Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vegas 2012

“I’m not used to paying you.”
Those are THE six words you never want to hear from a casino dealer. And of course, I did. Richard from Minnesota said this to me after winning one of my very few hands of Pai Gow poker at the Stratosphere. Bill, Andy and I know Richard a little having played at his table almost every year for the last six. The only game he deals as far as we can tell is Pai Gow and though he never recognizes us when we sit down, after playing for about 20 minutes he seems to vaguely remember us (though never by name initially).

That quote summarizes how the gambling went for the Vegas Vacation 2012. Craps wrecked me really fast the first time I played Saturday night downtown at The California and slowly but surely Monday afternoon at the Imperial Palace. Pai Gow wasn’t much better, save for the first table I played at when I got into town. I left up a whopping $30!!!!

If it’s too good to be true, it’s not, it just costs more money
I went rogue Sunday night for dinner. Bill and Andy aren’t into spending lavishly on dinners while in Vegas, which conflicts with my recently emerging love of fine dining. Thankfully this year I had the option to get a great dinner with a former student who now lives in town. We had dinner at RM Seafood in the Mandalay Bay. Chef Rick Moonen (of Top Chef Masters fame) is known not just for his great seafood, but for emphasizing sourcing his food from sustainable practices.

Let me say right here that this was one of the best restaurant meals I’ve ever had. Straight up foodwise, it’s top 10—easy. It was also THE most expensive meal I’ve ever had, which when we picked this place wasn’t what I expected. The entrees we were thinking about were in the $30+ range and neither of us were going to go crazy with wine/liquor/dessert/sides. Hell, the restaurant’s website says the check downstairs (there’s an upstairs and downstairs) averages only $40 a person, which is like $60 less than we paid per person at Gordon Ramsay.

After reading the menu for 10 minutes I was torn between the Cioppino and the Pacific Halibut. The Cioppino, which is a seafood stew popular in the Bay Area, featured calamarata, mussels, clams, king crab, shrimp, FOD. I don’t know what FOD is, but I wish I remembered to find out. The menu price was $36. The halibut was prepared with fennel silk, shaved apples and citrus ragú and it cost $32.

Andrea was torn between the Alaskan King Crab ($32) and the Diver Scallops with pork belly, eggplant, chicharrones $38). We decided to each ask our server what he’d recommend for each of our dining conundrums. Our server (who was preceded by an “assistant” who took our initial water order when we sat down) told us that he could include a small side of whichever we didn’t order as a primary on our plates. That sounded like the best of both worlds.

Looking back, I felt a dot of a doubt and I should have cultivated it (like George Costanza once suggested). The menu was kind enough to note that all specials (which when recited never include the price) start at $70. I kinda knew this wasn’t some freebie they were offering two non-rollers, but I didn’t ask what this would cost.

The food comes and it’s amazing. I shall never order Cioppino again because it’ll never come close to how good this was. The tomato-based (but far more complex than just that) broth was so good a giant bowl of that almost would have been worth the money. The calamarata (pasta) was perfectly al dente and had soaked up so much seafood taste that it was almost calamari like. And the mussels were so succulent. The halibut, which was easily as big as my palm (not a tiny taster size) was perfectly flaky and broke apart with a slight press from the side of my fork.

Since this was an indulgent meal, we shared all four of our dishes. Andrea’s scallops were stunning. Not quite as good as the scallops at Craft or Gordon Ramsay, but just a femto-meter (yes, I’m doing that pretentious thing I’d never let my students get away with) below on the scallop scale. Super silky and flavorful. I think the only reason I’d ding them that tiny bit is that they weren’t as consistently cooked as at Craft and they didn’t have quite as good a sauce as GR. Still awesome, as was the King Crab! Nothing rubbery at all and no over saltwater taste, which I’ve found to be my two biggest complaints about crab legs from time to time.

After eating such a perfect meal we get our check. And that dot of doubt that went uncultivated has died and been replaced by a weed of sticker shock. The bill is $201! That’s for one glass of white wine each (at about $16ish per glass), two mint teas and four entrees. Since we each had a full entree and then good-sized portions of second entrees we were charged for four. With tax and tip it was $250. EEEEEEEK.

Thankfully I was on vacation and this year I had saved more money than ever for Vegas so I paid and that was that. No regrets, not exactly, but I know better than to ever eat four entrees again. And yeah, this was one of those moments when I realized that I'm still not a fully actualized adult. :\

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