Saturday, May 2, 2015

Every single Vegas vacation we will go to Caesar's Palace and end up spending most of our time here: Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill.  Chef Ramsay opened this location, dead centre on the casino floor,  about a year and a half ago.  We've been coming since the first week it opened.  Literally.    During our traditional christmas getaway in 2013 we learned that he was opening BurGR in Planet Hollywood and GRPG within just a few days of us arriving.   I was over the moon.  I secretly hoped that Mr. Ramsay was still in town and when we went to his restaurant he'd be there.   I could swoon over his tousled blond hair and striking blue eyes....maybe he'd come over to me and I could introduce myself and then we'd run away to Tahiti together.  Oh.  Sorry M.  Love you!

The Pub was, and still is, packed any time we are there and to be fair we haven't ever sat in the dining room, so I can't speak to any service levels in that regard.  We always head straight for the bar, for a few reasons.   On our first visit we saw three men, jovially working the bar who looked like they were having fun.  That's inviting right there.  On top of that, the restaurant was full and the seats at the bar were available.  We're sold because we want to drink immediately, and eat at our leisure.   Now, we do sit at the bar frequently when we go out, and it not entirely because I love the side of  M's face (I do though, truly).  It just allows us to eat at drink at our own pace.  In Vegas you've got nothing but time to kill and money to burn.  If you're in a servers section she's on a mission to get you in and out as fast as she can, whereas the bartenders don't' mind if you take 2-3 hours.   And its entertaining.   People watching is always a fun pastime for us.  So many walks of life, from thtraveler who might be down on his luck to the business man who'd rather be at home or the couple who believes this is fine dining, its interesting if nothing else.  We will always start dinner with some delicious, yet ludicrously expensive drinks.  Something like the Ramsay Tonic: Tanqueray no. ten gin, st-germain, fever-tree tonic, fresh cucumber & grapefruit juice and then I'll drink 3 of them!  M will usually start with a beer, and after a while we get a little more fancy.  The bartender we see every time, Tom, is great for coming up with drink ideas, or putting together something to "surprise" me.

While we take in the sights we will snack on something. The first time we were there we ordered the Duck Confit Poutine.  It was incredible!  The food runner brought it to our seat and began to describe the dish as he set it down. We joked about being from Canada and it stopped him dead in his tracks.  He said something to the effect of  "okay, well you know how to do poutine right, I hope we don't disappoint you".  And they did not.  The fries were so crispy, and the gravy was perfectly seasoned, the cheese the best kind of melty.   Nailed.  It.   But they've taken it off the menu, so sorry.  We can only reminisce and you can only dream.





The next adventurous item was the deep fried oysters. Staying true to this theme, I'd never had oysters before and I was very skeptical.  It was actually my choice to order them, and I am damn glad I did.  To be totally fair, I'm not entirely sure how much oyster I was actually eating/tasting but it was a bit salty, very crispy and the dip that accompanied them made the whole thing amazing.  Note: that salt on the bottom is not edible.  Trust me, I tested it.  Since then, Chef Ramsay has taken these off the menu as well.  God damnit,  two for two here. 


 
I will say though, that maybe these were a stepping stone for us. On our next visit to the city we went to see Penn & Teller's show at the Rio and before stopped in at Buzio's Seafood and downed two dozen (non deep fried!) oysters.  Delicious!



As long as you get the right kind, and learn the best technique to eat them, they are delicious.   Who's this guy, Gordon Ramsay, making me like all kinds of new things? Pfft.   

Over the years that Pub & Grill has been open the menu and changed a few times and I feel bad writing to you about all the incredible food that you can't try.  But there is one staple on the menu that better not ever go anywhere.  You hear me Ramsay?  Never!!  




This Sticky Toffee Pudding has changed my life.  And my that I mean that I never was much of a dessert girl; I've always liked salty more than sweet.  Give me a bag of dill pickle chips and I'm yours.  But this dessert has changed me.  If its on a menu in a pub I order it (I never, ever used to order a dessert).  It's sort of like a drug.  I'm always chasing that dragon, trying to find one here in Calgary that stands up to the amazement that is Chef Ramsay's creation.  It is warm, and dense.  The house-made ice cream gives that tiny bit of chill when you take a full bite.  And the caramel drizzle for the top just brings everything together.  I probably could eat one of these as my dinner and then another as my dessert.   And I don't give a shit if you judge me.  

While I am devouring this M has discovered a new drink.  If you drop a shot of Fireball into a cider, preferably the one from Angry Orchard, and give it a stir it's going to taste like apple pie.  That right there is M's favourite dessert and if you can make it into an alcoholic drink then even better.  I shared a bite of my pudding and he offered me a sip of his.  At the end of the meal we are so content.  We leave full, and tipsy.  Quite a bit poorer as GR restaurants are not known to be cheap, but they are well worth it.  I highly, highly recommend this Vegas restaurant.  But please for my sake, sit at the bar, take your time, engage the bartenders (they are great people to chat with) and order a damn dessert!


Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Home of Elton John, celebrity chefs and many a Greek statue, Caesar’s Palace is the most iconic property in LV.  It’s huge casino floor and the Forum Shops give plenty of space for eating, drinking, walking-it-off, and shopping.   Gordon Ramsay opened Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill directly off the casino floor, and is probably our favourite restaurant on the Strip, for so many reasons.  But let’s start with the others.  

