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TheBoy and I snuck off last week for a weekend away from the kids in one of our favorite cities, Las Vegas. True, we aren’t much for clubbing. Or gambling. Or even drinking.

But that isn’t why we love Las Vegas, it’s the food! As well as the luxury of getting to sleep in at a great hotel without worrying about kidlets.

Friday morning we set off from LA and started to make the drive through the desert. While yes, we could have flown and simply rented a car in Vegas, there’s something fun about the drive. Hours where we can talk, sing to songs, and stop and enjoy some roadside food.

This trip’s “I can’t believe we stopped there award” goes to Hesperia. Right on the border of Victorville and Hesperia, we passed a Gentleman’s Club that said that dancers were always welcome. Classy, right? We stopped there to fill up at a gas station and I admit, I really didn’t want to get out of the car to use the bathroom and buy some water.

From there, it was through Barstow (and BARSTOW STATION) and the desert until we reached Baker. In the past, we used to stop at Barstow for a meal. With the first Vegas trips, it was usually Barstow Station- out of nostalgia sake, and the fact that you get to eat in converted train cars. Then we started to stop a little further in Barstow, near the outlet malls.

Now we stop at Baker. Why? I have three words for you: The Mad Greek. The Mad Greek is in Baker, and has some delicious Greek fare (as well as diner classics) and the best strawberry milkshakes.

This time we ordered gyros (an odd first as we’ve stopped here so many times), and they were delicious. The meat was unbelievably tender- and their tzaziki sauce was excellent.

Then, it was back to the road. A first for us, we passed by some skydivers landing near Jean, NV. One was a little off course- but they all landed safely. It was still surprising to see that their landing site was so close to the highway, though. (No pictures- all I have is the cell and the couple pictures I snapped were much too blurry)

I always get a little sad driving through Jean. On one side of the highway is still the Gold Strike Casino, which boasts cheap meals and slots that pay out cash. On the other, is a cement footprint of what used to be the Nevada Landing, with its sign still standing.

As we were driving into Las Vegas, we passed a total of 10 cars pulled over – a few on the left side of the highway, each with motorcycle cops and a couple with some cars as well. I have no idea what happened, but I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed when I saw the first one- as someone who regularly drives into Vegas, you always go the limit coming into and out of. They see the California plates and start pulling people over because they can. A little more when I saw the next one, and I was actually crying by the tenth car- it was so utterly absurd by that point.

Of course, you just want to know where we ate and what we had… so I’ll skip the reminiscing, and go straight to the Reviews.

Friday Night

Ping Pang Pong
Gold Coast Casino

I first ate here two years ago with my family and was struck by how amazing the food was. While the Gold Coast isn’t a very nice place, the restaurant is packed with Chinese tourists (and locals)- which means the food has to be the real deal.
First up, we had the potstickers. Filled with pork, they were perfect. The dough wasn’t too thick, the pork was perfectly cooked, and they were just crisp enough. Served with a great dipping sauce, we had a hard time reminding ourselves that we still had entrees on the way.

Of our two entrees, this was our favorite- and the one I recommend that everyone try who visits. Walnut Prawns. Coated in a mayonnaise sauce and served with honey glazed walnuts. The prawns are a little sweet with a bit of a tang from the sauce- and the walnuts are perfectly sweet and delicious. Honestly, I wanted to buy a bag of those walnuts for snacking on for the rest of our trip.

The prices are on par with a nicer Chinese food restaurant and the food is authentic. Casual attire will do, but not too casual.

Saturday Breakfast

Room Service – no review necessary. It was great, convenient and pricey!

Saturday Lunch

Pool Deck at the Palazzo

One of Wolfgang Puck’s eateries, it’s a mix of California cuisine and classic American food. Food’s in the $15-$20 range and is also available to-go, so that it can be taken up to the rooms. Of course, you can only dine there if you have access to the Palazzo’s pools- which would mean if you’re a Palazzo guest or headed to Azure.

Sadly, I have no pictures- I had gone to CanyonRanch Spa, so I left my phone up in my room. It seemed silly to bring it and possibly lose it.

TheBoy ordered a burger- which was huge and came with fries. Always lovely when they ask you how you want your burger cooked.

I ordered the Prime Rib Panini, which came with potato chips. The prime rib was tender, juicy- and the horseradish cream on the sandwich was great. Now, any time I get a prime rib sandwich, I’ll be dreaming of this one.

We’re probably going to eat here again, next time.

Saturday Night

Dal Toro
The Palazzo

TheBoy was in the mood for Italian, so we decided to try this place. It’s rated to have one of the best patios in Vegas, as it’s set just below street level where you can people watch and see the show across the street at Treasure Island. (It was windy the night we were there, so we didn’t get to see the show) To make the street noise not so obvious, there are a lot of fountains as well as some fairly loud music.

It’s part Italian restaurant and car museum. I ordered the Tortiglione Rustica, a pasta dish with bacon, chicken, mushrooms, and thyme, tossed in a brandy cream sauce. TheBoy ordered the Lasagna delal Nonna- the grandmother’s lasagna. I got a bowl of pasta that was roughly the side of my head, and he had a normal size portion of lasagna. He said his lasagna was good, I thought that the Tortiglione was a bit sweet, but okay. Good, but not amazing.

For dessert, he had tiramisu and I had the Torta della Nonna (pictured). Both were excellent.

The service was a little spotty as well- quite often we were left searching for our waiter, even though the restaurant wasn’t full. Odder still, one of the hostesses was dressed in a tank top and shorts, when the rest were dressed like hostesses usually are.

If we come back, it will be for dessert only, I think.

Prices range from $14-42 for entrees. If you want to try it, reservations are recommended (they’re on OpenTable).

And with that, we left Vegas the next morning and returned home. We had lunch at Bob’s Big Boy in Baker (right next to the World’s Largest Thermometer!).

While we didn’t make it very far outside the Palazzo/Venetian complex, there are tons of amazing restaurants there. I have a long list of places that I’d like to try in Vegas- which range from pricey to very affordable.

Off-strip, but excellent was the Black Bear Diner. My cousin recommended this and the food was dynamite. Classic diner food, done very well. In the Venetian/Palazzo, I’d also like to visit Carnevino, Cut, Bouchon (and return to Pinot Brasserie). Next door at Harrah’s, there’s KGB- which boasts some amazing burgers. If you’re willing to trek through Circus Circus, THE Steakhouse is great. At the MGM, Craftsteak and Shibuya are on my list of places to go. At Caesar’s Palace, there’s Mesa Grill and Rao’s (TheBoy has this on our list for next time- since you’re more likely to get a seat there than Rao’s in NY).

Of course, by next summer- I’m sure I’ll have even more places to add to the list.

Originally published at American Whitney. You can comment here or there.

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Las Vegas at 7:30 in the morning is a strange thing. I woke when there was enough light to illuminate our room- even though we’re facing the west. It’s one of those unfortunate quirks, that reminds me that even though I proclaim I’m not: I am more of a morning person than a night person.

Ronnie sleeps in the giant sized bed. It is large enough that even with my tossing and turning and his tossing and turning, neither of us woke the other. So I find myself, just as I did yesterday after our nap, looking out the window at Sin City. But it’s a different place.

Today is less windy than yesterday, and there are only a handful of people taking advantage of the pools being empty. Instead, I find myself watching employees at the pool preparing the cabanas for the day and checking the lounge chairs for any sort of damage.

The strip itself seems like any normal street at 7:30 am. There are cars driving, but none of that usual traffic jam that Las Vegas Blvd can be. Very few people walking along the street, even though the temperatures are much more comfortable than they will be in a few hours. I’ve seen several runners, and some people out for morning walks. But the vast groups of tourists are apparently sleeping in.

The signs are all going full tilt. We’re across the street from Fashion Show LV (a very lovely mall, I’m sure) which has four very large screens bombarding visitors with ads. Some for nearby shows (I’ve seen ads for Wayne Brady and Phantom- both of which are at the Venetian/Palazzo complex) and one for the ipod touch. I never want to see that ad again.

The rest of the day.

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Originally published at The Fabulous Whitney Drake. You can comment here or there.

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Roadtrips are wonderful, especially road trips to Las Vegas. The first time we (Ronnie and I) went, it was just a couple weeks shy of my 21st birthday. (I’d been to Las Vegas a couple times with my family, but you have to admit, Las Vegas as a kid is an entirely different experience) At the time, we were working at Disneyland and going to school. January was (and still is) the slowest month at the Park. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, everyone stays home. Consequently, there aren’t many shifts during the week. January was still part of the winter holiday for me, as I never took part in the Winter Semester. So we could take off in the middle of the week, as we did, for Sin City.

The first trip was largely just to see the sights, since I couldn’t gamble. It was during the CES convention, so Las Vegas was packed. We (our group also included three other friends) crammed ourselves into a room at the Travelodge next to Circus Circus. I had a cold, and was taking plenty of medicine to keep myself from making everyone ill. Mostly, we ate. We walked along the Strip, went to the Forum Shops. Mostly, it was the journey that made the trip fun.

Driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you have to make a couple stops along the way- either to fill up with gas, to get a bite to eat, use facilities, or just to stretch your legs. This trip, we left our house around 10 am, got some Starbucks and headed off.

It didn’t take long for us to get to Barstow, which is always one of our stops. The first few trips, we stopped at Barstow Station – a run down little cluster of shops with a Taco Bell, Quiznos and McDonald’s thrown in. The most notable part about it is that you dine in the train cars at the McDonald’s. It was where we’d all stopped as kids, so we stopped there, and looked at the candy shop, at the variety of bizarre hot sauces.

But the Big Boy never left! This time, we stopped near the outlet mall. There’s a Del Taco, an In n Out, and now a Bob’s Big Boy (“The Big Boy never left, Sir. He still offers quality food at reasonable prices!”). We gassed up, and went to the Del Taco. Barstow’s the home of Del Taco, as they’ll proudly tell you, and the food’s just a little different than the rest of their chain. The chicken soft tacos are larger, for one. The first time we’d stopped there, we made our usual order, and the woman looked at us like we were insane. Five tacos for two people? Then we saw how large they were, and understood. This particular Del Taco is a well oiled machine. They deliver the food to your table, have people monitoring the tables to make sure they’re cleaned promptly, that you get bags to take your excess food in, and that you always have enough hot sauce.

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Originally published at The Fabulous Whitney Drake. You can comment here or there.


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July 2011

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