Saturday, December 08, 2007

Saturday morning coffee

It's time to make the transition from Las Vegas Bubs to Holiday Bubs, and so far I think it's going smoothly. It helps that we now have a tree in our dining room--I ran out Friday afternoon and got a nice little balsam from the tree lot across from the liquor store. They guys who run it are from the U.P. and real friendly; we've gotten trees there for several years now. So, now, the entire dining room smells piney fresh, which is nice. We'll decorate it tonight, and the baking starts today. Mmmm...

Our household is about to take on a unique holiday smell. It's kind of a medley, a steady undercurrent of pine thanks to the tree, with an interweaving of strong coffee, roasted pecans (around this time of year I have to fight the urge to throw roasted pecans into everything) and cocoa, with occasional strong notes of freshly-peeled oranges, crisp bacon, roasted garlic and caramelized onion. There's cinnamon, of course, and frequently the distinct aroma of bourbon whiskey or mulled wine, or, even better--glogg. Right now the smell is pine tree/coffee/fresh orange/maple cinnamon oatmeal. It's comforting.


Part of the reason I'm so enthusiastic about my household smells is that, as part of the transition from LV to holiday season, I need to get the Las Vegas smells out of my head. What are the Las Vegas smells you ask? Well, it depends on where you're at and what you're doing. There's always the smell of unwashed foreign tourist that can grab you at any moment; likewise the over-cologned 20-something party guy or gal. You're never far away from smelling a good cigar, either, or some good cooking smells. While Las Vegas does not offer the riot of smells that New Orleans does, there's still a lot to experience:
  • Wonderful casino smell--a pleasant combination of vanilla, coconut and some floral notes. It's usually accompanied by a cool or refreshing sensation in the air, and you really notice it when you walk into the swankier casinos like Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Bellagio or Wynn. There's always just a hint of cigarette smoke in the background, but not much. The best casino smell ever was at the Desert Inn. I've gone to great lengths, at times, to reproduce this smell in my own home.
  • Good casino smell--you still get those pleasant notes when you first walk in, especially near the hotel registration desks, but it's less noticeable throughout the casino. The smoke smell is stronger, and you can start to detect the scent of human desperation along with it. The Luxor and Monte Carlo have this smell, along with most of the other big casinos on the strip. The air does not seem quite as cool as in the top casinos.
  • Bad casino smell--the classic example was the old Westward Ho, torn down a year or two ago. It was a combination of cigarette smoke, stale alcohol and chili dog onions, making you want to sniff your own armpit occasionally to make sure you weren't smelling your own B.O. The worst example is found at the Gold Spike downtown, where the funk of human fear and hopelessness almost overpowers decades worth of ashtray stench. The high end of bad casino smell can be found at places like O'Shea's and Casino Royale on the strip. They still have the heavy beer/smoke medley, but the smell of raucous human party time sweat is not entirely unpleasant.
  • Double Down Saloon smell--now this is in a category all its own. The place is a cool dark haven, the happiest place on earth, truly. No matter what time of day or night you go there, it looks the same. You can only tell if it's day or night when someone opens the door. If it's daytime, you can see the people sitting along that side of the bar wince and recoil from the sunlight. We bought a couple of tee shirts to replace our old ones, and when we went to pack them up Tuesday morning we realized they absolutely reeked of smoke and some other, indefinable, something...whether it was the fabled Ass Juice or bacon martini, I couldn't tell.
  • The weird sewer smell that you get at odd intervals along the strip from the Planet Hollywood south to the MGM Grand. We also noticed it in the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood. At first you think the tourist in front of you ripped one, but then you realize it's actually much more than that.
  • On this visit I also experienced runner smell, made all the more unique by the fact that the race expo and pre-race Elvis assembly was held at the Mandalay Bay. Morning runner smell is a combination of sunscreen, mint/menthol (from all that pain cream on everyone's knees and legs), shampoo and arousal. Post-race runner smell (especially hundreds of them together in a confined area) is something else altogether, and I won't describe it here.

