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Trip Report Trip report: Las Vegas, June 2011

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Viva Las Vegas, indeed.

Looking around Vegas is like eating junk food with your eyes. It’s a total sensory overload; impressive (crazy?) architecture, super-luxurious spaces inside gigantic hotels, bright lights that glare even in the dessert sun, and some outfits that simply defy description.

Wynn|Encore was the base of operations for three nights, and it delivered in spades. (Gambling reference intentional, although I don’t indulge) Guest rooms here are gorgeous, there are some great restaurants, and the staff is professional and friendly. Plus, as a wine geek, I love that the meeting rooms are named for famous wine estates, i.e. Margaux.

While waiting for our room to be ready, we had lunch at Café Society in Encore. (Wynn and Encore are two hotels that are joined) We were given pretzel bread with a German mustard compound butter to nibble on before our meal showed up. The Lunch Box Special ($23) brought fresh, flavourful Market Chop Salad, Charred Rare Tuna Sliders with wasabi mayo on a sort of soft roll, and some fresh fruit. Accompanied by a bottle of Ponzi Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley ($36), it was the perfect start to our stay.

Since we had booked a spa treatment for that afternoon, we had access (with in-and-out-privileges) to the water features. When we arrived we were given robes, some slippers, and assigned lockers, then we checked out the space. We jumped in and out of a hot tub, two plunge pools, a dry sauna, a eucalyptus sauna (heavenly), and something called a deluge shower. You stand under an opening that is high up the wall, and water thunders down on you. Great for sore shoulders.

My treatment was a Body Polish ($170), which consisted of a scrub with exfoliant, removal of the scrub with a hot, wet towel, drying with another towel, and finally a massage application of grapefruit body butter. The treatment finished with a scalp massage using warm oil. It’s a wonder they didn’t need a wheelbarrow to cart me out of the treatment room, I was so relaxed. My skin felt reborn, and any jet lag I might have had was gone.

After my treatment I took a few moments to enjoy the lounge, which is stocked with tasty snacks, beverages, great magazines, and even a bowl of wet towels sitting in ice and cucumber slices. For the price of one treatment, you could really make a great day out of this place. There are showers, plastic-wrapped, single-use hairbrushes, hairdryers, and all the other stuff you need to fix yourself up afterward. The attendant and the therapist were wonderful, too, so I feel bad that I don’t remember their names. I did remember to tip them, though, so I hope that’s enough.

For our first night’s dinner we chose Bartolotta, an Italian restaurant at Wynn with a reputation for great fish and seafood. Wanting to try as many things as possible, we ordered the four-course Menu di Paranza, at $145 per person. The first course featured artichoke salad, octopus salad, scallops with mushrooms, clams in red wine, and another dish, the name of which I forgot to write down. My companion swore she can never eat octopus anywhere else now, after the amazing example we got.

The second (starch) course consisted of a lobster pasta, seafood risotto, and ricotta ravioli in a Marsala sauce. The moaning from our table while we ate these carb/crustacean delights bordered on the obscene. We were at least partially drowned out by the man at the next table demanding that none of his food have dairy in it. Bartolotta’s staff and kitchen handled both situations with grace.

Roasted whole turbot arrived for the third course, and was expertly filleted tableside by our charming server. It was plated with some warm, crushed grape tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil. Simple, and simply gorgeous. The wine we had with all this was Argiolas “Costamolino” Vermentino di Sardegna 2008 ($44). It was full bodied, and showed peach, pear, and floral notes, with some mineral. I considered it a really good value, as it matched perfectly with everything.

As a coda to this incredible meal, we were treated to a “symphony” of desserts, which included pineapple granita, raspberry sorbet, a gelato; panna cotta with berries; and chocolate budino with banana gelato.

Wynn bills itself as a resort, as opposed to a hotel, and while we were poolside the next day, we got a taste of the difference when a server appeared to take a drink order. We treated ourselves to a mojito and a margarita ($14 each) as a means to combat the heat of the desert sun. Of the two pool areas, the one at Wynn is more spacious than the one at Encore, and somewhat quieter. After a good bronzing, lunch was in order, so we stepped off the pool deck, and into La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway.

In a town where wine distribution appears to be controlled by just a few companies (wines repeat on lists all down the Strip), La Cave’s offer of some lesser known varietals in tasting flights was a happy discovery. Given the heat of the day, we chose the World Wide White selection ($15) that had 2-ounce pours of the following in it:
Kerner, Produttori Valle Isarco, Alto-Adige, Italy – peach, apricot, and baked apple;
Riesling, Zind Humbrecht, Alsace, France – lemon peel, tangerine, and slate;
Albariño, Paco Y Lola, Rias Baixas, Spain – green olives, orange peel, and brine;
and Chenin Blanc, Mulderbosch, South Africa – beeswax, honey, mushrooms, and pear.

As an amuse-bouche, our server brought us cubes of three kinds of fruit, each with a different seasoning. There was papaya with mint and orange, Asian pear with lime and cilantro, and mango with sea salt and chilli powder. So tasty, and so refreshing. All the plates at La Cave are small, which makes them perfect for sharing, or not overstuffing yourself. We made lunch out of salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachio; prosciutto, caramelized onion and arugula flatbread; and bacon-wrapped dates with blue cheese fondue. It was all delicious.

Needing to walk off some of our meal, we headed across the street to Neiman Marcus to take advantage of the sales. We each got a dress, and then as we were leaving, some ladies in the cosmetics department asked if we wanted our make-up done. Does anyone ever say “no” to that? The lovely and talented Beth used products from a company called ‘29’ on my face. Apparently, this line uses the by-products of wine production in its cosmetics, so it’s supposed to be full of anti-oxidants. All I know is that Beth worked magic with her kit, and I loved the look of my face afterward.

