Sunday, November 1, 2009

I fucking hate Vegas

Photo courtesy of cannonsnapper

s he was walking through the casino, I could make out his t-shirt miles before I could make out his facial features. It said, "I like boobs."

, if I were more precise I'd type it all in caps: “I LIKE BOOBS!” because nothing in Vegas is said in a whisper, and that applies to overpriced souvenir t-shirts with deep statements such as this, just as surely as it applies to squealing girls in casino bars. I mean, c'mon, like you need a t-shirt for this? Makes much more sense to me that gay guys should wear a shirt that says, "Boobs? Eh, not so much."

I won’t lie about my thoughts on Vegas. Lying looks as good on me as that two-sizes-too-small dress did on that middle-aged woman, hell-bent on living out her prostitute fantasies at the expense of our eyeballs. When I lie, my untruths bust out awkwardly at the seams and it's obvious to everyone that there’s some gaping holes in my story. And I think you know what I mean.

I. fucking. hate. Vegas.

I don’t mean I fucking hate Vegas because I lost big, or got my heart broken or because the weather sort of sucked (though it did). When I say I fucking hate Vegas it’s because I sense that the “Strip” while surely “Fun®” for a great number of tourists, seems to represent the worst that America can be: plastic, obnoxious, all bells and whistles, no substance; a concrete and neon bubble trying to contain people's warped saccharine dreams of wealth and power and fashion, all set to a Celine Dion soundtrack, with swaying jets of water from the Belaggio fountains.

It's an uncomfortable concept that my hatred of Vegas makes me strange bedfellows with evangelical Christians, teetotaling early-to-bed-early-to-risers, and abstinence educators. It’s not that I don’t love a good time or the rush and buzz of big cities. Set me down in NYC and I feel the adrenaline and elevated heart-rate of a woman in love.

Work with me a second through this dime store psychology degree I got in Vegas. Here goes. I blame Vegas-hating on - wow, this is hard to admit - the fact that I must not have been exposed to enough glitter when I was a child. Or maybe I had some Go Fish or Gin Rummy trauma at the hands of my brothers. Or more disturbing to contemplate --- perhaps I have sequin-envy.

Whatever the cause, when the weather is bad and you don’t gamble or smoke or pimp or cheat or sell your soul or litter or abuse your body and you're on a budget and the wine goddess is trapped in lectures and wine exams all day, what’s a Vegas-hater to do?

People watching, or as my friend Marc says, "giving free evaluations," is always an option and one, in my opinion, best exercised in Vegas. Drinking is usually prescribed, heavily, and I did as the doctor ordered, which made for some well-lubricated and enthusiastic evaluations. Por ejemplo, “look at that douche in the big sunglasses trying to hold up that wasted girl in the thong.”

Photo courtesy of discopalace

Eating well is another option and for visibility and profitability some of the best restaurants in the world are in Vegas. For our budget, we sought out off the Strip and into the strip-mall, well-regarded spots such as Raku.

You won't find sushi rolls here, they specialize in food from the aburiya, or grill.

All the same, the sashimi was excellent.

Many thanks to my friend Henry Lo for telling me about this place. He kept asking me if I tried the foie gras udon, and I meant to, really, but I kept forgetting about the foie in favor of the tofu. That's right. That's not a typo. They had me at the tofu. Made in-house, it was creamy, rich, like a dense, soft cheese. It was so good it seems like a complete disservice to call it tofu because I know what you are thinking. You're thinking of those cold bland cubes giving you the evil eye, daring you to transform them into something good, or at least better. At Raku, you should have the tofu 2 ways. Way #1 is served right out of its little bamboo mold, served with their house salt (a mixture of Japanese sea salt, shiitake mushroom powder, green tea powder, and kombu powder), bonito flakes, scallions, and fresh ginger. Way #2 comes to you later as agedashi tofu with ikura (salmon eggs), lightly fried and served up in the richest dashi I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. On the lip of the bowl is a side-swipe of chile paste to mix in as you wish.

Go to Raku. Eat tofu. Now.

For our last night we splurged and cabbed to Mandalay Bay to dine at RM, Rick Moonen's eponymous restaurant where (thank you very much Jon Rowley for the introduction) we were treated to a rather special 10 course tasting menu based on sustainable seafood - the one green spot in a sea of rainbow-hued neon and cheap, artificial perfume.

oh my god, he's touching me.

Rick Moonen is exactly how you'd think he'd be if you are familiar with him from his appearances on television. He's charming, passionate and hyper, chatting one minute and then laughing with his staff and dashing off the next. He has this dish at the restaurant, a dessert of perhaps 20 ice creams and sorbets with a corresponding chart. If you guess all the right flavors, the dessert is free. It was fun watching a couple tables tasting and contemplating. These kind of Vegas games, I can get into.

The stand out dish for me was a piece of bigeye tuna sashimi with the freshest most luscious sea urchin (uni) on top, scattered with daikon sprouts and garnished with a surprising paper-thin dehydrated (perhaps candied?) ginger chip. The plate was gorgeous, with a line of parsley oil in contrast to the burnt orange of the uni and the deep red of the tuna.

After dinner, Chef Moonen took us back to the kitchen for a little tour where we started a rousing high-stakes game of "Guess that Spice" (aka: what food and wine nerds do for fun in Vegas). Basic premise is that you close your eyes and someone sticks a spice under your nose and you're supposed to guess what it is. It's a game I love to subject my dinner guests to when they come over to our house. I like to think I'm pretty good at it.

I'd be thinking wrong.

I started off on the right path by guessing part of the Z'atar spice blend by correctly calling out thyme, but didn't get the sesame seeds or sumac part. Nailed garam masala, tanked on oregano (calling it herbes de Provence, like a big dummy) and coriander (saying weakly, rose petals?), suggested shallot for vadouvan (which is sort of right) and bombed on sassafras by saying, "licorice?" while our friend Emily, who is a master sommelier, says "sassafras" at the exact same moment April says "root beer!"


Good thing I didn't bet. I would have lost my shirt, and then Rick Moonen would have had ample reason to call the authorities. Oh, wait, stripping is okay in restaurants in Vegas, isn't it?

In summation, I like boobs and I fucking hate Vegas.


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