Staying true to our celebrity chef love we had dinner on my birthday one year at Bobby Flay’s MESA Grill.  This was one of the first celeb-owned restaurants and by that I mean the chef that got famous from being on Food Network (LV has always been home to famous chefs, Flay wasn't the very first).  I did think to check the menu before we left and I thought it sounded good!  Steaks for me, spicier things for M.  Should be good.    We did call ahead to get a reservation, but we probably didn't need one in hindsight.  Because I like to eat dinner at 5pm.  LOL.  Turns out other people, especially in Vegas, don’t usually dine until seven, eight pm.   Not this girl.  I’m 30 years away from a seniors discount but I can’t wait for the early-bird specials.  We had a seat at the bar, because we were early, and had the bartender pour us a drink.  Before he was even finished we were escorted out to the dining room.   Nice view, great for people watching actually with huge open windows.  

Because this was a few years ago, please pardon me as I've forgotten a few things.   I do recall though that I wasn't feeling too hot, so a rye and ginger was trying to settle my stomach.  Once seated we noticed that our section had one gentleman whose sole job was to refill water glasses.   When we sat down he was filling our glasses and we asked him a question about the drink menu; he sort of looked at us like we had four heads, and said your server will be able to answer you.  Whoops.  Our bad.  We then spent the rest of the night following his movement and commenting on how that’s a strange job to have, wondering if he had a second job, or a family, or…anyway, back to dinner.  We had a ‘queso fundido’ appetizer, its cheese, melted, but this was spicy!   I did attempt a few bites and washing it down I was able to get through it.    My meal was a steak, imagine that, and it was okay.  I always feel that when a steak costs $40+ dollars that it should be memorable.  In this case it wasn't.  I usually prefer a sirloin or tenderloin and MESA only serves a NY Strip, a coffee- rubbed filet mignon or a chipotle rib-eye.   Seeing as though I’m not a fan of coffee or chipotle, I was left with the NY.  It was cooked perfectly, and to be totally fair it was a huge cut.  Must have been 14oz, maybe 16 even.   No piddly 8/10 ounces here.   We chose a selection of sides to go along with dinner and nothing stands out as being amazing.  Granted it was a few years ago, but I've remembered other meals.  

What does stand out is M’s side dish, Blue Corn Tamale with Sage Butter, and he was not impressed.   He ate out the good bits but overall felt that it was too strange to finish.  I want to say he thought it tasted like dirt?  (What the heck is a tamale anyway?)  I feel like this wasn't enough detail for ya’ll, and I shouldn't have waited so long to post about this one, because I’m forgetting half of the meal.   Let’s chalk this one up to: Go if you like spicy; go anywhere else if you don’t.  We definitely won’t be going back to MESA.  Not when there are so many other choices in Caesar’s.

If you wander through the mall, more commonly known as the Forum Shops, you’ll see the handful of upscale restaurants alongside the upscale stores like Louis Vuitton, Prada and of course, Burberry.  If you were paying attention you'll remember that Wolfgang Puck's Spago is also in Caesar's Palace.  Great restaurant, highly recommended.   The restaurants range from sushi to Italian and most everything between.  For us one of our favourite stops is the movie themed Planet Hollywood.   The first time we were there we only has some drinks and a plate of nachos.  There isn't too much to say about that really, good drinks, food is decent.  It was probably most memorable for M though.  He’s the movie buff in our family and so he was a bit like a kid in a candy store.   If you are a movie lover you’ll probably be distracted by all of the memorabilia around, pictures, costumes, etc.  Even the drinks are named for movies:  Terminator, Indecent Proposal, The Green Mile etc.  We really enjoyed ourselves the first time, so much so that we went to go back on our next visit to Vegas.  But it was gone! 

Phew, it just moved to a new location in the Shops.   It’s quite a bit more hidden away now, way up on the third floor near the winding escalators.   The decor is still full on movies, but they've updated it a bit, newer costumes, and a cool feature wall right across from the bar.  This visit actually takes place at Christmas a few years ago.  Now, we've been going to Vegas every year over Christmas for 5 years now and even though we boycott the usual traditions, I still want a semblance of the holidays.  And for me that’s a turkey dinner.  We usually find turkey dinner at the Golden Nugget hotel on Freemont.  It’s a good spread, and it’s only like ten or twenty bucks.  It did the trick but once we learned that Planet Hollywood serves a turkey dinner we opted to try that out. It’s a fair bit more expensive than the Golden Nugget, but it’s worth it (and much closer to any strip hotel, as the GN is a 20 dollar cab ride away).  We sat at the bar and were thoroughly entertained by the bartender the whole meal.  Lots of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries (yuck).  The works.  And it’s pretty fun too when you’re drinking giant slushy drinks in take home glassware (and then you get a little tipsy and pay for shots in the take home shot glasses).  We left hours later, drunk and happy.   We will for sure be back, no matter if it’s for Christmas dinner or just for a post shopping beer. 

I’m going to wrap up right now, as my next entry will go into great detail about our favourite pub on the strip.  Come back next time when I get into all the details about the time I ate Oysters (so what if they were deep fried); the first time I had duck confit (so what if it was on a poutine); the first time I had sticky toffee pudding (Oh. My. God.) and how delicious a cider is with a shot of fireball!  



