Las Vegas

wynnfood.jpgIt's not about over-abundance, although it sort of is. I'm not the kind of person who loads their plate up full to the brim -- in fact, I don't even like it when my food groups touch, although that's part of it, too, I guess, the fact that you can have multiple plates, like as many as you want.

Like an egg plate (any omelet you want, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage) and a fish plate (high-end fish, like Nova Scotia salmon and seared albacore and shrimp) and a fruit plate and a turkey plate (if you actually wanted roast turkey and all the trimmings for breakfast) and a konchee plate, whatever that custardy konchee stuff is (and I'm not even sure I'm spelling it right) and a sushi plate, made fresh there right at the bar, and I don't even want to discuss the dessert plate although I have to mention the candy apple.

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bnbVegas. Why'd it have to be Vegas? I happily avoided going there for about 8 years. No real point since I don't gamble. Might as well just burn your money, since you're not going to win. What else is there to do there that I can't in LA - another entertainment-rich, overcrowded, traffic-filled city? I wasn't getting out of the trip, so I decided to make the most of it…for me. And that was to eat the best meal possible on our only free night. If our other friends wanted to come along cool, but this one was for me.

Their are innumerable choices with the high-end filled with the fancy outposts of many, many world-renowned celebrity chefs. I just had to decide which one. Being a big Top Chef fan I wanted to eat at Tom Colicchio's place, but there are no prices on the menu, so that was immediately out.  Big pet peeve of mine, intentional by them I've no doubt. Emeril's menus didn't overly excite me. Wolfgang I can get in LA if I want, along with Piero Selvaggio's Valentino. Not enough of a seafood fan to drop the coin at Rick Moonen's RM Seafood, though I was tempted. Perhaps he could change my mind about fish. Another time, though.

There was only one place that it could be. One by Mario. I've watched him  on TV and read so much about his food over the years, that I just had to see what all the fuss was about. Of course, I've eaten at the various Mozza incarnations, and they are divine, but I think that has more to do with Nancy Silverton than Batali and Bastianich.  So I booked a table at B and B Ristorante, which is said to be very similar to the food served at Babbo in NY, to see what the Bs actually brought to the table.

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pretzelbitesVegas. While many people find this city to be the adult equivalent of Disneyland - the happiest, most sinful place on Earth - it's not a city I enjoy visiting. Though I have to admit it's changed quite a bit for the better since my first drive across that seemingly endless desert 25 years ago. The fact that it's now one of the best food cities in the world - if you have the money - helps keep my misery at bay. It's also one of the most crowded and widespread places, so driving around isn't really an option for someone trying to escape that particular hell in Los Angeles.

We were in town for a show at the Hard Rock, so eating in the hotel was a must. While they have a decent number of choices, after seeing a picture of the Pretzel Bites & Provolone Fondue from Culinary Dropout, I knew where we would be doing our pre-show dining. I can't resist carbs and cheese. Why would anybody want to? While that appetizer lured me in, I also saw a pic of their Fried Chicken with Honey Biscuit and Mashed Potatoes. That sealed the deal.

I've never actually been to the South and had an "authentic" version of this dish, but I still crave it nonetheless. Comfort food just makes you feel good. And happy. And full. My mouth was drooling in anticipation. With the distance between everything in the hotel - with the obligatory route from your room forcing you through the casino in the most annoying way possible -  I was sure to burn off enough calories walking to the restaurant to truly enjoy myself.

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crushglassesSo, I found myself in Vegas again and this time I was determined to find a hang out spot to call my own. As a devoted oenophile this was going to be a challenge. You’d think it would be easy to find a restaurant / bar with an interesting and somewhat affordable wine list in such a high-profile, food-centric city, but you’d be dead wrong. Outside of the steak houses and top chef restaurants that don’t list prices on their menus - so clearly I can’t afford to drink or eat there - a decent glass of wine is hard to come by in Sin City. I’m sure it’s mostly because the bulk of the visitors aren’t in town for the ambiance and relaxation. They are here to do things they aren’t supposed to talk about when they get home, which is why cocktails are king here. If you’re going to pony up more than $12 a drink - and you’re going to imbibe a lot - you need to make them count.

Since I don’t gamble - not one red cent - I prefer to entertain my palate. Before this trip the Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Bar in the Venetian was my haunt of choice, but since we were seeing a show at the MGM Grand and all of our friends were staying there, it was just way too far to visit. Then I remembered Crush. I made note of it when looking for cool new places to eat last time we were in town and - score! - it was located at the MGM. Granted there is no Wine List posted online (a real pet peeve and a bit ridiculous considering the name of the place), but the menu looked good and was reasonably priced (for Vegas), so I was excited to give it a shot.

I loved it the minute we walked through the door. It was perfectly dim, spacious, comfortable and classy. The ambiance made you feel like you were dining al fresco on the patio of a fancy Italian countryside winery, yet didn’t feel over-dressed or snooty. Sort of airy, green and lush even though you’re indoors. An oasis in the constant driving noise and pomposity located just outside. The music was vibrant and fun but you didn’t have to scream at your companions to be heard.

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thenugget.jpgThe Nugget Diner in Reno, Nevada represents much of what Reno is all about. From a run down strip near downtown Reno, one enters through the gaudy exterior, which portrays a nugget of gold glistening in the sun. The Metallic rendering of the shining nugget is preserved from an earlier time. After entering the door, you see a seedy bar and rows of slot machines. Nestled in the back under a little red sign that says “Diner”, awaits the Awful-Awful.

The Awful-Awful ($6.00) is a half-pound burger that sits on an onion bun. Called the Awful-Awful because it is awful big and awful good, the burger is indeed an impressive stack when you add in the lettuce, tomato, onion and the Thousand Island-style sauce. The burger sits on top of one pound of fries, seasoned and cut thin. It is rare to find both fries and burgers this good, especially at that price.

The burgers are griddled and greasy, but in the right way. The meat is seasoned with pepper and has a great flavor. American cheese blends well with the whole stack. The grilled onion bun is fantastic as it holds together the entire production.

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