Destinations: Las Vegas

I suppose Vegas is all about spontaneity…seeing where the night might take you.  But not me.  At least not on a quick trip where restaurants and date nights were a priority.  I began my web research weeks prior to our trip…Food & Wine’s website, Travel & Leisure, casino websites, etc…laying out our dining plan for the long weekend we were about to enjoy.  Sure, there are lots of sights to see, but researching them was secondary to mapping out breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each day of our trip.  We even made reservations.  I’m that way.  And it was so worth it…we had a fabulous time and it was a culinary adventure.

My idea of gambling is ordering something unusual off of the I had little interest in the casino floors, other than seeing them.  I lost a total of $12 in penny slots and a sum much larger than that at a collection of restaurants.

After meeting Brandon in our hotel lobby, I had a chance to freshen up in the room before taking a quick tour of the our highlights, including the impressive 23rd floor sky lobby.  We had selected the Mandarin Oriental based on reputation, location, and reviews, and were nothing but thrilled with our stay.  If you’re seeking a quieter and more elegant Vegas experience, it’s the perfect choice.  Although located in the center of the Strip, the pristine entrance is secluded, so guests don’t walk out of the front door of the hotel and straight onto the crazy sidewalks of Las Vegas.  And the entrance is staffed by top-hat wearing doormen, which makes a fabulous impression with each arrival and departure.  With no casino on the premises, the property is smoke-free.  The staff was remarkably focused on customer service — using your name throughout your stay and helping out with every request.  This became even more apparent after we visted some of the casinos and found even their registration areas swarming with staff trying to sell you something.  The accommodations were extremely elegant and comfortable, with luxurious baths (including a television hidden behind the vanity mirror), soft slippers to slip into after a long day of walking in the shoes you wrongly thought would be “comfortable”, and turn down service including rose petals, fresh water, and adjustments to room lighting and music.  Add to that a fleet of courtesy cars available to guests (you can’t beat rolling to dinner in a Benz instead of walking the dirty streets in 4-inch heels), and you’ve got one of the best hotels ever.

Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas

Dinner, Night One – After exploring the beautiful new Aria Resort and Casino, we had a quick casual dinner at their Thai restaurant, Lemongrass.  I played it safe, ordering pork Potstickers served with a chili vinegar soy sauce for a starter, and some fiery Pad Thai Ghoong for my entree.  It got hot in there, but it was really tasty.  Brandon ordered the Pineapple Fried Rice with prawns and Chinese sausage and enjoyed it.  I found it interesting but a little bland for my taste…but I, of course, had been eating a flaming plate of noodles.  We chased our dinner with scoops of gelato at the Aria’s Jean-Philippe Patisserie.  After admiring some spectacular chocolate sculpture, I selected and adored the cheesecake sorbet, and Brandon had the Oreo gelato.

Chocolate Dragon at Jean-Philippe Patisserie

Breakfast, Day Two – Pike Place Roast, milk, and pastries at Starbucks.  Don’t judge me.

Lunch, Day Two – One of our most successful meals was a quick lunch at Tom Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft, located at the MGM Grand.  I ordered a very tasty pressed sandwich of blackened steak, white cheddar, romesco sauce, and scallions.  But I wished I had ordered Brandon’s warm meatloaf, cheddar, and bacon sandwich on a ciabatta roll.  I do not like meatloaf.  At least, I didn’t believe I did.  But he assured me I wouldn’t regret trying it and it was amazing…absolutely amazing.

