Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Vegas 5: Sunday and Monday



Sunday, Feb 8 and Monday, Feb. 9

  I begin my 3rd day in Vegas with some fruit and a cup of English Breakfast tea from the sundries store near the elevator at Excalibur and then a cup of excellent tomato soup from Schlotsky’s in the food court. Now it’s time for serious food.
  This will be the 5th time I’ve ordered the baked vegetarian crepes at Eiffel Tower. The last time, Dec. 2013, the crepes kind of let me down. Maybe because I had a pear cocktail with them? The cocktails of Eiffel Tower have been raved about, but maybe they go with something else other than crepes? This time I just get some tea. The crepes return to their excellence. I leave highly contented and walk back to Excalibur.
  A phone call puts me in touch with the Ivys and I’m back to the same area I’d just left, only this time by cab. I had long enjoyed their TV show Pub Crawl on the Vegas Video Network, and frequently contributed to the show via Internet Chat while it was on air. Could people who seem so delightful on TV actually be that way in real life? Actually, no. They were far more delightful in person. It’s great to see such Joie de Vivre percolating through the young. They reminded me of my late friend Manny  who squeezed every drop of pleasure out of his 76 years. What I thought would be a brief visit at Margaritaville turned into a whole afternoon of tasty beverages (next at O’Sheas, where I am asked to wear some green beads, perhaps for Mardi Gras?) and wonderful company. I barely make it to my 6:00 reservation at Guy Savoy, across the street at Caesar’s Palace. It will be my 3rd visit to CP this trip, the first for the excellent tomato tart at Payard, then for Nobu’s sad excuse for cuisine however well mitigated with a basily cocktail, and now Guy Savoy, which has been my favourite restaurant in Vegas since I started coming here in 2011.
  Well, maybe no longer my fave. Not one of my more successful meals there, particularly for the price ($10 water didn’t help). It wasn’t bad. Should find out what the amuse bouche was this time (crab? lobster?) and the micro hamburger was as delicious as always. I had the lobster salad with beets for $75, cheapest thing on the menu and indeed a small meal, very pretty, though the lobster was far more chewy than the lobster with cold steam I’d had at this restaurant before.  Had just been discussing beets with the Ivys and to discover they go so well with lobster is quite educational. A revelation. I had no idea those 2 things could go together, and thanks to the magic of GS, they did very well. I thanked Ilona for the education. Asked if she was from Europe (slight accent) and she said she was from Russia, somewhat apologetically. I told her my grandpa (1855-1925) was from St. Petersburg. My Russian uncles, all born in the 19th century, told me stories of riding a troika through the snowy streets of that city, like a scene from Anna Karenina.
  After dinner, I go back to Fleur and this time Marisol introduces me to the general manager, a tall man named Aaron, and the manager, a talkative woman from Paris named Mina. As Paris is my favourite city and I’m planning to go there again in a year or so, I looked forward to her advice, but she advised against going there at all, the mom and pop restaurants are all being replaced by Starbucks and Subways as only they can afford the sky high rents. Alas. The main lesson I’ve learned from my trips to Vegas (and to a lesser extant, trips to great French restaurants in New York and Chicago) has been the enjoyability of French food, something I rarely encountered in France. I simply didn’t know where to dine, and what to dine on, besides quiches. Now I know.
  I begin Monday with the same sundry fruit, tea and excellent tomato soup at Excalibur, then make my way over to Milos at the Cosmopolitan. My 5th visit to the great Greek fish restaurant, always have the lavraki (a fish from the Greek islands), the Greek salad and the fruit plate for lunch. The last time I was in Vegas, the lavraki tasted rather fishy. Thankfully I’d ordered a glass of Greek white wine. It’s always good insurance to order white wine with fish Just In Case the fish is too fishy. But surely that was a singular occasion. This time, although the restaurant is more crowded that I’ve ever seen it before, I get in without a reservation and am soon regaled with the most delicious piece of fish I have ever eaten here. Not just better than last trip’s fishiness, this is the kind of fish worship I expect at Guy Savoy or Le Cirque, not a Greek lunch place. As I’m finishing, the chef comes over to talk to me. “Are you in a hurry?” he asks. I guess most lunchers are, but not me. I am slowly savouring the wondrous food. “I’ve seen you here before,” he informs me. “This is my 5th time here.” “No, it must be your 10th!” he assures me. Perhaps he can see into the future. Both Eiffel Tower (crepes) and Milos (the whole great lunch, anchored by the lavraki) have returned to form, after the Dec. 2013 miscues. Perhaps because it was so cold then, I had a different reaction to the meals? Whatever, it’s good to have reliable lunch spots. Didn’t need the glass of wine at all, but it didn’t hurt.
