“I’m sorry sir, we have you booked for March 29th.” said the woman at the West Jet desk at 6:30 AM. I had been standing in line for half an hour as other passengers breeze by. She consults other workers and a notebook as I show her the document I’d printed out from the previous day, from Delta, assuring me of my flight on March 19th. I am forced to get a new ticket. How could this happen? The airlines’ names may have changed, but I still have a ticket to Vegas on March 19th on your flight right? How does one prevent this from happening in the future?
Creativity is memory plus curiosity, observation and attention.
And another uneventful flight, the best kind. Rain drops, eh? I’m from Vancouver.
My first reservation was at China Poblano, Jose Andres’ Mexican-Chinese restaurant for its Bao/Mezcal pairing at the Cosmopolitan. Very tasty. There’s not enough mezcal in the glass to get a mouse drunk. I have to ration the sips very carefully so I match a sip with a dim sum. They worked well together, but a more generous pour would have been in order.
- GOLDEN PEARLS 5pc Vegetable steam dumpling with shiitake and wood ear mushrooms, carrot, celery and jicama. $15.88 Paired with Xicaru Reposado Aged 2-4 months in American Oak barrels, this mezcal has a subtle smokiness, followed by soft notes of honey and sweet vanilla .75oz $9
Then I scampered downstairs to the Vesper. I went with a drink from the menu because I was in a hurry, I had made a 4:15 reservation at China Poblano before my 5:45 at Savoy. I figured I had time for one drink. It was called the Flamenco and it was good. The woman next to me complimented my choice of drink, saying she’d had one earlier. I told her it was very fruity and she said it was the gin. Not sure if she meant a particular gin or the fruitiness of the gin. Fruity gin and spirits in general has been a great democratizer of cocktail possibilities.
Close to me, a bunch of people obviously from a show, all costumed. I’m starting to feel stoned from the drink (my first in a week) not to mention the microscopic mezcal pour? Stoned, in the sense of the Ray Charles song “Let’s go get stoned.”
It’s not far from there to Caesar’s Palace where I have my Guy Savoy reservation.
They got my email so know about the play, or at least some of them do. The meal begins with 3 amuse bouches: a tiny cracker with beet espuma, cucumber thing and a wagyu slider not nearly as good as previous sliders.
They comp me a bowl of their famous soup which tastes better than when I first had it (see the play)- more intense truffles this time.
When the massive dish of lobster rolls around, I’m rather intimidated.
Lobster, Trilogy of Carrot, Ravioli, Natural Coral Jus: 140 clams
Yuzu is an increasingly ubiquitous ingredient in high chefery, here manifested in the foam and the sauce which dominate the ravioli, carrot curls and of course the lobster itself. Problem with a large meal is that it tends to get colder and less tasty before I can finish it. Lobster really declines in flavour as it gets cold. I’m served an Earl Grey sorbet as a palate cleanser, whose coldness contributes to its goodness. I’m so full, I can’t imagine eating the langoustine fritters at L’Attelier, even though it’s a longish walk from Caesar’s Palace to the MGM grand and its restaurants Way In Back, over an hour from now. I pass out my cards to those who don’t know about the play. Have no idea if anyone will actually go and listen to the play. One of my servers was very tall, like one of the pair of servers mentioned in the play.
I slowly walked over to L’Attelier, very slowly.
The MGM is so vast, I have to ask someone where L’Attelier was, even though I’ve been there and its sister restaurant probably 8 of my 9 trips here. I get a great seat at the very end of the counter. I’m told it’s the best seat with the best view. Things go downhill from there.
My plan was to pair L’attelier’s langoustine fritters after Guy Savoy’s lobster, a crustaceanapalooza. Alas, the langoustines are no more. My server tells me they’ve become so expensive, the restaurant would have to charge $175 for two, which no one would order.
OK. I go for the cheapest things on the menu, the curried eggplant. I don’t hate curry, and yet… First up, an amuse bouche with Avocado. Nothing I hate more. So, it’s taken away and another Amuse appears. A tasty veggie (celery leaf on top) in yuzu cream. And speaking of my favourite Japanese fruit, I request the same yuzu cocktail I’d had on my last two visits here. The server isn’t sure they have yuzu or what to do with it. He Does find some yuzu and slices a few pieces into a pomegranate-based drink.
