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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