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How Good Celebrity Chef’s Restaurant Can be? Mesa Grill in Las Vegas

August 24, 2015 6 comments

Bar at Mesa GrillHave you ever watched any of the cooking competitions on the Food Network or any other food channels on TV and wondered – how good those chefs really are? Okay, I’m going too far – they must be good at cooking, that shouldn’t be questioned. But – many of those celebrity chefs own restaurants, and in some cases, multiple restaurants, and it is obvious that they don’t personally cook there on an average day, so how good those restaurants can be?

When it comes to the celebrity chefs, Bobby Flay is surely leading the pack. He is an Iron Chef, and he has his own show “Beat Bobby Flay”, where he is fiercely competes with guest chefs – no questions, Bobby Flay knows how to cook.

Bobby Flay owns multiple restaurants around the country. During my recent trip to Las Vegas, I stayed at Caesars Palace casino – which happened to be a home to one of Bobby Flay’s restaurants, Mesa Grill. As you can imagine, I had to use such opportunity to try it out.

We arrived at the restaurant at around 6:30 p.m., and to my surprise we were told that yes, no problems, you will have to wait only for 5 minutes (of course it was in a middle of the week, but still I was expecting a much longer wait). 5 minutes later we were sitting at the table.

Dominio de Pingus PsiLet’s start from the wine list. The wine list was reasonably sized with good diversity – California, Washington, France, Italy, Spain. There were enough of the reasonably priced wines (under $50); overall, most of the wines were prices at the triple retail. Spanish wine selection was particularly good – Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Priorat. We settled for 2012 Dominio de Pingus Psi (14% ABV, $85 restaurant wine list price, 100% Tempranillo). This wine comes from the vineyards neighboring the main vineyard of Dominio de Pingus, one of the most “cult” wineries in Spain. The wine was perfectly restrained, with the nose of dark black fruit, firm structure on the palate, young, but well integrated tannins, licorice and fresh acidity. Great wine to have with food and without (finding this wine in the stores might be a challenge though).

And now, let’s talk food. First, the bread basket appeared, featuring Jalapeño bread, raisin and walnut bread and corn bread. All bread was excellent, but Jalapeño bread was a particular standout, delivering nice kick few moments after you would finish chewing on it.

Our appetizer was Goat Cheese “Queso Fundido” (Rajas, Blistered Serrano Vinaigrette + Blue Corn Tortilla Strips), served with house made tortilla chips. Nice presentation, great flavor, touch of heat, very tasty.

There were lots of good choices for the main course – Sixteen Spice Chicken,  Cascabel Chile Crusted Rabbit and Mango+Spice Crusted Tuna Steak all sounded very appealing, but I had to settle for Blue Corn Crusted Halibut (Warm Salsa Cruda, Sweet 100 Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, Oregano + Jalapeno). Our waiter mentioned that Halibut was in the prime season, and somehow all the ingredients sounded very appealing, thus I had to go with it. The dish was just “wow” – great dance of flavors, very creative use of Kalamata olives to add saltiness instead of capers, perfectly cooked fish – delicious! As an added bonus I have to mention that our Tempranillo wine perfectly complemented the dish, enhancing the earthy profile – this happened to be a spot on pairing. We also enjoyed a side order of Roasted Corn (Chipotle Aioli, Lime Cilantro + Cotija) – I generally like this dish often called “Mexican Street Corn”, and the one at the restaurant was nicely done.

Chocolate Cajeta Cake (Chocolate + Vanilla Swirl Ice Cream + Salted Chocolate Crunch) Mesa Grill

Choosing the dessert was also very hard – I wanted to ask for a bite of every dessert on menu, but then I had to bully down that inner kid and we only asked for one – Chocolate Cajeta Cake (Chocolate + Vanilla Swirl Ice Cream + Salted Chocolate Crunch) – the cake was a bit dense, but overall the combination with crunch and ice cream was very tasty.

Overall, this was an outstanding dining experience, and I’m glad to see that my fear of disappointment never materialized. Of course Las Vegas became a culinary mecca nowadays, but in itself this is no guarantee of an amazing meal  – thus I’m glad to recommend Mesa Grill as well worthy your attention when you will have an opportunity. Another win for Chef Bobby Flay and a great meal for us. Cheers!

