Thursday, April 29, 2010

Vegas trip report, continued . . .

Saturday was our last full day in Vegas. We decided to skip pastries at the Paris and head over to New York New York for bagels, fruit, and coffee. We snagged a "tree-shaded" table and enjoyed our breakfast as the casino rumbled to life all around us.

After breakfast, we stopped to do a little shopping here. At the Harley Davidson shop, we got T-shirts, sunglasses and a few items for friends. (They also let us pose for a picture on the Harley set up in the store. You KNOW I am not going to pass that up!) Then, we swung by Houdini's magic shop, where I bought a set of juggling balls. (Juggling is so on my list of things to learn how to do.)

We trotted across the street to check out the MGM Grand. I thought it was pretty, but nothing particularly amazing. We were hoping the lions would be there, but they weren't. Next up was the Luxor, which was huge and impressive, but crazy-hard to get to. I was really glad we hadn't stayed here. Part of me really wanted to see the Bodies exhibit at the Luxor, but the line to buy tickets was heinous. (And you know how I hate standing in line . . . ) I skipped it in favor of Mandalay Bay, which I wanted to nose around in.

It was pretty, too, but the main reason I was pointing my feet in that direction was Burger Bar, which I'd heard raves about. It's located in the Shops at Mandalay Place, and the place serves up delicious gourmet burgers. You can have Angus beef, lamb, turkey, buffalo, or veggie patties, and you get to choose from a variety of hamburger buns, toppings, and fixings. Hubs and I both had the sliders, three different small burgers that let you try a few different things on the menu. With fries and drinks, they were an awesome lunch. I think I liked the buffalo burger topped with caramelized onions best. YUM!

After lunch, I wanted to look around in the Miracle Mile Shops. There was a nice variety of stores there - both upscale and more mass market. I tried on clothing for a while in the Betty Paige store (such cute stuff), then found a HUGE fake diamond ring for our vow renewal ceremony, as well as a few touristy Vegas souvenirs.

After my shopping marathon, I headed back to the room to get dressed for our campy Vegas vow renewal at Graceland Chapel. I wore a gold, sequined tank top with a stain black tuxedo jacket, a black skirt, and some of the highest heels I've ever worn. Hubs wore a version of his tux, with the shirt untucked, no bow tie, and the collar kicked up a bit. (SO cute!)

Right on time, a white limo pulled up in front of the hotel to ferry us to our cheesy ceremony. We got there, introduced ourselves, and exchanged pleasantries with our HILARIOUS Elvis impersonator. Then, Elvis walked me down the aisle, singing "Love Me Tender." (I am so not making this up.) Once we got to Brian's end of the chapel, Elvis began to officiate. We said vows and slipped the gaudy fake ring on my finger. THEN, Elvis presented us each with a pair of black and gold sunglasses, proceeding to guide us through a second set of "Elvis vows." We about died laughing, but we got through it. Lastly, We sang "Viva Las Vegas" with Elvis, even throwing in a little dancing and an impromptu chorus line at the end. It was SO. MUCH. FUN. I can't encourage you enough to do this for an anniversary. We had an absolute blast.

Then, it was back into the limo for the ride back to our hotel. We changed into comfy clothes, then went next door to Bally's to see Jubilee! It's such a nostalgic Vegas show - showgirls in huge feathered headdresses, guys in tuxes singing old standards, the lit-up steps, the whole bit. They did some numbers, like Samson and Delilah, that didn't necessarily seem like a good fit for Vegas (Bible stories? Really? I don't remember quite so many exposed buttocks in the Old Testament.), but everyone was so cheerful about it that it hardly seemed worth a fuss. The pageantry of this show was very much what I expected. Singers and dancers dropping out of the ceiling, showing up in the coves, activity and sparkly people were everywhere.

Now, we went to the 7:30 p.m. show. Apparently, the 10:30 p.m. show is the topless one. It hardly mattered to me one way or the other, but I'm still wondering if Brian isn't kicking himself for not going to the 10:30 p.m. show . . . !

