A Vegas Night Out For Fabulous Food

Score one for the waitress and manager who made that magic happen. That was an above-and-beyond move. I’d recommend this place just for that–but there’s more.

This blog entry is dedicated to my daughter Stefanie–fashionista and now tour guide. It was her idea to have dinner outside on Las Vegas Blvd. That is so touristy. It was perfect! Maybe there’s a lesson here. Just because tourists do it doesn’t make it wrong.

We set out with my cousins (it was after all their car) to Paris, midway down the Strip. From there we walked to the Planet Hollywood Casino.

planet-hollywood-entrance.jpgPlanet Hollywood is a great example of rebranding. Previously known as the Aladdin and with a Middle Eastern theme, it had a mid range target. As with many of those immense hotels Aladdin had a mall. The Desert Passage was a long, circular affair. The few times I was in it was empty.

Now Planet Hollywood has turned this closer to a ‘mall’ mall than the upscale shops at Caesars or Venetian. There were people roaming last night.

Two quick notes:

1) Jerry Springer is a headliner at Planet Hollywood! He emcees the America’s Got Talent stage show.

Who knew?

2) There’s a fat guy with a beard dressed over-the-top as a woman who stands on the street outside the PH. He takes photos with tourists working solely on tips. He might be the richest man in Vegas. He was crazily busy last night.

Considering the weather, he was also very cold!

We headed back to Paris and into Mon Ami Gabi&#185, a French bistro attached to the Paris Hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard.

bellagio-fountains-from-paris.jpgWe wanted to sit outside on the patio… and did at Table 138. We were right on Las Vegas Blvd with a great view for people watching and to see the fountain show across the street at the Bellagio.

At one point my Cousin Michael asked if the propane heater could be moved closer to the table. Fire regs–it could not. But about five minutes later another heater was hoisted from the street and placed adjacent to our table.

paris-and-eiffel-tower-las-vegas.jpgScore one for the waitress and manager who made that magic happen. That was an above-and-beyond move. I’d recommend this place just for that–but there’s more.

The menu had some French flare but it was obviously designed for American audiences. Before the meal we were brought hot baugets. Not warm–hot!

There was a lot on the menu to choose from. Stef said her French onion soup was the best she’d ever had. I enjoyed my potato and leek soup.

For dinner I had a brie cheeseburger. It was excellent on a tasty bun. The french fries were plentiful, though so thinly cut there was little substance. Helaine had a hanger steak. No complaints on the main course.

entrance-to-paris-hotel-las-vegas.jpgThis is Vegas and a tourist destination, but the prices seemed reasonable. We are non-drinkers all, so that kept the check in check. As it was this was an anniversary treat from our cousins. That was very sweet though totally unnecessary.

We were too full for desert! In fact the past two night’s meals will probably affect what we eat for the rest of the trip. It’s easy to have too much–and we have.

&#185We had pronounced Gabi, “Gabby.” The waitress pronounced it “Gah-bee” with the accent on the second syllable. I never did well in French.

Our Second Day In Las Vegas

Seriously, knowing how Vegas works is invaluable because so much is available if you just ask… and you know who to ask… and you know when to ask.

mirage-view-from-our-window.jpgGood afternoon from Fabulous Las Vegas. Gobblepalooza ’09 continues! We’ve been here a little over 24 hours and have had a great time so far.

Helaine and I have been to Las Vegas many times. We know the city pretty well and we know how the system works.

Seriously, knowing how Vegas works is invaluable because so much is available if you just ask… and you know who to ask… and you know when to ask.

venetian-gondoliers.jpgWe went for dinner with my cousins last night. The restaurant, right across from the gondoliers, was Zeffirino.

Not only was it Thanksgiving, it was Helaine and my 26th wedding anniversary. We tried to keep it low key, but when the two strolling musicians came to the table Cousin Melissa let them know!

Normally Zeffirino serves very nice Italian food. Last night it was buffet style and it was very good–especially the desserts. OK–especially the desserts and lamb chops. Yum.

Fun pastime in Las Vegas. We people watch.

An older man was sitting nearby at a large table family style. He was much older than everyone else and the family with him was quite exotic looking. I’d like to pick an ethnicity, but I can’t.

One of the women was probably his wife and the two other adult women her daughters. Our game was “Try and guess what they see in him?”

Money was the consensus choice.

With only three hours bed sleep and another hour and a half on the plane I was bushed. I was in bed before 10:00 PST. Very early for me.

This morning the six of us went to breakfast at “First” a new cafe in the hotel. Helaine had read very good things, but the service was indifferent and slow.

donuts.jpgAt one point a manager came to the table and I told him–nicely. He said he did want to know and I believe him. Vegas is built on service.

