Wednesday, July 21, 2010

finding las vegas

let's spare the "what happens in vegas, stays in vegas" what not and go straight to "what happened in vegas was amazing and i wish i stayed in vegas longer."

first things first, my partner in crime, jessica brager who i am so thankful that i got to share this trip with - especially because we were always on the same page, which made the "finding" so much better. she's the friend that truly wants the best for you, the friend that understands that leaving your id at the hotel room could actually happen to anyone, the friend that hopes dessert will follow every meal and the friend that you can laugh and dance with until the early hours of the morning with a clutch in hand and all the hair accessories possibe on -while making plans to probably eat again. and then there's jordan spitz, who provided for the ultimate vegas experience and will forever be indebted in our hearts. jordan is the man.

upon arriving to the las vegas airport, brager and i were greeted by a man holding a very formal sign with her last name. i was so excited that such a finely dressed man was waiting for us with an actual sign that i went straight for my camera from my purse and within five seconds my face was planted on the floor. i had managed to trip over some woman's luggage and then in the feet of brian, our chauffeur. poor jess had to admit that i was with her but brian was so sweet about the fall even though deep down inside he was thinking "she won't last an hour in this city." minutes later, after the dessert heat settled in, we reached our next destination - the phantom. now most vehicles can't be considered "destinations" but when it's a rolls royce, it is. we were swooning with so much joy that truly the trip could have ended there and we'd be completely fine. brian told us stories about wild nights with tourists and something about drawing the line at animals - all while frank sinatra played in the background. we knew already that this was going to be one the best weekends ever.

las vegas is well known for their magnificent array of hotels and we pretty much stayed at one of the best, the encore. hotel giant steve wynn created his second hotel directly across of his first, the wynn, and appropriately named it 'encore.' both hotels are fanstasy worlds that keep presenting more and more etheral wonders. every corner, every ceiling, every chair - everything was so playful yet beautiful and serene. i couldn't actually believe that there was more to see just outside of his hotels. nicely done, steve.

after checking in, we went straight up to floor 54 and voila - our gracious room which was the perfect size and had a ridiculous view. soon, another finely dressed man was knocking on the door and walked in with a bucket of champagne and a chocolate bowl filled with chocolate covered strawberries. again - trip could have ended there and we would have been just as fine. after jumping on our beds and screaming "vegas" way too many times, we started to get ready for dinner at lavo and our first night out. i had my denim/zipper h&m dress on and brager was wearing the most heavenly pair of python jeffrey campbells. we walked around the hotel and gazed at the more sights to see - people dressed to the nines gambling, dining in the many restaurants, shopping at chanel and then we jumped into the cab to the palazzo hotel and met up with jordan.

lavo has become a destination hotspot for both foodgoers and clubgoers. we were lucky enough to check out the dining scene first. the atmosphere is very warm with great music and a packed house of hungry diners. waiters were dressed in suspenders and very easy on the eyes. we both ordered their specialty cocktails - i got the 'uva bianco' which was smirnoff white grape, mixed with green grapes and st. germain and jess got the 'lavolini' with prosecco, passion fruit and st. germain. both were very strong and stayed with us throughout the entire dinner. jordan ordered some heavy hitters such as their meatballs made out of fresh ground a-5 kobe meat and served with freshly whipped ricotta. it was the perfect size to split with the three of us and each ingredient complimented the other so perfectly that we were all spooning the plate it was served in until the waiter had to take it away from us. next was the eggplant parmagiano with layers of roasted eggplant sitting over a bed of spicy marinara and smothered with a great deal of mozzarella. they are really on to something with their marinara sauce. lastly we had their chicken parmagiano that was the size of an actual small baby. it was so tremendous that we just kept cutting small pieces until we had reached the marinara and mozzarella tab our bodies could handle. everything was very hearty and there was no need for late night eating tonight.