After the show ended, we had a leisurely dinner at La Provence in our hotel. Hubs had the steak frites, and I had the prix fixe menu - a great deal. I got a Caesar salad; then a plate of grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and asparagus; then a lovely bowl of sorbet! All of this, plus a glass of wine, for $28! I thought it was one of the best "value meals" we'd had in Vegas.

It was our last night in Vegas, so we decided to trip across the street and catch the Bellagio fountains up close. They were so gorgeous that I nearly wept. Beautiful and free. It was the purest thing I'd seen in Vegas. An amazing thing. We were so fired up about them that we decided to go up to the top of the "Eiffel Tower" and watch them again. While I enjoyed the experience more at ground level, there's something to be said to visiting the top of the tower, admiring Las Vegas stretched out below you like a glitter-strewn blanket. We stayed up at the top for a while, admiring the views, before heading back to our hotel room to pack.

We really enjoyed our visit to Las Vegas. If/When we return, though, I think I'll stay off the Strip at a smaller property. I'll get out more into Red Rock Canyon and the surrounding desert. I feel as though we've seen the Strip, now, so I'd be interested in a different experience next time.

Plus, the Strip is overwhelming. Opulent, crowded, expensive, a crush of sights and sounds. It gets tiring. Staying elsewhere and perhaps driving in in the evenings for shows and dinner might be just the thing!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vegas trip report, continued

Friday dawned bright, sunny, and beautiful, so we enjoyed pastries from the in-hotel bakery (an almond croissant and a plain croissant - both seriously yum) and caught a cab to the airport. We rented a sporty little blue Mustang convertible and set our sights on the Hoover Dam. Now, I'm sure many people visit Las Vegas and never give a thought to the Hoover Dam, but both hubs and I were interested in seeing this feat of engineering up close. I was doubly curious because, in addition to being a pretty mighty construction project, the dam also incorporates a hydroelectric power generation facility.

We skipped the indoor tour, opting instead to enjoy the visitor's center and spend our time exploring the structure. First, let me say, the visitor's center at this attraction is really, REALLY nice. The center does a great job of explaining the long process that had to happen before it was decided the dam would even be built, plus the careful (and dangerous) construction steps that had to take place. Spending enough time in the visitor's center made our visit to the dam much more meaningful.

Once we finished absorbing the exhibits, we headed out on the dam. I loved the "Winged Figures of the Republic" statues. They stood out in stark relief against the red canyon walls and the blue, blue sky. The sheer mass of the dam, and the gaping abyss of the canyon, made my heart flutter a little. (As did the transmission towers hanging out over the canyon. WHAT?! Can you imagine being the person who had to climb out there and service that equipment?! Shudders.)

In addition to the dam, Nevada is in the process of building a bridge further down the canyon that will help divert traffic from the top of the dam. The Mike O'Callaghan/Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge arcs across the canyon beautifully, and it's a wonderful complement to the Hoover Dam. Crews were working on the bridge the day we visited, and I have no idea how they can maintain their sanity, working with heavy equipment at such a height, perched over a dizzying amount of yawning negative space.

After our morning of tromping all over the Hoover Dam, we were starved. We stopped at Boulder City on the way back to Vegas for lunch. We really didn't know where we were going, but we followed signs to the historic downtown. We were thrilled to find a quaint little main street dotted with shops and local restaurants. We settled in to Milo's Wine Cellar. I chose the Beaujalais Platter, which was a big plate of crusty bread, a warmed chunk of brie cheese studded with dried fruit and nuts, and a generous helping of grapes and sliced apples. We enjoyed our lunch in the open air, washing our food down with glasses of house red.

