Las Vegas. My sister city.
A city full of excitement, wonder and intrigue. A city sensuous by design and cunning by nature. A city that is as seductive as it is sinister. A city with danger written all over it.
My happy place.
It is my happy place because it entices but does not lie and it lets me be who I truly am, but not built to be. She accepts my sinful nature and I accept hers. I understand her beauty and her foulness and she understands mine.
She is a wild, unpredictable, self-serving girl, that Vegas, and I enter her lair knowing she will raise my spirit to heights unknown then drop me plummeting through the clouds without a parachute.
And that’s ok. I’m not putting her in the “wife” category. She is my “part time lover” and that is what I want out of her.
I have been coming to Las Vegas ever since I moved to Los Angeles; I consider her my naughty shit-nuts neighbor in white satin lace.
Every time I pay her a visit it is a unique experience. There is always something new to check out whether it is a hotel, a restaurant or a bar and I am never disappointed. Las Vegas almost does too good of a job reinventing and improving on herself, and when I leave I vow not to return for at least six months as it takes that long for the scars of gluttony to heal. God bless her tainted soul.
This was my third trip in the last two years with my one and only, Adeye, and we definitely did it up. It was Labor Day weekend, three days and three nights of testing our liver’s limits and our stomach’s capacities, but I start this FlavorLog of Las Vegas, NV with a little known fact about Barstow, CA.
Now a trip to Las Vegas usually means a road trip as we only live four and a half hours away and airfare, unless you book months in advance, is ridiculous high for a forty minute flight; which is fine by me because that means I get to visit… DEL TACO, in Barstow!!!
Now, I know some of you are shaking your little judgmental heads at me right now, and go ahead. It’s fine. I’m enlightened. You are not.
There are three Del Tacos in the oh-so tiny Barstow area because this is the birthplace of the chain. I happen to go to the Del Taco on Lenwood Rd. just off the 15 freeway. Their “Barstow Taco”, which is their basic ground beef, lettuce and shredded cheese taco is absolutely, positively taco-tastic!
Normally, I am of the opinion that fast food is indeed chemically flavored fecal matter but not here, not in this coveted orb of Flavortown. I am by no means saying Del Taco is a cut above any other fast food chain. They are indeed just as horrible as the rest.
Just not in Barstow.
Their quality, quantity and presentation standards are way higher than anywhere else. It is the taco as it was intended to be before it got whored out, franchised and forgotten. I understand the original owner still comes by to make sure she isn’t put out on the street.
There is ample shredded cheddar, it is stuffed with rich, spicy ground beef. They sprinkle a little iceberg lettuce for texture, the cherry on the top is the slice of tomato. It’s a pretty cool little touch and only done in Barstow. I highly recommend you try it for yourself.
I usually hit it coming back from Vegas too. Once is never enough.
Honorable Mention: The ‘Bun Taco‘. It has the same ingredients as the taco but it’s in a bun. It’s a sloppy joe with Del Taco seasoning. Pretty money.
LAS VEGAS DINING AND QUICK EATS
Now onto Las Vegas. “Off-The-Strip” Las Vegas, first, because you can’t say you’ve truly dined or had proper booze unless you’ve ventured off the strip as well as along it.
There are local standouts, and then there are local stand outs that are no longer known just by locals. They have gone national, which brings me to Lotus of Siam, arguably one the finest Thai restaurants in the United States; my girl and I got good and wasted before this darling little treat.
Five hours at the video slots will do that to you.
Movie and television themed slot machines are dangerously addictive as is the recurring question from the roaming cocktail waitresses, “Beverage?” You just want to hear it again and again… and again.
Star Wars and Clue can be found in Bally’s.
Wheel of Fortune and Deal or No Deal (not pictured) can be found just about anywhere.
LOTUS OF SIAM
Now, I have seen Bourdain eat here, I’ve read up on the joint from various food blogs and on-line culinary magazines, but other than remembering to order from the Northern Thai section of the menu all other specific knowledge went out the window because I was so god damn drunk! Apparently, I am told, I couldn’t even recall where the bathroom was despite the fact I had just relieved myself there only fifteen minutes prior.
F*cking Slot Waitresses. F.S.W.
But I did remember to take pictures dear readers and I can say everything we ordered was not only downright delectable but tasted just as good, if not better, than anything that I ate in the four weeks I spent in Thailand.
Yes. I said it. And I stand by it with my FlavorBoner held high.