It’s OK, not as good as in previous years. The highlight of the meal is “Mr. Robuchon’s potatoes,” as my server calls them. I tell him there’s a joke about those potatoes in act 5 of my play, and give him my card with the play’s address on the back. I contemplate having the potato omelet at The Egg and I later on the trip. I return to the Luxor and am soon asleep. I’ve been up since 4 and it’s been quite an eventful day.
Up at 4? My body seems to have adopted this hideously early hour as the new norm. I can’t go back to sleep, so I turn on Marc Maron’s podcast, and his guest is Laurie Anderson. She had just edited a book of her late husband Lou Reed’s essays on Tai Chi. As I do Tai Chi every morning, I do the exercises while listening to her.
Finally the restaurant I plan to dine at, Veranda at the nearby 4 seasons, is open. I had made a reservation for 8:00 (way late for me!) and requested the chef make the Italian omelet that had so inspired me on my last visit. It’s no longer on the menu but by email, they assure me their chef will recreate it. Again, I am lost in the vastness of the Mandalay Bay, but Security points me in the direction of the 4 Seasons. I’m delighted to no longer see the statue of Michael Jackson in the lobby. I am warmed by my cup of chamomile with honey. And then the omelet arrives. There is a smidgen of the sauce that made my previous omelet so good, but Not This Time. It’s basically a mushroom omelet.
Not the Italian exquisitry of 4 years ago. And what sauce there is, I find too bitter. The woman from the desk comes by and asks how many days I’ll be staying at the 4 Seasons. I inform her I’m staying at the Luxor. She tells me the chef needs to know so he’ll have enough ingredients for more omelets. I assure her that no more will be needed.
My first activity of the day is a visit to the Mob Museum.
It is quite interesting, but that’s not why I went there. I am searching for information about a mafioso who stole my father’s company. The Mob Museum was not the place to find it.
One thing that caught my eye was some writing about how people became criminals in NYC and other places. Their miserable housing situation and dreadful jobs made the new immigrants anxious to get into a better space, as soon as possible. The most interesting part of the museum is in the basement, about organized crime today. There sure is a lot of it. Maybe there always was.
My cab driver has great difficulty finding Esther’s Kitchen.
I am left to fend for myself near the address. Helpful locals in two different restaurants finally point me to the right place and it is packed. Of course, I have a reservation. Esther’s chef, James Trees had been on Facebook (courtesy Al Mancini) telling of dreaming of Chicken Parm, which his chef has been able to realize. I look forward to it, along with the yuzu/Limoncello cocktail on their menu.
I tell my server Caroline I don’t want a sandwich, just the parm, please. She then brings me a sandwich. I remind her of my correct order and she apologizes. The parm makes its appearance. It is superb, mostly due to the marinara sauce. It reeks of Italian goodness, as the “Italian omelet” at the Veranda did not. It is a very filling meal, even skipping the fries and most of the lettuce. The yuzu drink is an excellent pairing. The lunch goes a long way in canceling my disappointment with the omelet. My server Caroline apologizes again, and I tell her she has brightened up my day, which needed brightening after seeing all those pictures of murdered people at the Mob Museum. There were so many kids at the museum. What are all those kids going to DO in Vegas? Look at pictures of murdered people, to convince them not to get involved with crime?
The dinner highlight of my last trip was a tapa called maitake and shimeji al ajillo at EDO Tapas. Sometimes it’s on their menu, sometimes not. I email them to make sure it is for me and am assured it will be. Well, I was assured the Italian omelet at Veranda would be the one I wanted and it was most definitely not. It’s a very sunny afternoon, so have difficulty finding EDO behind its sun screen.
The person at the desk assures me they’ll have my tapa. I sit down. My server appears. I order the tapa. He has no idea what it is. I tell him about the email. He consults with the desk person and then tells me they’ll make it, though the chef is new. Whatever, it’s on and off the menu continuously. Unlike the Italian omelet which is permanently off the menu, and may have been for some time. It’s happy hour and the drink of the day is Gin Tonic. I’m told it’s Brooks gin. It’s fantastic, and only $7. I notice some young women in the corner also consuming the GTs. Next to me, women are filtering in- turns out to be a birthday party for a woman named Cat. I have to catch myself when I hear the name constantly called.
