Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

Mommy Gourmet has graciously given me a blogger award. I am so flattered! and grateful! A thousand thanks to you, my friend.

So, now I must also share the love and bestow this award on a few others more worthy than myself.

1) Veronica's Test Kitchen - I love this blog. She makes delightful, mouthwatering creations and her write ups are fabulous.

2) Anything Wine - John knows his wine stuff. He is meticulous and possesses a very keen palate.

3) Messy Cuisine - The Messy Chef features recipes, local and non-local restaurant reviews, and videos.

4) Caramelized Opinions - Jason was one of the first bloggers to add my blog to his list of links. And now he has partnered with a few local Richmond bloggers to create the granddaddy of all Richmond food blog aggregators - Eating Richmond.

5) Whine Me Dine Me - Hip, irreverent, and unapologetic. An amalgamation of two foodie forces of nature. If it's a food happening in Richmond, these guys are on top of it.

6) Brandon Eats - When I first began my blog, Brandon's comments inspired me to continue. The first lady of Richmond food bloggers.

Mezzanine Musings

We dined at Mezzanine last night. We discovered a plethora of pleasantness about the place and a few awkward areas.

First, the weird things. Because it was a Friday night and this place has received lots of raves, it was packed. The inside was very loud, so we chose to dine on the plastic encased patio, which was much more peaceful. Not a problem, the night was warm. But the placement and sizing of the patio tables and benches left no room for either the diners or the wait staff to maneuver. The menu was of the chalkboard variety and was presented table by table. But the wait staff had trouble figuring out where to place the boards. And the patio menus did not have prices. We had to go inside to look at the giant board to figure out how much anything cost.

We got past this and ordered wine. Our first choice of a Le Volte Super Tuscan turned out to not be available. But our very pleassant waitress apologized and also let us know that all of the other reds on the list were available. Very seldom have I experienced a wait person go to the trouble of seeing what else might be missing from a wine list. Kudos to her! So, we decided to order something we had not seen before - 2005 Lapis Luna Romanza Zinfandel from Lodi, California ($33). Very nice choice (87% Zin and 13% Sangiovese) - silky with vanilla and cherry overtones. A versatile wine that paired well with our varied meal.

Mezzanine's menu featured appetizers, salads, small plates, and entrees. Our dinner consisted of a cup of Butternut Squash Soup topped with crab ($6) and an extraodinary Thai Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, duck confit, and shaved root vegetable slivers in a hot vinegary dressing ($9) to peak our tastebuds. Both were excellent. We followed with Roasted Chicken stuffed with goat cheese and served with green beans and celery root puree ($20) and Duck Confit with sweet potato fritters, braised chard, and mushrooms ($22). The celery root puree was a smash hit. I will definitely try this at home in the near future. The chicken was decent. I loved the duck. It was very tender and I ended up nibbling the good bits straight off the bone. My hubby liked the fritters and he thought it was a good touch to add a bit of anise flavoring to the chard.

The consensus was favorable and we would consider returning to check out some of the other offerings. All of the wait personnel were very nice and welcoming despite us being dressed down and not having a reservation. I would definitely suggest using a printed menu for patio diners, though.

Mezzanine Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The New Local Favorite -

Calling all food lovers! A new blog has appeared on the horizon and contains all of your Richmond favorites, including my humble blog! So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to Eating Richmond and find fabulous posts about food, wine, and restaurants with a decidedly local slant. Did I mention it's fabulous??

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wow - Ricotta on a Sub

How can you make a decent Chicken Parm Sub richer than it ought to be? Add a layer of ricotta! This is what Tarrant's Cafe does. The $8.95 baby was so rich and filling that we had to take the other half home.

Hmmm...I wonder if adding some freshly chopped basil to the ricotta would make it even more delicious??? I think I must take some time to experiment.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Yen Ching

My husband and I have lived in Richmond almost 7 years now and we had yet to discover a Chinese place that satisfied. Peking was never a favorite. Inter China off of Midlothian was decent, but a bit far for us to drive. Top's take out? Let's just say the last couple of take out meals were probably our final ones.

