Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Day in the Islands

Ellis Island, Treasure Island, Long Islands...

I'm fighting a cold today, and as much as I'd love nothing better than to lay around in bed watching cartoons and feeling sorry for myself, part of me is contemplating a trip down to the local sushi-mongers and ordering a side dish of wasabi, just to enjoy it's magical sinus-healing powers. Personal experience also tells me that a shot or two of top-shelf tequila has a miraculous effect on minor afflictions such as the common cold, so that may be an option. However, the bottom line is that a package of Sudafed is cheaper than a bottle of Patron, even though they both have roughly the same effect. But you can't make a good margarita out of Sudafed, so the decision remains unmade.

I had an absolutely wonderful time with my friend Dawn yesterday. She flew out to Vegas for business on Sunday, but she didn' have any free time until Tuesday morning. So I picked her up at the Venetian around 11am for a day of diversion, Sin City style.

Our first stop was the Peppermill for breakfast. I had my usual (well, about 90% of the time) chicken fried steak and eggs meal that comes with the perfect hashbrowns and fantastic sourdough toast. And I kicked it off with a tall glass of Kahlua and coffee. Dawn had a steak sandwich and onion rings, having feasted on a bagel several hours earlier. Of course it was a great meal, but I think that the Peppermill is starting to cut corners. In the past, your toast would come with real strawberry preserves presented in a hollowed-out tangerine rind, garnish and all. This time I got Schmuckers grape jelly in a plastic cup. Not a trend that I'd like to see perpetuated.

Oh, and longtime readers know that it's taken me several tries to conquer the chicken fried steak and eggs breakfast. For years I have never been able to finish it. I know the secret now--I order my eggs over-easy instead of scrambled. With over-easy eggs, I can plainly see that I only get three of them. When scrambled eggs are ordered, they come in a small casserole dish that likely holds at least six. Three I can dispatch--six, not so much.

Dawn was kind enough to expense the breakfast bill (gotta love those foresighted Latin-speaking businessmen who came up with the concept of per diem), and while the waitress took care of that housekeeping chore, we planned our day. The first order of business was to head over to the Rio and undermine the concept of their Total Rewards program by crashing the Diamond Lounge and raiding the liquor cabinet.

Unfortunately, that mission was delayed by a little missing-cellphone drama. After searching our booth, the restroom, and the interior of the Ghetto Sled, Dawn came up with the idea to just call it from her cell phone. Like tearing my bedroom apart looking for sunglasses that are perched on my head, I felt a little sheepish when I heard it ringing from the depths of my shirt pocket.

With that, we were on our way.

Knowing that I'd be using the valet at some point, I was glad that I'd taken the time to remove most of the pteredactyl shiat from my windows (see previous posts...) earlier that morning. So we left the shabby-but-somewhat-clean automobile in the capable hands of the Rio's carparkers.

Our first disappointment of the day--the Diamond Lounge doesn't open until 4pm. Uh oh. What to do? Well, we'd talked about seeing a show that night, and she had a voucher for a couple of free tickets, so we hit the box office and decided to see The Scintas later that evening. Once that chore was done, we wandered the casino a bit and lost a few bucks trying to become instant millionaires on the Wheel Of Fortune dollar slots. That didn't work, again, so it looks like we'll have to take the long route to financial independence.

Not seeing many cocktail waitresses, er, bevertainers lurking about, and our desire to drink outweighing our desire to gamble, we decided to take our leave. After going to the valet stand and trading a buck and getting an old Lincoln Continental in return (I think the Rio got the better deal...), we made our way down Flaming-O to the Kmart of casinos--Ellis Island. I still had an all-you-can-drink coupon that expires in three weeks, and I'd be damned if I was going to let that one get away.

The bartender made little effort to mask his contempt for lowlifes such as ourselves taking up precious real estate, and told us that the coupon was only good for an hour and that we'd better tip.


Yep, he made it clear that he expected us to take care of him for honoring our coupon! Whatever, dude. I even told him that I would since I too made a living on gratuities, and his response was Yeah, I've heard that before.

