Monday, March 09, 2015

Las Vegas Trip: Recap and Review

Jill and I, along with my parents and brother, all were in Las Vegas this weekend for a much-needed vacation. All of us love it -- which is amazing, because we're pretty different types of people. My dad and brother are into the traditional Vegas life (playing craps into the wee hours), while Jill and I (and my mom) aren't really gamblers at all. But for us there is great food and other fun activities, and we can keep ourselves amused with video poker without breaking the bank. Highlights:

* Gambling: As mentioned, I'm not a big gambler generally. Mostly I just play video poker, interspersed with some video blackjack. This trip, however, my brother discovered a video craps table and taught me how to play. I certainly see the appeal, and I even was able to fly solo for awhile (it looks more intimidating than it is). But even still, most of my time was spent doing video poker. And luckily for me, I had a bonanza Saturday (for me -- I don't bet large enough figures to actually have a true bonanza) which included hitting a straight flush. While I ended up giving all of the money back on Sunday, it was nice to play with house money for the majority of the trip.

* Boxing: This trip was not originally envisioned to be a "boxing" trip. But that ended up being somewhat of a theme. I found reasonably priced ring-side (fourth row) tickets for Friday Night Fights card at the MGM Marquee ballroom, so Jill, my father, and I all attended. It was a fun show (all but one of the fights ended in knockouts). There was also boxing on NBC Saturday -- putting all my wagers together on both evening's entertainment, I ended up $6 (hey, being up is being up). But in reality, my overall win/loss stat for this trip hinges entirely on a bet that remains pending. I put $60 on Mayweather by decision (technically, Mayweather and "will go" 11 1/2 rounds); a bet that will pay slightly over double if it hits. Getting 2:1 odds on Mayweather by decision? I'll take that action all day.

* Other sports: A few years ago, we were in Las Vegas for my brother's birthday. My gift was a bet on the Cowboys game, and we just hung out in the sports book watching the game with a rooting interest and chilling out. It was really nice. This year, Jill and I had some time to kill on Sunday, so we decided to do the same thing with the Maryland/Nebraska basketball game. I bet on Maryland to win (they were favored by 3), and Jill picked the "over" on points (123). It was a fun and exciting game that (in general and from the vantage of our bets) went to the wire. Final score: Maryland 64, Nebraska 61. My bet pushed, but with 125 points Jill collected on hers.

* Food: Since (despite what the last three entries indicate), I'm really not a huge gambler, the highlight of any Vegas trip for me is the food. This trip we mixed up some old favorites with some new entrants.
* Noodles (Bellagio): My favorite Thai dish is Pad See Ew (or Gway Teow -- as best I can tell there is no real difference between them). The best Pad See Ew I've had in a place I've lived is at Amazing Thailand in Minneapolis, though Asia Nine in DC is a close second. Frankly, Berkeley should be ashamed at how badly it is losing this category. But anyway, the best Pad See Ew I've had anywhere is at Noodles. Just spicy enough to be perfectly flavorable, and delicious in every bite. Jill, Jason and I had been before and we nominated it for our first restaurant Thursday night. It was a hit with the parents as well. And when Jill and I had one more dinner before we left Sunday night, we thought about trying someplace new -- then decided we'd rather just close the show at Noodles again. And it was delicious. Again. I will, however, agree with everyone who says it is overpriced. 9/10.

* Burgr (Planet Hollywood): Another repeat for Jill and I, new to Jason and the parental units. This is a high-class burger joint, and the burgers were exceptional. Dad and I also shared a pudding shake (half traditional chocolate milkshake, half caramel pudding), which was excellent (and impressed dad with the novelty). French fries were wonderful -- I brought the extras back to my hotel and tried in vain to keep nomming on them (unfortunately, I was too stuffed from all the other meals). The only thing that didn't match the memory was the spiced "devil dogs". Though impressive in length -- at least 1.5 feet -- they weren't sauced with quite the kick I remember. 8/10.

* Crush (MGM Grand): This was the first newbie for us, which Jill and I attended late after the boxing match. We weren't super-hungry, so we kept it light -- a caesar salad for her, a bowl of french onion soup for me, and a margherita flatbread for us to share. Of the three, the caesar was genuinely bad with an overwhelmingly mustard flavor. The french onion soup was genuinely excellent -- savory with a perfect cheesy crouton on top. And the flatbread was fine but unspectacular. It's hard to screw up a flatbread. The highlight might have actually been the blackberry cocktail Jill ordered, which even non-alcoholic I thought was wonderful. 6.5/10.

Trevi (Caesar's): Jason recommended this one (I don't think I had been, though I admit it looked somewhat familiar. I have spent a lot of time in the Forum shops). Jason raved about it, but I was a little underwhelmed. The mozzarella fritta had virtually no flavor (and nowhere near enough marinara sauce to make up for it). Their specialty was a "lasagna pizza" that they graciously made with ground beef instead of ground pork. It was good, but nothing eye-popping. This was still a good meal under any objective metric, but given what one can find in Vegas I can't say I came away impressed. 6.5/10.

Mastro's Ocean Club (CityCenter): We always try to do one nice steakhouse, and the Ocean Club was this year's pick. Mom and Dad had been to the version in Scottsdale, but it was entirely new on the rest of us. I ordered a bone-in filet (I always get a filet), which was excellent. My dad kept insisting that the mac-n-cheese here was the greatest dish ever invented, but I can't say I shared his enthusiasm. Other sides (and the "butter cake" dessert) were right on par with the filet though. But the true highlight was Jill's "Kansas City Strip". If there was one dish this entire trip that knocked my socks off, this was it. And the thing is, a New York Strip (I checked -- they're the same thing) is by far my least favorite cut. Yet this rendition just melted in your mouth like butter. It was absolutely unbelievable. Also, I have to compliment the ambiance of the restaurant, which had this very cool inside balcony thing going on. On price points -- well, you're going to be paying a bit to eat here. The party behind us (15 people) reportedly racked up a $3700 bill. 8.5/10.

Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill (Caesar's): Jill and I are big GR fans, and we had already been to Burgr and (on a previous trip) GR Steak. So we wanted to complete the Ramsay trifecta. While still quite enjoyable, Pub & Grill definitely ranks last of the three. For someone like me who doesn't eat pork or shellfish, the menu ended up being surprisingly limited (and even the pretzels we ordered as appetizers turned out to have bacon in them! They did take them off our bill). The ale onion soup was quite good, and the wings Jill got were delicious. But when you're up against Burgr and GR Steak, that's tough competition. Oh, and I think this is massively overpriced -- the pub burger, for example, is far more expensive than what you'd get at Burgr. What's the point of that? 7/10.

Bonus hearsay entry -- Tao (Venetian): This was the scheduled meal that got bumped for boxing. But my mom and brother still went, and they thought it was great. But they did say that it might not have been for Jill and I. It was absolutely for the bachelorette party that was knocking back sake bombs like there was no tomorrow.
* Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: This might get its own post, since it's not really Vegas-related except for the fact that Jill and I started watching it there. So all I'll say here is that (a) it rapidly shifted from "show we'll watch after we finish House of Cards" to "show that we'll finish binging before returning to House of Cards" and (b) we watched 9 episodes in 24 hours, including one in the back of the Planet Hollywood sports book waiting for the Maryland/Nebraska game to begin. It's really good.

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