So last night we finally ate at Yen Ching located in the West Broad Shopping Center next door to Food Lion.

As we walked in quite a few folks were waiting for take out. On-premise diners included families, groups of women gathering for a Friday night outing, and couples both young and mature. Quite a few were regulars that the staff heartily greeted. I admired the water fountain in the middle of the dining room and the tiered layout of the tables, reminding me of an enclosed courtyard.

We ordered a Mai Tai and Planters Punch to imbibe ($7.95 each). The Mai Tai was very good. The Planters Punch tasted like Hawaiian Punch on steroids. Way too sweet and very tough to finish. We began with an Egg Roll and a Shanghai Egg Roll ($1.50 each) served with duck sauce and mustard. The Egg Roll had a ton of cabbage and very little meat. The Shanghai version was more like a spring roll with shrimp, mushrooms, and veggies. I liked the shrimp, but the roll itself was very oily.

The dinner menu featured a plethora of offerings. I must admit the several duck dishes tempted me, but in the end we decided upon Five Taste Chicken ($10.95) and Chicken in Orange Sauce ($10.95). Both dishes contained white meat chicken chunks that were battered and crispy fried. Yen Ching did a wonderful job in attaining the crispy crunch to the chicken. Best we have had in Richmond. Of course, the sauces were supposed to differentiate the two dishes and Yen Ching did not disappoint. My dish showcased a light sauce flavored with Chinese 5 Spice and just a hint of heat.

My hubby's sauce was visibly darker with extremely thin shreds of orange peel. His sauce was pungent while mine was delicate. Both dishes came with white rice. We were served more than we could consume; thus, we could take home some yummy leftovers for later. Upon the end of our meal we received fortune cookies and orange slices (I had forgotten that some Chinese restaurants do this).

Although the egg rolls were a bit disappointing, the entrees were stellar. And now I need to return to discover their Crispy Fried Duck...

Yen Ching on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wet or Dry - What's Your Pleasure?

Last Sunday we were running errands near Short Pump and needed to grab lunch. While chains serve their purpose, this was not a chain-type day for us. I finally remembered that Grandpa Eddie's Alabama Ribs and BBQ was right around the corner on Three Chopt. We headed there and expressed our gratitude to nameless gods that the joint was open on Sunday. Business looked a bit slow, but we were warmly welcomed and promptly told that Sunday Happy Hour was from noon until 6 PM which meant $2 beer, house wine, highballs as well as $2 baskets of fried onion straws, fried okra, or smoked kielbasa. We jumped on the straws and ordered iced tea. We were served a heaping basket and took half of them home to reheat and serve with burgers the next day. A happy hour bargain, indeed.

The menu featured a multitude of enticements from sliced eye of round to the pig sandwich (which my hubby enjoyed - a bit messy, but worth it) to the Kansas City's Famous Burnt Ends (The crispy parts of the meat smoked, mixed with sauce, then smoked some more). What intrigued me was the ribs, of course. And unlike all of the other rib places around here, Grandpa gave me a choice: wet or dry? I got the Rib and Wing Basket - 4 smoked wings and 4 dry ribs. The wings were nice and smoked, but the ribs were the stars of the show. Fragrantly smoked with blackened spices. I was able to add my own sauce (not quite NC, but not sweet either, so I was satisfied). Next time I want a rib-off: wet vs. dry to determine the top bone-sucking champion.

While we enjoyed the meal, a family and friends birthday party was in progress and none other than Susan Greenbaum was playing. A totally unexpected and very pleasant surprise.

Ain't serendipity wonderful? And we found it at Grandpa's.

Grandpa Eddie's Alabama BBQ on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hot Dogs and Wine

Is there a wine that pairs well with hot dogs? I'm not talking about grilled hot dogs or house-made ones that The Belmont Butchery lovingly produces. I'm talking about Nathan's all-beef dogs that are slapped in a bun, wrapped up in a paper towel and nuked for 50 seconds.