after checking out their fabulous bathroom that showered water out of an actual showerhead to wash your hands (we were easily amazed), we went to tao nightclub at the venetian hotel. once we got in -insert "left my id at hotel room, trek back to retrieve and 45 mins later trip", we were escorted into a very small room and slightly disappointed because we had heard so many great things about the club and there we were, small bar and a few tables with peculiar people around us. i suggested to jess that there might be more to the club if we walk downwards from the hallway we came in from and voila - a plethora of party animals in a tremendously large sized room. it was completely extravagant. made going out in miami look like childs play. hours later we were singing and stumbling through the hotel lobbies and made it back to the encore safely. first night was a complete success.

waking up the next morning was a little tough but there were vegas poolsides to visit. we first stopped by society cafe at the encore for breakfast and truly enjoyed the alice and wonderland feel of the restaurant with the large striped curtains draped all around, pink couches and green accents all around. we decided to split the irish steel oatmeal and egg white frittata. portions were perfect for our progressive appetites and we just dug in. the oatmeal came with golden raisins and an unforgettable banana compote (compote is usually a sweet cooked preparation of fruits with sugar and maple syrup.) it provided many textures and definitely more life to the oatmeal. the frittata was made with asparagus, spinach, oven roasted tomato, crimini mushroom and goat cheese. easy on the eyes and very easy on the stomach. the overall ambiance of the cafe was whimsical but still light enough for you to enjoy your meal.

next stop, pool at the wynn hotel. it was as if you were immersed in the most beautiful summer day in europe. everyone laying out surrounded by manicured gardens and the weather was perfect - just a little under 80. bloody mary in hand, we spent the next few hours making new friends and enjoying the bliss of vegas during the day. people watching was pretty decent - do note that the wynn pool does allow 'european style bathing' and people were participating.

walking back from the wynn hotel to the encore, guests are seduced by some of the best shopping in town with stores like chanel and hermes. brager went into a little boutique and bought a ring that emulated the wynn - green and gold with royal accents. i was jealous. we continued our walk back, window shopped and managed to 'ooh' and 'aah' over everything. what i am about to tell you next is something that i still cannot believe we managed to squeeze in. our next stop was the gym. yes - we worked out while we were in vegas. i remember while packing for the trip and putting my sneakers in the bag and thinking "that is so not going to happen while we are there." but time goes so slowly in the city and we had all the energy in the world, so we figured why not. the gym is right next to the encore's spa, which was magnificent in decor and super luxurious. everything was so grand yet so warm and welcoming. after breaking a sweat or two, it was time to get ready for dinner and night number two! dinner was at wazuzu at the encore. the cuisine is described as "pan-asian" with influences from china, japan, singapore and most definitely india. a lot of the food was spicy, which i loved. jordan had the pleasure of ordering some of his favorite items on the menu and jess and i were so ready after hearing him place the order to the waitress. they first brought out the chef's special sashimi platter, which ended up being one of the best things we tried. sliced just right and topped with the right amount of spices, every bite made you just want more. after munching on edamame, they brought out shrimp dumplings, a spider roll and a spicy tuna roll. all lived up to their name, but the star of dinner was the wazuzu roll. listed under their special sushi menu, the roll includes snow crab, avacado and cucumber inside out and is topped with a wonderful eel filet drizzled with a sweet eel sauce. the mix of the crab, eel and sauce provided great textures and the flavor was spot on. we also tried jordans favorite dish at the restaurant, which was their famous 'wazuzu pineapple fried rice.' it was acutally the only thing he talked about, with the occasion side banter about work and play he would jump right back into how much he loved their pineapple fried rice. the dish was infused in a thai style jasmine rice with roast duck, shrimp and pineapple. i must admit, i was craving more flavor out of it but all in all, it was a unique offering and i do love anything duck. it's a great place to go with a few friends to try their different selections and with the swarovski crystal dragon on the rich red wall, you'll have plenty to talk about.