Mesa Grill
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone:  (877) 346-4642
http://www.mesagrill.com/las-vegas-restaurant/
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3 Days in Vegas – Day 3: Around and About

January 4, 2013 4 comments

This is the last post in the series about our 3-days excursion to Las Vegas, which took place last September. In case you missed posts about first two days, here are the links – Day 1 Part 1, Day 1 Part 2 and Day 2. Yes, you should expect more pictures too.

DSC_0908 Slot MachineJust to recap, on the first day we were getting acclimated in Las Vegas and were running around to the point of total exhaustion. Our second day was all about amazing Grand Canyon experience, on which I reported with inclusion of lots of pictures. By the way, I don’t know if you noticed the “mini-quiz” question at the end of the second day post – I was asking you what I could’ve tried to take the picture of.

This was actually my attempt to take a picture of the Hoover Dam during the night from the window of the moving bus – talented, right?

Let’s proceed with our third day. This was our last full day in Las Vegas, as we were going back home the next day, thus our goal was to get as much of Vegas as possible within one day, but – at a reasonable pace. Besides, it was my wife’s actual birthday, so we had to do something about that as well.

I started my morning from the walk to the nearby convenience store and the liquor store. Wait, not true. I actually started my morning from taking of a few pictures through our room’s window. Just to show you that all those casinos are not called “resorts” for nothing, here is the proof:

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And here is the view of the strip from our room:

DSC_0775 view from the roomNow, let’s talk about the morning. You see, I already mentioned before that I have a problem with paying $4 for the bottle of water. Moreover, we prefer sparkling water which is often not even available in little stores inside the casinos. The convenience store was located literally across the street from Tour and Travel lobby of Mandalay Bay which we used the day before, and the liquor store was in a close proximity as well. The reason to go to the liquor store? I’m a cheap bastard, add I also have an idea of general wine prices, which makes me cringe looking at quadruple retail prices in the restaurant wine lists – thus getting a bottle of wine to for us to drink later on sounded like a good thing to do. I got a few bottles of seltzer, a bottle of Cava and California red blend – tasting notes will follow later.

Done with that, back to the room at around 9 am – time for a breakfast. Instead of going again to the buffet, we decided to go to one of the sit down restaurants inside the casino, Raffles Cafe. We decided to get two different omelets and over-sized french toast – all the food was okay, but not great. Well, at least pictures look okay:

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On the negative side, we had to wait a loooong time. And price wise, we paid for three dishes practically the same amount as in the buffet, so good buffet, such as the one at MGM Grand, definitely provides much better value. Please understand that I’m not taking about quantity of food – we ended up eating a lot more in the restaurant versus the buffet – I’m talking about quality and variety.

For the Day 3, our plan was simple – to enjoy ourselves. We already had two very intense days, we saw and experienced a lot, so no matter how little we would see on the day 3, our mission was already accomplished.

Let’s talk again about little planning. I like to know in advance what is happening in the place I’m going to (especially in the place like Las Vegas, where there are literally millions of things happening every given moment). Based on some prior reading and past experience, I had a few things in mind. “Bodies” exhibition, on its last few days, conveniently located at Luxor. Eiffel tower at Paris hotel. Dinner at buffet in Bellagio. Night time adults show, but not too late as we have to fly home the next day. More walking around without killing ourselves, as we did on the first day. Oh yeah, and we have to drink the wine at some point. Anyway, I think this was a pretty good plan, so we started from walking to Luxor and getting tickets for “Bodies” and the evening show called Fantasy.

“Bodies” had been going for a while already, exhibiting in different cities around the country. It actually presents lots of completely dissected human bodies and even individual organs, preserved with the special compounds and showing how our bodies operate. We were not allowed to take any pictures, but you can find some examples and more information about preservation process and other details at this link. We walked through the whole exhibition in about 40 minutes, and at times it was necessary to forcefully compose ourselves, as some visuals just got to you, so we both were very happy to finally walk through the exit door.