Nam Prik Ong, intended to be a starter to your meal, is not too spicy and has just the right amount of sweet from the ground pork. It is awesome with the crudités and chicharones served with it. The cool from the vegetables and the heat from the dip work really well together, even for a drunk ass like myself.
Hey. It was a long drive, all right, and I was on a mission. So… whatever.
Nam Kao Tod. The center of the rice was perfectly moist and soft and the outside was sensationally crunchy. How they did that I have no idea. There was an overall wonderful ginger/lime flavor going on in this dish with flame coming from the green onion and fresh chilies. Yum!
Sai Oua. Fresh, house made, Thai spicy pork sausage. Enough said. Either you get it or you don’t. No need to sell it.
“A guy don’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy!”
Garlic Prawn. Deep fried in their shell, this dish has a potato chip crunch to it and it’s so frickin’ garlicky. And I mean that in the best possible way. This is a not to be missed dish for those of you who do not dig anything with hoofs.
Then there was our little crispy drunken Daffy, the Crispy Duck Drunken Noodle. The skin on the bird was indeed crispy and salty. Her meat tender and juicy. The vegetables were cooked yet firm and the bird-based broth that the slippery, wide noodles bathed in was the perfect compliment to the other spicy dishes as it smoothed everything out.
Now not all of the dishes we ordered were from the Northern Thai portion of the menu that everyone recommended, some were chef’s choices others, like the drunken noodle, were personal favorites.
Just order what you want. It’s your meal. Everything here will be good. You are not going to go wrong.
So brunch buffets are as synonymous with Las Vegas as Lebron is to basketball, and there is a whole lot of winning going on at the Sterling Brunch in the Bally’s Hotel and Casino. Tucked in the back of the ground floor of Bally’s in the BLT Steak restaurant rests one of the newest, and I will say it, finest brunch buffets in Las Vegas.
Now it isn’t called the “Sterling” Brunch for no reason, it costs, it costs big time.
Most of us are not willing to pay $90 per person for brunch, but because of the high quality of seafood, meats and champagne that they serve, I must admit, the price tag is justified. I usually avoid buffets in general as quantity is NOT what gets me hard, it’s the quality, and the Sterling Brunch has both.
When you are seated you are immediately served two Gruyere popovers. For those of you who are new to popovers, as I was, they are an American version of English Yorkshire pudding. They are baked custard in muffin tins, but the inside is not dense, it is very light and moist. It was pretty insane. It was as if the crispy shell was basted for hours with liquefied cheese as the flavor of the Gruyere was wonderfully powerful. Slather some sea-salted butter on the inside and you are ready to party.
As a start for brunch, or any meal for that matter, it doesn’t get better than this.
Next up was the buffet. On my first round I focused solely on seafood, the options were far and wide in this category alone. Baked lobster tail, King crab legs, crab claws, jumbo shrimp, oysters, and crab cakes.
Out of all of them I recommend the baked lobster tail and the King crab legs the most, the quality of them were excellent and the flavors were good and rich. Skip the crab cake. It will take up too much valuable real estate; not to mention it kinda blows.
Now the offering of caviar is one of the major reasons this brunch stands out. That, and the unlimited Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut champagne (a $50/bottle value). Though the caviar is American Amia (bowfin roe from Louisiana), which, though quiet common and inexpensive, is still a buffet rarity and presented with blinis, crème fraiche, capers and finely diced red onion so you feel, well, spoiled. Regardless.
The caviar is just one of the many items offered on their menu outside of the buffet options. We ordered the Caesar salad, tuna tartar, the lobster eggs Benedict and the lobster bisque; the bisque was a bit more like a bouillabaisse but still yummy.
Now, they also offer filet mignon, truffled mashed potatoes and creamed spinach as well as lamb chops so one can get their steakhouse on.
I sampled them as a dessert substitute because, well, I’ve always been more of a salt guy than a sugar dude. But alas my stomach could hold no more, but if one were so inclined, and has a larger stomach muscle than my own, feel free to polish off those dishes as well because they are good times.
Adeye took the trip down Dessert Ave. It’s one of the prettiest avenues I have seen and she seemed very pleased.
Sterling Brunch. You have raised the brunch bar so high we could barely get our legs and bellies over it. Congratulations for redefining the Vegas buffet for those of us who care about quality.
Though it is not much of a secret anymore, Secret Pizza is a darling little gem and not to be missed when visiting Las Vegas. On the third floor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel there is no sign for Secret Pizza, just a hallway lined with Italian-American singer’s LP’s that lead you to the pizza promise land.
It is the best pizza in Las Vegas and there is no debate about that. Dollar for dollar this is the best meal in town.