Well, I think we found the right stuff - 2006 Martin Codax Ergo Rioja for $11. The wine combines sweet fruit with a bit of earth. Nathan's dogs are slightly smoky. These guys were made for each other (although, I'm sure this was not the plan). Enjoy the combination with or without mustard.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Las Vegas Round Up

Las Vegas. We spent $3 gambling at a slot machine at the Flamingo and one at The Golden Nugget. Otherwise, we were mainly there for the food and drink. We stuck to the Strip with one excursion downtown and a day trip to Red Rock Canyon and Hoover Dam (both highly recommended).

The Flamingo became our abode for the week.

While we landed only on the 12th floor, we still had a view of Paris and The Bellagio. Unfortunately, Bally’s kept us from viewing the sunrise over the distant mountains.

The Flamingo featured both animate and inanimate pink feathery creatures and some huge koi.

Donnie and Marie was the headliner act. Somehow, we could not bring ourselves to justify the expense. Two things stood out during our stay. While there were plenty of smokers in the casino, the place always smelled like suntan lotion of the coconut oil variety and Rebekah at the concierge desk was always cheerful and pleasant no matter what shift she worked and always obtained great reservations (with great views) at the last minute.

After settling in we proceeded to Margaritaville and ordered Uptown Top Shelf Margaritas (Margaritaville Gold, Cointreau, margarita mix, and a float of Grand Marnier). On the rocks, of course. The place was so packed we strolled out of the restaurant and basically gawked at the Flamingo gamblers. Later in the week we also ate breakfast omelets at the upstairs bar in company with some middle-aged guys enjoying that famous frozen concoction at 9 AM. We opted for coffee and orange juice. I recommend the So Cal omelet with tons of bacon, cheese, and avocado.

Keeping with breakfast, we discovered two other fantastic places. The first was Payard Patisserie at Caesar’s. The Flamingo had provided us a buy one crepe get one free coupon. While Caesar’s was drenched in cigar vapors in most places, as we neared Payard’s the chocolate aroma overtook the air ducts. And a Nutella crepe beckoned. What absolute heaven! So rich, warm, velvety. Too rich to have every day, but an ambrosial experience that must be tried.

We also went to Vosges Haut-Chocolat for a free truffle sample and La Parisienne drinking chocolate (dark chocolate and Madagascar vanilla bean). Tres yummy! By the way, this is the same company that produces the Bacon + Chocolate bar.

For lunch and dinner, I’ll proceed day by day as best I can. Please be advised that our tastes and preferences for the most part did not run to the inexpensive. So, even though we did not gamble, we did our own not-so-insignificant part to boost the economy out West.

After enjoying our refreshing margaritas at Jimmy Buffet’s Las Vegas home we wandered just a brief stint south to Paris and ate at Mon Ami Gabi. Although it had been raining (yes – I said RAIN), the drops had appeared to stop and we gambled on a seat outside (with no guarantee to be seated inside if it happened to rain). The patio was slightly raised to give a good view of the various bits of humanity ambling up and down the walkway as well as a fantastic view of the Bellagio across the street. Every 15 minutes we were entertained by the fountains across the street. A different song and a different fountain pattern never ceased to delight us. My Truite Grenoblaise (trout with a caper and lemon sauce) with sautéed green beans and hubby’s Fish and Frites (fried cod) were quite satisfying. We washed the fish down with a 2006 Jacques Girarden Savigny-les-Beaune “Les Gollardes.”

The next day after strolling though numerous South Strip casinos we lunched at Pearl located deep inside the main floor of MGM Grand. The Chinese restaurant featured a special Dim Sum menu to mark the Year of the Ox (we subsequent discovered that all of the major casinos rolled out the red lantern for the oriental new year). We ordered fried shrimp dumplings, steamed pork buns, steamed meatballs, and a couple of other dishes. The shrimp were fantastic and we also liked the buns. And then we fell into a black hole of service. We waited an eternity for the rest of our order while others came after us and left before us.