Our next stop was Paris (the casino, of course). Considering that this was Sunday in the middle of the day, we chose taxi as the mode of transportation and we got to Paris in about 5 minutes and under $10. Our goal was to visit at Eiffel tower, where you can get upstairs and enjoy 360° view of Las Vegas. This is the paid attraction, so we had to get tickets (there was no line). Quick elevator ride up, and here we are, looking at Bellagio fountains and all around from the top.

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One interesting fact is that the Eiffel tower replica at Paris casino was originally designed to be an exact copy of the actual Eiffel tower, in exactly same size – but Las Vegas airport is too close, so the resulting tower was built at the half size of the original. Still, the views are beautiful and well worth your time.

As I mentioned, we didn’t want to squeeze too much into one day, so we decided to visit some of the casinos within walking distance of Paris, preferably with some additional attractions. First we went to Flamingo, which boasts Wildlife Habitat. That Wildlife Habitat was not difficult to find, but – I wouldn’t say this was exactly what we expected. There were a few flamingos, some other birds and a few fishes – pretty cool for Las Vegas, but hardly worth any special attention (unless you never saw a flamingo before, you are now in Vegas and seeing the pink bird was always your dream).

DSC_0830As a side note I have to also mention that Flamingo is the most run-down casino on the strip, at least from what we saw (bottom line – you can skip it).

Next stop (short walking distance) was Caesars Palace.

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From what we saw, this was probably the most lavishly appointed casino – beautifully designed in the classic Roman style.

We made an attempt to see a free show, called the Fall of Atlantis. Finding it required  a pretty steep walk through a huge mall called Forum Shops. By the time we found the place, we had to watch the show somewhat from the distance, as there were lots of people there already.

DSC_0842After two minutes, we found the acoustics terrible and show boring, so we decided to walk back through this huge place will millions of stores and then we just spent some time sitting on the bench and admiring all the beautiful architecture around us.

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Next we walked to the Bellagio – our early dinner was calling. First we went again to the conservatory, now to see it in the day light. I took a few pictures, similar to the ones on the first day, only with a different lighting.

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And – we had a light music to add up to the experience.

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Do you think I can leave you without pictures of the flowers? Not a chance…

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We headed to the Bellagio buffet at around 4:45 in the afternoon, which was a good call – when we were leaving it at about an hour later, the waiting line was extending back into the casino. In general, I believe the buffet at Bellagio is considered to be the best in Vegas (and I remember being pretty excited after visiting it about 5 years ago). This time – it was good – good variety of food, sumptuous crab legs (probably the main attraction there), good desserts – but it was lacking the “umpf”. May be because it was Sunday, may be my taste changed – I’m not sure, but the excitement was not there.

In any case, it was a good dinner, and now it was the time to go back to our room, open the wines and relax.

Here are tasting notes for the wines.

Poema Cava Brut Penedes ($14, 11.5% ABV) – yeasty, with notes of toasted bread, good acidity, good balance – excellent QPR

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The red wine was Bear Flag Smooth Red, California ($12, 12% ABV) – a blend of Tempranillo, Touriga, Zinfandel and Alicante Bouchet – very nice, with the hint of smoke and cinnamon on the nose, ripe cherries, coffee and dark chocolate notes on the palate, good acidity, with little sharpness on the palate and mouthfeel a touch lighter than you might want – but very drinkable. Great QPR. Also the label was very interesting, completely surrounding the bottle:

Bear Flag Red

Believe it or not, but this is pretty much all I have to tell you about our 3 days in Vegas. Yes, we went to see the show, Fantasy, and I guess it was something we expected – but nothing more and nothing less.

The next day we were on our way back to New York, and we were very happy to get home and hug the kids.

All in all, it was a great experience, and we had a great time – and we will gladly come back to Vegas at some other time.

I don’t know if you found any of these posts useful or even remotely funny, but I hope that at least liked a picture or two. Until the next time – cheers!

