Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Celebratory Weekend in Las Vegas

This past weekend was the 19th anniversary of when Alan and I met and immediately started dating. It's crazy to think that we've been together that long when sometimes it feels like just yesterday we were young kids out of college. We really became adults together and every major life experience we've had (with the exception of a few) have been together. I can't imagine my life without him.

Last year we spent a handful of days in New Orleans with our friends Tom & Sarah. This year we considered a handful of different options but in the end settled on going to Las Vegas since at first glance it was a short, cheap trip that would allow us to see some good shows and eat some good food. In the past I've been on record as saying that I don't much like Vegas but we had a really good time a couple of summers ago when we did an overnight trip there with my sister and her husband so I thought we'd give it a shot.

The rest of this post is going to nothing but honest. I don't want to sound like I'm ungrateful for the experience, because I'm not, but I want to lay it out there as honestly as possible so you all know exactly how I feel about Las Vegas having gone this last time.

We booked a relatively cheap package on Expedia that quickly became a couple hundred dollars more than what was shown. I'd never flown Spirit Airlines so I didn't know that everything - including your seat and your baggage is a la carte. That basically means that you pay a base price (what was quoted to us on Expedia), and then you have to buy your seats and pay for your luggage, even carry on. We had really great seats on the flight out that cost $17 each, plus $36 for one carry on bag. On the way back we sat in the exit row and those seats were $13 each. I'm not bemoaning Spirit's business model, I just wish that Expedia would have advertised that there would be additional airline fees to be paid. I don't know that it would have made a huge difference in where and what I booked, but I just like having all the details up front.

We stayed at Encore, and it's a beautiful hotel. From the moment you arrive, you're struck by just how much focus and energy went into the design and style of the entire place. We paid for an upgraded room that gave us a view of the Strip and I'm really glad we did because both the sunrise and night views were stunning. Unfortunately, when we checked in we found out that the pool was out of commission but that we were able to use the pool at Wynn, located next door. Now, that sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Next door is a relative term in Vegas. To get from our room to the pool we'd have to walk through the Encore casino, through the esplanade shopping arcade, through the Wynn casino, past the Wynn restaurants, and then down to the pool. It's no quick jaunt. I was surprised that the hotel was still charging a $29/day resort fee when a major feature of the resort was unusable.

If you're interested in staying at The Encore, you will not be mad with the rooms. They are beautiful. We had a 745 square foot suite that was just really stylish and comfortable and one of the nicest rooms we've ever stayed in quite truthfully. I loved coming back to the room at night. The casino is very small but set up really nicely. Their filter system does an excellent job of getting rid of too much of the smoke stench from cigarettes and cigars. Some casinos can feel really oppressive in that regard, but not this one. The shopping on the esplanade is crazy. I saw the most beautiful Oscar de la Renta dress that I coveted every time we walked past. Other stores included Hermes, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Chloe, Dior, Rolex, and Louis Vuitton to name a few. For all of the times we walked between Encore and Wynn we never saw anyone shopping there. I can't imagine many people come to Vegas and decide, spur of the moment, to buy a $4500 dress or a $10,000 watch. Or maybe they do. I mean, these stores are still open, right?

That's one of the things I don't understand about Vegas. Everything is so lush, so opulent, so over the top. We are not cash strapped, but I would never, in a million years, think to drop the kind of money these stores require on the spur of the moment basis. Heck, I bought three wedding dresses and combined they weren't as expensive as one Oscar de la Renta dress! And it's not just the shopping. Everything we saw, and everything we did, was very expensive. We're not huge gamblers by any means (in fact, I seem to be really bad at it) and over the course of our three days we probably lost about $120 at the slots - twenty here, twenty there, five here, five there ... it all adds up.

And if you're staying at one of the luxury hotels, there really isn't anywhere cheap to eat. We got two drinks our first night there and it was  $36 + tip. Yes the drinks were good, but damn! I won't tell you how much we spent on shows and dinner because it's obscene and I started to feel really sick about it once I realized how much money we were spending. I can't tell you how many times I said, "we could go to Hawaii for what we just spent!" And really, the cost of everything greatly impacted my enjoyment of what we were doing. Our cheapest meals were the dinner buffet at The Bellagio and our breakfast buffet at Wynn.