In the evening we traveled to The Palms Resort about a mile west of the Strip on Flamingo Road. To cut down on walking time we took the free shuttle from Paris to Rio which was about a block from The Palms. Upon arrival we soared up to the 56th floor to claim our table at Alize and an extraordinary view for the evening. Twinkling lights extending beyond the horizon with touches of neon as our eyes landed on the Strip made for a truly incredible setting for dinner. This was the best dinnertime view that we had for the week. Feeling giddy we each ordered a French 56 cocktail before dinner to give us time to peruse the extensive wine list and strategize over what to order. Our drink consisted of St. Germain Elderberry liqueur, Absolut Poire, and Champagne graced with fresh blackberries. For our meal we ordered a White Oak Merlot on the recommendation of the sommelier. It had a good tannin structure with a spicy tone and paired well with our eating choices. For starters we consumed Butter Lettuce Salad with Roasted Yellow Beet Carpaccio, Toasted Brioche and Candied Walnuts and Lemon Thyme Crème Fraîche Dressing (out of this world dressing!) and Angus Beef Carpaccio with Roma Tomato Confiture, Basil Pesto, Parmesan and Toasted Baguette and Aged Balsamic Vinegar (mmmmm…and I adored the tomato confiture). The main course consisted of Pan Seared Muscovy Duck Breast with Butter Braised Duck Leg Prosciutto, Breakfast Radishes, Celery Root, Butternut Squash Cranberry Lace and Duck Jus (a black truffle/foie gras sauce was poured over the duck) and Filet Mignon à la Rossini with Seared Duck Foie Gras, Braised Parsnips, Plum Confiture and Crisp Potato and Cured Ham Croquette with Armagnac-Truffle Sauce. And for dessert a Warm Chocolate Fondant Chocolate Truffle Center, Toasted Marshmallow Graham Cracker, Smoked Vanilla Ice Cream (the ice cream was simply divine, but the marshmallow was a big disappointment) and Root Beer Soufflé with vanilla ice cream (lightest ever tasted, thus far – so much intense flavor, yet almost nothing as far as substance). A grand dinner with a grand view and grand service. If you want something very special, I would recommend this One Star Michelin restaurant of Chef Andre Rochat . And you can make reservations via Open Table.

The next day we slowly rolled out of bed and wandered the North Strip. For a bit of decadence we had before lunch drinks at Parasol Down at the Wynn. We cozied up by an outside gas heater and a wicker lover seat to enjoy the lake with the wall of water fountain on the far side. The drinks - strong, the sky - a perfect shade of blue. The sheltered alcove early in the day was perfect to lounge and reflect in a peaceful setting. How we wished they had served lunch.

For lunch we stopped at Café Ba Ba Reeba across the street from the Wynn in the Fashion Show mall. I liked the bar with the cured ham hanging from the top. We ordered Sangria which was okay (I prefer the libation at Pescado’s or my own home concoction). The restaurant featured tapas, Spanish-style thin pizzas, and paella. We ordered Calamari, Spanish Meatballs, and a roasted pepper and onion pizza. While the food was edible, nothing wowed us. If we returned to this establishment (either in Vegas or in Chicago), I would consider trying the paella, but it would not be my first choice in dining.

For dinner we made last minute reservations at Osteria del Circo at the Bellagio (we were going to see “O” later in the evening). Our concierge at the Flamingo managed to snag us a table where we could see the fountain display through the French doors. This little Italian brother to Le Cirque bustled with waiters and folks arriving for Chinese New Year. The over-the-top décor seemed apt prior to attending our Cirque du Soleil show. We ordered a 2005 Whitehall Lane merlot to imbibe. For starters we shared the special half portion pasta of the evening – Butternut Squash Ravioli with Shaved Black Truffle. Very rich and meant to be shared in small portions. Our main meal featured Pan seared Diver Scallops Wrapped in Prosciutto, Braised Eggplant with Raisins & Pine Nuts, Yellow Bell Pepper Coulis, Sunchoke Chips (the prosciutto was the star of this show and gave the scallops some much-needed flavor) and Roasted 12 oz Veal Chop, Balsamic Demi Glace, Muscat Grape, Fennel Gratin (the fennel gratin was fantastic and the sauce and roasted grapes were designed to let the veal chop shine).