As we finished the meal a batch of freshly made donuts with amazing dipping sauces was brought to the table . For the cost of the donuts he turned a bad experience into a much happier one.

Our breakfasts were very good and we’ll probably go back to see if the service improves. This manager gets a save.

Helaine, Stef, Michael, Max and Melissa headed to the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s. I went to the Venetian Poker Room for the noon tournament. This is a mid level tournament in a very good poker room.

How are poker rooms different? A good room has comfortable chairs and tables, good dealers and attentive waitress service. Bingo!

I lasted around three and a half hours busting out in 36th place of the original 144. Tonight someone will go home with over $4,900. Not me.

I was very happy with my play. My losing move was an all-in with Ace Jack only to run into an Ace King. Oh well.

I walked back through the casino and put a $20 bill in a slot machine. Within ten minutes I’d (mostly) won back my poker entry fee. Go figure?

We’re having dinner at a Mexican restaurant tonight. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay up a little later than last night.

Quiet Mother’s Day

Is there any place where the food is less healthy? I’m not talking ingredients. Cracker Barrel’s weakness is their style of cooking, from an earlier era before we knew some foods could actually kill you!

Stef spent the weekend with us at home. I always laugh when I walk by her room and see her door closed and her lights off at midnight… or earlier. She is nocturnal, like me. This is a very early bedtime. I think she sees home as some form of rehab.

Today was Mother’s Day – time for Stef to get back on campus.

First, we went out for breakfast. Our Mother’s Day plans had changed a number of times, so our choices (on the busiest restaurant day of the year) were limited. We went to “Cracker Barrel,” partially because it’s our inside family joke and partially because it taste’s good.

Is there any place where the food is less healthy? I’m not talking ingredients. Cracker Barrel’s weakness is their style of cooking, from an earlier era before we knew some foods could actually kill you!

Bacon, ham, sausage, eggs… are my arteries hardening yet… grits, biscuits, potatoes. More than a few patrons had bodies which reflected a long running disregard for nutrition.

We had a long wait, which was to be expected today. Quite honestly, Cracker Barrel did an excellent job in handling this crowd. They had free coffee and other beverages, plus small biscuits and muffins.

A hostess wrote our order, so we could just hand it to our waitress as we sat down… an hour after we arrived.

Sin is always tasty. Damn you Cracker Barrel!

The trip to college was uneventful. Sure, our timing for traffic was pretty good, but I attribute a lot of it to E-ZPass. Or maybe I’m missing the bigger picture. Helaine was quick to point out the cost of fuel as we drove by the Turnpike’s service areas. Did I see less traffic because of $4/gal gas?

Helaine and I return to being empty nesters for another few days. Stef is back beginning this Thursday.

She turns 21. She has an internship. This will be an interesting summer.

Waitress – Saturday At The Movies

Stef is away today, celebrating the graduation of one of her sorority sisters. Helaine and I decided to go to the movies tonight.

We headed to the Criterion in New Haven for Waitress, starring Keri Russell.

The movie is the story of a waitress, in a loveless marriage, who finds herself both unwontedly pregnant and in love with her married gynecologist.

I suppose this is what’s called a small movie. It is heavily dependent on its very stylized look and really sharp cast. The story is simple and sweet

The movie itself is set in a small, seemingly downscale southern town. Much of the action takes place at a diner which specializes in pies – many expertly baked by Jenna (Keri Russell).

Andy Griffith (around my dad’s age, but looking much older) is excellent as Old Joe, the owner of the diner. More importantly, he is the uninvited elder philosopher in Jenna’s life. He will receive an Oscar nomination for this role.

I’m not sure how to explain this, but Earl (Jeremy Sisto), Jenna’s husband, is the least appealing (most repulsive) character I’ve ever seen in a film, without resorting to over-the-top characterization. He was just realistically creepy – not an easy task.

Helaine noticed Jenna’s love interest, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) looked like a young Mike Sechrist. Mike’s a friend of mine.

I enjoyed this movie. Helaine enjoyed it even more. That’s probably going to be typical of many couples. It was a great Saturday afternoon date with my wife and a borderline chick flick.

Footnote:We like going to the movies, and this theater is nice and new. However, the print we saw was terrible. Here is the note I sent to the company that owns the theater.

My wife and I saw the 4:00 PM Saturday showing of Waitress at your New Haven theater. We like going to the movies and we’re glad you’re in New Haven. We’re glad the city is coming back and drove past another theater to get to you.

Unfortunately, the print for Waitress was horrendous. There were horizontal scratches visible for the entire show.