The space is small and there are only a few stools to sit at but this pizza was made for standing. They are constantly pulling out fresh pies to serve by the slice, or you can order your favorite toppings and they’ll whip it up for you.
I got the sausage and pepperoncini, which was right out of the oven and then had them throw some meatball on an existing pepperoni slice to reheat.
They were both outstanding but the sausage won out because of its freshness and spiciness. I will be getting that combo again.
When you come do what you will, just know that if you want to taste the true genius of this place get whatever is freshest out of the oven.
Adeye got the white Sicilian square, and because she loves me so much she allowed me to sample. Pretty fantastic.
All in all this meal made me the happiest, only because it was so unexpected. I had heard, read and knew so much about Lotus of Siam before going, and with the Sterling Brunch it was a forgone conclusion that is was going to be a ‘winner winner chicken dinner’ type of experience but this… there was no way of knowing how good this pizza was going to be; and for pocket change to boot!
Secret Pizza you get the FlavorBoner trophy on this trip.
I’ll be wrapping my teeth around you soon, just not during nightclub hours as I have heard the line is way too insane.
When at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, if it is a weekend or holiday, go to the Chandelier Lounge on the main floor. They have a band called MARK and The Martinis and they are excellent. The lead singer embodies all that is classic Las Vegas; he sings, he jokes, he interacts with the patrons. He does Sinatra, Dean and Sammy proud.
** Culinary Honorable Mention: Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak **
My girl is a coupon/Vegas points wizard and got us 30 bucks off at Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak so we popped in for a light lunch getting the King crab roll and lobster hush puppies. If you like King crab and chunks of lobster in your hush puppy, and let’s face it, who doesn’t? Then I highly suggest you pop in. Not to mention the service is incredibly friendly and professional.
The King crab roll was not too rich and it was surprisingly delicate with a good clump to shredded meat ratio. The sliced pickle and chive were a nice touch.
When the hushpuppies were delivered the aroma of the lobster and corn meal wafted majestically over us, and that is the part of an eating experience that is not talked about enough. The smell. It is such an important part of the dining experience and this dish reminded me of that fact.
It smelled almost better than it tasted.
Down these little bad boys fast though as the moisture/heat dies down quickly and when it does, then so does a lot of its flavor. And BTW, awesome tartar sauce!
LAS VEGAS DIVE BARS AND LOUNGES
So depending on who you are talking to drinking is just as important, if not more important, than eating when it comes to evaluating one’s time and experience in Las Vegas. Personally I don’t vacillate back and forth on that question, and fortunately I am not obligated to announce my answer. Lets just say as a matter of public record I abuse and appreciate both equally, which brings me to the gin joints that I ventured to on this particular trip, including one very good and dear friend I will introduce you to, at the end.
Located on Las Vegas Blvd near Sahara Ave rests Dino’s, a sprawling dive bar that boasts the slogan, “Getting Vegas Drunk Since 1962,” and it does exactly that. This a straight up liquor establishment for those not interested in mixology. Pool tables, karaoke, local drunks and off duty waiters and waitresses on a mission to get wasted is what you will find. Service sucks, our drunk bartender couldn’t remember which glass had the scotch and which had the bourbon, but I give him points for being wasted.
The one touch of genuine cool in this place is all the pulp novel covers framed and posted on the back wall. It defines the vibe and makes you want to stick around awhile to check them all out. That and meeting Red, the sixty-two year old degenerate barfly who was always struggling to line up his shot at the pool table.
I played two games with the man and I wish I understood half of what he was telling me because he sounded like he had some real stories to tell. This is definitely a worthy pit stop and solid alternative to your garden-variety hotel circle bar.
This is unlike any bar you will find, not only in the Vegas area, but also in the US. The architecture goes beyond the circle bar and into the casino area. The color, lights, and molten cavernous ceilings draw you in and overwhelm you with curiosity and awe.
Rare is it that you get a cultural experience when hitting a bar. The owners of this hotel get points for inspiring me to re-educate myself on Antoni as I visited Barcelona in my late twenties and got to experience La Sagrada Famillia and Parc Guell first hand. Thumbs high!
Velveteen Rabbit. The name alone should peek your curiosity. We all know the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. The story of a stuffed rabbit that becomes real through the love of his owner. It is one of my favorites and now this bar is one of mine.
It’s simple. It’s charming, and it’s a nice quiet quaint reprieve from the norm. It’s a locals’ hangout for locals who want a little modern sophistication with their liquor. The accent that places this joint into the four star category is the Mason jar chandeliers that delicately light up the space. It is truly wondrous just like the children’s book.
