leave your inhibitions at the door
A few weeks ago, the Bro and I took a quick trip to Las Vegas. We were only there a short time, so we didn’t get to fully enjoy it’s newish foodie scene. But I saw enough to know I want to go back.
Historically, what Vegas was known for food-wise was the $2 Prime Ribs specials. Sure that was 1980 dollars, but it was still incredibly cheap. Casinos made so much money from gambling (and as I found out, they still do) that they could afford to provide these ridiculous specials. I think you can still find these deals in downtown LV, but not on the strip. This was the closest I could find:
The next big things were the buffets – massive multi-station deals with everything under the sun. The last time I went to Vegas was back in 2002 and I recall going paying about $20 for the buffet at Paris Casino. Not only was it extensive, what made it unique was that it had five big stations, each representing a different region of France.
Nowadays, all of the major chefs from across the country have outlets here in Vegas – Thomas Keller, Bobby Flay, Michael Mina. Anthony Bourdain covered Vegas in a classic episode of No Reservations and, like many foodies, scoffed at the idea of good food in Vegas. He repeated the oft-said accusations that these chefs were “selling their souls” but by the end of the episode he grudgingly admits that good food and Las Vegas could indeed coexist.
But enough of that history lesson…
Earlier in our departure day, I had the foodie debacle I mentioned in my post – Filipino, Foodie, Failure. I’d rather not relive it again so let’s just say it was a humbling experience.
At the airport
Since I left Chicago, I’ve rarely had the opportunity to go through its airports. Some time in the past five years or so, someone had the ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT idea of highlighting some of Chicago’s local food. And not just that fool stuffed pizza. We’re talking legitimate Chicago-only restaurants – Gold Coast Dogs, Tuscany, Goose Island Brewing Company, Berghoff Café.
To my surprise, I saw Rick Bayless’ Tortas Fronteras. To those of you who don’t know him, he’s the nation’s authority on regional Mexican food and his restaurants are some of the best Mexican restaurants in the country. In addition to books, winning Top Chef Masters, and hosting his own shows, he’s been a champion of sustainability and local food movements. This one proudly lists out where the ingredients come from – mostly Chicago, never further than Michigan.
I had the Pepito sandwich. No exaggeration – this had to be the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten – beer-braised beef short ribs, pickled jalapenos, Chihuahua cheese, black beans, cilantro crema, and arugula. There was incredible balance of flavors, spices, temperature, and texture. Next time I fly anywhere, I’m honestly going to see if I can get a layover at O’Hare.
I paired it with Victoria beer, a Mexican lager I’ve never had before. Per their website, it’s Mexico’s oldest beer brand but it’s only in a few states. It went really well with the sandwich, but not as good as the shot of Tres Generaciones tequila my bro bought. Actually, it was the first two shots that paired well. I’m sure the next three shots paired well, but everything was starting to blur. Fast forward to…
Breakfast at The Bellagio
Our flight didn’t get in until 1:30 am and we went out for a few drinks and blackjack. This breakfast was at 7am. ‘nuff said.
We had late reservations for dinner, so I had a snack at Jean Philippe Patisserie at our hotel, The Bellagio. It’s known for having the world’s largest chocolate fountain. Pretty cool…
There were so many choices, but we didn’t want to get too full to drink. So we got reservations at China Poblano Noodles and Tacos at the Cosmopolitan. This is the brainchild of Jose Andres, the brilliant Spanish chef who trained at El Bulli and is credited to bringing Tapas here to the States. As the name implies, it’s a mixture of East Asian and Mexican cuisines with a definite street food vibe.
We couldn’t get into the Marquee nightclub because Bro’s shirt didn’t have a collar. Probably better that we didn’t because it was 99% early-20s Asians. We opted for bellying up at the bar at Holstein’s, next door to China Poblano. I’m not trying to be evasive, but I honestly don’t remember much outside of watching a ton of UFC and drinking buckets of Belgian beers.
The Morning After
Despite the late nights, I was still on East Coast time so I was up way earlier than should be allowed. I was able to score a sidewalk seat at Mon Ami Gabi, right under the fake Eiffel Tower at the Paris. It’s prime people watching – all kinds of walks of shame as well as rednecks taking morning strolls, beer in hand.