Post-shopping/primping, we stopped by Isla, the Mexican restaurant in TI (Treasure Island) for a mojito and a margarita. They are both done really well here, and they are well worth a little detour.

We had enjoyed La Cave so much at lunch, that we went back for dinner. This time I had yellow tomato gazpacho with crab salad, and roasted salmon on spinach with a red wine reduction. I paired the meal with an Oregon Pinot Noir that went really well. My companion had mixed greens with oven-roasted tomatoes and champagne vinaigrette, followed by scallops on polenta, and she loved both dishes.

We were on the guest list at XS, the hot nightclub, so that’s where we flaunted our fancy selves. While there is a dedicated dance floor, the action can also be found outside (this is the Encore pool during the day). Away from the crush of sweaty people, we had fun sipping cocktails, and watching Steve Wynn and his new bride walk by, surrounded by bodyguards.
(Faith in humanity story: my friend thought her purse had been stolen at the club, so she filed a report with Wynn security. She was given the number for Lost & Found, just in case. The next day, a very nice security lady informed my friend that her purse had been turned in, with EVERYTHING in it, including over $200 U.S. in cash. Security had vouchered it, and gave it back to a very grateful woman)
After shaking our collective bon-bons, we needed a serious breakfast the next morning, and found it at the Terrace Pointe Café. My bacon and avocado omelette was just the restorative I craved. It was also big enough that I didn’t need lunch. By dinnertime, however, food was again on the agenda (bit of theme here), and for the first time, we left Wynn to get it.

Bouchon is part of the Thomas Keller empire, and it’s in the Venetian, although it’s a French restaurant. If you have ever been to France, or have ever wanted to go, Bouchon is the place to fuel good memories and/or desire. Between the zinc bar, the tiled floor, and the full-length aprons on the servers, it feels authentically French, and the food delivers here, too.

The sharing of plates is one of my great dining joys, and I am lucky that my companion feels the same way. We had smoked halibut rillette, cold mussels (with a sort of Dijon-aise dip), beet salad, and goat cheese salad, accompanied by Crémant d’Alsace and a lovely Vouvray. To wind down the evening, we went back to Wynn, and installed ourselves at Parasol Up, the lobby bar. There was really good music playing, but people can smoke in here, and did, which made us wrap up the night quickly.

For our final day in paradise, we decided that a proper lunch was in order, so after a quick dip in the pool, we trekked down to Aria, one of the new properties in the middle of the Strip, to try Julian Serrano, a Spanish tapas restaurant. To give some idea of how serious we were about this lunch, the table next to us turned over three times while we sat there. (Yes, I’m giggling as I write that)

We began with Marqués de Gelida Brut Cava 2006 ($11/gl). Our first plates were ahi tuna tempura ($14), and bacalao (cod) à la gabardina with rocoto mayo ($10). As a wine match, we chose Burgãns Albariño from Galicia ($9/gl). It was crisp, with flavours of lemon, green olives, and white grapefruit.

Next up was white fish ceviche ($10), prepared with lime, salt, cilantro, paprika, watercress and shallot, and served next to a salad with grapefruit segments, and taro chips. After that we had crispy pancetta iberica (pork belly) with molecular mozzarella ($14), which was a great mix of flavours and textures.

For our final round of savoury dishes, we chose chicken chilimdron in a ragout of peppers, tomato, and iberico ham ($12), and pato confitado (duck confit) ($14) in an orange sauce with bits of fresh orange. There were two Tempranillos on the list, so naturally we had to try them both. The staff at Julian Serrano accommodated our request for both of us to have a half glass of each wine. One was Rioja Vega Reserva 2004 ($13/full glass), which showed sandalwood, black currant, vanilla, pipe tobacco, and dried cherry, while the other was Creta Roble 2007 ($15/full glass) from Ribera del Duero. It showed baking spice (nutmeg and cinnamon), raspberry, dark cherry, cedar, sandalwood, and vanilla.

At last, it was time to finish our fantastic lunch with dessert. Two classics were on the menu, so again, we had to have both. Churros con chocolate ($8) brought a plate of skinny pieces of deep-fried dough, accompanied by a dish of melted chocolate that had been zinged with some chilli spice. The other sweet was a bowl of something called buñuelos ($8), which look like sugar-covered doughnut holes. Those came with a caramel sauce that was to die for. Just to gild the lily, we had Don PX Albala 1982 ($18/gl). PX (Pedro Ximenez) looks like motor oil in the glass, but tastes like heaven in your mouth. This one had an intense nose of tar, dark raisins, burnt sugar, molasses, cocoa, and coffee. The palate was luscious, and tasted like raisin pie, butterscotch, and molasses.
We used the long walk back to the Wynn to check out some other properties, including Crystals, the Cosmopolitan, and the Mandarin Oriental, which was so elegant that we whispered as we walked around.
It may be hard to believe, but after all the walking we did, we wanted some dinner before we got on the red-eye flight to come home, so we honoured La Cave with a third visit. We kept it (relatively) simple by ordering a salad of Bibb lettuce with Gorgonzola, pickled onions, and crispy prosciutto ($10), along with a tomato, caper, and mozzarella flatbread ($10).
Las Vegas took a lot of my money, yet it also captured my heart even more firmly than it already had. It may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely for me, as often as my wallet (and my waistline) can afford it.

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