weekend in Vegas
It is not uncommon to live in the Pacific Northwest and find yourself urgently seeking sunshine this time of year. Like your life depends on it. At least it decreases crabby tendencies and glowing white skin. Those deep circles under my eyes and gaunt appearance are definitely a deficiency of vitamin D. When scouring go-find-sun options online, I find it takes a few bucks and some serious mileage to gain a fireball-in-the-sky guarantee. I could go to southern California but even then I may find rain plus clouds---and I am desperate for heat. sun. bathing suit weather. NOT sweatshirt-by-the-pool weather, NOT negotiating with the sun-gods for some solid rays. This isn't the time of year you risk paying for airline tickets only to come home without bikini lines. raccoon eyes. a blistering sunburn.
I couldn't go north. Too cold. I am not flying east. I looked to the south, to Las Vegas. Cheap flights, famous chefs, brilliant cocktails, sun pouring onto rows and rows of pool-side lounge chairs. 'Done' I think to myself, and reflexively click to trade some mileage points for dependable sun. (For this long weekend, I mixed a little business with pleasure*).
Though I have been an a dedicated bourbon kick as of late, as soon as my 'sandaled' toes hit steamy pavement I went straight for the gin. And rum. Plus some vodka.
My arrival was a whirlwind: I dumped my belongings in a room at Aria resort, traded my jeans for a skirt and flip-flops for heels and sprinted for a taxi---to hightail it to The Mirage (FYI: walk. It takes an insanely long time to sit through an impressive row of stop-lights. Walking will get you there faster---and for less). Upon arriving I met Peter (pictured), the art and brains behind the new Mirage beverage program. When you are one of the original properties on the strip, it is especially essential to stay fresh, innovative and novel. Enter Peter and a lineup of unusual, sexy cocktails. At the Mirage, each restaurant has its own litany of cocktails---though you can find 6 cocktails at every restaurant. Six signature cocktails to showcase Mirage's best of the best. And yet: the 'six' change with each season.
Here is what stands out to me about The Mirage cocktails: 1. they are perpetually searching for authentic liquors to import from around the world. 2. they sent all 200 bartenders to 'school' so they really know their liquors and cocktails, and 3. they have edible, dehydrated fruit and flowers as their garnishes. When I went to culinary school, 'edible' was quintessential to 'garnish'---so this detail was not lost on me. My favorite garnishes (I tried a few) were the dill cucumber 'chip', the blueberry wasabi powder (to rim the Oriental Mirage cocktail at Fin) and the dragon fruit chip atop the Zen Mojito (pictured). Also pictured: strawberry mint daiquiri---up (one of the 'six' signature drinks).
Aria had drinks too---and since we stayed there, I took it upon myself to enjoy some of their signature cocktails. I imbibed: cucumber collins (made with Hendrick's gin, cucumber, fresh sour and lemon) and the 'Last Word' cocktail from Aria's American Fish (a Michael Mina restaurant with a worthy appetizer from 5-7): dry gin, green chartreuse, fresh lime, maraschino. If you go there for Happy Hour, try the shrimp and grits and fish and chips (see pic, below plus restaurant photo). At Sage I sampled an earl-gray vodka cocktail (pictured above). Clever.
Besides enjoying novelty cocktails, we brined in Aria's hot tubs and steam room (spa), soaked in the pool-side sun, and stopped by Julian Serrano's restaurant more than once (it is SO accessible): for late-night dessert, a light lunch and for dinner: a shared paella. The portions are on the small side---which I don't mind---and recommend: the seared monkfish and pisto, butter poached shrimp and stuffed piquillo peppers. Though: order anything. You can't go wrong.
Speaking of eating. When I hear the word 'buffet' I consider it code for: turn and run away. It conjures an image of nasty soup-can casseroles, mayonnaise and vegetable dip left out too long, harried supermarket stops for last minute frosted, tasteless cookies, warehouse take and bake pizza, and over-fried and now cold Chinese takeout. But in fairness: Aria has a Buffet. And my first stop was: piles of crab legs. Huh. Insert new mental picture: crab legs, pork sliders, sushi, dried fruits and cured salami, photo-worthy desserts (see the apple pie?), roast beef cut to order, handmade pizzas and bottomless mimosas. Although I am not a big eater (so paying around $25 for as-much-as-I-can-eat isn't my style), I KNOW I can dump my teenage boys off there anytime and more than get my money's worth.
Which is a good thing, since Las Vegas is where we are taking them for Spring Break. Next week. What can I say? Desperate for sun runs in the family.
Check out my frolics: Las Vegas album on Facebook.
*Elements of my trip were hosted and arranged MGM resorts International. My experience---and opinions---are my own.