My lady and I ordered the ‘Whezzin’ the Juice’ which is an urban term meaning sticking your mouth underneath a beverage tap.
It is a bourbon-based cocktail with root liquor, vanilla, angostura, mint and crushed ice. It was basically an awesome non-carbinated root beer soda. The cocktail menu changes seasonally so don’t be confused if you don’t see it.
Congrats to the owners, they loved their rabbit enough to see it turn real.
When visiting downtown Las Vegas you cannot skip the historic El Cortez Hotel and Casino. It is an iconic institution, one worth stopping in and helping it remain relevant, and they’ve added a couple of cool things to help entice you.
1.)…. free White Castle Cheeseburgers to slots and table customers on Thursdays and holidays! F*ck yeah!
How awesome is that!? They wheel these little fatty bitches in a steam cart to all of those numbed asses, sitting, smoking, pulling levers and pushing buttons… me being one of them.
Then there is the other, and more consistent reason to visit, The Parlour. This medium sized cocktail lounge nestled in the back of the hotel lobby has only been around a few years but it feels like it has been there since the beginning; and that is what the ownership was going for.
A taste of old Vegas in a fresh new space.
They have a piano area and on Wednesdays from 8pm – 12pm they have a crooner who sings Frank Sinatra, and on Saturdays from 6pm – 10 pm they have an Elvis Impersonator.
Scottie, quite possibly the nicest bartender I have ever met, makes a mean Bloody Mary and even though I normally don’t like them, I have to admit it’s one of the best I have ever tasted and a great hangover cure. Our time here whizzed by and I could see myself spending an entire afternoon or early evening here. It is a great place to go after brunch or before dinner. I highly recommend.
It is also worth checking out El Cortez’ Cabana Suites across the street as a hotel option. If you are looking for just a downtown Las Vegas experience which, believe it or not, with all the new development going on there is an strong argument for that choice, I think it is a great option, one that I am considering for my next trip.
Now, for my last entry, I introduce you to…. (drum roll) The Double Down Saloon.
THE DOUBLE DOWN SALOON
I first discovered The Double Down Saloon over two years ago on my last trip to Las Vegas alone only days after I met my love. In the past I often had done this. Gone to Las Vegas alone. Why?
Because I always found the best kind of trouble when I was riding solo.
I had been walking the strip and popped into the Cosmopolitan Hotel to check it out for the first time. I sat at a bar, ordered a martini and ended up getting into a lengthy discussion about drugs with the mid-50’s divorced man sitting next to me. He was a successful lawyer, donned a sport coat and wore a Patek Philippe.
Normally I don’t go out of my way to talk to guys that fit that description but he was really into his drugs and spoke of them the way I do food.
And he confessed that he was currently “shrooming,” which made me like him a hell of a lot more. Given the glaze in his eyes and his merry, languid speech, I could tell he was on a happy ride.
Anyway, when he took his leave, he palmed me some narcotics in a sly way and told me to enjoy myself. I went to the bathroom to check out what type of drug he had so graciously bestowed upon me; mushrooms in chocolate edible form.
Magic mushroom treats!!
When I sat down on the stool at the Double Down Saloon one hour later I got on the happy ride too.
The bar was a suggestion from the kind gentlemen. It was his favorite bar in Las Vegas, and he could tell through our conversation that I liked my booze in the seedier of environments.
The bar was likened very much to one of NYC’s finer and forgotten institutions, the famed bar and music venue, CBGB‘s.
Television screens displayed violent, sexually perverse and exploitative cartoons that blew my mind. The walls were tagged with random drink offerings like Bacon Martinis and their famous ‘Ass Juice‘ cocktail. Artist renderings of a skeleton squeezing blood from its ass were everywhere.
Drinking here, well, being on drugs in here, was like spiking up with a punk rock chick with a Mohawk in a dingy alley… and there is something pretty awesome about that.
It dirty. It’s wrong and it’s right all at the same damn time. That night I think I sat for five hours, tripping, watching the belly of the walls swell and the cartoon images morph out of the circumference of the screen and stretch towards my face. Off duty strippers gave their boyfriends or whoever free lap dances. It was pure entertainment. Hours went by like minutes and it was only because the clock struck six that I left; but by no means, never feel compelled to leave.
They never close.
Well, dear readers, that is the end of this entry, Flavor Log: Las Vegas but rest assured there will be further Vegas updates… In about six months.