Vegas full of variety
Sin City now fabulous for families, foodies
COMMENTING on my seemingly neverending enthusiasm and energy for travel, someone once said to me, “Ron, you can’t do it all.” After thinking for a second, I replied, “But I am doing it all.”
That is pretty much how I felt during a recent trip to Las Vegas, the prime purpose of which was to attend a trade show.
While I don’t mind spending a bit of time gambling, my greater satisfaction comes from taking in the shows, visiting the attractions and partaking in the dining experiences Las Vegas has to offer.
From morning to night over five days, I did so much I almost looked forward to coming home to recover.
Over the past few years, it seems like every major casino resort property in Las Vegas has created strong destination attractions, in addition to the acts playing in their large theatres.
Likewise, the casinos that were once known for the cheapest of buffets have transformed Las Vegas into a culinary capital.
The hotel property I stayed at was different from many of the casino resorts. Adjacent to the Mandalay Bay, the all-suite Delano is a new name in the city, reminiscent of the style of a South Beach Miami property of the same name. It has no casino on-site, nor does it offer the noisy bar and dance options found in most casino hotels. Gamblers relax, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is a short walk away.
The Franklin Bar was where I would wind up my days. Its sense of calm contrasted with the atmosphere found in most other places, and was a welcome change.
Shortly after checking into my suite on my first day, I wandered down to play with the fish, so to speak, in the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay.
Notwithstanding the range of these sharp-toothed predators and dozens of other types of sea creatures, what really struck me was how many families were there.
It would not be the last visit I would make on this trip where families comprised a significant percentage of the visitors.
A couple of days later, I went to Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat in the Mirage Hotel. This really is a family-oriented experience.
Forgetting the attraction closed at 6:30 p.m., I arrived shortly after 5 p.m., as most of the families were departing. Perhaps it might have been different had I arrived earlier, but in the circular enclosure that houses the lions, leopards and tigers, I found a place of absolute tranquility. This space, dedicated to the education and preservation of these wildlife species, is truly (as its name suggests) a secret garden most visitors to Las Vegas hardly realize is there.
Perhaps it was a perception driven by these two experiences, but I am certain I observed more families on vacation than on any other past visit to Sin City.
After leaving the garden and playing at a couple of tables while wandering around the Mirage casino, I came face to face with the sign ‘Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak.’
Meat was now on my mind, and nothing would deter me from going in.
For the carnivores in the crowd, this is the place to go. Meals are prepared over an open flame in poplar woodburning ovens and finished off over charcoal grills before being plated with the sides of your choice.
My first course didn’t require heat, but it did leave a warm feeling.
I love steak tartare, and this order came perfectly spiced and topped with a generous sprinkling of pickled beech mushrooms. For me, this was an interesting pairing, with the pickling taste blending ideally with the tartare spices.
I was committed to a meal of only meats until I heard people at the next table raving about the yellowtail tuna ceviche. Perhaps some meat from the sea would be fine as a starter, I thought.
This dish was not just good, it truly was spectacular. Lime vinaigrette, crème fraîche, with a light sprinkling of caviar. It was a unique and memorable taste treat.
For my main course, the prime ribeye cut was exactly what one would expect at a quality steak house: served rare as ordered, with a unique spicing blend that may have been enhanced by the wood and charcoal combination of cooking.
Notwithstanding the attractions I was taking in, I was also working hard at the trade show. So after a couple of long days of being on my feet, I stole part of a day to go for a ride.
My vehicle of choice was a golf cart at the TPC Las Vegas. While the afternoon involved some walking of a more enjoyable nature, the day underscored how popular the pursuit of the little white monster is at warmer destinations such as Las Vegas during our winters.
Finding a golf course to play on at the last minute was not easy, and by the time I arrived at the TPC, where I managed to get a reservation, it was fully booked for the day.
After the game, I went to New York, New York. In Las Vegas, you can visit dozens of cities and countries without having to travel more than a few kilometres.
I was hungry and thirsty, and the huge sign over a small entrance enticed me. The Shake Shack, an iconic Manhattan institution!
At first I going to get a burger, fries and a milkshake. But the idea of the Shroom Burger appealed to me. Two large portobello mushrooms that oozed cheese with every bite, complimented by my vanilla shake, not to mention a couple of other items I sampled, provided the perfect punctuation to the day of golf.
The next night, I was off to take in one of the many Cirque de Soleil shows that are headquartered in Las Vegas hotels.
Built at a cost of US$165 million, the Ka stage is a technological marvel. It moves around, up and down and vertically or horizontally.
The show — the story of two twins searching for their destinies — has a slow start. But by the time the finale comes, as the performers jump and dive dangerously between two circular cages that rotate on a common axle high above the stage, the crowd rises to their feet.
At the final turn of the wheel, the acrobats are greeted with massive applause that comes with a mixture of relief for their safety and appreciation of the performance.
Perhaps my best memory of the week took place on my final night, with a dining experience that was almost without parallel.
The Bardot Brasserie, located on the quieter promenade level of the Aria hotel, is a relatively new restaurant, opened only a few months ago by celebrity chef and cookbook author Michael Mina.
I told my server I would like suggestions of favoured menu items I likely wouldn’t have at home. I could not have made a better introduction.
This was my last supper, and I went for it. I started with a salad I am determined to try at home with friends and family.
Called frisée aux lardons, it consists of a fresh, soft-poached egg, placed upon a frisée salad of warm bacon and vinaigrette, blend together into an entirely exquisite taste.
The wood-grilled duck a l’orange, made with blood oranges, was equally excellent, as were the puff pastry, hazelnut-wrapped escargot Bardot.
When the server encouraged me to try the chicken specialty for my main course, I was reluctant. We eat a lot of chicken at home, so why choose common household fowl while here in Las Vegas?
The blend of spices and tenderness of this presentation was, as the cliché goes, to die for.
I patronized a number of restaurants with various styles and budgets. It reinforced the fact most of the best restaurants in the city are now integral offerings of the major casino hotels.
It was a busy time, and I ended up getting office work done even after I returned to my suite at the close of each day. But I did it all. And I can’t wait to do it all again.
Challenging 3rd hole at the TPC Las Vegas
Manhattan’s Shake Shack in Las Vegas’s New York.
Wood fired charcoal impart a unique taste to a great steak.
Steak and sides at Tom Colicchio’s.
All-suite Delano hotel has no casino but is connected to Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.