Afterwards, we strolled the little downtown a bit, picking up a souvenir for little man, before hopping back into the convertible. On the way back to Vegas, I HAD to stop at The Liberace Museum. Wonderfully campy and indicative (to my mind, anyway) of Vegas, this attraction was one of my must-sees while we were in town. After entering, you're treated first to Liberace's delightfully gaudy automobile collection, with each vehicle shinier and more decorated than the last. Then, you get to see his historic piano collection, which features instruments owned and played by the likes of Brahms and Gershwin. After that, it's costumes and accessories!! Mannequin after mannequin of caped, sequined, feathered and furred coordinating outfits. They even let me try on a sample cape. HEAVEN!

After the museum, we returned the car and went back to the hotel to dress for the evening. We had tickets to Le Reve at The Wynn, and I didn't want to be late! The show is a Cirque-style water show, with lots of amazing acrobatics and dance. The music was gorgeous, the set was amazing, and the performers blew my mind. The theatre was built for this production, and Steve Wynn must have spent an absolute fortune on the space. There's not a bad seat in the house, and the entire show was a marvel of color, sound, water and the human body. Highly, highly recommended. The entire experience felt like some sort of magic dream.

Once the show was over, it was off to Dos Caminos at The Palazzo for a late dinner. I'd read about this Mexican cuisine restaurant in a guidebook, and it sounded perfect for hubs. We settled into the atmospheric dining room and placed our orders. I chose the prickly pear margarita, he got a Corona, and we opted for their well-known guacamole with chips and salsa to start. From there, he got steak tacos, and I had the cazuela de queso fundido. The cheese dip came with fingerling potatoes, chorizo, tortillas, and artichoke hearts for dipping. Delicious! We fully enjoyed our dinner before hitting the hay.

This was probably one of my favorite days of the trip. It was nice to get out of the city for a bit, and I loved all the attractions and shows we saw. (Plus the food was amazing. Never hurts.)

More to come!

I was a Vegas virgin . . .

. . . until last week.

In celebration of our 10-year wedding anniversary, hubs and I decided to take a short vacation to Las Vegas and renew our vows in the cheesiest, campiest ceremony $300 would buy. In the process, we got to be total tourists in Las Vegas and hit a good number of our must sees.

Here's the skinny - After nearly a two-hour delay getting out of the Jackson airport on Wednesday morning, we arrived in Las Vegas and took a cab to the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. We chose this hotel primarily because it is centrally located on the Strip, and because we got a great deal on the room.

After checking in, we went looking for a good dinner. We didn't look much further than our hotel. We'd heard great things about Mon Ami Gabi, a restaurant at our property that offered on the Strip dining, reasonable prices, and delicious food. We weren't disappointed. We started with cups of soup. Hubs had the special, a delicious spring pea and potato blend, and I got the mushroom, served with a dollop of sour cream and some seasoned croutons. Both were served up with warm, chewy French bread. As a main course, I ordered the mussels and fries with a glass of rose, and hubs had a tender filet (no surprise there). Both were very tasty.

Mon Ami Gabi is one of the only restaurants that allows you to dine practically on the Strip, and because of this prime location, the people watching was amazing. If you've ever been to Las Vegas, you know that, every so often, a truck will drive by with pictures of scantily clad women on it. "Hot Babes Direct to You!" the signs on the trucks will shout, also showing a phone number with (I swear I am not making this up) "Delivered in 20 minutes or less!" written under it. It being a gambling town, Brian and I made bets about how many more such trucks would pass by before we finished dinner. He said one, and I said two. Unfortunately, we both lost.

We didn't do too much partying that first night. Tired from the road, we settled into our room, washed off the dirt of the trip, and prepared for a full-octane Thursday.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the yummy Cafe Belle Madeline. A raspberry and a chocolate pastry, a fruit bowl, and some strong coffee, and we were on our way. Fortified, we gave our property a thorough exploration. I decided that the architecture was accurate, just much smaller and much cleaner than what we'd seen in Paris. (There's certainly no patina of age at the Paris Las Vegas.) We checked out Bally's, which was pretty standard, then headed to the Bellagio. The Bellagio is owned by the same company that owns and operates the Beau Rivage, and the properties are quite similar. The Bellagio's oversized indoor garden (see first pic above) made me feel like Alice in Wonderland, and hubs and I marveled at their huge chocolate fountain.