Another thing that's really got me going is food. I mean, even more than usual. When we first started visiting Las Vegas we'd visit different restaurants and always treat ourselves to a couple of really good meals while we were out there. When we first visited there were a few celebrity chef restaurants, and they all offered an excellent value for the quality of food. It seemed that you could afford much better food than you could in other places, because to some extent the gambling still subsidized the food and drink. Over the past ten years though, that's changed.

There are many more excellent restaurants, many bearing celebrity chef's names (Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Todd English, Michael Mina, etc) than there were ten years ago. There are also buffets at places like the Paris and the Bellagio that offer an astonishing variety and quality of food. So that's nice.

In the past people went to Las Vegas because middle class folks could get a level of service and entertainment that they couldn't afford in their home town. The problem is that food and entertainment now make up a much bigger percentage of hotel/casino income; the casinos have all realized that people are much more willing to pay more money for food and drink. The days of the cheap buffet/prime rib dinner/$5.99 steak, at least at the nicer places on the strip, are long gone.

A new ethic has arisen among visitors to Las Vegas, particularly younger visitors. Instead of viewing Las Vegas as a destination where you get more for your money, Las Vegas has become a destination where people expect to spend
far more than they normally would. It has become a place dedicated to conspicuous consumption. Visit message boards like Open Vegas and check out the comments. You'll hear people say things like "I went to X club, and spent $50 cover for two of us to get in, and we got bottle service for $400, but what the heck, it's Vegas, right?"

So, if you stay at a nicer property on the strip, expect to pay $6-$8 for a bottled beer like MGD or Lite. Expect to pay $10-$14 for a mixed drink or for name brand booze. Sometimes it's ok to spend more for quality booze, like if you want to sit somewhere really swanky like the Red Square at Mandalay Bay and drink cocktails containing 3 shots of high-end booze off a bar made of ice. The only problem there is after you have too many drinks and stick your tongue to the ice bar on a dare and have to be removed by the staff. I'm just saying.

Expect that if you visit a place like the Luxor Steakhouse you'll spend $175 for two people on the same quality steak dinner you'd get at Wildfire for about $50 less.

Needless to say, food had become less important to us over the past few visits. It just didn't seem worth the effort. This time, though, I wanted to find something special and have a really good meal.

We had the best meal of our lives at Rosemary's on Sunday night after the race. Rosemary's is run by chefs Wendy and Michael Jordan. They both have roots in New Orleans (Michael worked for Emeril Lagasse) and their restaurant reflects a distinct southern influence, but with some really unique flair.

On Sunday night they offer their wines at half price. We each had the prix fixe dinner ($50) which allowed you to choose 3 items from the menu (entree, and an appetizer, salad and/or dessert). The food was amazing, the service was amazing, and the restaurant was just perfect. The bill, including two stiff bourbons, a bottle of wine and the prix fixe dinner for two came to about $200, tax and tip included. We spent about 2 1/2 hours there. I've never experienced service that was this good without being intrusive or pretentious, and I've never had food this complex and well-prepared that wasn't fussy.

Here's what we had:

an amuse-bouche of whitefish salad on a crispy tortilla,

a nice Tinto Fino Spanish red wine,

Beef & Maytag Blue Cheese Carpaccio
Arugula & Granny Smith Apple Salad, Candied Walnuts & Port Wine Drizzles,

Hugo’s Texas BBQ Shrimp
Maytag Blue Cheese Slaw,

Wilted Spinach Salad
Port Wine Shallots, Goat Cheese Cake, Spiced Pecans & Sherry Mustard Dressing,

Seared Sea Scallops
Parsnip Potato Puree, Apple Cider Beurre Blanc, Crispy Prosciutto & Fried Parsnip Strips,

Grilled Veal Tenderloin
French Green Lentils, Apple Smoked Bacon & Sherry Mustard Butter Sauce,

Dessert was a coconut bread pudding, which was served as a timbale and was actually the weakest part of the meal, but still pretty damn good. After dessert they brought out a little dish with truffles, lemon bars and peanut butter balls that was like a second dessert in itself. I can't say enough good about Rosemary's. If I lived in Las Vegas I'd weigh 300 pounds and be broke.

I wish I'd taken pictures of my food, but I didn't want to look like a total rube. All I managed was a surreptitious camera phone shot of MizBubs' Vegas cleavage. That was classy.