The tapa arrives. Much bigger than 4 years ago, BUT, it’s not the same thing. At all. Just like the Italian omelet- two mushroom dish failures in one day. I also order a sangria made with rose that is nearly undrinkable. I order another tapa, squash blossoms filled (if you want to call that full) with wild boar.
It is outstanding, but again, basically 2 bites for 22 bucks. On the EDO menu, we find: MAITAKE & SHIMEJI MUSHROOMS AL AJILLO Lemon Verbena Cauliflower Cream, Shishito Pepper Oil ……….12 Notice the price. When I get my bill, I discover they’ve charged me $34 for this failure. I’m having phone trouble. The power keeps disappearing precipitously, and I need the phone to summon my Lyft. A woman from the table of GT drinkers comes over and asks me how my tapas were. I assume she works at EDO. I tell her the first one was disappointing, the 2nd one was good. I tell her to go to Spain if she loves Tapas and she says she wants to. I have a paper in front of me with my restaurants listed, the times of my reservations, their phone numbers and addresses. The young woman (I later learn her name is Autumn) tells me it’s a great list. She’s happy to see Partage on the list, but I tell her I’d canceled my reservation there, as I’d learned from Guy Savoy that I only have room in my stomach for one dinner this trip. We discuss some Izakaya that I’ve decided I probably won’t go to either. I tell her I’m off to Anima, the sister restaurant of EDO and she’d never heard of it, though her knowledge of Vegas restaurants is formidable. She asks where I learn such things, and I tell her about food critics John Curtas and Al Mancini. When she learns I’m from Vancouver, which I describe as NOT a foody city, she raves about its sushi.
I tell her I don’t eat sushi, but agree with her it is beautiful. I give her my card and she disappears. My Lyft arrives and I’m off to Anima. She is back in the corner with the GT ladies and waves. I had forgotten to write down the web address of my new play on the card.
Anima is a long drive into darkness. When we get to the address, it’s a dark apartment tower. Where is Anima? I see some folks coming out a door and ask them. They say it’s the back door to the place, so I go in. I am so scandalized by the EDO rip off, I order only Anima’s smallest bite, the bikini, which turns out to be ferociously hot, two wafers from hell. Not worth the $9.00. I use the free water to put out the fire in my mouth.
The bikini had been on the menu at EDO, like most of the stuff on the Anima menu. I flee the sadistic Spaniards for my distant hotel, and soothing sleep.
The audio version of this is here:
A Firesign Vegas (Part 1) – My March, 2023 adventures in Vegas, First 2 days, with The Electrician, Bozos, Donovan’s Fat Angel, Proctor and Bergman flying from NYC to LA, the Free Mexican Air Force, Storm clouds, Steve Miller, an Hour Hour, several pieces from a RFO from 1978, Ossman on the RFO podcast, a taste of Flamenco from You Tube, Carumba from Proctor and Bergman, Ray Charles drinks gin, DF: Live from the Senate bar, Louie’s burgers, Bozos,carrots from 1997, Cannonball Adderly, Bob and Ray’s slow talker, Shiya and Caira from Vegas/Egypt, Marc Maron and Laurie Anderson, a Tai Chi exercise tape, EYKIW, Giant Rat, Electrician, Bride, WC Fields Forever, DF’s Roosterama, Nick Danger and the Pythons
Again with the 4:00 awakening. My body is as disoriented as my phone.
I had planned to take a Lyft to The Egg and I for its omelet, but it’s raining outside, so I just go back to Veranda, this time for its Frittata Bianca. It was the 2nd best egg dish on Veranda’s menu 4 years ago, and unlike the Italian desecration, it has never been OFF the menu, so they still know how to make it.