Mesa Grill on Urbanspoon

Planet Hollywood on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Now, where was I?

Oh, that's right. We've just polished off a silly amount of Mexican food and drink at Diablo's (the nachos are so delicious, and ridiculously huge too) so we wander through the casino. On the other side of the floor is the hotels' cafe, mainly an American style, sit down restaurant, that seems to have its busiest time during breakfast. If I recall correctly its the only place in the hotel for a plate of bacon and eggs, or a corned beef hash. There is a McDonalds in the food court but for the time it takes to line up there and get your food at 930 am you're better off going to the Cafe. I have a few small gripes about it, the ketchup is pre-portioned for you (which makes be believe its not Heinz, and the glass sizes are tiny. For the amount of milk I like to drink in the morning I'd need 4 or 5 refills). Maybe that's just me though.   There is a steakhouse in the Monte Carlo, called Brand, and although I've never been I've been told that it was very good. I'm sure we will attempt it one day, there's just so many others to try first!  Monte Carlo faces the Strip and has recently undergone a huge face lift. They've added a giant pub right on the sidewalk and a pizza place tucked in beside that. We had planned on going to the pub the last time we were there but seeing how is was right across the path from Diablo's, it was a hard sell for me. Chupacabra's won.

Moving along down the Strip we come up to the Mandarin Oriental. To be totally fair we've never even set foot inside this hotel. There doesn't seem to be anything there luring us in, not food or beer, not gambling.  Bobby Flay just opened a new burger joint out front (facing the sidewalk- strip view of course) and I'm sure we'll get there one day. But for now I'm still loyal to my true love, GR.

Next hotel over is Aria, and one we have walked through but not eaten at. Some of the more high end hotels serve a different array of food, which is great for all the people in town who have a bottomless wallet.   For us simple folk it's more that I either don't like the type of food (...japanese for example) or that I don't want to pay for (hoity-toity French Bistro stuff.  That's crazy talk to me, $85 dollars for one tomato with sauce on it). They have two celebrity chefs in residence here so one day I'm sure we will get there. I seem to be drawn to those!

Across the promenade is Cosmopolitan.  This is probably the most impressive hotel, in my opinion.  The casino floor is not enormous like others, and the lobby is dazzling.   Crystal chandeliers and sparkly, shiny things all around, it has all of the high-end shopping that you'd expect from Las vegas and a ton of restaurants.   We've been to a few of them, the Todd English P.U.B. being the first one we tried.  We actually ended up here because we had a gift card and time to kill.     He's a James Beard award winning chef and has brought a cool new place to the Cosmo.  With menu items like mini corn dogs, and chicken pot pie I was sold!  We visited during its first few weeks of being open, and on a Sunday at brunch on top of that.   The service we fairly slow to be honest, and I was pretty irritated, but I will give them that it was opening jitters.  Once the drinks came over and our order was taken I chilled out a bit.  It has a young crowd, and even at 11 am on a Sunday the beers and Bloody Mary's were flowing.  What definitely could be a great time is the 7 second challenge.  The beer of your choosing versus the 7 second hour glass.   You drink when they flip it and if you can down your beer before time runs out, its on the house.   Rumour has it that its much more difficult than you think.   I know M wanted to try it when we were there and he didn't get to.  Maybe this next trip he'll give it a shot.  

Another stop in the Cosmopolitan is what is known to be the best buffet on the strip.  Wicked Spoon is hiding way back in the Cosmo building, up like 3 or 33 escalators.  From ground level it really does seem to take forever to get there.   When you finally round the corner and you see the massive line up it gives you a good indication of two things.  A) how good it must be based on how busy it is and B) how long you're going to have to be in line for until you get to eat said brunch.   So you wind your way through the cattle chutes and pay the lady.  When we were there it was about 36 bucks per person, for the daytime buffet.  At night I believe it goes up to 40, and they add things like lobster and roast beef (don't quote me on that though).   I tried to look online to give you readers the most accurate pricing, but they don't have any prices listed on the website.  How convenient.  It's like they are tricking you.   Sort of like how after you've lined up to pay your entrance fee you look to your left and see a whole other line up that you have to wait in to get sat!   What a crock of shit.   By this point you've probably waited an hour or more just in line ups, and that's only during the day.  I couldn't imagine how long they are at dinner time.   Once you're in its all standard buffet style set ups.   Fruits, salads, buns; eggs, sausages, house cured bacon etc.  Further down the line you get the Asian influence of Korean ribs, a random sushi selection and then over towards the desserts.   I know I'm not really doing the food selection justice, but to me it's just a buffet.  A way over priced-I waited-too-long-to-get-in-here buffet.  Sure it is probably 100% tastier than your local hotel's Sunday morning spread but for me nothing about it justified an 80 dollar breakfast (+ tip, +any alcoholic beverages).  In a city like Las Vegas I have got to be able to find someplace better.  And find it I did.