3 Days in Vegas – Day 2: Grand Experience

November 12, 2012 7 comments

Last month I told you about first day of our 3-days excursion to Las Vegas  (here are the links to the Day 1, Part 1 and Day 1, Part 2) – now it is the time to tell you about the Day 2 and really inundate you with pictures. Here we go.

When I opened my eyes in the morning, the first thing I did was to grab my phone. 5:58 AM. 5:58 AM. 5:58 AM????? Our tour pickup was supposed to be at 6:10 and the concierge highly recommended to be at that lobby at least at 6:05 – which will be in exactly 7 minutes from now – and I just opened my eyes???? Did we slept through the alarm clock, actually two of them? Okay, not important now.

“Hey, we blew it” I practically screamed grabbing my wife on the shoulder. She opened her eyes – and let me tell you something about my wife – she really (REALLY) doesn’t like to be rudely awaken in the morning – not with the loud voice, and especially not by the sudden push on the shoulder. “What are” she started, and then, lucky for me, she saw the clock – and she realized that my actions were, let’s say, somewhat justified.

I don’t know, my readers, what is your best “get out of the house” time – but I can tell you that at 6:02 we were already running through the casino floor. At 6:09 we were standing outside at the Tour and Travel lobby, despite the fact that when we asked for directions to this Tour and Travel lobby, casino worker said “you need to get where ???”. And the most surprising part – we managed not to forget our ticket confirmation and the camera – probably two most important things we needed. I’m still impressed, even now, when I’m writing it.

Anyway, 10 minutes later, the small bus arrived, and it took us to the place where we were taking the big bus. We got our printout receipts exchanged for the tickets, got our breakfast, which was included in the price of the trip – and consisted of some kind of the strange dry oatmeal bar (never saw that before, it looked very different from the normal breakfast bar) and the coffee. Well, hell with the breakfast – Grand Canyon was waiting, so in the next 2o minutes, we all loaded onto the big bus and left.

Going to Grand Canyon was always my dream – and somehow it was always associated with Las Vegas – I guess it was an assumption based on the lack of knowledge. How does the saying go, “ignorance is bliss”? In many cases, it is. Grand Canyon is 250 miles away from Las Vegas. If I would’ve known that, I would probably say it is too far, and we would probably not even attempt going there. I learned of a distance only after we got the tickets (non-refundable, of course), so it was too late to change anything. But to tell you honestly, the trip was planned so well with all the stops, information and the movies, that we didn’t even feel the distance.

As we started moving, our bus driver introduced himself – his name was Frosty, and originally he was from Ohio (if I’m not mistaken), but was living in Vegas with the family for many years already. Actually, Frosty deserves the highest praise – he kept us safe, entertained and informed – what else do you want from the 10 hours drive?

We learned a lot of fun facts about Las Vegas and the life in it. Here are some of the facts as I remember them (and it’s been a while since the trip, people!).

  • Las Vegas used to be the fastest growing city in US – it is not right now, but it is still among the top 10.
  • Las Vegas gets about 2 inches of rain during the year (in a good year).
  • Las Vegas has its own water police, which is easy to imagine based on the previous fact. If you are caught washing your car on the street, you will get some serious fine.
  • Las Vegas residents don’t pay income tax – who needs income tax when you can charge $4 for the bottle of water in Casino?
  • Las Vegas is the City which Never Sleeps. Well, there is nothing new here, and we know that New Yorkers also refer to their city as “city that never sleeps” (as well as people in Tel-Aviv, who say the same thing about their town). Can you change your car’s tires after midnight in New York? I doubt so. Can you shop in the dance supply store in New York after the midnight? I don’t think so. But you can – in LasVegas.

After we learned about the life in Las Vegas, we moved to the next subject – Hoover Dam, as we were getting close to it. No, we didn’t stop there, as we were driving on the new highway, which was not allowing any stops for sightseeing – but it was also making the trip shorter by about 2 hours, so all in all it was a positive thing. Here are some of my attempts to take a picture of the Dam through the window of the moving bus (yeah, fat luck):

We also watched a very interesting documentary about building of the Hoover Dam, where we learned about one of the most significant engineering projects in the US history, and about hard work and dedication of the people building that Dam during the years of Great Depression. We learned about Boulder City, Nevada, where gambling is still prohibited even today, which only very recently stopped being a dry city – and which is considered one of the best places to retire in the US. We learned that the people who were building the Dam had to sleep for many months right on the ground without any cover, and even if they were sick, they still had to bring themselves to work – if you don’t show up for any reason, there were thousands of people ready to take your job. Seeing the video of mighty Colorado River yielding to that hard work, sacrifice and perseverance of human beings was very moving as well.