Day 4 and a deeper exploration of the various shops, particularly at the Venetian. The Venetian seemed to have a plethora of places open for lunch – both casual and upscale (a lot of the casinos did not provide a lot of lunch options). We evaluated the offerings and almost tried Mario Batali’s Enoteca San Marco, but they had not quite opened and as we walked around a bit more we happened upon Zefferino with an upstairs dining area looking down on the “Grand Canal.” The décor was definitely Old World European and suited our mood perfectly. The restaurant offered a prix fixe option with appetizer, main course, and dessert. We ordered a 2004 La Paturnie Rosso di Montalcino to drink. The starters were Insalata di mare - Calamari, baby shrimp, black mussels, clams and lobster meat salad drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and parsley (extremely fresh tasting and the first time I have ever had non-fried calamari) and Caprese - Buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil and bell peppers. The courses were Panzerotti Zeffirino - Homemade pasta filled with veal and Parmigiano in a light pesto cream sauce (extremely rich – thank goodness for red wine!) and Linguine alle Vongole - Sautéed linguine with garlic, red crushed pepper, white wine, parsley served white or red (my husband had asked if the pasta was freshly made, our waiter said that the linguine was not but he could substitute another pasta that was similar and house made – everyone was happy). Dessert featured a variety of finger-food sweets. Finally, a lunch that was enjoyable. The strange thing was the Canal Shops lighting. The ceiling looked like clouds and sky right before dusk. I kept thinking it was evening and I kept wondering when the sun would sink. After lunch I simply had to go outside to readjust my timing.

On this night we headed over to Mandalay Bay for dinner, but arrived early enough to hit the high spot of the south Strip – Mix Lounge. Mix – both bar and restaurant are concepts of Alain Ducasse. The bar, curvy and ensconced in black. The dining area, all white with straight clean lines. The bright kitchen with gleaming pots and pans bridged the two. The elevator to the top hugged the outside of the building and gave a fantastic view while traveling to the 65th floor. 6 PM on a January evening the place was sparse – none of the beautiful people had arrived – which suited us. We had martinis – the French Martini had vodka, pineapple juice, and Chambord - and admired the great expanse of Las Vegas lights. If we ever make it out to Las Vegas again, we might consider the restaurant.

And we were not through with before dinner drinks (we were whooping it up). Before our final dining destination we ducked into Aureole and had a glass of wine. The wine pours were extremely generous and the bartender extremely attentive (I had a Gruet Sparkling Rose and hubby had a 2005 Chateau Coutet St. Emilion). And we were also treated to a Wine Angel Steward retreating a bottle from the four story wine tower.

We finally landed for dinner at Red Square. A hopping bar scene with so many vodka choices that one could lose one’s head. Lenin’s head was on display. And despite the drinks we had already imbibed, I ordered a Black Cherry Lemon Drop (Effen Black Cherry Vodka, fresh squeezed lemon juice with a bit of sweet and sour and Grenadine). My hubby drooled over the vodka flights and I encouraged him to order one of more reasonable offerings. The four slim shot glasses were served in a block of red ice. The Snow Queen was really quite decent. The true Russian vodka was the smoothest. Since we were imbibing vodka we ordered a Smothered Blini to start (large Russian blini with crème fraiche and American sturgeon caviar). A bit fishy, but it seemed the thing to do. For dinner we ordered a bottle of red wine (what were we thinking!?!) and Strozapretti Stroganoff (filet mignon tips with Strozapretti pasta with a ragout of mushrooms and peas). Dinner was decent, but we were done. Too much alcohol, a little bit of fish eggs, and we had to put a cork in the bottle of wine to take back to our room. We did manage to navigate back to the room, but we laid off the martinis for a couple of days…