If you have good timing you can leave the Cosmo just as the Bellagio fountains are about to start up.  Grab a spot along the water and cuddle up to your breakfast date and watch in awe the famous water feature.  Insider tip, walk up the path towards the entrance to the hotel and you'll get a great view with less people crowding around.    Once the show is over wander towards the Bellagio and imagine you're starring in Ocean's 11 when you are approaching the front entrance.  It's actually one of the only hotels to allow the filming of a movie on site.  Sorry, I got side tracked, back to the food!   If chocolate is your thing you should stop by Jean Philippe which is to the right of the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical gardens.  A huge chocolate fountain is on display and if you can fight your way through the crowds the selection of treats and pastries and all things sugar awaits you.   To be fair we also haven't eaten in this hotel, truly because nothing has really caught our eye.  When the time comes I'll be sure to update you.

Caesar's Palace is next on our journey and there is a lot to talk about in this hotel.  I'm going to save that for my next entry, but just to keep you wanting more it involves Gordon Ramsay, a Christmas turkey dinner and a too spicy steak!



The Café on Urbanspoon

Todd English P.U.B. on Urbanspoon

Wicked Spoon on Urbanspoon

Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Happy Birthday!

Usually when it's a birthday in our house that person get to choose which restaurant they want to eat at for dinner. This was no exception for M's birthday a few weeks ago and true to form I am asking a million questions. T: Do you want Thai? What about Viet? I thought about Los Chilitos? M: I don't know babe, we'll figure it out. T: We could go to anything but Indian. How about a pub? Seafood? Steak? (Even I see how annoying I'm being) He comes back a while later and declares that he's got a place in mind. Okay, off we go!


Merchants has been open in Marda Loop for less than 6 months I believe, and seems to be a vast improvement over the old pubs that were there. For example, there used to be a place called Wolfman's (?) where on our first and only visit, at 530pm we see a bar fight. Good sign. If I recall correctly we finished our drink and left back then. This time was much different. Merchants is the newest attempt at the corner/end unit of this strip mall in an increasingly expensive neighbourhood. We go there fairly often to eat or drink because M grew up in that area and he’s got a sweet spot for it. I don’t mind because any time I get to spend with him is okay by me. So even though it’s his birthday, he’s driving and as we approach the subdivision I rack my brain thinking of where we are going to end up. When we pull in here, I’m pretty surprised, I never would have thought of this place. Good for him – one point for M! Where we are parking seems to be the front door but upon approach you see the sign that directs you to the side door. Oh, that seems…strange? For a brand new venue you’d think they have all their doors in order. But, maybe this is a recent occurrence and they’ve found a temporary solution. Regardless, in we go. Through a lovely black curtain. Odd.

This bar is beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever said that about a place before but this one deserves it. It’s done entirely in warm beige tones, and a huge granite bar in the center. The giant drop chandeliers with old-timey bulbs add to the ambiance. (Shit, I’m an old lady.) At the bar our server comes over quickly and gets us started on some drinks. M, being as smart as his is, has already check the menu so that he knows that there will be something I will drink and eat. Smart, smart man. I have a Keith’s of course and he has a Tool Shed. He’s a tool. LOL. No.

We actually can’t decide on the vibe of this place and so we decide our best game plan is appy’s for now. After reading through everything we both question what the hell a Gnocchi Poutine is. The menu says: Cheese Curds, Ale Gravy, Fried Tomatoes and Crispy Onions. One of these things doesn’t belong comes to mind. Although maybe two to be honest, okay fine – three things. Why the hell are they not using French Fries? Ugh. Don’t fix what ain’t broken! My initial stand point is that a poutine is made with French fries, cheese curds and beef gravy. What the snot is anyone doing putting freaking tomatoes in there?! And on Gnocchi, which sure, is a potato – but it’s not a French fry! But after eating this strange mess of a dish, I’m slightly more okay with their thought process. The gnocchi is soft, like a French fry inside, and the gravy is fine and so are the cheese curds. If I just push the tomatoes and the onions off to the side then I almost have poutine. Except that this happens: M: It tastes like stuffing to me. Like Poutine Stuffing. T: Hm. Really? (eats another bite) Nope, don’t get it. M: Yeah, for sure. This is like Turkey dinner on French-fry-ish-balls. T: I get it in the gravy a little, there must be poultry seasoning in there... or at least sage. But I don’t get the overall Turkey dinner vibe So I give up on the gnocchi. It’s too strange. I move on to the Tuna Tartar. Now this. This is delicious. The BEST tuna tartar I’ve ever had. I am still thinking about it 21 days later. M actually didn’t like it too much, he thought it was way too salty. For me, the soy balanced out the fish perfectly, the bread was lightly toasted, just great. Overall a great dish. I will order this time and again. And it works out because M loved the gnocchi and I loved the tuna. Which we both probably thought would have been vice-versa.

To be totally fair, we left after that. M wasn’t feeling a dinner entre from this locale so we moved on. But when I went to the ladies’ before we left I saw all sorts of event’s we’d come back for. From a prime rib dinner on Thursday nights to a Buck-a-shuck oysters on Tuesdays this place has definitely given us reason to return. Marda Loop is not in our usual routine of places we think of, but it should be, it’s just so far away. I truly hope our next visit is just as enjoyable I can’t wait to try the Lobster Fritters!!


Merchants on Urbanspoon

Viva Las Vegas !! (part one)

Sin City. Lost Wages. What happens here, stays here.

These are all true statements about the city that sees roughly 40 million visitors a year. M and I contribute to that number at least once a year, sometimes two or three times a year! But maybe the most fitting slogan for us should be "Where should we eat?" Each trip there will inevitably begin with us doing up a short list of places that we want to try, have tried before and loved and places that we keep saying we will try but never get around to. Without further ado here is my list of where to eat (and some, where not to eat) in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada!