We made a quick 15 minutes first stop – here is another picture for you:

And after the stop we continued driving. We watched a movie, so the time went mostly unnoticeable, then we stopped for lunch – the lunch was done in the buffet style, of course, but it was very tasty! Note to self – take notes during the trip! By now, I don’t remember the name of the town where we stopped (the only thing I know-  it was in Arizona), and I don’t remember the name of the restaurant – but the food was perfectly simple, and perfectly delicious in a home-style way.

Once we were done with lunch, another 4o minutes ride, and we entered Grand Canyon National Park and arrived at the South Rim of Grand Canyon. And then the awe-inspiring view was all we could focus on for the next hour if not longer (it is hard to believe how short that hour appeared to be). No, my pictures unfortunately don’t convey the grandness of the experience and phenomenal range of emotions which those views impose on you (besides, I should’ve done better job preparing – at least some lens filters would do a lot of good). But for what it’s worth, here are the pictures:

As you know, I love taking pictures of flowers – here are some at the Grand Canyon:

Is this the grand view or what?

Not a flower, but still fascinating:

I have not idea what kind of plant is this, but it looks so good, I think it is holiday card-worthy:

Do you think this branch was an alligator in the past life?

Was this an hour already? Ahhh, too fast! We got back to the bus and drove a bit more, then made another stop for about an hour. We stayed still at the South Rim, but at this stop there were few other “entertainment” options – small museum dedicated to the exploration of the Grand Canyon, an Inn, a restaurant, very big gift shop and so on. And here are more pictures:

What do you think attracted my attention in museum? Many things, of course – but particularly, the bottle from Kentucky Bourbon:

Those two hours, one on one with the Grand Canyon were really memorable – Grand Canyon definitely should be on everyone’s “must see” list.

On the way back, we continued learning interesting things. For instance, an interesting fact about human psychology – at the South Rim there is a man-made barrier along the edge of the Canyon, which should protect people from falling down. Every year, 6 to 8 people die falling off at the South Rim. At the West Rim, which territorially belongs to the Indian tribe, there is no barrier – and so far not a single person died there. And outside of this sad fact, you should definitely consider visiting West Rim of the Grand Canyon, as it has recently built whole glass Skywalk, extending above the Canyon at about 4,000 feet above the floor – I can’t even imagine how you should feel there, suspended in the air and surrounded by the timeless beauty.

We also watched the documentary about the trips down to the floor of the Grand Canyon. Do you know who can help you to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon? If you thought of mules, you are correct! Those are specially trained mules, and they can carry people and all the load along the path which leads town. Sometimes this path goes along the edge, and the mules are taught to handle it – all humans should do is sit straight and not to get in the way. Among interesting facts I can tell you that during many years of those journeys, they didn’t lose a single person. Excited? Imagining yourself in the mule’s saddle taking a journey of your life? I don’t know how much it costs (I’m sure it is not cheap), but get in line – there is about one year wait for those tours.

The trip was winding down. We made two more stops on the way back, and then as we were getting somewhat close to Las Vegas, I tried to take a picture – of course in the dark and from the window of the moving bus:

As you know, I love quizzes, so here is a mini-quiz for you – what do you think I was trying to take a picture of? You might find an answer closer to the beginning of this post, but if you will not, I will tell you in the next post.

We got back to the hotel at about 10 PM, and after such a full day, the sleep was the only thing we really needed.

And before we will part, I want to thank our driver Frosty again (may be he will come across this post somehow), and I want to mention that we book our trip through the web site called Best of Vegas – this site is definitely recommended if you are planning your own trip. Our actual tour company was called Grand Canyon Tour and Travel, just in case you want to check them out.

