Ve­gas full of va­ri­ety

Sin City now fab­u­lous for fam­i­lies, food­ies

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE - RON PRADINUK

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.

PHO­TOS BY RON PRADINUK /WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

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.

PHO­TOS BY RON PRADINUK / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

All-suite De­lano ho­tel has no casino but is con­nected to Mandalay Bay Re­sort and Casino.

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