Ah, the comforting cup of warming chamomile tea with good honey, canceling the wet chill of the morning, preparing me for a good day, arming me against its feeble failures. The asparagus from the Bianca hits my tongue like cupid’s arrow. Connect, connect, connect! The chamomile, the smiling fruit, the welcoming vegetables blend pleasure relentlessly searching for more- new ones, old ones, liminal pleasures outside of newness and age/ blend, smiling possibilities, blend! I brush off the leaves of spinach, Popeye’s dandruff, to get to the good stuff: cooked vegies, and then the bright benevolence of the Frittata eclipses the failure of the mushroom mess of yesterday. It is not forgotten- bad things are not to be forgotten but learned from. What can reality be but the land outside of dreams? The watermelon struggles against its insulted relative in EDO’s watermelon amuse from last night which reeked of bootleg Bovril and the cruelty of cultivated blandness and it succeeds, sort of. Stomach too full of Frittata to throw much of a parade. A gentle toss, perhaps. I’m reading an article in the New York Review about Trinidadian poet Dionne Brand which certainly influences the notes I’m taking during the meal. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2023/02/09/reckoning-with-silence-nomenclature-dionne-brand/
In the lobby, the statue of Michael Jackson is gone.
His looming, rhythmic pederasty no longer imperils young boys. As Lincoln freed the slaves, Jackson’s evil proclivities no longer threaten my 5-year-old grandson Lincoln, and the grandchildren of us all. Four Seasons reminds me of Ossman’s poem about the many seasons of Santa Barbara.
It’s comforting to hear Spanish here. Hey Senor Joe! Who won the Mexican American war, you so smart!
I was looking forward to Yaki Tori at the Aoki’s new place at Resorts World. They bragged about their superior chicken and special spices on the website. A Lyft takes me there and it is quite the hotel. Lots of visually interesting stuff, including an enormous mirrored sphere reflecting its interesting surroundings and a VW turned into a ball. But no Yaki Tori. Now they only serve rice bowls. Not to me they don’t. Yaki Tori is the premiere Japanese chicken dish but this particular chicken never crosses the road.
I am about to summon a Lyft to take me to another restaurant, but the app suggests I walk. OK. It begins to rain, but I have an umbrella. It is a long walk to the Venetian, where Matteo’s has been recommended. I had studied their menu online and the shrimp with artichokes sounds intriguing. Unfortunately it includes rappini, a green I can do without. So I don’t eat it. 5 shrimp for $40- Vegas prices. The artichoke-shrimp pairing is instructive. I can play with it at home. The red things are too hot- heat belongs in the sun, not my palate. The cocktail, called Passion Me (Olmeca Plata tequila, passion fruit, lime, candied kiwi), does an excellent job of blending with the food. I then walk over to the Bellagio to see its Gallery of Fine Art. Some of the best writing I’ve read this year is by Dave Hickey, who used to be the curator of this gallery and was an art professor at UNLV. His story about driving around Nevada with a gubernatorial candidate was great preparation for the LONG distances I would have to take to my restaurant destinations.
I’d seen an excellent Yayoi Kusama show at this gallery last visit. This time the show is called In Bloom.
The attendant notices my age, and gives me the senior’s discount so I pay $17 instead of $20. We talk about food. She’s approvingly surprised that I went to Esther’s Kitchen as it’s so far from the strip. She says I can take pix, but my phone is running out of power. This has plagued me since I got here. The spring-evoking pieces are delightful. I’m particularly moved by the Mayan (and Aztec) imagery of Martine Guitierrez. https://aperture.org/editorial/martine-gutierrez-indigenous-woman/ My last play was about the Mayan civilization, and I’m now re-reading a Tom Robbins novel call Skinny Legs and All about New York artists and the alternating rising and falling of the goddess religion throughout history. I walk through a heavy downpour to Vesper. My feet really hurt now, unaccustomed to so much walking.
Looking back at the work of Martine and Dionne, together in one day, it’s like a wondrous volcano of anti-colonialism has opened up before me. The strip has a new volcano and its lava will breed our liberation as the soil around Mt Vesuvius brings forth lemon and tomato wonders.
My excellent bartender Lex informs me that Jenny, who’d made such a wondrous passion fruit cocktail for me 4 years ago, is still with the Cosmopolitan and its many bars. As I search my notebook for the ingredients she used, he surprises me with his own invention. It is superb. I ask the ingredients and he declines, except to tell me it includes Cachaça. So does Jenny’s drink, when I find the recipe. “Great minds think alike,” he tells me. I tell him of my wonderful Brooks GT from EDO the previous night so he competes with his own, which is, alas, too sweet. As my palate tired of bitterness 4 years before (old age, says my bartender cousin), my tolerance of sweetness, never very high, plummets like a bad investment.