Let's go back, all the way back to our first visit in 2008 when we ate at Wolfgang Puck's Spago in Caesar's Palace. I was a little spoiled having been to his Spago Beverly Hills location a month earlier but I really wanted M to experience it, and it’s still counted as somewhere 'new'. We get done up in our fancy clothes (I was even wearing a skirt and heels!) and head towards the restaurant. I think we were both a little nervous, the trip had gone differently than planned and we weren't dating at that time, so I think the pressure of a fancy expensive dinner was taking its toll. As we are reading the menu waiting for our server we but sort of giggle to ourselves and comment that neither of us enjoy wine and in this setting you almost feel a little silly ordering a pint of beer. But nevertheless we do anyway. I knew that I wasn't going to order any of the fancy cocktails because I was still embarrassed by dumping my blood red Tom Collins all over the white table linens in the Los Angeles restaurant. Luckily the servers had cleaned up my mess when I left the table to tidy myself up so when Mr. Puck himself came by my table there was no evidence of me being a klutz. He jokingly made a comment while shaking my hand that it's too bad I was on my way out so quickly! If only I had room to start all over I would have stayed all night.

Sorry, off topic. When we had decided on what to order we waited patiently for our server. While we waited we noticed a little line at the bottom of the menu that read "tasting menu $99". We asked our server what that included and it sounded fabulous - yes, let's do that! But wait! That's $99 per person! OH SHIT! Find the server! Get him back, don't make that! We must have just been a little naive about fine dining because here we thought that we were getting a great deal, whereas really we were going way over our dinner budget for that night. Luckily Jean-Luc-Marc-Philippe came back quickly and he was able to stop that before it was started in the kitchen. Phew. Ok, I'll be honest here. I don't remember what the heck we ate, this was 7 years ago. But I do remember that it was fabulous and filling and fancy and freaking expensive. But it was so worth it. This is certainly on my list of I will go back restaurants. And the next time will be a little different for us - we like wine now, we don't have dinner budgets anymore and I have no problem being called Mrs. H. ;) Let's fast forward and forget about the timelines (frankly I can't remember which trip was which). And I have to stop using words that begin with F.

My plan is this now, I will go along the strip, from the South end to the North. Stopping in each hotel that I have eaten in and give you a short version of a full write up.

Mandalay Bay, have not eaten there. M has, he ate at a build-your-own upscale burger place that he raves about to this day. One thing about American burgers is that they always ask you how you like it cooked. For me, that's too sketchy, but I don't want to be 'that' girl so I'll say medium well. M will do his rare-med rare. I just can't do it. There's a few places here in Calgary that come to mind, so it's not uncommon. It’s for just me I feel like anything under medium tastes like you're eating raw ground beef off the Styrofoam plate. Yuck. Moving on... there aren't any restaurants here that catch my eye except for the buffet. It's one of the only in Vegas that has a full seafood spread. I actually hate buffets, but one day I will try this one.

Luxor, also have not eaten here, even though we stayed here once. Okay, that’s a lie. There is a food court in the back of the hotel. It was there I devoured two Mc D’s cheeseburgers in my hung over birthday state. They do have a little cafeteria, short order cook style and I'm sure it was just fine. Nothing to write home about. They have an awesome Mexican joint on the second floor, and I say awesome because they have a ton of tequila!! Woohooo! We did notice however that when the steakhouse type restaurant was open there was never anyone in it. That should send alarm bells, it's not going to be on my list of places to try.

Excalibur has Dick's. Yes there is a food court, and a buffet and a medieval times show with horses and half naked men, but Dick's is the selling point for me. Probably because I'm a server and I've always wanted to be able to do this to my guests. The staff here are rude to you. On PURPOSE! Dick's Last Resort is just off the casino floor and decorated like a blind autistic kid did drugs while listening to his Walkman. But this is all part of the charm. Look - this place is not for the faint of heart. Or those looking for good food. Or those wanting decent service. The minute you walk in someone is berating you, and if you have half a brain you realize that it’s an act. The trouble for them is that the patrons they get walking in off the street don’t' understand the concept. They have 3 out of 5 on Yelp and a 62% on Urbanspoon and majority of people are biching because "my waiter was SO RUDE!" and "I will NEVER come back - the way I was treated was disgusting". Oh for fuck's sake. Pardon my anger. We've even had a few times there and no, the food is not amazing. Its finger food mostly, ribs, wings, chicken fingers. If you ask for a fork the server will probably throw it at your head. If you sit at the bar you can chat with the bartender and you'll get to talk to them on a normal level. They aren't always jerks. Added bonus fun is your server will make you a stupid hat that you wear during dinner. Some examples I have seen are "Big as a house, hung like a mouse" and “Even my mom thinks I’m a whore". Ha! Hahaha! Her mom was there with her! Hilarious. If you don’t think that’s funny then go stick your head in the stand and count to 100. I laugh every single time we go. And we go every single time we are in Vegas. It's a great place for some laughs and not taking life so seriously. When the DJ is there and plays a well-known song half the guests get up and start doing the dance to the corresponding song. Great times. I wish we had one of these in Canada.