Next up was Caesar's Palace. All I can say about this property is that it is VAST. The Forum Shops are huge and impressive, and the development takes up an entire block. Hubs and I took goofy pics of each other in front of Caesar's gold statue inside the casino, then headed to the Imperial Palace Casino to see their classic car collection. We slipped in on a two-for-one coupon, and spent over and hour admiring one of the largest classic car displays in North America. They had very limited edition vehicles, cars with historic significance, and just a bunch of cool cars that look like they'd be complete joys to drive. The other thing we found interesting was that many of the cars were for sale. That meant you knew how much they COST. OMG. I quickly realized that a lot of the sporty little convertibles I really liked were some of the most expensive Ferraris ever made. (Whoops. I guess I have good taste?)

After getting our lucky numbers from the Zoltar machine at the Imperial Palace (it is Vegas, after all), hubs and I headed back to the Forum Shops for lunch. We'd heard good things about Joe's Stone Crab, a restaurant that originated in Miami and now operates a Vegas branch. We settled in for a delicious meal. I had the AWESOME lunch special - a petite filet with mind-numbingly delicious au gratin potatoes (they came with a crispy breadcrumb topping - divine!), a broiled dressed tomato (my least favorite), and a generous slice of banana cream pie (dude). Hubs got the medium order of stone crabs and a nice green salad. Everything was really good here. The stone crabs are served cold, with a spicy mustard dipping sauce, and the medium order was more than hubs could finish, even with me helping him a little!

After such a big lunch, we positively rolled back to the hotel room for a little break before the evening's festivities. Once we were ready to face the world again, we headed for The Venetian. We really enjoyed walking around this property. Their entryway is absolutely gorgeous. (That's the ceiling in the above pic.) We listened to the live musicians they had stationed throughout the open-air "square," watched the gondoliers ferry people down the fake canals (which incidentally, are a heckuva lot cleaner and less smelly than those in Venice, I hear), and window shopped in the indoor mall. Our showtime was nearing, so we headed down to the Blue Man Theatre to get ready for the show.

We so enjoyed seeing Blue Man Group live! The three performers on stage never speak, and the entire show is a study in facial expression, body posture and reaction. There was a lot of audience participation in the production, and Brian and I laughed ourselves silly! Lots of music, cool lighting effects, and general craziness. The theme of the show seemed to be a comment on technology - does it connect us or just divide/overwhelm us? Which is more interesting still, since the show used a lot of technology (projection screens, rolling digital signs, etc.) to communicate to the audience. After the show, the performers came out for photographs, but they remained in character. I COULD NOT get them to smile. It was like being at Buckingham Palace.

After the show, we were a bit hungry. We headed to postria, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in The Venetian for a late supper of pizza and wine. I got the super-yummy mushroom pizza with onions, leeks, and goat cheese, and hubs got a pizza topped with pepperoni and olives. Mmmmm! After that, it was back to the hotel for a rest.

More to come . . . !

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Toe-tapping

I happened to be present at a big luncheon for the Mississippi Economic Council last week. For the entertainment portion of the program, our friends at the MEC brought in Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives to perform, as well as blues great Dorothy Moore.

I ashamedly admit that I'd never seen either in live concert before. And until I heard and saw them last week, I had NO IDEA what I'd been missing. The version of Uncloudy Day that Stuart and his gang did was nothing short of amazing. Gorgeous, tight harmonies, and I can't believe some of those sounds came out of a little white guy. As for Dorothy Moore, can you say Misty Blue? If you can get a crowd of uptight business people on their feet at a professional luncheon in the middle of the work week, you know you've got it. I couldn't stop smiling when she pulled out her harmonica and played. What a class act.

Anyhoo, just a little note to let you know that if you have an opportunity to see either live, seize it! Both are delightful to see and hear.

Eating good stuff.

I've eaten at two yummy places lately, and I thought I'd share.