When I told a friend, he described the exact same scratches when he had seen Dreamgirls. Is there some sort of equipment problem in your theater that’s killing the prints?

I’m not asking for a refund. All I want to know is, you’ve gotten my message and you’ll fix the problem.

All the best,

Geoff Fox

Here’s their response:

Greetings!

We are unaware of any print problems in New Haven, and will address the situation immediately. I can assure you though, there is no recurring problem at that theater.

Thanks!

Poker At The MGM

I have been playing a lot of poker since we arrived. I’ve played a few tournaments with the remainder $1/$2 no limit Hold’em.

Don’t let the declared stakes fool you. $1/$2 can easily become an expensive game.

At the moment, playing lots of hours since Wednesday, I’m up $28! That’s less than one winning hand separating me from being a net loser.

The dealers and cocktail waitresses at the tables have made more from my play than I have. I tip the dealer on every winning hand and the waitress with every drink (mainly water and coffee) delivered.

I have never played where the cocktail waitresses came to each table as often as they do here. I haven’t heard anyone have to ask for drink service! That’s very, very unusual. No, actually, that’s unheard of.

I like the poker room at the MGM a lot. The tables have a hard surface between the felt and rail. It’s much better for stacking chips and helps better delineate the playing area.

The dealers here are also very good. I’ve had no ‘losers’ dealing. Most are friendly and often engage in conversation.

Earlier today I had a dealer I recognized from years at the Mirage – Daryl. He is also known by his nickname, Razzo.

Razzo was the first person I know of to bring poker to the Internet. This was long before online poker sites and the like. His razzo.com has been online since 1995.

I said hello and he said he recognized me. Maybe… though who knows. He’s dealt to tens of thousands of tourists.

The poker room is squirreled into a curved space, almost like a warped dumbbell. The two ends are larger than the middle. There are twenty two tables, each with automatic shufflers.

MGM’s poker room has the best automation set-up I’ve seen. As you sit down, the dealer logs you in (if you’ve got a player’s card, he just swipes that). The poker room floor people know how many people are at a table, who needs to buy chips, who has left. It’s super efficient, which is good because I want to play at full tables.

MGM runs some sit and goes (single table tournaments) and larger tournaments. I don’t like the blind structure, which goes too high too quickly. That favors gamblers and penalizes more analytical players.

When I started playing poker in Las Vegas, the average player was in his sixties. Most tables dealt limit 7-card stud. Today, the average player is in his twenties and (at least this afternoon) the room was 100% Hold’em, mainly no limit.

It’s still called poker, but it’s a totally different game.

The Strange Drive to Kayenta

The guide books say 332 miles from Albuquerque to Kayenta, Arizona. What they fail to mention is the trip also crosses millions of years in scenery. At one point, Helaine asked me to look out for dinosaurs.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I couldn’t sleep last night. When I can’t sleep, Helaine can’t sleep. We were in the car and heading west by 5:50 AM MDT.

There were scattered showers overnight in Albuquerque. It was still dark and spitting as we merged onto I-40. The speed limit is 65 mph in urban areas, but as soon as we left civilization (in this case a perfectly apt characterization) it went to 75 mph.

I’ve got a lead foot, but since I found the majority of cars doing the speed limit, I set the cruise control at 80 mph and hoped for the best.

Other than an Indian casino and a few truck stops (one at the Indian casino) there was nothing – 130 miles of nothing – until we got to Gallup.

Gallup, New Mexico is one of those places you see and say, “Why?” It is a nondescript little outpost with the normal collection of gas stations and franchise food joints.

We slid into Denny’s where everything I thought of Gallup was dashed. The staff couldn’t have been nicer, friendlier or more attentive. Could I take a sip of coffee before the waitress came back to freshen it?

From Driving to Ka…

Denny’s is located on US 491, though signs said it was formerly US 666! When you name a road 666, it says something about you. I’m thinking you don’t want to screw with these people.

We cut across New Mexico on two and four lane roads, into Arizona and then north on US 191.

From Driving to Ka…

What began as rolling scrubby hills in Gallup, led to a pine forest and then a succession of rocky vistas.

From Driving to Ka…

Every once in a while we’d pass a small community, often with cows or horses lazing along the side of, or in the middle of, the road. What was surprising is, often the cattle were on the road side of a fence, not the other way around!

From Driving to Ka…

We continue north as the scenery turned weird. I’m not sure how to describe it, but some of what we saw looked prehistoric. Imagine rugged rock monoliths draped in a primordial soup of clouds.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

From Driving to Ka…
From Driving to Ka…
From Driving to Ka…
From Driving to Ka…
From Driving to Ka…

After the Eagles game (priorities are priorities) we head to Monument Valley for sunset and more photos.