I'm bitter about being back in the cold so, if you encounter me in the next few days, just try not to comment on the weather. I was able to soak up plenty of sun while in Vegas, so hopefully my body is busy photosynthesizing enough vitamin D to get me through the rest of the season without getting violent. Has Seasonal Affected Disorder been successfully used as a criminal defense for murder yet? I may need one of those S.A.D. lights.
Anyway, Vegas was good to me, as always. That's not to say I did very well on the casino floor, as I think I came out $6.00 down, but I very much enjoyed the tee shirt weather, comfortable amenities of Bally's Hotel, and the great dining options of Las Vegas. But wait, didn't I say I was staying Downtown? Yes, but that was before I spent one night in my room at the Four Queens. Never having stayed Downtown before, I had no idea the music on Fremont Street blares 24 hours a day, and the sound and light show goes on until midnight- no bueno for a girl on Central Standard Time who happens to really cherish her sleep, even in Sin City. Also, there's no security to be found near the elevators to the rooms, which is far from comforting when you're a female rolling solo in Drunkypants Douchebag Land. And call me naïve, but I had no idea there's literally nothing to do Downtown. I now realize that the only reason the locals party there is because you can get a shot of Jose Cuervo and a can of Tecate for $1.00, any hour of the day.
I did have a great pizza and microbrew root beer in the Four Queens, though. Chicago Brewing Company has a little outpost in the casino and they serve up a delicious, perfectly Midwestern-style pizza; flat and cut into squares with too much cheese. They also brew their own beer, but I had just gotten off a plane and opted for the root beer instead, which was creamy and minty and perfectly effervescent.
Other culinary highlights from my trip include:
La Salsa Cantina: A respectable Tex-Mex franchise chain. Go here when you want out of the casinos and are in need of fresh air. The food is decent enough that it won't kill you, but the bottles of Modelo Especial are only $2.00. I encountered three La Salsa Cantinas within as many blocks of Bally's, and there were people handing out 2-4-1 beer coupons in front of all of them. The one at Caesar's Palace has a great patio with a view.
Yolos at Planet Hollywood: Standard upscale casino dining, but the most authentic Mexican menu I saw while in Las Vegas. I had a delicious plate of bursting vegetarian enchiladas in adobo-flavored sauce, with black beans and Spanish-style rice. Perfectly reminiscent of a weekday meal at home. Not much for in-house ambiance, but the bar juts out onto the casino floor, so the people-watching from there is great.
Earl of Sandwich in the Miracle Mile Shops: A national hot sandwiches, wraps and salads chain that saved my ass from spending too much money on midday meals. There are no Earl of Sandwiches here, but there should be. The ciabatta-like bread is soft and flavorful, and the menu boasts four vegetarian sandwich options (which is three more than Potbelly), plus meat-free potato and pasta salads. Understand that I would've loved to get my cheap lunches someplace small and locally-owned, but that's just not possible on The Strip. Besides, "cheap" doesn't apply to food prices on The Strip, only alcohol.
Sully's Bar in Bally's Hotel: My preferred watering hole. I met a lot of really nice people (hi Linda!) and, of course, as long as you're playing an embedded video poker machine, the Coronas come free of charge.
I should also note that a new law has been put in place since the last time I visited Las Vegas. As of early 2007, an establishment must have more than 15 gaming machines to allow smoking. Ergo, smoking is now prohibited in almost every restaurant. Here's an article from June 2008 about how the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act is still being largely ignored.
Bartolotta: Of course. Where can a girl drop a Benjamin on herself for dinner and not feel the least bit guilty about it? Bartolotta at the Wynn, a fantastic Italian ristorante where the fish, cheese and produce get flown in daily from the motherland. I had the pleasure of sitting a couple bar stools down from Chef Paul Bartolotta, who was vividly engaged in a business conversation with two well-heeled men about 5 years younger than me. As Chefs tend to do, Paul was dropping a lot of F-bombs and bitching loudly about his employer; apparently you can do that when the restaurant bears your name, even if it's in the dining room in front of customers during dinner service, in an establishment where proper attire is strongly suggested.
In the hour that Paul was sitting gabbing at the bar, I got the distinct impression that the staff doesn't much care for him. There was a lot of eye-rolling and whispering, even from the all-male server fleet, who are also imported from Italy (save one guy from Mexico). I really wanted to talk to Paul about some business of my own, but neither I nor my bartender were able to grab his attention before he shot back to the kitchen posthaste, presumably after realizing how long he'd been sitting at the bar.
Don't get me wrong, I totally respect the man; he's a rockstar in the way that Chefs are rockstars these days. And I had a wonderful time at Bartolotta because the food is amazing and my bartenders were top notch; knowledgable, attentive, and excellent at making a solo diner feel as if she's not dining solo. In fact, from now on I think I will exclusively dine at the bar at Bartolotta, regardless of if I'm alone or not. It's where I usually eat when I'm out and about in Minneapolis, anyway.
The Wells Fargo ATM: In the Harrah's court, just beyond the side door, saving you $6.00 in ATM fees if you happen to bank at WF or Wachovia. It's an unmarked outdoor machine set into a wall that you don't notice is a WF machine until you step up to the screen. Slightly bummed that I didn't think to look up ATM locations on the WF website until the last day I was there, but at least I saved a little money.