There you have it, folks – our Day 2 Grand Experience in Las Vegas.

Next time we will get together on this subject, I will tell you all about Day 3 – and rest assured, there will be more pictures…

3 Days in Vegas – Day 1: Total Exhaustion, Part 2

October 16, 2012 7 comments

This is the continuation of the post about our 3-days Vegas  adventure. In case you missed the first post, below is the link for you:

Day 1, Part 1

Sure, some 25 minutes later and 2 or 3 stops to ask for directions, we managed to get to the train. Short ride, another walk, tram – and we finally arrived at Mandalay Bay.

Our “small meal” at MGM buffet (hope you sense the sarcasm) finally started to wear off, so we were ready to eat – which brings us to the subject of food, which in Las Vegas definitely deserves its own special coverage and attention.

I think that Las Vegas has highest in the world concentration of the high end restaurants per square foot. Can you think of a famous chef? Doesn’t matter who you came up with, I can practically guarantee that he or she will have their own restaurant in Las Vegas. What you should also expect is that those restaurants will be priced accordingly. I perfectly understand that visiting a great restaurant is an experience, and as such, it has its own price – but, in the end of the day, Las Vegas is a tourist, holiday town, and it is not for nothing all those casinos refer to themselves as resorts (by the way, they also charge resort fee, if you care to know). When you walk around the vacation town, what do you often see advertised on the doors of the restaurants? If you said “happy hour”, you are corrrrect! Considering the level of the restaurants, I think it is somewhat unusual that they offer happy hour specials, but hey, everything is possible in Vegas, right?

Taking advantage of my prior experience, I was determined to visit Stripsteak, one of Michael Mina’s restaurants (I ate there a few years back during the happy hour, and I had happy memories – oops, happy = happy, interesting). On the way to Stripsteak, we passed by Aureole, a Charlie Palmer’s restaurant, and stopped by to admire the wine tower:

Yeah, one day [may be, may be] I will order some wine there, but not now… Then we had to stop by the restaurant called Red Square and take look at the Lenin’s statue – very appropriate, right? Too bad we had no time to visit their Vodka cave – considering everything we didn’t do this time in Las Vegas, I think we already have full agenda lined up for the next visit.

At most of the happy hours, the restaurants are offering beer, wine and cocktails at some reasonable price ($6 wine and cocktail, $3 beers) – all with limitations, of course, plus some food items. At Stripsteak, I had a glass of Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon (very good!), and my wife enjoyed the cocktail. We also got a couple of small plates from the bar menu, and sliders were particularly good.

The break is over, and we need to get back to our program. Next on the list? Cirque de Soleil “O” show at Bellagio. First, of course, is getting there. This time we decided on the taxi. Excellent choice, took us only 25 minutes to drive about 2 miles. Note to self – “it is Friday night, stupid”. Once at Bellagio, you start getting acquainted with the place by admiring amazing glass chandelier which is literally the first thing you see after walking in. It is created by the world famous glass artist Dale Chihuli, and you can spend quite a bit of time adoring the magnificent exuberance. My pictures will not do justice to it, but remember, I told you before – I took pictures and I want to share them, so here you go:

and a little zoom:

Our next step was to pickup tickets for the performance – I ordered tickets in advance over the internet. Yes, you might be able to get the tickets when you are in Vegas (they also offer half price tickets, similar to New York’s Broadway tickets at TKTS) – depending on the show, you might or might not be successful getting the tickets exactly when you want them, so if you plan your trip in advance, I also recommend getting tickets as part of your trip planning. Yes, there were few empty seats at that “O” show we watched later on, but very few of them.

We had a little time left after we got the tickets, so we went to see the Conservatory – a free attraction at Bellagio which definitely should be on your “must see” list for Vegas. The Conservatory is changed a few times a year, depending on the season, and now theme was “harvest”, and it was absolutely magnificent, with talking tree, pumpkin swans, grape presses and many more elements pretty much forcing a “wow” or “just look at that” sensation out of you:

The Cirque de Soleil “O” was amazing, an incredible combination of water, acrobatics and breath-taking movements you can’t even believe a human can do – but you can find plenty of references and professional reviews for that without me, so let me get back to the description of our day (now evening, to be more precise).