Tropicana, never been, can't say I'm ever going to go.

New York New York. My favourite hotel in Las Vegas. There is so much to see and do and eat in this hotel. Most of the restaurants are right off the casino floor so very easy to find once you're inside. Let's start at the place dearest to my heart. Nine Fine Irishman, an Irish pub of course, and an excellent place for food. We've been more than once but this one time stands out in my mind. Just after dinner time and it's packed. We do get a table upstairs overlooking the bar below. The bar is done in dark woods, muted tones with a large center stage for all the live bands they host. This visit I was famished, so I went all out. The 14 oz rib-eye with potatoes and a side of creamed corn. The funniest part of this trip is that it wasn't the steak or the potatoes that did it for me. It was the corn. If you've ever had the Green Giant Cream Corn then you know what I’m thinking about, what I’m expecting. Now forget everything you've ever imagined creamed corn to be. This dish was in-cred-i-ble. The corn is whole kernels and the cream is cream. It's a little bit sweet and the starch from the corn thickens the cream sauce. From asking the staff I gather that this is the traditional way to eat it, as it would be served in Ireland. I've been fooled all my life thinking that is should be like the little green can. Was I ever blown away. Best meal in a pub that I can think of. I don't even know what M ate that day and really it doesn't matter. M knows the way to my heart is with good food, so if I'm happy then he's happy.
We ate at the Italian restaurant on the opposite side of the floor, Il Fornaio, and it was good. Forgive me for lack of description here but it was quite a while ago, and I don't remember much about it. It gives me the sort of vibe like they are trying very hard to be authentic but it's just not working. If you have a hankering for pasta it's about your only real bet for some in this hotel.
Gallagher's is the properties' steakhouse and although we have not yet been, we do have reservations for our next trip which is coming up in May. I'll be sure to update you then! For now you can just wander by the restaurant and see all the steaks they have on display showcasing their dry-aging process they use.
There is a Mexican joint, an Asian buffet-style restaurant and a cowboy girl-dancing-on-bar honky-tonk kind of place. There is a burger joint, which is one of M's favourite places, and a pizzeria, and a deli and a bagel place. And it’s all decorated like you're walking the streets of NYC. I've not eaten at each place but frankly I would. I'm in love with this hotel: its' theme, the rooms, the food. If you're new to Vegas, or maybe you just haven't stayed there I recommend it whole heartedly. And when you're there please stop in to NFI and try the creamed corn. Pretty please :)

Monte Carlo is the next hotel on this side of the road so let's go in there. This hotel is home to M's favourite place to drink. And my favourite place to... watch him drink? Diablo's is a Mexican cantina right on the corner of the hotel. It gives awesome people watching views while being inside in the air conditioned bar. The reason it's his favourite?
This here: The Diablo's Chupacabra: Casamigo Blanco Tequila, fresh jalapenos, cane sugar, lime, ginger soda with a chili salt rim. While he drinks 1 - 4 of those I will usually have a mojito or 4, but they also have deals on per hour. We've been so many times that we know the regular bartenders, and JP was the one who filled us in on how the specials work. Once an hour they will pick a pretty girl (or maybe ugly girls too, I've just never seen it. I mean, if a tree falls in a forest does it make a noise?) And she will stand up on the bar and give this giant wheel a spin. Whatever it lands on is the next special. Anything from $3 bottles of bud to $5 shots of Jager. I think if you spin the wheel you get that drink for free too. Maybe. I don't remember, I'd probably already had a few drinks before that. Don't judge – this is Vegas.

More to come, my fingers hurt and I need to use the restroom...



Spago on Urbanspoon Dick's Last Resort on Urbanspoon Il Fornaio on Urbanspoon Diablo's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Road trip to the dinosaurs!

This blog will be a little different than the rest. We went out to Drumheller on Sunday and stopped for a beer and some lunch on the way home. It was such a bad experience that I filled out the pub's 'Concact Us" feedback form online. I didn't intend for it to be so large, but hey - it doubles as a blog entry! So without further ado...

Where do I start? This was probably one of the worst pub experiences I've ever had. I'll preface this by telling you that I am a server. I've been in this industry for 15 years. I've worked in everything from pubs to fine dining. So yes, I'm biased, but I'm also concerned. How can a restaurant operate like that? We were there about 215 on Sunday afternoon. The parking lot didn't indicate that it would be very busy, so we were surprised to walk in and see it nearly full. We assessed the "empty" tables and decided just to sit at the bar. I say "empty" because even though there weren't any customers the tables were still full of dirty dishes. What a horrible first impression. We get up to the bar and there’s a plate and a glass - not sure if anyone is still sitting there.... but I figure not so I move them out of the way. Oh wow, the bar is sticky… That’s great. At this point I’m finding it concerning.... where is the bartender? Why are there 3 trays of empty glassware sitting in the server station? Alright, maybe it’s the end of the lunch rush and they’re catching up. I get it. So we wait. Awkwardly watching the tv’s that are too high up for comfortable watching positions. And we wait. And we wait some more. I’m pretty sure paint dried. Oh, good, someone comes over who looks less than impressed with seeing us sitting there and asked what we want to drink. Ok, we’re making progress I think to myself. Oh look, she even got us menus. While she handed them to us she pointed out that they are only serving appy’s and pub fare. Hey that worked for me, but I wonder why. I look around and think I might have figured it out…. It’s either the salad guy didn’t show up for work – or because Tough Mudder was in town they are trying to “pair down” the menu to not crash the kitchen. Could have been a solid plan – except that it failed horribly. Our beer was fine, nothing wrong there. But by now we’re done our beers and haven’t seen our server (bartender?). The chaos in this pub is outstanding. I comment more than once to my husband that this place is a disaster. Why did you not have a bartender on????!! Mind Blown. There are systems in place that a restaurant needs to implement to run smoothly. You never should have 5 different servers on the floor and behind the bar – pouring their own drinks, making change for people…. I literally am shaking my head as I write this. I can’t wrap my head around this. Where is the manager?? There are people constantly walking in the doors and there are guests sitting there with no drinks, no menus. One lady was behind the bar and actually yelled – yelled! – At a table behind me “has anyone come over to you? What do you want to drink?” Are you serious? She interrupted my personal ear drum space, and those guests she was yelling at were probably a little embarrassed. 


