20 August 2012

I went to Las Vegas, and all I got was...broke.

Travelling back in time to Ancient Rome would have been way cheaper.

Eleven years ago, when I last visited Vegas, there were cheap rooms, free entertainment walking along the strip, and breakfast buffets that cost $3.99.  When I went to Vegas last week, there were discounted rooms in overpriced hotels who nickeled and dimed you for everything, 20-minute walks just to cross the street, and $14 breakfasts of scrambled eggs and coffee.  It's not totally fair for me to say this: I was staying at in-love-with-itself Caesar's Palace.  I suspect that, on the outskirts of The Strip, things are still more reasonable.  I have also heard that the downtown area (Fremont Street was recommended, but I never made it that far) yields some great restaurants at much better prices.  I cannot speak to this experience because I was dutifully trying to attend the convention I was supposed to be dutifully attending; all I can say is, if you stay on the strip, expect to get gouged (or at least inconvenienced if you search for alternatives).

Caesar's Palace, by the way, has given up trying to keep customers happy.  There is no uniform policy on anything--check-in time, what's included in the hotel room price, and even the hotel room price itself is all negotiable, depending on who you talk to and how good your social skills are.  I happened to have hitched my wagon to a very sociable star while I was there, but otherwise, I would have been screwed, as I possess no amount of social finesse whatsoever.

So, blah blah blah, the food was too expensive.  But I did manage to find a couple of little gems in the midst of the cigarette smoke and sad gambling people who didn't know what day of the week it was or whether it was night or day.

I think this guy made my noodles!
Beijing Noodle No. 9 

You can pay a lot to eat to eat some pretty mundane Chinese food, of you can stick to the first page of the menu and have one of their noodle dishes with homemade, hand stretched, traditional noodles.  I paid $12 for a big bowl of carb-o-riffic magic that got me through the night and allowed me to skip breakfast the next morning.

Warnings: the service is slow and bitchy.  Bitchy as hell, actually.  The restaurant is loud and all a blindingly bright white, so just go ahead and wear your sunglasses indoors.  It's not the weirdest looking thing they'll see.


This place is a bit more expensive but also offers a much more varied menu in terms of consistent acceptability.  Execution is fine, the bread they bring to the table is actually amazing, and the wine list is quite good.  At dinner (but be forewarned, not at lunch), the lobster bisque suffices as a fine meal, and the quiche and side salad is a satisfying, safe choice.  Portions are large.

Warnings: the service is just as shitty as Beijing Noodle No. 9.  I asked if they could split the check for lunch, and I was actually told, "well, you shouldn't do that if you're not planning on paying separately" with quite a bit of attitude.  So, shitty and incredibly stupid is a more accurate way to describe the service that day.

I occasionally buy their jarred sauce as a jump start for a quickie lasagne at home.  The prices were too steep to justify a plate of pasta and tomatoes, but their wine list was not any more expensive than the cheaper in-house restaurants, and they had some real gems.  The cheapest red on the menu, the Primitivo, was quite good--full-bodied yet fruity--and the Prosecco was just right.

Warnings: no complaints about service--they were perfectly lovely.

Flamingo Pizza

When you get sick of the terrible service and overpriced food, it's time to get some carry-out.  Be forewarned, you will have to walk out to the far lane of shuttles and taxi service and meet some sketchy dude in an unmarked, 1990 red Honda Civic and sneak it back up to your room while no one is looking, but it will be worth it.  The pasta with garlic butter and mushrooms is ridiculously simple and good.

Warnings: I think they might be getting stoned at work here.  You will wait a loooong time to get your food, and then it will not come with utensils.  Ask ahead for forks or whatever the obvious choice for eating is, because it will not be obvious to them.

Now that I've recovered from the cigarette smoke and low self-esteem I developed in these restaurants, I've come up with some pretty convincing replications of these dishes (which are all pretty basic, anyway); stay tuned in my next posts for recipes for Chinese noodles with eggs and tomato, Lobster-like bisque, and fettuccine with garlic, butter, and mushrooms.