Day 5 and we only wanted coffee this morning. Ummm, wonder why?? We checked out the Shoppes at Caesar’s and the ones at Bellagio. I had never seen so many repeated names – Chanel, Dior, Versace, etc. Yeah, we just came to gawk. Around noon we decided we could brave lunch. We finally headed to Olives, Todd English’s place at Bellagio. The patio replete with gas heaters was available and we sank into the chairs and enjoyed the January sun and the fountain lake. Immediately, our waiter delivered a basket of delicious breads and a variety of olives. Included were some very large, very green, very meaty ones that I fell in love with. The waiter did not know the variety but whisked away to the kitchen to find out that they were Cerignola olives. He also reappeared with a small dish of only that variety. While sighing over the great taste and the fantastic service we were treated to an early fountain show because the staff was performing maintenance on the fountains and ran it through a couple of numbers. We ordered a 2004 Simi Sonoma Merlot to enjoy with Panko-Crusted Pork Chop with Whole Grain Mustard Mash, topped with a creamy slaw and an Olives Burger with Balsamic Glazed Onion, Cheddar Cheese, and Parmesan Fries. We truly luxuriated in the solid delicious food, the sun, and the water view.

In the evening we went to see Ka, one of the newer Cirque du Soleil shows and vertically incredible. The show was at MGM Grand and we had decided the day before to reserve a couple of spots at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon after the show. This One Star Michelin establishment was set up to showcase the incredible talents of the chef and staff. The kitchen was surrounded on three sides by a sleek black bar in order to see all of the kitchen action. We loved it! What an incredible show. We marveled at the preciseness and attention to detail that was given to each individual dish. To drink we ordered a 2002 Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley Pommard. The Amuse Bouche consisted of a shot glass containing a foie gras foam (like a creamy foie gras soup – very rich). We both ordered the same appetizer and main dish: Crispy Langoustine Fritter with Basil Pesto and French-style Hanger Steak with Fried Shallots and accompanied by tiny Le Staub red-enameled pots of Pommes Puree. The fritter was oh-so-delicate and tasty. My husband continues to rave about the perfectness of the steak and shallots. Everything appeared simple, but because of the ingredients and the careful preparation, the meal transcended the ordinary. And let’s not forget dessert. The portions for the meal were small, more French-like amounts, thus ordering dessert was easy. My hubby had the Roasted Pecans with Maple Cream and Coffee Sorbet. He liked it, but this dessert was overshadowed by the one I selected: Green Chartreuse Soufflé with Pistachio Ice Cream. Yes, I died and tasted heaven in this dessert (no chocolate required!). So insignificant in substance; so magnificent in the sweet, slightly herbal flavor. The ice cream also paired perfectly with the soufflé. The other amazing thing was that I did not have to place an order 30 minutes ahead of time like every other place that offered soufflé. Maybe because the dish was about half the size of a regular soufflé (which really is the right amount for an individual dessert) or does Joel have a secret technique to his success? In any case, this was the absolute best dessert I had ever tasted. What a night! The only sad thing turned out to be most of the diners. Hardly anyone paid attention to the hard-working staff who presented one of the best shows in Las Vegas. C’est la vie. At least we knew how to pay attention to a good thing.

Day 6 – We slept in and awoke fairly energetic. After having omelets at Margaritaville, we strolled up to the Sahara from our temporary abode. We then hopped the local bus (The Deuce) to Fremont Street. It was early afternoon so we cased the various joints for lunch options. Around 3 PM we decided to eat at the Bay City Diner located inside the Golden Gate Casino. The waitresses were pleasant and homey. We ordered the famous Shrimp Cocktail which featured an old-fashioned ice cream sundae glass full of medium-sized de-tailed shrimp. A delicious bargain in anyone’s book. We then ordered a patty melt and the spaghetti special. Good comfort food at affordable prices.

As the sun went down all of the neon was turned on. What a great spectacle. The interior of the Golden Nugget was much better than I anticipated and I could see why folks wanted to stay there. We admired the various older neon signs on display and we could not miss the Fremont Street Experience – the largest-ever music video playing every hour.