Tom Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft

Dinner, Day Two – I wanted to choose a really nice restaurant for one evening of our stay, and selected the classic French and American miX atop THEhotel at Mandalay Bay.  After making our reservation, I happened upon a $50 gift certificate on that I got for $6 after coupon codes.  At that point, I knew it was meant to be.  Our expectations were high, given the restaurant’s accolades (a Michelin star two years in a row, a Mobil Four Star rating, and a AAA Four Diamond Award) and being the brainchild of world-renowned French chef Alain Ducasse.  The experience did not disappoint.  As we rode the glass-enclosed elevator to the 64th floor, we were surprised with a stunning view of the Las Vegas strip.  The restaurant itself was modern and elegant, with a 24-foot chandelier of glass spheres as its centerpiece.  Saving room for dessert, we skipped the appetizer and ordered matching entrees, each selecting the USDA prime, pepper-crusted filet mignon.  I chose a Béarnaise sauce and Mostarda di Cremona to accompany mine, as well as a buttery Wild Mushroom Fricassée.  Brandon opted for a black peppercorn sauce, a house barbecue, and Fork Crushed Potatoes.  I didn’t know what Mostarda di Cremona was, but it sounded like “mustard”, which I love, so I thought I’d give it a shot.  Later, I learned that it was a combination of candied fruit and mustard-flavored syrup, which explained the sugary sweetness.  I stopped after a few dips of it, but I emptied my Béarnaise cup.  I’m no fool.  The steaks were perfect and we agreed they were best with the Béarnaise.  After cleaning my plate, my dreams of ordering four desserts were dashed and instead we selected two (yes…just two)…an order of Profiteroles with house-made vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate sauce, and an apple and quince layered tarte served with a salty caramel mousse and topped with green apple sorbet.  The profiteroles were fine, but the other dessert was amazing.  I was tempted by their signature Baba au Rhum on the menu but space didn’t permit.  But I somehow made room for the warm madeleines brought to our table after our meal.  I’m a warrior.

miX Restaurant – THEhotel at Mandalay Bay

Stunning view from the miX Bar

Breakfast, Day Three – It’s Vegas, so we needed to do the buffet thing, right?  Having heard great things from friends about the Buffet Bellagio, we headed over early for the weekend brunch buffet.  The operative term here is early.  Had we been thirty minutes later, we would have waited in a line that appeared to be literally a hundred people deep.  I assured Brandon that I would have cried.  Although we agreed we could have been (more cheaply) satisfied ordering our favorites at a good restaurant, it was fun to see all of the options and everything we tasted was surprisingly good, given the quality of food often found on buffets.  My favorites were French toast, a berry salad, and (of course) bacon.  I’m not sure what Brandon ate.  I was pretty involved with my pile of bacon.

Lunch, Day Three – There’s no way.  (See Breakfast, Day Three)  Instead, we stopped at the Sugar Factory at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino for ice cream mid-afternoon.  I’m sure this is a great store, but I just wanted out.  It was loud.  Incredibly, miserably loud.  I ordered the coffee and doughnuts ice cream and Brandon the cookies and cream, and we darted from the pop music filled place.  The ice creams were good but not spectacular.  I secretly wished I had gone back to Jean-Philippe for more cheesecake sorbet.

Dinner, Day Three – We knew we had to visit Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace after seeing the dinner menu online.  The service here was the best we had during our stay, the food presentation was creative, and the flavors were amazing.  We were impressed as soon as we snacked from their basket of breads while waiting for our meals.  They served a walnut raisin bread, blue corn muffins, and my favorite, a jalepeno asiago bread.  We shared a tasty appetizer — the Tiger Shrimp and Roasted Garlic Corn Tamale, served with a Corn and Cilantro sauce.  For my first course, I ordered a Baby Romaine Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing, Warm Hominy Croutons, and a Parmesan Crisp.  This salad (and the croutons, in particular) was my favorite dish all night.  I offered for Brandon to try a crouton, withholding the critical information that it was made of hominy, which he hates.  He thought it was really good.  I told him the truth, and he still thought it was really good.  He ordered and raved about the New Mexican Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin, served with a Bourbon Ancho-Chile Sauce, a Sweet Potato Tamale, and Crushed Pecan Butter.  He selected the amazing Mashed Potatoes with Green Chile Queso Sauce.  I helped him eat the bites covered in sauce.  I ordered the Ancho Chile-Honey Glazed Salmon with Spicy Black Bean Sauce and Roasted Jalepeno Crema.  The salmon was very good, but it was hard to top the hominy croutons.  All in all, well worth the visit.