dinner ended relatively early so jessica and i had the chance to walk the strip before diving into round two of the vegas nightlife. i must admit, i've heard that vegas summers are brutal and we did face this during our time there but for some odd reason, we were struck by more than forty mile winds that evening. holding down our dresses while our hair continiously smacked us across the face and a few light rain showers later, we were unable to experience the strip as planned. although in the short twenty minutes we did make it out there, i got to see a lot of what i termed the "commonfolk" of vegas. you know, one hand they have an enormously large drink and the other, shopping bags from tourist shops filled with "i love vegas" shirts. it was safe to say the encore had deeply spoiled me and i was ready to return to my fantasy land. after shaking off the wind, we threw on our heels and coordinated clutches for a night that can only be described as 'excessive.' jordan is a vip host for a few of the top clubs and he introduced us to the other side of lavo. with a more than thirty people in our group, we were brought up a small set of stairs that led to a walkway of water basins imported from turkey. everything about this place screamed opulence. crowds and crowds of people had already started their night strong and we walked into the noise with arms wide open and straight to our table adjacent to the dj. surrounded by morrocan interior, great music and the largest champagne bottle ever seen to mankind, we stayed standing on the leather couches until our heels did not permit any more. it's an enthralling experience to be surrounded by pretty much everyone who is on vacation and are partying like money isn't an option - which for some i'm sure isn't, and others definitely is but will hit them hard on their flight back along with the inevitable hangover of all hangovers. we high fived each other, high fived strangers and triedt to high five shane west, but failed in our few attempts. once we got back to the encore, the oxygen pumped into the casino had lured us to the blackjack tables where we did not play but merely bothered others who were. some had us chanting their lucky number, others preferred us not to speak and the topper was jessica's beautiful navy heel snapping off from what can only be a cause of lavo's non-stop dancing experience. i snapped a picture of the broken heel because it was amazing how it happened during the only time she wasn't moving and then got scolded by security for taking a picture - which was our sign to go to bed.

day number three was bittersweet. firstly, it was gloomy outside and eliminated the pool day we had planned and secondly, it meant that the trip was about to come to and end. but we carpe diemed it up and decided to make up for our lame strip experience the night before. since we didn't really wake up during the a.m. of hours, our stomachs had to settle with undecided lunch plans. brager and a well-trusted chef friend of mine had suggested the burger bar at the mandalay bay and in general, the restaurant boasts to be the ultimate burger experience and with chef hubert keller behind the establishment, i was sold. the wait was a little less than an hour, which we completely defeated because as soon as we were seated, the bar opened with two seats and we bounced straight to where we felt more comfortable. the bartender, patrick, embodied what i truly loved about vegas - industry people who value the tourism aspect of their job and go beyond the typical service by befriending you and making your overall experience warm and memorable. he was cheery, suggested his favorites from the menu and kept coming back to make sure we liked what he liked.

the concept behind the bar is that you can either choose from their favorites, such as the black jack burger made with black angus beef, monterey jack cheese, tapenade, tomato and lettuce on a ciabatta bun served with skinny fries.clearly we were going to make our own burger and unleash the creative foodies in us. out of the several options infront of us, our burger (that we split because we planned on trying one of their dessert burgers) went a little something like this: buffalo meat - truly the best kind, with a lighter, sweeter flavor than regular beef- whole wheat bun, peppered jack cheese, caramelized onion and behold... jalapeno bacon a.k.a my ultimate demise/awakening to bacon everyday, all day. with sweet potato fries on the side, our burger reached a hefty twenty-seven dollars but there was no stopping us. before our beautiful buffalo joy came out, we tried their buttermilk zucchini fries which patrick warned us was like mozzarella sticks and nonetheless, brager managed to peel away the fried goodness and scraped every last zucchini inside. i was ashamed to be sitting next to her and patrick nodded his head in dismay but everything was made up for once burger came out. the colors were hearty and the meat was screaming to be eaten so we sliced it in half and wasted no time. back to the jalapeno bacon of pure love - the crispiness and subtle spice was near perfect with the carmelized onions and the sweet buffalo with the peppered jack. bacon in a burger is purely essential. it truly was the ultimate burger and we were ready for burger number two - the creamy cheese cake burger, recommended highly by our guy patrick. two warm donuts stuffed with cheesecake and topped with caramalized pineapples. it's safe to say that this was also the ultimate burger. everything here reaches some sort of ultimate. the menu is deliberate and carefully thought out, giving everyone something to love - and yes, that goes to the veggielovers who like to throw down a burger once in a while too.

