when I decided it was time for lunch. I had made it as far as the Bellagio, and was intrigued to try Todd English's Olives restaurant. I popped into the bathroom across from the restaurant, changed into the new pair of heels I had just purchased and was ready for another extravagant dining experience. I ordered a lovely glass of rose, and settled in my seat by the window - there was no outside dining that afternoon due to a private event!
The waiter brought olives, two types of tapenade and a selectioon of breads for me to enjoy - a thoughtful and fun nod to their Mediterranean theme.
I tried the grilled squid and octopus on a bed of garbanzo beans. I found the seafood to be chewy, and disappointing, especially after having it melt in my mouth on a recent trip to Portugal.
SEA - BALLYS
|The delicious Spring Rolls from Sea|
The server was attentive and pleasantly delivered my glass of house white wine, and my friends Pomegranate Mojito.
After trying the Sugar Cane Shrimp and Coconut Shrimp Spring Rolls - one appetizer each from the Thai and Vietnamese menus they have, and enjoying our drinks in serene surroundings, it was time to continue our journey down the strip - in unpracticle wedges this time.
We ascended the Eiffel tower at Paris, all 50 stories, in a glass walled elevator. It was a little heart stopping, but once there the view was phenomenal.
|The Fountains at the Bellagio, viewed from the top of the "Eiffel Tower" in Las vegas|
|The view looking South on Las Vegas Boulevard from the top of the Paris "Eiffel Tower"|
THE PUBLIC HOUSE and CARNEVINO - THE VENETIAN
|The "Up To No Good" cocktail from Public House - spicy and beautiful with the basil leaf|
|The bar menu from Carnevino - I was attracted by the Amaro Nonino in the La Sera Dolce|
I had a cockail called "Up To No Good" at the public house gastropub - a bourbon, campari mix with a jalapeno muddle, that was spicily wonderful.
The following evening, I ordered a cocktail with a liquor I was not familiar with, Amaro - one from a group of liqueurs that can exhibit citrus, herbal or woodsy characteristics. The bartender, after patiently explaining this unfamiliar spirit to me, offered to make me a version of the cocktail he prefers and drinks at home - a fun experience.
Both places had divine appetizers I would have loved to have tried, but we were already too full.