On Saturday night we did the buffet at The Bellagio and it was good - exactly what we wanted (i.e., crab legs). We ate there because afterward we were seeing "O" at the hotel. For my 28th birthday we spent the weekend in Vegas and we saw Zumanity, another Cirque de Solieil show. It was good, but I didn't understand all the fuss. Afterward, everyone told us we were stupid for having not seen "O." This time we decided to do it right and go with the most grand and extravagant of the Cirque shows and I am so glad we did. It was simply breathtaking. I mean that literally. So many times I was gasping for breath and just on the edge of my seat with some of the acrobatics. At one point, much to his chagrin, Alan actually squealed out loud. IT WAS AMAZING. I don't think it's crazy to say that it was death defying either. So many times I was like, "there's no way." The thing about O that I think might be missing from other shows is the fact that the aquatic nature of the show makes it possible for the performers to do stunts that they wouldn't otherwise be able to land. The dives and jumps and free falls were so exhilarating, and I just don't see how anyone could do that without the water to catch the fall.

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On Sunday night we had reservations for B&B Ristorante, a Mario Batali restaurant at The Venetian. One of Alan's co-workers recommended the pasta tasting menu so we decided to give it a try. We arrived at 5 p.m. for dinner because we had a show to see at Caesar's at 8 p.m. We figured three hours was plenty of time to eat our food in a leisurely manner and then get over to the other hotel. It was really disconcerting because for the first hour of our meal we had the (dark) restaurant entirely to ourselves. We were the only guests and it was both creepy and kind of hilarious. Alan remarked that he felt like a mob boss.


The meal was ... okay. I feel terrible saying that given that for a lot of people this would be the meal of a lifetime, but we are extraordinarily lucky to live in a part of the world where good food is a really important part of people's lives, and it takes a lot to wow us these days. For the cost of the meal + wine pairing, I'm actually disappointed that we did it. One of the things that Alan always says is that there is no better food for the cost than a burrito. Alan makes homemade pasta a lot (well, less now that we are a low gluten household due to my GERD issues), so fresh, homemade pasta is good, but not something that is mind blowing for us. And the sauces? Well, they were interesting. They weren't things that I would make at home because some of the flavor profiles weren't to our liking, but they weren't necessarily things that we couldn't make at home if we wanted to. In fact, I own a couple of Mario Batali cookbooks and we've made better food from that at home than some of the things we tasted in the restaurant. It makes me mad, actually. Yes, I know it's Vegas, and yes I know this is a celebrity chef restaurant, but there is no excuse to serve dry beef short ribs as part of your menu. I make Italian style short ribs all the damn time - using a Batali recipe, nonetheless - and they are NEVER dry. Of all of the courses we had, there were only two that stick out as being really quite good, and one of them I'd already eaten at Babbo in NYC. The service was really good for the majority of the meal - I really liked our waitress, especially compared to the waiter for the couple who ended up sitting behind us. They had a 25 minute conversation about everything under the sun and he sounded so pompous and arrogant, and the worst type of sycophant to Batali and his business partner. Unfortunately, when it came time for dessert things seemed to fall apart. Our waitress said our dessert would be out shortly, and then 20 minutes went by and nothing. No update, no food. I left to use the restroom and when I came back there was a giant bowl of sorbet in front of each of us. It was good sorbet, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't the advertised chocolate dish. Alan told me that the soufflé had fallen and that they needed to remake it. At this point we were running low on time to get over to Caesar's and I was so full that I didn't even really want to eat the chocolate (I'm not a huge chocoholic). In the end, the dessert finally came and it was good, but I'm not sure it was worth waiting an extra 30 minutes for, especially as it meant we had to speed walk over to Caesar's and made it just in time for our next show.