I wish I were making this up! And this conversation took place before we ever got a drink.

We finally ordered our beverages, and while he was pouring I made a show of leaving a $20 bill in front of me, just out of his reach. That kept the drinks flowing.

Dawn played some video poker, but I was content to just observe while sipping on my Captain and Seven. She didn't win anything, and after three rounds we decided to go use the matchplay that I had with me, also. I quickly exchanged the twenty on the counter with a five-dollar bill and we walked away from the bar, confident that Ellis Island won't be getting a Mobil Five-Diamond award if only due to their poor service.

Dawn played a slot machine while I took out $40 and my matchplay to use at the blackjack table. Didn't win a single hand, and Dawn's luck was much the same as mine. Our day at the Island wasn't much to speak of, and if they didn't have such great pizza, microbrewed beer, cafe specials, bbq, free drinks for casino employees after 3 am, karaoke, and homemade rootbeer, why, I'd never go back!

Deciding that we'd had enough slumming and wanting to get into the Christmas spirit a bit, we headed over to the Bellagio with the intention of visiting the holiday display in the conservatory. No valet this time--we headed for the parking garage. Security was tight and I had to pop the trunk and prove that I wasn't smuggling any Mexicans across their border. There was nothing back there but some empty cans of freon and power steering fluid, the flux capacitor, and a hiking boot that I can't find the mate for, so they were satisfied with the junk in my trunk and granted me access to the trendiest parking garage south of Spring Mountain Road.

Moments later we were enjoying the department-store-during-the-holidays vibe of the Bellagio Conservatory. The display was quite impressive, reminding me of wandering amongst Rose Parade floats. There were penguins and polar bears, dancing waters and a monster Christmas tree serving as a centerpiece. It was very well done and we had a great time watching the crowds watching the flowers.

Since we were right there, we decided to check out the menu posted outside of Michael Mina. It looked like a nice restaurant, but he seemed a bit proud of his prices. $75 for a lobster pot pie? Seems a bit steep, and for that price it better be enough for two and come with a live crab singing a calypso version of Under the Sea. Like Triumph the dog says...I keed, I keed... Of course I'm going to eat there eventually, I'll just have to forego my monthly Happy Ending visit to the Joy Luck Asian Massage and Wellness Center in order to pay for it. (I keed, I keed!)

After wandering the shops and diversions at that end of the property (By the way, I saw an awesome model sailboat on sale for a mere $700 at one of the stores where my money is literally no good), we headed for the casino for a little people-watching and maybe a little drinking. We walked all over the Bellagio, peeking into restaurants, hitting a few slots, and watching the Beautiful People. It was a great time, but there must have been some sort of union meeting or something that day, because we couldn't find a cockail waitress anywhere. We decided to hit a bar instead. Unfortunately, the Fontana Lounge was hosting a poker tournament, so we tried the Petrossian Bar. We couldn't find an open couch (What's with all these people? Doesn't anyone work during the day anymore???) and sitting at the bar didn't appeal to us, so we decided to move on, made our way to the garage, and left the Bellagio, thirsty.

It was after 3pm by then, so we figured we could go back to the Rio.

After fighting a bit of afternoon traffic on the Strip, we were back wandering around in the Rio, looking for that special machine that would remove us once and for all from the workaday world. We found one that held some promise, but in the end it only teased us before taking all of our money--much like those nice girls at the Spearmint Rhino. On a positive note, we found a cocktail waitress who liked our money almost as much as the slot machine did, and she kept busy by bringing us an endless supply of Long Island Iced Teas.

Soon enough it was 4pm, and we made our way to the Diamond Lounge. Luckily Dawn actually has a Diamond membership, so we didn't have to stoop to subterfuge to gain access into the Harrahs Corporation equivalent of the Holiest of Holies. Dawn stopped to use the free internet access to check her work email, while I scouted the territory and claimed a couch where we could watch hockey, basketball, and a show about shark attacks all at the same time.