As you may be aware, I used to love, LOVE Trio's. Well, when the economy turned sour, the guys that run it changed it from an upscale dining establishment into The Crab Shack. Now, I totally get why they did it, and The Crab Shack serves some mean po boys. But until I went there last week, I'd never tried one of their steamer buckets.

On a whim, hubs and I headed out there one recent night with booger and got the King Crab steamer bucket for two. (I think it was $30.) For another $5, we added a half pound of shrimp to the bucket. Oh my LORD. That stuff was sooooo good. First of all, they give you TONS of crab, plus the potatoes and corn, plus melted butter. They threw in the cocktail sauce because we added the shrimp to our order. The crab was cooked to perfection and much easier than you might think to extract from the shell. (They provide all the handy tools you need.) The potatoes and corn had a little bit of heat to them, and there was plenty of food to go around. It was veryvery yummy, and the meal reminded me very much of the steamer buckets we have at Gulf Coast Steamer in Alabama. If you haven't tried the steamer buckets at The Crab Shack, give it a go. You won't be disappointed.

Today, I found myself in Madison around lunch time. I'd heard good things about Kristo's, the casual Greek place that's opened up on Hwy 51, so I thought I'd give it a try. We ordered the gyro, the pita mozz with ham, the falafel, the Greek salad, and a nice heap of sweet potato fries. We got the whole shebang for about $30, and we inhaled it. The Greek salad was especially good (get the Feta dressing), as was the gyro. (The meat in the gyro was super-tasty.) Don't miss the sweet potato fries, either. Yum!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Days to remember

On pretty days like today, booger and I head inside when we get home, I change clothes, and we head right back outside.

Sometimes we putter around in the back yard, drawing boats and dragons and kitty cats and hopscotch boards on the patio with sidewalk chalk. We lie in the hammock. We chase each other around the shed. We watch the birds at the feeder, and I lift him up so he can play with the wind chime.

Other days, we head out to the reservoir to watch boats come in and out, feed the ducks (if booger leaves them any bread - he is notorious for eating it all before the ducks get any), pet friendly doggies, count the number of bicycles we see, run all around every place, and inspect any heavy equipment left on site at the neighborhood they are building near ours. (We call the machinery by its Bob the Builder name. Today, we saw a big yellow "Scoop.")

He usually hops on my back for a horsey ride on the way home, and we sing songs out loud as we go back to the house.

For the past two nights on the way back from our walk, he's looked at me and said, "Mama, I'm happy." His little blue eyes shining. His fair, fair hair lifting in the wind off the water.

When we get home, we eat a little dinner, have bath (bonus if the hooded monster towel is clean), read lots of Curious George stories, and go to bed.

I guess that I'm not sure why I'm writing this. I just know I want to remember these moments and hold onto them for as long as I can. I know that one day, my little baby will care more about convincing me to give him the car keys than he will about showing me the squirrels we see on top of the fence or the rocks he found that he just had to take back home.

I love that kid.

Better with butter.

I had the chance to see the movie Julie and Julia a couple of weeks ago. I'm sorry I haven't gotten around to writing about it sooner, because I absolutely loved it!

First of all, Meryl Streep. Need I say more? She totally nails the Julia Child voice and mannerisms. But she does it while maintaining Julia as an actual person, not some 2D caricature. Amy Adams, as Julie Powell, is no slouch, either. Streep and Stanley Tucci do an excellent job of re-creating the Childs' warm and wonderful love affair, and Chris Messina is admirable as Powell's long-suffering husband.

Though there is significantly less profanity in the movie than in the book it was based on, it's a pretty close match up other than that. And I loved the light touch of the film. Though Childs' inability to have a baby was referenced, it wasn't belabored, and though the Powell marriage went through its up and downs (and ended, I believe, not too long ago), those troubles didn't overwhelm the real story - a woman's discovery of her voice and her confidence in the kitchen.

I laughed out loud a few times, and I completely enjoyed myself while watching this movie. Very much recommended!