One seeks balance between sweet and bitter. The paradise of the middle way, tastes not in competition. The GT grows bitter as its dregs drift into view. My phone suitably charged by the concierge, I stumble off towards my pyramid.
Elia has been recommended to me by Vegas food expert John Curtas, who knows his Greek food. Further away than I’d anticipated, I arrive 15 minutes late for my 7:45 reservation but there are few people here. The Agora is largely empty. It is Tuesday night. My tardiness if trivial. It’s a vast distance from the Luxor, As halibut is my favourite fish, it summons me the great distance to this restaurant. Sparkling Greek Chardonnay? Why, thank you. First up, the spanakopita. The best spanakopita I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a lot of them. Popeye turns into Hercules. From this morning’s spinach-enriched frittata to Elia’s spinach pie I fly. And then plummet, when the halibut appears.
It is pregnant with flavour but never gives birth. Is it a stray halibut from a parallel universe’s ocean, devoid of taste? Freshness so far away it might as well still be in Greece.
The chardonnay helps, but not much. The sauce too. “How is the fish, sir?” asks a waiter. I inquire about the sauce, avoiding answering his query. I can evade questions just as much as duplicitous Odysseus.
Later the owner comes by and asks how I liked the fish. I shake my head. “You didn’t like it?” I nod my head, telling her it doesn’t taste fresh. She is scandalized, insisting she only serves the freshest fish at Elia. I don’t doubt her, but this fish tastes like vaguely fish-flavoured dust. She finds that poetic. Maybe because it’s Californian halibut instead of the usual Alaskan halibut? At any rates, she subtracts it from my bill, and I only pay for the enjoyable wine and spinach pie. This is how we should all deal with each other: honestly, without malice, and to our mutual benefit. It is the worst piece of halibut I’ve ever had in a restaurant, but I have had some bad experiences with store bought halibut. Blame them all on California, perhaps? Should have taken Autumn’s advice and stuck to Partage.
I finally make it over to The Egg and I on Wed. Morning. It is even further away than Elia and the tapas places. Like Elia, it’s very much a family restaurant. The omelet is large, tasty (thanks, Feta) and sets me up for the day. Then the long ride back to the Luxor. Counting the 2 Lyft rides, it’s a $75 omelet. I could have walked back over to Veranda for a much cheaper egg dish, with appropriately hot water (The Egg and I’s hot water was barely hot at all).
My plan for the day is to go over to the Area 15 to experience Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart.
This was what I most looked forward to on the trip. When I was telling my teen aged grand daughters about my upcoming trip, I had them look up Omega Mart on their phones. And they are serious foodies! Normally, I’d be telling them about upcoming meals, not art installations. So, at the entrance, I hand in the ticket I’d printed out, and am told it’s for tomorrow! I’ll be back in Vancouver tomorrow! I have to buy a new ticket, which they benevolently discount because of my misfortune. Area 15 itself is intriguing. I contemplate having a drink at its Woody bar with its colourful, illuminated tree but see nothing appealing on its menu. In spite of the ticket bummers, I can’t be angry. Just standing in line looking at the ads for the products on sale in the market fills me with glee. When I enter, the laughter is relentless. The Firesign Theatre did hilarious spoof ads in their albums and movies.
In 1989, some friends and I started the magazine Adbusters which also featured spoof ads so it’s a milieu I know well, but that doesn’t keep me from laughing and laughing at the products on sale. Next room from the market is a bar. The drinks’ names are all relative to the store and Meow Wolf, for example, the Meowtini, which is excellent. My next cocktail, the Happle, has too much aloe. OK, now for the main event. The 3-story collection of rooms full of stunning visuals. I am stunned. From one room to another, not just video projections on flat walls but on 3 dimensional surfaces, a new aesthetic world opens up for me. A new possibility. I leave Area 15 profoundly inspired.
The official fruit of Vegas.
