Friday, July 22, 2011

Las Vegas Again



My first Vegas experience was in 1947 attending Fifth Street School (now Las Vegas Blvd) and catching pollywogs with Tony Bell (Rex Bell and Clara Bows oldest son). That’s when the Flamingos strolled in front of the casino and hotels had lobbies.
Later visiting as college students (Cal Poly Pomona) and coasting down Cajon Pass in our gas starved beetle eating our last Snickers bar.

It would be 1980 before I would see Vegas again in our new RV with seven kids and one wife packed in like sardines. We checked into Circus Circus RV Park and relished every $3.80 buffet in town.

Over the years, as the kids left, I moved onto Caesars, Last Frontier, Dunes and Belagio.

This time I chose the venerable downtown Golden Nugget being interested in how a food company (Landry’s) would operate a casino hotel they recently acquired. They had married their aquarium venues to the new pool area with nice results. Their buffet was a decidedly one stop affair. The sushi was bad, shrimp cocktail tasteless, hot line so so and forget the out of box desserts. Our dinner at Carson Street Café was a little better but never before had anise flavor in my country fried steak. Vic & Anthony’s, their signature venue, was outstanding as was room service. We passed on Lillies Noodle House and Grotto Italian Ristorante. In our seven days there not one hotel employee smiled or otherwise greeted us. All in all I would say their hotel operation was on par with a high rise motel.


I had to try Bobby Fly’s Mesa Grill. So off to Caesar’s we went for dinner.

SEARED SEA SCALLOPS Pine Nut Butter, Green Chile Grits Black Trumpet mushrooms $37 NEW MEXICAN SPICE RUBBED PORK TENDERLOIN Bourbon-Ancho Chile Sauce Sweet Potato Tamale Crushed Pecan Butter $32.

ANCHO CHILE-HONEY GLAZED SALMON Spicy Black Bean Sauce Roasted Jalapeno Crema $30. LEMON CHEESECAKE WITH CORNMEAL CRUST Blackberry Granita Lemon – Poppyseed Tuile $11.
My two companions had the scallops and roast pork loin. I had roasted corn soup, salmon and we all had lime cheesecake with cornmeal crust fresh blackberries and blackberry sorbet. The soup had the right flavor and great presentation but was not hot enough and a little gritty. The salmon with spicy black bean sauce was good but not great. Scallops were a hit but the pork was on par with the salmon, good but not outstanding. All the food suffered from being on the warm side rather than hot. The cheesecake was outstanding although the overly thin cornmeal crust seemed a statement rather than a taste experience. Service was slow.


We had a good table to watch the open kitchens. There were seven chefs and one young lady with long blond uncontrolled hair that I think was the pastry chef. The chefs worked well and produced the food at a good rate. It appeared the lackluster wait staff cooled off the plates or their expeditor was off his speed.

For Asian food we ate at our favorite Filipino restaurant Babinka and always have a fine lunch turo turo style (like cafeteria). I had crispy fried bungus (milk fish), chicken adobo and long beans while my wife and daughter had lechon (roast pork), pansit and a yellow curry. Filipino desserts are always a treat for us, a fine cassava cake and their signature babinka washed down with buco juice (young coconut).
A bright food spot was during our side trip to Death Valley. We stopped at Amargosa Fort for a pit stop and on a whim decided to have lunch there rather than later at Death Valley Inn. It was a diner attached to a gas station with counter and stools and oil cloth covered tables occupied by some locals. I ordered the blackened catfish, my companion’s fried chicken and a club sandwich. The simple catfish made Bobby Fly’s salmon look for shelter. It was pan fried to perfection served with dollar potatoes and home style coleslaw. The fried chicken was as mom does it with heaps of French fries and coleslaw. The club sandwich was perfection served the old fashioned way with potato chips, looked great and was well eaten. Pleasantly surprised by our food we ventured dessert. It was the hallmark. I had peach pie. Fresh peaches baked in a copious lattice crust that was a joy to taste. You have heard the term a slab of pie? That’s what was served. The apple was a repeat of the peach and only the cherry showed it’s akin to a can. We totally over tipped, if that’s possible, and the local housewife who served us was quite happy with these out of towners.
Having passed up the Grotto at the Nugget we had to try the local Buca di Beppo to get our Italian fix. Of course the fact that our son had managed one of their stores in California did not harness our critical view but made it keener. Buca is on a scale of their own when it comes to décor. You either get sick, amused or run for the door. The family style platters go a long way for a party of four. We chose appetizer platter, apple salad, pizza and veal. In this Buca the food and service more than compensated for the corny décor. The appetizers were fresh, well prepared and never seen a box. Apples and gorgonzola make a wonderful taste combination and the salad was fresh and well dressed. Ahh, the veal melted in your mouth with a hint of lemon and rich butter. My only reservation is that they serve thin crust pizza where I like thick. Dessert was too much but we suffered anyway.

Buca Trio Platter
Taste three of our best beginnings, Crispy Shrimp, Fried Calamari, and Pan-Fried Fresh Mozzarella. All paired with three delicious dipping sauces, fresh pesto aioli, traditional and spicy marinara. $19.99

Apple Gorgonzola Salad
Fresh romaine, gorgonzola, seasoned walnuts, dried cranberries, Granny Smith Apples, Italian Vinaigrette. $15.99

Veal Limone
With escarole and white Tuscan beans in lemon butter sauce $24.99

Pizza Con Pollo
Chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, olives. $12.99

Dolce Platter
A medley of dessert favorites, including house-made Tiramisu, Double Dark Chocolate Cake, Homemade Cheesecake, and a seasonal favorite. $29.99
One last mention was our after show late night stop at The Pepper Mill. Great coffee shop that has been around for a while and serves fresh hot food twenty four seven. It was an enjoyable ending to our evening.


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