 So at this point, we think it’s pretty humorous actually. We are watching people sit at empty tables and then get up and leave because no one has come over to them. I watch one guy come up and throw his money on the bar and say “I was tired of waiting for you”. Later, a different, older gentleman comes up and needs to pay and someone takes his money. But not before he gets in a snide “I’ve been waiting forever to pay you”. I look at my husband and shake my head. We FINALLY get our server to come back over and she takes our food order. (Side note: you really need to change the menu description of “nacho cheese” – that gives people the impression you are using packaged or canned cheese dipping sauce like what comes on your nachos at the movies or a ball game. Doesn’t make your food sound very appetizing). So she clarifies that it will be real shredded cheese and rings in our food. Guess what happened next? We got our food. In a timely manner and it was pretty tasty. Maybe a little on the greasy side, but its nachos with cheese and beef – I expect it to be greasy. But, and I just thought of this.. the portion was a little underwhelming. For $16 dollars including the beef this portion should have been at least 50% bigger. But hey, no matter. I have food and beer, I’m happy. So when we are eating we spot someone who looks like a manager type come around the bar, huffing and puffing and looking pretty stressed out. I try to remind myself that maybe the restaurant side was really busy, maybe the lunch rush was crazy because of Tough Mudder. But I can’t. That is no excuse for sure horrible service. You knew months in advance that this Tough Mudder competition was coming to your town and that there will be a huge increase in business. HUGE! You staff everyone you have. You have two bartenders and 5 servers. You have every cook, and busboy working. Unacceptable to have such staffing levels that your guests notice your deficiencies. 

 I went to the washroom, and while there was still toilet paper, the ladies’ was out of paper towels. I like to dry my hands on my jeans, its okay. So I stick my head into the restaurant side… I count 3 tables. So, if the restaurant is managing itself, where is the focus on the bar side? Someone take an extra-long smoke break? Maybe Bartender ran off with the cook? I went to the washroom at 3:40, this is important, trust me. We had finished our nachos around 330, and our beers were empty. When I got up to go my husband said do you want another drink? I didn’t know and said I’ll decide while I’m gone. He then said – what about food, are we staying? That was going to depend on how fast our server came back around to take our order. She sure was attentive to the three guys sitting at the end of the bar, but we were invisible to her. We decided that if she doesn’t come back to ask us about food by 4pm then we are leaving. That’s pretty generous, don’t you agree? 20 minutes for our server to come back over and ask… sure is to me. She lucked out, by coming by before 4 pm, but by now we’ve had enough. We just want to leave. She brought us our bill and wandered away. A new girl had just come on shift, and I’m thinking she might have been the elusive bartender. We got her to break our 20 dollar bill for us, as our server hasn’t been back around to take payment. I was thisclose to just walking out on our bill, but I couldn’t. It’s not her fault that this restaurant is run so poorly. 

 Your reviews online are atrocious. Do you ever read them? Take into consideration how your guests feel? I didn’t think so. You certainly aren’t winning any new business, and I’ll never darken your doorway again. Maybe this is the wakeup call that you need. There’s a Boston Pizza in the same parking lot as you and I was still thirsty. We gladly left your establishment and went immediately next door. We sat at the bar and were served instantly, by a smiling young gentleman who you could call a bartender. They had a buffet set out for any restaurant/bar guests as they had the forethought to do a set menu only. I saw the manager on the floor helping everyone out. They were busy and everyone was having a great time – the customers and the staff. Imagine that. Feel free to contact me, although I highly doubt that you will.
So in closing, no we will not go back ;)

O'Shea's (Drumheller) Eatery & Ale House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 10, 2014

We need somewhere new

Over the past six months or so we have started a little tradition in our house. Thursdays are now Date Night. The premise is simple: we take turns cooking dinner at home, something new that we haven't made before, then we watch the 99c rental movie on iTunes. Sometime we cheat by watching a more expensive movie (because ninety-nine cent movies are just as bad as you imagine them to be). There are times when Date Night gets a little help though. An anniversary, or say, a promotion at work. This was one of those occasions.

