Sunday, May 28, 2017

Travel Edition: Las Vegas

Our hectic life on the beach was really starting to get us down. There is just so much rum, surf, sand and sun that a body can take before a change must be made. After careful thought and consideration my trophy bride and I decided that a nice peaceful and quiet week in Las Vegas would do wonders to rejuvenate our mental and physical well-being. To add frosting to the cake we would be celebrating my bride's birthday and welcoming her to the magic world of Medicare.

Southwest Airlines had a package deal with non-stop round trip air and hotel accommodations at MGM Grand. We looked at each other and said, "What the hell; let's go!"
After a blissful five hour ride in a flying sardine can we were deposited in Sin City and whisked away to our new home in the sky. Actually, the 15th floor of the MGM Grand with a spectacular room upgrade. For a mere $40 extra per night we got a room with clean air and a guarantee that the room would be relatively germ free. We couldn't say no.

I had done my diligent search for a proper dining venue for our first night in Vegas that would treat my Baby to a dandy birthday dinner. I chose Andiron Steak and Sea in Summerlin (about 17 miles from the Strip). Andiron features a must have 9 ounce prime rib cap: the tastiest beef muscle of all – the Spinalis Dorsi ... cooked to a perfect medium temperature that benefits any rib eye to melt the delicious ribbons of flavorful fat.

While awaiting the arrival of this heavenly cut of beef we washed away the desert dust with a couple of adult beverages.
The Exhibitionist for her ... 
The Amaro Manhattan for moi.
Our starter of Steak Tartare with a quail egg on top was another dish to write home about - one of the best we have ever been served.

The quality of the food, beverages (including a bottle of Rhone Valley wine), service and $192 final bill was worth the drive away from the tourist traps on the Strip.

If you have never been to Las Vegas you have got to do the Strip at least once. We had been and I can only paraphrase the late, great Ambrose Bierce: "Once is enough!" We planned this trip with the least amount of time on this boulevard of teaming masses wandering aimlessly from one plastic palace to another. Las Vegas has so much to offer to those in search of new and exciting adventures. As an added perk, prices are lower and the crowds are thinner away from the glitz.

I seem to remember Anthony Bourdain visiting Las Vegas several years ago and having a beverage at the Mermaid Lounge. My bride Googled the Mermaid and an Uber and off we went. The Mermaid is located in the Silverton Casino - about six miles out of town. You really should try the Pineapple Upside Down - a dandy vodka beverage, a bit on the sweet side - but, so good!

Back in town we decided to give the Monorail a ride ($12 per person for 24 hours). This is a pleasant way to see some sights without the crowds and out of the heat.

We rode from MGM to the other end and back again just for fun. A note of caution: The end of the line recording mentions that this is the stop for Fremont Street, the second most famous street in the Las Vegas Valley after the Las Vegas Strip.

What the recording doesn't mention is the walk down to the street where a machine can be found that, for a fee ($8) you can acquire a bus ticket that can transport you to Fremont. Or, you can walk four long bus stops distance.

A kindly gentleman standing nearby, recognizing that we weren't locals, suggested that catching a bus at this stop during the day was safe. He went on, "At night this is a dangerous place. You don't want to be here at night." Thank you, kind sir. We got back on the monorail. Never did make it to Fremont.

Didja Know: Each of those round balls on the Ferris wheel holds 40 people? Me neither, and no way Jose (Juan just doesn't rhyme).

After a day and a half of city life my birthday bride and I decide to get out of town. Seriously out! Here in Las Vegas if you are planning on an adventure, there is only one way to travel to that adventure.

A caveat: The limo does not have alcohol and you will be sharing the ride (Grand Canyon Tour Co.).

Our pilot, Tom Cruise (he claimed his name was John but we knew better), loaded us in to the 'copter with three other adventurer seekers. We lifted off and banked over McCarran on our way to the Grand Canyon. We hoovered over the Hover (or whatever) Dam! and then landed on the canyon floor. Champagne and a light lunch was served ... and John did not allow me to pilot his chopper even though I was sporting my Top Gun shades.


On our last full day in Las Vegas we had planned on renting a car and driving two hours to Death Valley. At breakfast that morning we realized that we were too pooped to party. There is a lot of walking in the huge MGM Grand complex and we decided that we had seen enough desert while flying out to the canyon. So we had a couple breakfast Bloody Marys instead and spent the rest of the day exploring a few nearby resort properties.

We saw a shoe ... a really, really big shoe at the Cosmopolitan (one of the more impressive resorts on the Strip).

We wandered through the casinos and when asked how we fared, we replied, "We came out ahead." It helped that we laid no money on the table or dropped in the machines. I did have a couple of quarters in my pocket that I was anxious to throw away, but these modern machines only take paper money or casino cards.

I miss the old one-armed bandits, but the lights, bells, whistles and sirens are still impressive.

In our younger years we traveled for adventure first and food second. As we have matured that trend has reversed and now food is more of a priority. We enjoy seeking out new and innovative venues at which to dine. In Vegas we found that food tends to be better and costs less away from the celebrity chef joints on the Strip.