after the mandalay bay, we hipped and hopped to a few of the well known hotels on the strip such as the bellagio, caesars palace, mgm grand, the luxor hotel and even got to make a quick stop at the m&m's store which was four stories of amazing, colorful treats. i bought my parents matching mugs that read "i love chocolate" in every language across the world and jess bought her new obsession snack, chocolate covered pretzel m&m's. after grazing on the treats, we were more than parched and decided to visit the new city center. we didn't get to see all the amazing amenities that the destination offers, but after browsing by stores such as louis vuitton, cartier, carolina herrera and marni - it was safe to say that we were just going to settle with a drink at the nearest establishment and thank goodness we did!

all there was to see was a sign that said something about happy hour and all of a sudden we were at todd english pub - a public urban bar by the one and only, todd english. bringing everything you love about a traditional tavern to those not looking for a traditional vegas eatery. think raw bar, meat carving stations, peanut shells on the floor and beer - lots and lots of beer. we bounced right to the bar and started to relish over the menu. please note that it was nearing seven p.m. and we had dinner plans in a few hours so as much as our hearts desired to try the 'dirty chips' - kettle chips with bacon bits, blue cheese dressing, scallions and fried chicken livers, the 'grichebactom' - described as the workman's grilled cheese sandwich with creamy brie cheese, double smoked bacon and skinny fries or make our own sandwich such as their lamb top round with horseradish sour cream in a grilled pita... yum... we had to pass on eating. our main purpose was to enjoy a drink, and their drink menu is appropriately titled the "liquid program." i went for the classic dirty martini and jess ordered a glass of fruli strawberry beer, a white ale infused with about 30% strawberries and extremely fruity and delicious. although after the $14 charge, she questioned her choice as the 'cynic' she claims to be, but as the 'you only live once' person as i know her to be, she drank that beauty straight up. our time at the pub was spent well with a new friend, ironically named todd, who just happened to be a professional photographer on a work visit enjoying his favorite restaurant while staying at the aria. todd saw me take pictures with my super professional, canon powershot digital camera and commented that i had an eye for pictures. which got me very giddy because as often as i do take pictures, i like to jokingly boast that they come out great and coming from todd the photographer, i was happy. he also asked brager where she was twenty years ago after finding out all she needs in life is a good beer. he was truly a pleasure to talk to and added to our day of many discoveries.

dusk had hit the city and it was time for us to head back to the encore to get ready for the night but i was unhappy with my choice of outfit and made a quick stop at zara, found a great army colored dress with black and metal fringe accents on the shoulder and with bragers mustard, one shoulder dress on - we were both ready to rumble.