If you live in Calgary, or have visited in your partying hayday, you'll probably know about The Back Alley.  An institution here, if you will, for rock music and mullets.  Bikers and teased blond hair.  But anyone who went always had a good time.   It was the alternative to the dance clubs downtown, but it was off the beaten path, and it had made a name for itself.   It rhymes with black but starts with "cr".   Time for a change the owners decided.  It was shut down and entirely renovated, new name, new atmosphere.  Let's check it out!

Marquee Beer Market & Stage is the destination this one Thursday night as my manager at work got the boot.  I, working directly under him, therefore got the good news that I'll be taking over his role.  Sounds like a good time to go celebrate and have a drink and some eats!    When The Back Alley closed they threw a raging party called "Drink The Alley Dry".  I did not attend, but I can only imagine the debauchery that occurred.  The new Marquee opened in to the current craft beer craze that this city is going through.  (If you aren't in Calgary, I only hope that your city is going through the same phase.  I hate it.  Why does every new bar opening have to be 'craft' ?! Ugh.  Over it.)


Take the dog for a walk, get the fur babies fed, and off we go.  It's getting late-ish, and we pull in the parking lot at 7:30.  We figure that's prime dinner time, verging on the start of the late night crowd so we imagined it would be busy.  Good lord were we surprised when we see that there are no other cars in the parking lot.  None.  Off to the right, near the other businesses, were maybe 6 more cars.   But no one in front of the restaurant itself.  Sweet! VIP parking, I'll take it.   Then a thought crosses our minds.

T: Is it open?
M: I don't know, I didn't think to check.
T: Uhhh....where is everyone?

Inside, looks great actually.  Dark browns, bright reds, a huge space where the bar is the focal point.  Alright, I'm ok with this, so far looks good even if it's short on guests.  We notice though that there is only one other table in the whole restaurant.  This concerns me.  Dinner time on a Thursday night should be pretty busy.  I'll bet any of the other restaurants south on MacLeod Trail are probably full, or close to.  So whats wrong with this place?  We sit at the bar, cuz that's how we do.  When the bartender comes over, she's a little strange.  Twitchy a bit, and doesn't seem to be focused on us.  She doesn't mention any of the specials but takes our drink order and is off to fix us up.  When she returns with the drinks we pin point why she's a bit distracting to us.  How can I word this politely....? Umm.... I can't.   She's got a glass eye.  An obvious one. Turns out though she was just covering for the bartender and isn't serving us.  When he arrives he goes over the food specials and what the happy hour menu is offering.  This usually makes us chuckle because as we are thinking about what to drink M will usually figure out the cost of the happy hour special versus the regular price.   In this case, it pays off.  The happy hour pricing is actually more expensive than the regular price.  It's sort of a bar trick, because most people assume it's a deal and just go for it.  But if you look at the drink menu and do some basic math it's pretty clear.

Happy Hour deal is 5 dollars for a 14oz pint, but it's 8.50 for a 20oz pint divided by 62 multiplied by the number of dogs in the park equals the train that left from Boston.  Or something.

When our appetizer comes it looks pretty tasty.  We ordered the spinach & artichoke dip, and for me these are always a crap shoot.  I've had great ones (Cactus Club, I'm lookin' at you) and I've had terrible ones.   This one is near the bottom of the pile.   It's served with housemade chips, which could be a nice twist, but it doesn't work.  The chips are way too thin, and for a dip like this you need something more solid - pita's or na'an.  The dip itself is just ok.  It's too artichoke-y, not cheesy enough.  M doesn't mind it, but I end up just eating the plain potato chips.  Meh, I have beer to drink, I'll be fine until dinner arrives.

When the bartender told us that the Steak Sandwich was the dinner feature I was all in.  Love me a steak sandwich.  More than a beef dip even.  Come to think of it, I might retire my beef dip quest and start a search for the best steak sandwich.   For tonights purposes I'm going to put this one in the middle of the pack.  Cooked perfectly, good toast portion.  That's always a big deal for me - the ratio of the bread to the meat, the flavour of the bread, buttered or not, etc.  The fries were good, not great, but I can live with that.  Overall the meal was good but not memorable.  Thinking back on this actually, I don't' remember what M had for dinner.  I usually write some notes in my phone when were are at the pub but I think I was distracted by our surroundings and didn't put anything down for him.  I asked him if he happened to remember and he doesn't.  I'm not saying anything bad about it necessarily, but if its not a memorable meal then what are the chances we'd go back?

By the end of our meal we had seen that other table leave, and two walk in.  4 tables the whole time we were there (and one of those was just 2 dudes having a quick beer at the bar).   By 9pm we are done our meal and we are the last people there.  The bartender actually did last call for the kitchen and we overheard a server expressing how surprised she is to be off work at 9pm as they were flipping chairs on to tables.  This is a universally known sign for get the F out, we're closing/closed.  Hint taken.

Reflecting on this as I write, I can say that yes, we'll go back.   We really had no issues with the food or the service and I think they need another chance.   But because they have this restaurant side, then the Stage side for concerts and bands, I think Marquee is confused.  Based on our one visit (and the online reviews I've seen- eek!) I can't see this place lasting very long.  It needs to chose if it wants to be a concert venue or a restaurant.  Until then they're only going to serve 4 tables on weeknights.   Not sure how you can afford to stay open on that.  Only time will tell.

Some cold beer, some good food always makes for a successful date night.  It's nothing if not an adventure!  Love you babe.



Marquee Beer Market and Stage on Urbanspoon