**This is going to be a marathon post because I don't feel like breaking it up. There are pictures though!**
As I've mentioned before, something happens to Jim shortly after the holidays. He starts to crave a Vegas trip like a fat kid craves cake and for the past couple of years we've wound up taking a mini-vacation to Sin City shortly after the end of the holiday season. Not that I'm complaining, but it's still funny how predictable he is.
Our plan was to drive out to Vegas on President's day and stay through the rest of the week. But, just to make things interesting, Mother Nature decided it was a fabulous time to rock Los Angeles with one of the biggest storms of the season the morning we were to leave. Fun. :|
When we pulled out around 9am, it was pouring and even though the freeway was fairly open, it was still a bit harrowing driving through the downpour. Oh, but we would soon realize the downpour would be the least of our worries. When we got to the I-15 split, the freeway was closed indefinitely. F! To regroup, we pulled off the freeway, found a restroom at the local Denny's and then got back on the I-215, in hopes we'd figure out what we were going to do. As I'm on my iphone searching for possible flights out to Vegas that afternoon, Jim is studying the GPS map and sees a road that parallels the 15 for a ways up the mountain. Next thing I know we're off the freeway, on some backwater road, slowly leaving the train of cars waiting for the 15 to open far behind.
As soon as we pull off the freeway, the fog becomes fairly intense. Jim keeps going though. We pass 2 different entrances to the 15, both of which are blocked by a cop car. Still, we keep going. As does the fog and drizzle of rain. We finally hit the end of our little detour and it dead-ends.... but the freeway entrance right next to it is open. Jim sees a car pull on and like lemmings, we follow suit.
DUMBEST. IDEA. EVER.
No sooner had we gotten on the 15 than we're hit with what is basically a white out. Like, you can't see more than 5 feet in front of you. You could have heard a pin drop in our car, save for Jim asking every few minutes "So, do you think this is safe?" Um, if you have to ask, I'm gonna go with probably not. Needless to say, the next 30 minutes were beyond frightening. Especially when we realized the road was covered in ice and saw a camaro on the side of the road trying to get out of a ditch, but the wheels couldn't find purchase to pull the car up and over. Double F! We finally hit the summit, which was completely snowed in and as soon as we started down the mountain, it was clear as a bell. Blue skies, a slight drizzle and not a bit of fog. And hardly any cars because most people weren't as idiotic as we were. Ugh. After that little adventure, I was quite glad Vegas was our final destination because I really needed a drink. Or twelve.
I was far too freaked out to take pictures during the drive over the mountain, but this is what it looked like on the other side of the summit. Totally nuts!
The rest of the trip was easy peasy. So easy in fact, we had ample time to stop at the outlets at Primm - I got soup bowls and cleaning supplies at William-Sonoma while Jim found a whole new work wardrobe at Banana Republic, hmph! - and still make it to Vegas by the late afternoon.
We were staying at The Venetian this trip because, well, here's another funny story. Jim and I really aren't big gamblers. Jim plays a bit of video poker, while I like the penny slots because $20 lasts a long time. For some reason though, on our last trip, I seemed to find the machines that paid out little wins consistently throughout the time I was on the machine. We're talking $2 here, $5 there. Nothing major, but I played the whole time we were there, used the player's card, Club Grazie, associated with The Venetian/Palazzo and only lost maybe $40. Skip to January 2009. I get a card in the mail from Club Grazie that invites me back to their hotel during the Friends and Family Value Days. After calling and finding out what this was, the short version is that we had our 4 night stay at The Venetian comped! Like, a free room people - and a nice one at that!! Jim and I were shocked as were Vino and Spurs when we told them at dinner during the trip. I was then dubbed "The Shark" for the rest of the trip. Yeah, I still shocked. Like Jim said, Vegas has to be hurting if they're comping rooms for folks that play the penny slots. :/
The first night for dinner we wanted to go casual, so we hit up Le Burger Brassiere at Paris. Neither of us had eaten there before, but we were really happy with it. The place would be great for a group of guys on a bachelor party as it's burger joint and sports bar all rolled into one. We started with chicken wings and potato skins as appetizers and cocktails. The chicken wings were absolutely delicious! But, as you can see, we liked them both quite a bit.
For our main course, we decided to split their "777" burger, minus the Dom Perignon. ;) Kobe beef burger, topped with Maine lobster tail, 100 year aged balsamic vinegar, melted brie and crispy prosciutto. OMG. Jim just thought it was okay, but I LOVED it! Ridiculously decadent, but so damn yummy. Oh, and we also had a side of fries, which were tasty, but the burger was the real star.
After dinner, we headed back Palazzo and had tequila flights at Dos Caminos. Too dark to take pictures, but just know the tequila made a real fun night for me. Wheeee!
We woke up at a fairly decent hour and rolled downstairs to grab pastries and coffee from Bouchon Bakery, which was literally feet away from our elevator. Score!
From there we took a cab to the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. We'd been a few years ago and it's surprisingly fun for being such a small aquarium. The animals they have are quite cool and not things you see at a lot of other animal exhibits.
Octopus! This guy was moving all over the place! The picture isn't great, but seeing it in person was the highlight of the aquarium.
There were also a bunch of sharks which were huge and scary and very cool. I was too busy looking at them though to remember to take any pics. Oops.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking back along the strip to our hotel, stopping here and there to shop, snack or just frolick.