As soon as we walked out, we saw the taxi line. Let me tell you – it was endless. We walked and walked and walked alongside of it, and we couldn’t understand where does it actually start. Okay – but we still had our monorail day passes, remember? So monorail it was.

And you know what? Whatever happens is for the better (at least I think that this is a very helpful attitude in life) – as we started making our way towards monorail entrance, first we could fully admire Las Vegas at night. Las Vegas is beautiful during the day, but it is simply stunning during the night, the way all the buildings are lit:

And then – music and the “wow” exhorted by many people at once – as Bellagio fountains came to life. These pictures will not do the justice to the art of water, light and music, but at least you will get an idea:

About 15 minutes later, monorail entrance was reached and (mini quiz – how long did it take us from the “monorail” sign until we got to  an actual train? If you said “about 25 minutes”, pat yourself on the back as you are correct!) we are finally on the train.

Another walk (much shorter) and we are at the tram entrance – before we get inside, I simply had to take one more picture – this is Excalibur, which looks simply like a giant toy, isn’t it?

We got on the last tram (yay! I’m not sure what we would do if we would have to walk to our hotel) – and then we were finally back in our room. We both felt like our legs simply don’t belong to us and are hurting just to remind us that they exist.

We had to have a very early start next day, as we were taking a tour to the Grand Canyon, and considering our level of exhaustion, using an alarm clock was in order. My wife refused help I offered with the alarm clock and set it up on her own (she actually set an alarm both in the bedside clock and her phone), for us to wake up at 5:30 AM (we had to be at the “Tour and Travel” lobby by 6:05 AM for our tour pick up. After that, our tired bodies accepted sleep as a long anticipated blessing, without even saying “thank you”…

When I opened my eyes in the morning, the first thing I did was to grab my phone.

To be continued…

3 Days in Vegas – Day 1: Total Exhaustion, Part 1

October 2, 2012 9 comments

Don’t know how many of you paid attention to the tag line in this blog – “wine, food and life”. Most of my posts are about wine (sometimes it is a life through the wine glass, but still). Some of my posts are more about food with some occasional wine inclusions. And very few of my posts here are just about life as it happens. Actually this is what this blog post is all about – and I’m pretty sure that one post will not do it (or it will be veeeeery loooong), so get ready to suffer. Besides the desire to share tons of pictures with you, I also want to share our (I traveled to Las Vegas with my wife, the trip was her birthday present) personal experience in Las Vegas – may be someone, somewhere, sometime, will find it useful. And without much ado, here we go.

Day 1 was Friday. Actually, the first day was Thursday, but by the time we arrived to the hotel, found out that we used the wrong lobby, waited for check in and then dragged ourselves through the whole casino floor and got to our room, it was pretty late (don’t forget to account for 3 hours time shift for our trip from East Coast). For those who are curious, we stayed at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. THEhotel offers a full retreat from the casino noise and crowd, and rooms are extremely comfortable – if you are planning your own Vegas escape, I highly recommend it as a place to stay. Thus the only excitement of the day was my wife’s first encounter with the slot machine (she never been to Vegas before), which ended up very peacefully (actually, I’m still surprised that she didn’t win anything – I had drawn pretty big plans well in advance – oh well…).

So the real Day 1 started on Friday. Of course it started from breakfast. Let me digress for a second. I’ve been to Vegas numerous number of times before – but always on business. What it means is that I never really explored the town – but at least I had some ideas about food and ways to get around. Let’s go back to our day now. Based on my prior knowledge, I decided that buffet at MGM Grand would suit the breakfast bill quite well – and it did. At about $22 per person, the selection and quality was unbeatable. And all the deserts – yeah, I needed a lot of will power…

Breakfast is done, and let the explorations begin.