The tuxedoed wait staff was kind enough to offer beverages, and after the last remnants of our Long Islands were consumed, we played copycat with this a-little-too-friendly-and-a-little-bit-kooky lady at a nearby table and ordered up some mudslides. There was also a rather generous snack buffet available, so we grabbed a couple plates and filled them with turkey-wrap slices, fruit, cheese and crackers, and chocolate-chip cookies. It was a great way to kill some time--nibbling on all the munchies, watching tv from our own private VIP alcove, and sipping on frozen chocolate goodness.

In a brilliant marketing move by the folks in charge at the Rio, they also had a display shelf of all of their in-house restaurant menus. We'd planned on dinner at The Palms, since I still have a $50 coupon good for basically anything there, and we'd been anticipating Mexican food at Gardunos after the show. But Dawn kept looking at the Fiore menu, and after I told her about how much we enjoyed it back in March, dinner plans were changed and we took the elevator back downstairs to the steak house.

Being that it was 5pm on a Tuesday night, they didn't make too big of a deal about us not having reservations. In fact they welcomed us heartily and we were seated immediately. The specials all sounded pretty good, but we opted for ordering off the menu.

Dawn had a field-greens salad and a petit filet. I went with the bone-in ribeye and white-cheddar au gratin potatoes and a glass of Pinot. Before the main courses we enjoyed a basket of assorted breads with spreads such as olive tapenade, bruschetta, and plain old butter. For a palate-cleansing intermezzo we were offered a small serving of mango sherbet doused with champagne. It was such a nice touch of class that I almost stood up and made my Jack Dawson toast about 'making it count', but nobody would've appreciated it since we were the only people in the dining room besides the wait staff.

The steaks arrived and they were excellent. Of course they were huge and tender, but after all the grazing we'd done upstairs in the lounge they were tough to finish. Somehow we managed. It was another fantastic meal in a city full of fantastic meals, and Fiore remains one of my favorite steakhouses.

We lingered a bit over our empty table, too stuffed for dessert or coffee. Dawn had some comp dollars left on her players card, so that took a nice chunk out of the bill. Again she charged the balance on her corporate Amex, letting The Man pay the tab for our culinary excess. She treats me much too well, I'd have to say.

We still had some time to kill before the show started, and I watched Dawn play some Hexbreaker video slot machine featuring black cats and broken mirrors. She can now declare with unquestioned authority that they are still bad luck.

Finally it was time to go to the theatre, and the cachet of the Diamond card allowed us to bypass the great unwashed in line and be seated immediately. There was still a half hour to go before show time--long enough to order a round of drinks, but luckily we avoided the aggressive photographers lurking about annoying the audience members. The problem was that by this time we were spent. Exhausted. We'd been running around all day, eating, drinking, goofing off, and it had caught up to us. We were actually dozing off at the table. Dawn even said we could skip out if I wanted to, as I was getting pretty droopy. No--I told her that I wanted to see the show, tired as I was. So we stayed.

I'm glad I did. The production was excellent. The Scintas put on a great show, doing dozens of impersonations and musical tributes, the Beatles being especially enjoyable. There was also a great piano medley featuring The Piano Man, the theme from Godfather, and the theme from Love Story. It was marvelous and brought the crowd to it's feet. My only gripe was the fact that they wasted so much time trying to sell their cd's, dvd's, and tomato sauce(?). Truly they took the showbiz maxim of 'always leave the crowd wanting more' to the extreme. More singing and less sales-pitching would improve the experience greatly and the audience would be much more satisfied. But overall it was still an excellent show, and definitely worth seeing, especially if you can score some free tickets.

After we left the theatre, we were dead on our feet. We immediately got the car out of the valet and made our way back to Treasure Island, where Dawn was staying. We said our goodbyes out in front of the hotel entrance, only pissing off a few cab drivers, reconfirming our plans to get together in March, the next time she's here on business.

I made it home without passing out from exhaustion and ending up in a ditch, and I was out as soon as my bald head hit the pillow.

What a great day.

A quick look at my social calendar shows that Doc Al arrives next week. I hope I can keep up.


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