That night we met up with Vino and Spurs for dinner at Le Cirque at The Bellagio. I was so happy they were able to meet us out on a weeknight for a fun dinner. They are both foodies, like Jim and I have become and are always game for a fancy dinner with decadent food, copious amounts of alcohol and great conversation. The night definitely did not disappoint. We all opted to have the 3 course menu after the boys debated doing the tasting menu. Jim started with the hamachi, Spurs and I had the fruits de la mer, and Vino had the scallops and langoustine with a cute monkey on the plate. ;) The seafood platter was fab-u-lous. Ugh. I could have that every night and never tire of it.
For the entree, Jim, Vino and I all opted for the potato-crusted halibut that the restaurant is known for. Spurs branched out and had a trio of rabbit. Two thumbs up all around.
Dessert encountered a bit of a bobble. Spurs had a chocolate ball thinga-majiggy, I had their take on a "raspberry milkshake" and Jim and Vino both opted for creme brulee. Except that Jim's never appeared. Um.... Instead of sending for it again, he just dug into the petite four tray. hehehe.
Aside from the dessert snafu, the meal was excellent. The service was immpecable, from our waiter who was on top of the food allergies at our table, to the sommelier who recommended a wonderful wine that fit the bill, both money and taste-wise. Vino and I even left with a small box filled with truffles - so cute! I'd go back in a heartbeat and would highly recommend it if you're looking for fancy dinner while in Vegas.
After dinner, Vino and Spurs were great sports and accompanied us to a lounge, where us girls had more champagne and the boys ended the evening with vokda and cigars. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to them after drinks as Vino had to be up at 6am the next day for work. How she rallied like she did is majorly impressive. We had such a fun night and are so happy they were able to come out and party with us while we were in town. Love you guys!
Jim and I headed back to our hotel and instead of heading to bed, we opted for more drinks at Tao. While the drinks were yummy, I was really underwhelmed with Tao as a club. Meh.
Woke up again without a hangover. Always a surprise and a relief when you're in Vegas. ;) Had a yummy late breakfast at Grand Luxe Cafe and then we were off to Ceasar's Palace for spa appointments at Qua Spa. Jim and I love this place. It was particularly less crowded this trip so it was even more relaxing than usual. I was even able to snap a couple of pictures in the roman bath area as I was the only one in there for a long time.
I tried a deep tissue massage for the first time and it was much better for me than the swedish massage. I have so many knots in my shoulders and back that the relaxation massage doesn't do much for me. All in all, another great afternoon at Qua.
For dinner, we tried yet another new restaurant, B&B Ristorante by Batali and Bastianich. We opted for the tasting menu because it looked interesting and that was absolutely the right decision. Here is what I've learned about tasting menus. The few we've had have been outstanding. But, tasting menus with the wine pairings? Well, see that is just drunken fun that is hard to beat! You stand up from a delicious meal at the end and you can barely see straight. Wheee! This particular tasting menu was really delicious. Not a clunker in the entire set of 7 courses. Although the real standout was the meat ravioli "en crudo" or "swimming in beef broth so flavorful it makes you want to weep." I asked Jim if he thought they'd offer to put the broth in a sippy cup and let us take it with us it was that good. Even if you don't do the tasting menu, ask if you can get this dish. It's just ridiculous, in a very good way. I wish I had pictures of this meal, but the restaurant was super dark and I didn't feel like using the flash. :( And really, by the 4th dish it likely would have all been a blurry messy anyways, so you're probably not missing much. Heh.
Once we finished the drunken dinner we grabbed a few drinks at Lavo, the club at Palazzo and then I was able to finangle us free entry into the club part upstairs. Score! We danced, we drank some more and generally had a very merry evening. The DJ at Lavo kicked Tao's DJ's ass. And the drinks were better. Strange, seeing as how they're from the same group, but true. Great way to end the evening!
So, this is the part of the trip that I blame the alcohol for toying with my brain and not taking pictures. Not a single picture from this day. I'm lame.
We did brunch at Grand Luxe CAfe because it was close and we were lazy. Heh. The buffalo chicken sandwich though was surprisingly really tasty. Like, I'd go back just for that, tasty. Who knew?
For the afternoon, we opted to spend time enjoying the spa facilities at Canyon Ranch Spa at the Venetian. It is a huge facility with tons of amenities. No pictures as it was quite crowded. I particularly enjoyed the round bed-like loungers in the relaxation room, the herbal laconium (kind of like an herbal dry sauna) and the heated loungers. Overall though, I'd say I'm a bigger fan of Qua, but I wouldn't turn down a day at either. ;)
That evening we had tickets to Cirque de Soleil O, which was incredible! Most of the acts are things that we've seen before - think contortionists, divers, the russian swing - but, they're executed in a way that feels fresh and different. Really, it's an amazing show.
Carnevino was our last stop for dinner. We were both so excited for this meal as we've loved this restaurant the last two times we've been there. I'm so sad to say that they missed the mark this time. :( Our appetizer - pesto farfalle with shrimp - was quite good, but the steak and sides were just average. I was so disappointed. We recommend this place to everyone we talk to, so I'm hoping they were just having an off day. It was not the way we wanted to end our Vegas trip, to say the least.
We spent the rest of the night nursing more cocktails at Lavo again and dancing til we were ready to collapse into bed. Cocktails really do make everything better.
Time to head back to reality. Boooo!
All in all, it was another kick ass Vegas trip. And yes, we're already toying with the idea of possibly returning in the fall. Heh. What can we say, we love it so.