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We booked our seats at Absinthe based on reviews on TripAdvisor. We knew going in that it was a comedy, cabaret, acrobatic type show and that it wasn't for prudes or those who are taken aback by foul language. Neither of us are by any stretch of the imagination, so we booked with high hopes. First of all, our seats were excellent. I wouldn't want to be in the front row because that really opens you up to the hosts's ridicule and special insight. That said, we weren't entirely safe where we sat because toward the end, the host used us as the inspiration for a rather crude bit about married couples. I am certain I turned 1000 shades of red. Let me say straight away that at first I laughed a lot. The jokes were crude, and they were vulgar but they were funny. Then they just became monotonous and stereotypical and tried way too hard to shock with things that weren't all that funny after a bit. There were gay jokes, jokes about blacks, whites, asians, married people, Jews, and just about everything you can think of ... but none of it wasn't anything that you haven't heard before. I didn't find the gay, black, or asian jokes all that funny at all. My thought is, if you're going to offend, at least be good at it, otherwise, why bother? The real highlight of the show was the acrobatics. Unlike O where you were far from the stage, at Absinthe because it's done in a tent and seats are in the round, you're right up where all the action is. At one point, if the German roller skaters had messed up, someone in the audience could have found themselves getting a bashed in skull. Some of the stuff they did was also gasp worthy, and really made the show worth the money. I have a hard time figuring out whether I would recommend this how or not. The acrobatics are definitely worth it. The comedy and cabaret wasn't.

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Our last day in Vegas was a bit of a downer. We had stupidly taken the 10 p.m. flight out to give us plenty of time to have a fancy dinner for our actual dativersary. We got up, had breakfast at the buffet, packed our bags, and then spent a couple of hours by the pool at the Wynn reading. We had nothing but time to kill, and lots of it since our reservation for L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon wasn't until 5:45 p.m. We went over to MGM Grand around 4 p.m. and walked around a bit. I don't want to say the hotel and casino was down market because it has some of the best restaurants in Vegas in it, but there were also cheap food options and the casino seems much more egalitarian. For the entirety of our trip I kept asking, "how do people who aren't rich come here?" and MGM Grand gave me a bit of insight into that. It felt much more approachable than the luxury hotels on the other end of the strip.

When we first decided to come to Vegas, we both asked our friends and colleagues for their recommendations on where to eat and almost unanimously L'Atelier was the first choice. Because this was our "fancy" meal and the one we were doing to actually celebrate our anniversary, we were okay spending a bit more money. Good thing too because it is expensive. I chose the seasonal tasting menu, while Alan got a prix fixe menu. We decided not to do the wine pairing this time, and instead picked up a "cheap" bottle of rose that would go with everything we ordered. I failed to take pictures of our first course which is a shame because it was the most beautiful plate of food you've ever seen, but I did remember to capture everything else from that point on. The meal was extraordinary. Lots of truffles and foie gras made it opulent in a way that you just don't eat in the Bay Area. The way the restaurant is set up, all parties of two sit at a counter and can see into the kitchen. We had a particularly good seat which gave us an overview of all of the stations. Unfortunately, it also gave us rare insight into the kitchen staff being yelled at by the head chef for not respecting the ingredients. Awkward. At first we had a waiter who didn't take it all too seriously, and I really appreciated that. About midway through the meal though he was replaced by a different waiter who was more on brand, I think, than our first guy. I can't even begin to tell you what my favorite part of the meal was - it was just really excellent from start to finish.

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After dinner we made our way to the airport only to find out that our flight was two hours delayed! D'oh! Apparently our plane was coming from Detroit and the winter storms in the midwest and east coast were causing a lot of problems for planes that were trying to get to the west coast. We eventually made it home around 2 a.m., exhausted and feeling very, very fat.

I am glad we got to have a weekend away together now as the coming weeks and months are going to be very busy for us, but at the same time I'm left wondering if Vegas was where we should have gone. Alan says that he's glad we went, so for that I'm happy. I just can't help but think that for the amount of money we spent we could have gone to Tofino or New York (although with the big blizzard it's probably good we didn't try).


  1. The food from L’Atelier looks amazing. Sorry to hear that the Batali restaurant wasn't all that. Boo. I like this honest review...not everything can blow you away, ya know?

  2. I hate being negative in a travel summary, but I just feel like I don't quite understand Las Vegas. :-)

  3. I've never been to Vegas - but with a husband who's a successful Black jack player I suspect that it works similarly to the casino resorts on the East Coast. The shops and restaurants are basically there to provide "comp" opportunities to their high stake players. When shopping and eating using "points" - price is rarely considered. It pays to get a player's card so that they can track your gaming. They reward you points depending on time and money spent in their casinos.

    Also, from the East Coast - most of my friends usually their trips to Vegas are package deals which include meals and $$$ to utilize while there.

    I love how honest you are in your reviews.


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