i do need to mention that while jess and i were galavanting the strip we were approached by a promoter asking us to check out some club that i have already forgotten its name but in conversation, our dinner plans came up (which was at the n9ne steakhouse at the palms) and he happened to know the manager and therefore kindly gave us his contact information. upon arrivng to the palms - we told the manager our names and were escorted to the bar that centered the entire restaurant and were greeted with a complimentary glass of champagne. so thank you to the random promoter and sorry we were unable to join you at the club! brager had actually been to the restaurant during her previous visits to las vegas and had assured me that i would undeniably love the place. the cream walls occasionally illuminated bright purples and oranges around every corner, while every seat was taken - many by large groups of men most likely celebrating a bachelor weekend or big birthday soiree. and there were jess and i, amongst this sea of men about to feast on a meal that will never be forgotten. before placing our order, we toasted eachother to a memorable weekend filled with lots of merriment and gratitude. after enjoying the champagne, we indulged in their bread basket filled with an assortment of wheat, white, cornmeal bread choices along with butter to splurge. as an appetizer, we chose the 'sashimi n9ne' which was a selection of big eye tuna, hamachi, salmon topped with shrimp, ponzu sauce, tobiko caviar and serrano chile. so utterly exquisite. we skipped the salads and went right to the mother of the meal - steak! per my great friends suggestion, we went with the 16oz new york sirloin, medium rare and served with grilled portobella mushrooms, roasted cipollini onions and in a twenty-five year aged balsamic. clearly, her parents raised her well. and on the side we spoiled ourselves a little more with potato gnocchi in a truffle cream. it was such a bountiful meal, filled with riches in every corner. the steak was cooked just as asked, not too medium and the perfect amount of rare and the combination of cipollini onions with mushrooms infused in the balsamic was mouth watering. after reaching our savory limits, we ordered another round of drinks and asked for the dessert menu. from all the ridiculously good options, we both agreed on the banana split sundae of holiness. okay, i added the holiness part but it was really a sensory overload - like most of the trip so far. imagine three scoops of ice-cream served on top of shortbread cookies with a split banana topped with caramel along with bits of toffee, straweberries and powdered sugar all around. there wasn't a chance this kid was going to survive after we dug into it. they treated us with great hospitality and to top it off, walked us to the elevators - skipping the hundreds of people waiting in line to go to the ghostbar. the sight of the city from the top of the palms was magical. we stayed for one good dance but had other places to be.

after the palms, we made it back to our hotel to finally check out the nightlife and went to the encore's popular xs. we met up with jordan and his friends at the insanely crowded club where people were dancing in the cabanas, inside on tables and even the pool. there was some great people watching taking place. they say "too much is never enough" at xs and this mentality is lived through and through. after xs, we checked out the new beach club at the encore which resembled xs but with less people. the pool at night is beautiful and a great place to sit down outdoors to enjoy great music and drinks with old and new friends. jordan made us aware that the night was just starting - which was a little scary for us since we had already been to quite a few places. a quick jump into a limousine and we were back to tao where we met more friends of jordans who from the looks of it, were just starting their night. after tao, jess and i weren't the greatest company and could have ended the night just then but everyone insisted that where we were going next was completely worth it. i wish my sore feet and bragers sore back could understand but we just couldn't move any further. but with another jump into a limousine we ended uo to a place called drai's. if our minds and bodies only knew what we were getting ourselves into! i will quote when they say "late-nighters invariably convene on the dance floor at subterranean drai's afterhours...and since the dj's keep it going til well past sunrise, you might just find yourself braving daylight early sunday morning." touche delta, touche. our spirits were back and we ended our last night the only way possible, with the sun shining and both army and mustard dresses still on. drai's will never leave our hearts. nothing else can be spoken of.

we intended on visitng a buffet of some sort for our final splurge and as soon as we arrived back to the hotel we changed into our sundresses, still dancing as if were at drai's but we slowly slopped into our beds. needless to say, we woke up five hours later - sundresses still on and no buffet in site. so the packing began and the sadness settled in. jordan met up with us to share one last meal, which was at the wynn's zoozacrackers - a self-service deli where we ordered matzoball soup, pastrami on rye sandwich, turkey wrap, loaded cheese fries and a chocolate pecan pie. this food was strictly ordered to recover from the night before, which i think was accomplished. we slowly walked back to the lobby of the encore and as nice as it was to be greeted again by the beautiful phantom, leaving the wonderous city of las vegas was dismal. as jordan waved us goodbye, we sulked knowing that the trip was ending and we were already reminiscing on the memories we made.

finding las vegas was the time of our lives. from galavanting the town, making new friends, sharing marvelous meals to laughing through every single moment. as much as i did share in my blog, only jess and i will be able to cherish all the treasures we were fortunate to unravel. my suggestion is to plan a trip to the city with people who can say "you only live once" before and after every decision and you will leave with not only finding the town, but maybe even some things about yourself.