Enjoy the weekend you crazy kids!


Splotchy said...

Nice post! I'll haveta go back to Vegas for the good/bad smells, and the good eats at Rosemary's!

Have you considered bottling your holiday home's fragrance and selling it -- Eau de Bubs?

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm.... carpaccio. When I was pregnant I started dreaming about carpacio, and then I found out I was low on iron. The body wants what the body wants.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I've never been to Vegas but I feel like I have now thanks to your post.

Johnny Yen said...

What a great post-- it reminded me of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.

Clearly there's a paradigm shift going on in Vegas-- and not necessarily for the better. I was saddened earlier this year when the Stardust, Lefty Rosenthal's casino, was demolished. The old Vegas is dying. I hope to see it before it's entirely gone-- and before it all turns into Disneyland.

lulu said...

I love both old and new Vegas, but I can only take it for about 72 hours. After that it depresses me.

Bubs said...

Lulu, the only time we've been there longer than 3 days is when we went to the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly weekender. I totally agree with you on the 72 hour limit. MizBubs came up with a theory, with which I totally agree, that Las Vegas is better if you go there for an event. Our two best I visits (this one for the LV Marathon, and VLV) were both for events that gave us plenty to do besides typical Vegas stuff.

Johnny Yen, it is frightening how much has changed just since we started going there. But we love to escort first time visitors, so keep that in mind.

Dr MVM, it's a freakshow. Everyone should go at least once. Or two or three times.

Kirby, that was the first time I've had it. It was lovely. MizBubs had rare steak cravings during her 2nd pregnancy, and she was anemic too.

Splotchy, I envy you your Las Vegas Elvis wedding. That was so cool.

I had such a good time running as Elvis, that I'm thinking of getting ordained so I can do weddings in my Elvis costume. What do you think? Maybe I can officiate over your tenth anniversary when you renew your vows.

Writeprocrastinator said...

I hope there wasn't the old lady at the one-armed bandit with the oxygen tank and the cigarette hanging out of her mouth. Somehow they never blow up.

Dale said...

Fantastic post Bubs, I think I may just try Rosemary's. I'm going in January but for no longer than 72 hours, that's sort of my rule too.

The scent of human desperation is a hard one to shake isn't it?

I hope your tongue will be okay fom the bar incident.

Tenacious S said...

I'm with Lulu on the "get in and get out" deal. We went a few years ago and stayed at Mandalay Bay. It had a lovely spa that I still dream about.

Christmas at our house starts next weekend because I have a paper due Friday. Can't wait to go get the tree!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That is one lovely tree that you scored there! Nothing Charlie Brown in the slightest about that tree.

Did you think about contacting Vegas Tourism re your smell breakdown. They may want to mention them in their brochures.

Bubs said...

Barbara, thanks. It's always a challenge finding a small tree to match our small house. I'm not sure the Las Vegas tourism folks can handle what I have to say. On a related note, I'm working on a Las Vegas travel bingo game, and maybe I could incorporate a scratch n sniff component with that?

Ten, aren't Las Vegas spas great? We love the one at the Luxor, I bet the one at Mandalay Bay would be fantastic. Congrats on finishing that paper and getting on with the holidays!

Dale, that bar incident was a hypothetical situation. Seriously. We're at the point now, I think, where we will only go to Las Vegas when we plan on attending a specific event, or with other like-minded people. I think that 72 hour rule is a good one.

W.P. funny you mention that. My very first visit I saw on old woman at the Westward Ho, around 3 am, wheel her rascal back from the machine she was on after she hit a winner, take a drink from her 7 & 7, then disconnect her nasal cannula and light up. No shit.

vikkitikkitavi said...

My sister and I were in Vegas 2 years ago for Xmas. I loved the old school downtown casinos with their bad cover bands and their cheap drinks, and I hated the overblown strip hotels, most notably the boring MGM and the run-down and yet overpriced Aladin.

But what really got to me was the congestion of fat, waddling families in track suits. Sis and I would be dressed up, walking the casino floor at midnight, and we couldn't go through the aisle because of all the families with 4 kids under 10 plus a double-wide stroller! What are they DOING there?! Why aren't those kids in bed?