  Next up, way upstairs at the Mandarin Oriental: the Mandarin Tea Lounge where I had the best cocktails of my previous trip. Instead of just diving into the alcohol, I order a mocktail because its ingredients suggest the finest drink I’ve ever tasted: a mocktail at Jose Andre’s tiny “e” restaurant, made from pear puree, green tea and jasmine air. This drink substitutes white tea for green tea, always an improvement and some sort of jasmine delivery device that isn’t air. Called the Jasmine Tea Off, it turns out to be the best drink I’ll have the whole 6 day trip of dogged pursuit of the best beverages in Vegas. Slight cinnamon aftertaste.
  One sadness of t his trip is that Mike’s Smashed Apple cidre is gone, replaced with an apple cinnamon cidre that might be good hot, but is undrinkable cold. Yet the same spice works well in this cold mocktail. Intricate, wonderful aftertaste and very refreshing. I need that after walking around in this summery heat.
  Walking the Strip and even inside Excalibur, my natural reticence is magnified and reinforced by constantly being accosted by people relentlessly trying to get me to sign up for something or buy someone or something. Really annoying, and it makes me even more hermetic, but the opposite has occurred with the Ivys. Do they just have more sociable genes, or is it learned behaviour? They thrive here and they are endlessly social.
  An $18 cab ride (the driver didn’t seem to know where he was going) delivers me to Yonaka Modern Japanese cuisine for the Budo Salad" : sautéed grapes, mushrooms, candied walnuts, kale, feta, mint, chives. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and for only $8.00. Also had asparagus with grapefruit vierge and the pork belly dish which was too meaty and inedible (they didn’t charge me for it.) My waitress hustled me to buy a glass of sake when I came in. I assumed it would go well with the food and was delighted to be served sake in the appropriate wooden cup, called a masu, in Japanese, which really gives you the flavour of the wood to embellish the beverage. However, once I got into the grapes, I noticed the budo cocktail on the menu and ordered that in time to share with the last of the salad. In future, order it only, forget the sake. Waitress tried to hustle me to order the lobster, making one of its rare appearance on the menu, but I’d had enough lobster at GS last night. With the grape cocktail, my already phenomenal dish is kicked up to another level. I’m astonished how good the two of them are. It’s worth returning to Vegas just for this salad. Next time I’ll order the sake (in this case, it means salmon in Japanese, not the rice wine) orenji. Always on the lookout for ways of combining citrus, or fruit in general with fish dishes. The best dishes I’ve had in my 5 trips to Vegas have been: Prawns at Alain Ducasse’s Mix restaurant, John Dory at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist, Sea Bass with Delicate Spices at Guy Savoy, Monkfish with prosciutto at Le Cirque, Lion fish at the late lamented American Fish and now this grape salad. It actually inspires me to try and make it at home, and I’m no chef. I can spell both “Michelin” and “star” but no sane person would ever give me one. When I first entered Yonaka, I’m asked if I know anything about sake (the wine, not the fish.). Yes, I admitted, I lived in Japan, although long ago now, and drank lots of the national tipple. “Which sake did you drink?” the waitress asked. It took me a few minutes, but then I remembered, “Kembishi.” Well, that was the brand I could buy at any liquor store. I’ve had really extraordinary private label sakes that can only be consumed at a specific bar (such as one near the school I taught at, apparently favoured by the Prime Minister) as well as the special sake bestowed on people deserving of honour by the Sony corporation (they were a sake brewery before discovering electronics), in this case Fumiyo’s friend’s husband who handled the Sony account at his ad agency and must have made them a lot of money one year. My cab back to Excalibur is only $12. I give the more honest cabbie a good tip.

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