Al Mancini had recommended Scotch 80 Prime at the Palms. I’d had some mediocre gnocchi at Vetri 4 years ago but wanted to try it’s swordfish. Two restaurants in one building saves me Lyft fares, and the view from Vetri is so good, the quality of the food is secondary. Scotch 80 is on the first floor. I had studied its menu online and wanted to try their Tempura Oyster Mushrooms. They were so hard, they should have provided a saw, but that wasn’t really a problem. It forced me to eat them slowly, which was the whole idea. The dipping sauce was wonderful. My first cocktail was a splendid but small Mai Tai. The last Mai Tai I had was a number of years back, at Rhum bar at the Mirage. By far the worst service I’ve ever had in Vegas, but great tastes cancel horrendous service while horrendous food makes even the best service irrelevant. I still had a mountain of mushrooms before me when I finished the Mai Tai so I ordered their Better Together. My server Daniel C told me it was a popular drink. The first time I combined the tempura, its sauce, and a mouthful of this cocktail, I was reminded of WHY I come to Vegas. To have these kinds of peak culinary experiences. A pairing miracle.
They also served something called Milk Bread which was maybe the best bread I’ve ever tasted.
OK, I had my Vetri reservation for 7:45 and it was only 6 after I finished my exquisite meal. My server recommended The Unknown Bar. Unfortunately, it was right in front of the front entrance, so I needed to keep my jacket on until a place opened up further from the incoming cold. My bartender Melissa reminded me it was still happy hour so I began with the half price Smoke and Mirrors. A mezcal drink, just like my first alcohol in Vegas, the small sip of Mezcal at China Poblano not long after I arrived. Then I challenged Melissa to make me something original. She came up with what I called a Grown Up Shirley Temple.
The maraschino cherry flashed me back to distant childhood drinking Shirley Temples. My bill tells me it had Hendrick’s gin, which so thrilled my palate at otherwise dismal EDO.
I know only that it was a (relatively) spontaneous creation by Melissa, or at least presented as such. Two other drinkers down the bar ordered the same, intrigued by what she’d created for me, and seemed quite happy with the results. I request a further creation from Melissa and she makes a sunshiny beverage my bill tells me was made with Absolut Mandarin. Melissa departs. There is now enough distance from a tempura mushroom-filled stomach and perchance, Vetri’s swordfish.
What a view! OK, the last time I was here the food wasn’t, shall we say, memorable, but I had fantastic swordfish in Portugal so look forward to Vetri’s fencing capacity.
At home, I make a mean blood orange Bernaise sauce for that fish and then play with what veggies and fruit appeal to my palate depending on the freshness of the fish. This Vetri dude is supposed to be a major league chef. OK, Mr Vetri, show me your stuff!
First of all, after those relatively sweet drinks and meals, I need a palate cleanser. The Hendicks Melissa used in her first creativity made me hopeful of getting a GT as good as EDO’s on Monday so I order one. It is stunningly bad. As precipitous a fall from what your palate deserves as the “halibut” at Elia. It is whisked away (but not from my bill!) and a “better” one appears. Well, it’s more gin discomfort as opposed to the gin Torture of the first vile GT attempt. Later, I would marry it off to a limey semifreddo that at least got it out away from my overly tortured tongue.
I am promised a suitable pairing for the swordfish, and like a sword pulled out of stone, It Appears. Tanqueray 10, Fever Tree tonic, rosemary, dehydrated juniper berries in a Burgundy glass from bartender Kane (pronounced Ka-nay) The swordfish/wonderful cocktail pairing brackets the trip that began with Guy Savoy’s lobster. I float out of restaurant in a cloud of pleasure.
One goes to Vegas as one goes into the world: in search of beauty. It is a beautiful world. But you have to have your eyes open.
You can hear the audio version of Tues/Wed adventures here: A Firesign Vegas (Part 2) – The Vegas trip continues with the Case of the Missing Shoe, Dionne Brand, Proctor and Bergman’s Power, Ossman keeps a record, Park and Lock it, Sneezers, US Plus, The Little Flower Shoppe, Box of Time, Inside the Money Bubble. Bozos, Nick Danger, Odysseus returns from Rome, Caira, Giant Towed Supermarket, Bear Whiz, the last inspiration from this can, aliens know where milk comes from, a fragment from a 1978 Radio Free Oz broadcast, the Good Ship Lollipop, The Firesigns rewrite Heat Wave, swine are guarded. a Limey is juiced.