First decision you have to make is how to move around the town. While the distances are not huge, you have to take into account the weather – 100F is 100F – despite the fact that it is dry (!!!) heat, it is still a heat, so you need to make your selection wisely. Basically, your choices are: on foot, taxi, monorail and tram, which has very limited connectivity (of course you are right – there are private cars and limos of all shapes and sizes – but considering our uneventful/non-winning casino experience, this was really not an option). There might be buses too, but that is something which requires way too much knowledge in my opinion, so this option was out. If I would look back on our Day 1, here are few notes which might be useful for you. Taxi is probably the fastest way of transportation, and it is reasonably inexpensive outside of peak hours (6-9 PM) – about $10 – $15 will get you between any of the casinos on the strip. This is not true during peak hours, as you will wait quite long in line, and it will cost you more due to the wait on all the traffic lights. And this is especially not true if there is a big convention in town (CES, for instance) or if you need to move around on Friday or Saturday night (the wait in line will be killing).

Here is a view of the strip for you, not very busy as you can see:

And here is another view – casino New York New York:

If you are going to explore on foot – make sure your shoes are super-comfortable, you have plenty of water and you are in a good physical shape – your walking will include not only the street walking, but also walking to the different attractions inside the casinos, where the distances can be quite overwhelming.

Monorail is probably the most misleading type of transportation in Vegas. Before your eyebrows hit the ceiling, let me explain. When you look on the huge street sign “Monorail Entrance”, you think you are actually going to walk in and within a minute or two you will find the train? Nooooo. You are simply entering the casino. A huge one in most of the cases. And then inside the casinos, I think the way signs are done is to make you wonder around for as long as possible – they don’t want you to get from point A to point B unfrustrated. You get inside, and you see a directional sign for Monorail. You follow that sign until you get to the next one, most likely with the change of direction. And then… yep, you see no signs for Monorail anymore. It’s there, but now you are on your own. Figure it out. Or else… So remember that monorail is not just monorail – it also includes lots (and lots) of walking. Otherwise it is very reasonably priced ($5 single ride, $12 is unlimited day pass, and three days unlimited pass is $28) – if you don’t mind lots of walking and good amount of frustration, it is great.

And tram? Actually I think tram is the best – it is free, the train is actually located within less than a minute walk from the entrance and it is easy to find. But – there are few short tram routes, connecting casinos which are located near by in any case, and it has limited hours of operation (stops at 10:30 pm) – still, it can be very convenient.

Considering amount of explanations I gave you here, you can figure out that our first day included all of the above mentioned “getting around” methods. First we walked from Mandalay Bay to MGM Grand. Then we took Monorail from MGM Grand to Bally’s, as our destination was The Venetian near by – a famed casino with gondola ride inside.

Now, this gondola ride is listed in the “attractions” section of any of the Las Vegas guides – so let me share with you a few thoughts about attractions. We can split Las Vegas attractions into two groups – free and paid for. Pretty much every casino has a free attraction. A number of casinos have also attractions you can pay for. No matter what attraction you want to visit, my advise to you is simple – RTFM! Not familiar with the term? Use google, it will help you. What I mean is that even if attraction is free, it doesn’t mean that it is open when you want to visit it. We wanted to see Sirens of TI at Treasure Island – walked all the way from Venetian to Treasure Island only to find out that Sirens of TI operates only after 7 PM.

At this point I became smarter and checked the guide regarding Volcano at Mirage (that was our next planned stop) – yep, also open only in the evening, so at least we managed to avoid some additional frustration.

Now, when it comes to the paid attractions, such as Gondola ride at The Venetian – you will have to make your own decision. After looking at the gondola ride on the artificial channel under a painted sky with kind of artificial singers, we decided that $64 is too much for the pleasure and decided to skip it – of course there were plenty of people happily getting their share of artificial Venice.

Here are couple of flowers for you. Why? Because I love taking pictures of the flowers, and I promised to inundate you with pictures:

And a close-up:

To describe events in more chronological order, it was walk around The Venetian, skipping the gondola ride, walking to the Treasure Island, walking around and finally finding Sirens of TI, RTFM moment, canceling walk to Mirage and finally the understanding that we are sufficiently tired at that point, and we have to get back to our hotel.

“Here”, I said, “see, we already entering the monorail!”.

To be continued…

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