We walked past Morimoto's. Nothing on the menu appeared to be much different than what we can find at home. We visited Emeril's and decided that Emeril should be ashamed to have his name associated with Emeril's. They do not have a clue as to oyster shuckin' and servin'. They poured off the liquor and washed my oysters in a bowl of water. I sent them back. The tuna poke was mushy and unpleasant ($17).

This is not to say that all of the name-brand restaurants are bad. More than a few menus we looked at on-line and around the Strip in Las Vegas were way over-priced for what you get (the name) or seemed rather homologous. One notable exception to on-the-Strip dining is China Poblano at the Cosmo. Inspired by José Andrés’ travels through China and Mexico, China Poblano brings authentic ingredients and techniques from both cultures to the table.

My bride and I started with the must-have Salt Air Margarita, a foamy, salty delight that enlivened our buds of taste. From there we moved to tacos: the Silencio (duck tongue with lychee) and Carnitas (braised baby pig). Next was the Swallow a Cloud (wonton soup with fluffy house-made wontons, egg noodles and bok choy), and Twenty-Vegetable Fried Rice (fried rice, pea shoot salad and twenty seasonal vegetables). We ended this feast with the superb dim sum Xiaolongbao (dungeness crab, pork, veal consommé).

All of that food and four margaritas came to a pleasing $135 - a real bargain on the Strip, especially at a José Andrés venue.

Instead of Emeril's place you might want to venture out to the Orleans Hotel and Casino. We had been to the Orleans years ago and went back this trip to Big Al's Oyster Bar. They seemed to have a clue. A band greeted us at the door and the shucker shucked some big'uns. Unfortunately, those farm raised mollusks had no flavor. They were properly shucked, though, probably better steamed or grilled (Oysters, garden salad, several adult beverages $47).


We enjoyed a most pleasant week in Las Vegas, but after three full days and two travel days (about five hours coming and going) my bride and I decided that we needed another vacation. This time it was back to our palace of pleasure on Indian Shores Beach.

Before you even ask - No we didn't! As Ambrose Bierce said, "Once is enough." Our daughter and son-in-law got married here about 14 years ago.

What I have presented here are the highlights of our trip. Some things are better left unsaid because,

"What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!"

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Beach At Indian Shores

Beach season is almost upon us. With really nice weather for a change, I took my camera out for a walk.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Portuguese Pleasures On Central

The fab four of fine dining girded loins this Sunday past and ventured off to downtown St. Pete for a gastronomic adventure rivaling exploits of yore.

I seriously doubt that sentence will be remembered as one of the great opening lines in literature but the Piglet Parade and friends did have a memorable experience at the Iberian Rooster on Central, the avenue of culinary delights.

Iberian Rooster bills itself as a purveyor of colonial Portuguese fusion; featuring plates both small and large that are designed to be shared amongst friends whilst imbibing creative liquid refreshments.

Wine, beer and cocktails were prepared and delivered by Leigh, the high priestess of the bar. Two potions of note were the Hemingway's Demise and the signature cocktail, The Gandy.
Maybe it was from a few sips of good cheer, but I was amused by the coasters and the drink menu descriptions.

Once properly mellowed, we four moved on to the comestibles which were passed around the table for all to get a taste. We each requested a couple of small plates that provided more than enough food to go around. Our ebullient server, Kat, asked if we would prefer all dishes presented as they were completed or spaced out. We chose "as completed". In retrospect, I would suggest spacing the dishes so that each could be enjoyed at a leisurely pace while still at the fresh-from-the-kitchen temperature.

These seven dishes are presented in no particular order. The eighth dish was another pork belly. I decided that one picture would be sufficient.

Pinxtos - small snacks of crostini topped with shrimp, linguiça, chimichurri. Three other choices are available.
Potato Chops - Fried potato cakes stuffed with minced meat and green peas.
Goan Patties - Sweet and savory baked stuffed puffed pastry, sweet mango chutney, balsamic glace. Choice of beef or potato and cauliflower.
Duck Fat Pork Belly - Duck fat braised pork belly, shoestring potatoes, port pan sauce, chorizo palm oil.
A hot dog? You've got to be kidding! Then I took a bite. Heavens to Murgatroid! That was no ordinary hot dog; that was a Hotchee Dog, and my favorite small plate - Beef frank, shredded cheddar, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, beef chili, chopped onions, shoestring potatoes, sunny side egg, house hoagie roll. I'd go back for this one plate alone.
Portuguese Meatballs - Ground beef, chorizo, port gravy, pickled okra.
Photo courtesy of Jim Parker
Paprika Grilled Octopus - Arugula, pickled okra and onions, squid ink, beet balsamic reduction.

Speaking strictly for me, the Iberian Rooster was a most pleasing dining adventure. Upon exiting nary was heard a discouraging word, and the skies were not cloudy all day (Home on the Range - public domain).

Food and beverage for four came to a pleasing $160.

Iberian Rooster Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato