Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Viva Las Vegas
Last week was as chaotic as ever, with a catering job (more on that later in the week), a naptime fiasco (ditto), and well, just regular life moving at the speed of light. I was able to leave all of this behind however, as my husband and I flew off of the tarmac at 7:05 AM Saturday morning, on our first plane ride together (ever). We were heading out for our much anticipated first trip together (ever), to aptly named Sin City, which would mark my first experience in the gambling capital of the world (ever). The catalyst for our departure from home and hearth was none other than fellow MasterChef contestant Dave Miller, who was to be taking the plunge into matrimony on 10.10.10 (which incidentally turned out to be the most popular wedding date on record in Vegas, ever).
The Vegas Experience
Our trip got off to a bumpy beginning, as I am terrified to fly, and was therefore bearing down on my husbands arm like a woman in labor for nearly 2 hours, while simultaneously clutching an air sickness bag. The cab ride to our hotel driven by a man clearly living with an undiagnosed case of emphysema was not much better. Upon arriving at The Aria, one of the newest hotels on the strip, Wes and I were working just to take it all in. It was like being in a shopping mall on steroids, only dark, and smoky. The cheap smell of vanilla deodorizer that is used to help mask cigarette smell, was doing a moderate job at best, and without any influx of fresh air, the atmosphere was stifling. Walking the casino floor I quickly realized that movie Vegas is a far cry from the real thing.... There were no Clooney'esque' men in suites and ties, and no glamorous women in evening dresses (though to be fair, it was only 8 in the morning). But there seemed to be no concept of time at all- the scenery never changed no matter the time, and without any natural light you'd never even know what time it was. The card dealers looked dour and devoid of any personality, and rows upon rows of overweight tourists in fanny packs (yes, apparently they do still exist) stared expressionless at computer games and themed slot machines. Everything was SO high tech and digital, even the traditional card tables had mini computer screens. Feeling like total squares, we headed up to unpack, and it was about this time that I felt perhaps the best way for us to rekindle our marital flame would be to get separate rooms. Tired, cranky, and feeling completely out of place, I was just ready for some peace and quiet. Fortunately we found the pool, which proved to be a lush oasis in an entire city suffering from attention deficit disorder, and spent our time there accordingly. We did hop around to the various casinos and hotels, only to find more of the same, with very little to distinguish one from another. Walking the strip in the evening we encountered men (and woman) handing out prostitute's pictures on baseball sized cards, most of which end up discarded, leaving the streets literally littered with porn. Combined with the lewd images flashing from screens in every direction, I do not see how anyone under 18 is even allowed into the city limits. The next worst encounter for me was the mass of sightseers sipping from giant plastic Eiffel tower souvenir cups, while though admittedly tame, were anything but picturesque (or good for the environment). The whole image was reminiscent of Pinocchio's Pleasure Island, except no one turned into donkeys (that I saw).
Granted, there are many aspects of Las Vegas that I was not able to view, like the famed shows, shopping, and spas, but the trip budget simply did not allow for any of that (I have never in my life seen a basic one hour massage cost $180). And gone are the days or 99cent steak and lobster dinners. The food was either hit or miss, and while the most expensive places did deliver, many of the more reasonably priced items made promises visually that were not kept once on the pallet. Most dishes were expertly styled and made to look appealing, while leaving you broke and unsatisfied, just like the strip itself. My favorite moderately priced local happened to be at our hotel - a Julian Serrano tapas restaurant, where we had the tenderest stuffed peppers and dates imaginable. I will get off of my soapbox long enough to admit that, all critical comments aside, we had a fun time. There was indeed great beauty to be found at the Bellagio fountains, where we watched a wonderful public water display set to Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing Time To Say Goodbye, and in the outside scenery of the Venetian (where we had our amazingly talented MasterChef castmate take photos of us- to be posted soon). We saw a movie, which for us is a treasured rarity, and did break down and attempt one slot machine each. Besides, the point wasn't for us to have our dream vacation, we were there for a dear friend's wedding.
The Big Day
The afternoon of the wedding we grossly miscalculating the the distance between out hotel and theirs, which left Wes and I sprinting through Cesar's Palace, like a scene from the Graduate, frantically searching for the right location. We finally found it and were literally one step ahead of the wedding party walking down the aisle... nothing like being fashionably late. The garden ceremony was charming and personal, as only a wedding involving Dave Miller could have been; complete with the score form Pink Panther (to walk down the aisle) and the music of Micheal Jackson (to exit), with a dove release and tuxedo T-shirts in between. After the collective "mazel tov!", we all headed to dinner at Micheal Mina's Nobhill restaurant in MGM Grand, where the new Mr. & Mrs. Miller spared no expense in wining and dining their guests. In what was truly the most pleasurable portion of our trip, we feasted on fondue, charcuterie platters, a delicious cider vinegar salad with pumpkin seed brittle, apples, and blue cheese, grilled shortribs with spectacularly flavored grits and truffled mac and cheese, chicken tetrazzini, and a flaky halibut with a ratatioulle saute. Yes, everyone, received a plate of all of these things. And during our multiple courses the drinks flowed so smoothly that I completely lost count of my cable car martini consumption. The seamless service was so spot on that new drinks seemed to instantly appear like magic in my left hand as I set an empty glass down with my right. Did I mention dessert? Maple creme brulee and mini roasted banana ice cream sundaes, oh yes, and wedding cake. I literally gained two pounds that night- I checked. I gained even more in appreciation for the Millers, and all of the wonderful, intelligent, and fun people we were able to make acquaintance with. We now have a place to stay in Sonoma wine country, a swinging spot in London, and many more mates to look up if ever we are in Boston. The entire cost of our trip was worth that single night (shame on all of you MasterChef folks who didn't come out!).
So can I ever see myself in Vegas again? Most likely not, though I am glad to have seen what all the fuss is about. I just think Monte Carlo would be more my speed. ;)
*There will be many more photos from this event in the coming week and I will let you know once they are up on the FB page, you can also view an additional video on my new YouTube page :)