We hopped back on The Deuce a little later and headed to The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace to dine at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois. Great contemporary pan-Asian interior. The menu featured a Chinese Year of the Ox menu and we decided to indulge. We also ordered a bottle of 2005 Amber Knolls Vineyard 75 Cabernet Sauvignon. We began with Maotai Infused Tea and Tangerine Glazed Quail (a stunning and most auspicious beginning). For wealth – Pan Toasted Lobster Potstickers (decent, but did not outshine the quail). For prosperity – Slow Braised Oxtail Soup (a big bowl of extremely spicy hotness; we could not eat it all). For longevity – Szechuan Style Prawns with Pan Fried Noodles (decent, but our mouths had not recovered from the oxtail soup). For family togetherness – Whole Roasted Cantonese Duck (very delicious and as good as the quail). To appease the Chinese kitchen god – Golden Pineapple Sticky Cake with Tangerine Sorbet (very tasty). And finally, an overlarge Fortune Cookie. We had an over-abundance of food (especially considering our experience from the previous night), some very good, some so-so. We would definitely get the quail or duck again.

Day 7 and our last day. We rented a car and drove to Red Rock Canyon in the morning. Well worth it! What a beautiful and alien landscape. We spent all morning driving the 13 mile loop and stopping at each turn-off to admire and take pictures.

We then headed to Hoover Dam and stopped in the quaint little town of Boulder City to eat lunch at Mel’s Diner. Local retirees were hanging out after a morning of golf and the waitresses were giving them grief about whether they should order dessert or not. We ordered the Famous Rib Eye sandwich and a bacon burger. Basic, but good.

And we then drove on to Hoover Dam and were once again awed by the scenery.

For our last night we obtained last minute reservations at The Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas. The restaurant is located about halfway up the replica. As we exited the elevator we were presented with a gleaming white and silver bustling kitchen. As we turned the corner everything darkened in a velvety, romantic way. We were blessed with a table for two right by the window (the table and chairs both turned so we sat side by side with a great view of the Bellagio fountains). How perfect for our last evening of decadence and over-the-top sensation. We had sufficiently recovered from our night of vodka excess to order pear martinis as well as a 2005 Saint Benoit Chateauneuf du Pape. To begin I ordered a Warm Lobster Salad with Braised Salsify in a Brown Butter Vinaigrette while my hubby had the Morrocan-style Couscous with Mint Pistou, English Peas, and Toasted Almonds. Mine was very tasty and featured most of a lobster, but my spouse did not like his as much. The couscous looked more like what we call Israeli. Very large and very heavy. He could not eat all of his. Of course, for my last night entrée I had to indulge in Duck 2 Ways – Duck Breast, Medium Rare, Leg Confit, Minnesota Wild Rice, Braised Turnips, and Sauce Aigre Doux. This was probably the best confit I have had since Paris. I would have been happy just to eat the leg. So tender with the right amount of salt. The main course for the hubs – Surf and Turf – Beef Tenderloin with a Lump Crab Crust. He liked his as well, but did tell me that my mashed potatoes were better. We received an inordinate amount of food, thus, dessert was out of the question. Having a table right by the window with the chairs turned out afforded us a modicum of intimacy even though the restaurant bustled with folks just arriving for Super Bowl weekend.

Overall, I think we lucked out. It was a great time of year to go. While busy, nothing was crowded. All of the upscale resort hotels had marvelous Chinese New Year-Year of the Ox displays.

Daytime temperatures hovered around 60 degrees, so heat was not an issue when walking outside. We could secure last minute reservations with no problems and ended up with prime views. For the most part we had wonderful service and the Elvis impersonators always waved back. Caesar’s casino smelled the worst with Bellagio a close second (cigars abounded). The Venetian smelled the best. They must have some kind of perfumed air ducts. In the simple amusements category, we prodigiously commented about the curved escalators at The Forum Shops and at the Wynn. Go figure. The Deuce (public double-decker bus) was clean and well-maintained and $3 a ride. What I liked the best (besides some of the fabulous restaurants) was Red Rock Canyon. The landscape reminded me of old Westerns and descriptions of the West – very rocky with unusual formations, scruffy yuccas, a few cacti. If I return it would be to explore more of the natural areas and pop onto the Strip to eat.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos.