March 02, 2009

Car Expenses

Whew, the car's been costing a lot this year. No major damage or anything -knock wood-, just upkeep.

New tires - 800 bucks
Wheel alignment - 100 bucks (Parents bought it for me! Thanks!)
Oil change - 25 bucks (Dad did it!)
Headlamp bulb replacement - 40 bucks, which I just did today. Those bulbs are expensive! I tried just doing one, but the other bulb was noticeably dimmer, so I replaced the other one too. It's STILL dimmer, but not by as much.

Posted by JAY at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2009

Vacation Preparation

So I've got a passport and I'm packing for Vegas! Tickets are booked, reservations at hotel, show and restaurant as well.

Sadly, all is not going smoothly for Sean's leaving. Sara's toothing and Brandon's throwing up :( Poor Jax is going to be managing by herself next week. We'll be keeping in touch via webcam and phone, but there's not much we'll be able to do to help.

I'll be going to Sean's house tomorrow afternoon with a pastry offering for Jax (apple pie, hopefully still warm by the time I arrive). We'll be going (maybe... if B's not still sick) to a birthday dinner for her brother and then leaving REALLY early in the morning to catch our flight.

Posted by JAY at 12:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2009

THEhotel with the dumb name

THEhotel is Mandalay Bay's "upper crust" suite hotel tower. The rooms are really nice and big, with 2 bathrooms, a wet bar and floor to ceiling windows. A nice touch was that at the bottom of the windows there were vents that could be opened to let in fresh air. Here's a link to a virtual tour where you can walk through the suite (uses Flash).

Of course, the main problem with THEhotel is the name. Which requires that you explain exactly where you're staying at length. And every person I heard on their cell phone was explaining it as well.

For more images, click Continue...

There were actually 3 tvs in the room - a flat panel in the living room, a tv in the bedroom and a small LCD in the bathroom suite. The bathroom had a lot of stone - wall facings, a glass shower stall and huge tub. The nice thing is that the suite had one and a half bathrooms. The main bath was HUGE, with double sinks, huge shower, huge tub and a separate water closet for the toilet. The powder room (aka the "night poop bathroom") was next to the suite entrance hall, far from the bedroom.

The view wasn't in the direction of the strip, but it was a nice view of the mountains. The hotel in general was really ostentatiously posh - a lot of gleaming marble, soaring ceilings and dim lighting. Even the PUBLIC bathrooms were sheathed in marble with a floor to ceiling fountain.

Posted by JAY at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2009

ATV Tour - El Dorado Canyon

Last night, we called and booked an all-terrain vehicle tour of the El Dorado Canyon with Action Tours. We had a great time. Apparently some tours had you riding double, which Sean and I didn't want to do, but this one had everyone on their own ATV.

Of course, that may have ended up being a bad thing - on the first turn I almost took a header into a cactus filled ravine!

Terri, our driver and tour guide, picked us up in the Mandalay hotel lobby. From there, it was only a short trip to the tour site. We started the day with a tour of some old mines. Streaks of gold flecked quartz ran through the tunnels of the mine, which were conveniently lit with electric torches. Our guide told stories about the various hardships the miners used to face as they tried to extract gold with only a candle lighting their way.

From there, it was onto the ATVs for a trip around the surrounding area. It took me a bit to get the hang of driving an ATV through the sharp and steep turns of the trail. The first turn almost had me taking a tumble! After a bit, though, it got easier. The views were fantastic and the weather was perfect - cool, sunny and not too much wind to stir up the dust.

For lunch, we were kind of expecting sandwiches, but it turns out that they've set up a little campground with cook facilities up in the hills. So we got corn on the cob, baked beans and BBQ chicken, which was a pleasant surprise. It all tasted pretty good too.

From there, we took a trip up a steep outcropping to take some pictures, and then a fast ride back to the tour site. We had a lot of fun on this trip - definitely worth the $200 ticket price. Our clothes were pretty dusty by the time we got back, but a quick dunk in the bath tub fixed that.

Posted by JAY at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2009

Restaurant: Picasso

Picasso is (also) a two michelin star french restaurant at base of the Bellagio. It's a perfect place for a french restaurant - it overlooks the famous musical fountains which put on an impressive musical display every half hour. And across the street is the Paris casino with a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower. It makes for quite an impressive view from the tables. The tables are set at an angle to provide an optimum view to both diners. The diners are seated on adjacent sides of the table instead of across from each other, giving a good view to both and also making conversation a lot easier and quieter.

A number of actual Picasso paintings hang on the walls. And since this isn't a museum, they don't mind if you take pictures, since they're not selling prints. I didn't use flash though, since I didn't want to make a spectacle of myself.

Between the paintings and the vaulted brick ceiling, the atmosphere is perfection. So is the service, who managed to be both ever-present and unobtrusive. A couple times, I didn't actually notice them until they did something. When I returned from the bathroom, someone was repositioning my chair while I was sitting back down - but not moving it enough that I was uncomfortably surprised when I didn't notice them. And I didn't realize that they had replaced my napkin until Sean went to the bathroom and they replaced his. Likewise with cutlery replacement.

We had reservations at 7pm but actually showed up at 6 without realizing it. They weren't fazed by it at all, in fact, they didn't say that we were an hour early, so when we left after seeing the fountains 6 times, we were concerned about seeing the show we had booked. We probably did them a favor, and let them get an extra seating at our table. It wasn't busy when we got there (they open at 6) but it was getting full as we left. But I'm glad we got there early - with no one in the restaurant I could wander and look at the Picassos over the tables and we got to see the fountains in daylight and night.

And the food...

Menu Degustation

Amuse Bouche
Corn Chowder, spear of quail egg, caviar, salmon-wrapped mascarpone cheese

Was this EVER good. It doesn't look like much, but the corn chowder was ultra rich and ultra smooth. And SO tasty. The tiny amount was perfect because it was so very rich - but it did leave me wishing that I had more. Sean's eyes totally lit up when he was drinking it and he sheepishly admitted that possibly pricey restaurants COULD be worth the price. The fish and eggs was also very tasty. Mmm.

Maine Lobster Salad
Apple-Champagne Vinaigrette

This lobster salad was even BETTER. It was my second favorite dish of the night. Huge, juicy pieces of lobster with a very light, slightly sweet, not-too-acidic dressing. Even the garnishes were delicious. Sean agreed and really enjoyed the wine that was paired with this dish - he did the wine pairings for an extra $68. I don't really appreciate good wine from bad - so I splurged on something else...

Pan Seared Sea Scallop
Potato Mousseline and Jus de Veau, potato chip

Sean's verdict on this was "I could eat another ten of these!" I'm not sure how special it was, but it WAS a perfectly seared scallop in a delicious reduction of veal juices. And the "potato mousseline" was pretty much a potato puree but it had lovely texture. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it wasn't memorable to me.

Sauteed "A" Steak of Foie Gras
Honey Muscat Poached Pears with Creme Fraiche Gastrique, Brioche and Crushed Almonds

I forgot to turn my flash off for this picture. Oops! By this time, it was getting dark, so that's why my subsequent pictures really suck. I had never had foie before - but this was really good. It was like a rich, fatty gel that reminded me of bone marrow, if bone marrow could be seared. I really enjoyed this, though partially for the novelty factor. The dish could've used more bread, though. The 'brioche' was really just a thin square underneath the foie. A bit more carbs to go with the fat would have been perfect. Sean wasn't sold on the texture but enjoyed the flavor.

Japanese Kobe Beef Filet (me)
Jus, Potato Mousseline, Vegetables

OH MY GOD. This cost an extra hundred bucks, but it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. This beef was like butter. It was softer than the trumpet mushrooms that accompanied it. It was also full of flavor - probably due to the invisible but tasty fat content that is ordinarily absent in this, the leanest part of the cow. I gave Sean a chunk to try and he was similarly impressed. Ordinarily, I'd have a hard time spending $100 on a piece of meat - but I have to say, I'd have a hard time resisting getting this again.

Sauteed Filet of Halibut (Sean)
Ragout of Corona Beans, Serrano Ham, Vegetables and Mushrooms

Sean's fish, on the other hand, was simply ordinary tasting and really the only disappointment in this meal. I actually preferred the drunken noodle sea bass that we got at a Vegas Thai restaurant to this. The other option was lamb, and Sean wasn't sure that he liked lamb... but in retrospect, he should've had the lamb. In fact, we should've sent this back and asked if he could've had a kobe filet instead!

Chocolate Fondant molten cake, Peanut Butter ice cream (Sean)
Poached Quince, wine sorbet, creme caramel (me)

Sean really enjoyed his dessert of chocolate molten cake and peanut butter ice cream. I had a taste, and it was wonderful, but I wanted to chose something that I hadn't tried before. The poached quinces were certainly interesting, sort of a apple/pear/citrus hybrid, but very dense. Sean didn't like them at all. The wine sorbet was very refreshing tasting and the creme caramel was super rich and just barely solid. I was wishing for more creme caramel, it was pretty tiny and very good.

Sean was full after our meal, so I got to eat all of the little tray of delicacies that followed the meal, an assortment of cookies (including a meringue), chocolates (truffles), tiny pieces of cake (carrot cake) and bars. They were very tasty, but I was pretty full by that point too.

The main triumph of the night was that Sean, who went into the restaurant whining that it was crazy to spend this much on food (total bill: $500 incl tax and tip) admitted that it was worth it - and that he would definitely come back (and even order the kobe). Without the wine pairing and the kobe, the price is only $123/person plus tax and tip.

Definitely a highlight of the trip and recommended.

Posted by JAY at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2009

The Pools

THEhotel/Mandalay Bay is known for having the best pools in Vegas. We thought it was a bit cool for the pool at first. But while we were exploring the hotel complex we saw all the non-Mandalay tourists, on their way to the Shark Reef exhibit, plastered to the windows and just DYING to try out the very attractive pools which are surrounded by sandy beaches, deck chairs, cabanas and palm trees. So we HAD to try them.

We should've spent more time in the pools than gambling! The pools were really well heated, so being in the water was really warm. The huge golden Mandalay Bay hotel acted as a massive reflector, reflecting the sun back over the pool complex. There are about 8 pools, the largest of which is a massive wave pool that laps up against a sand beach. The rhythmic pressure of waves makes me a bit seasick, though. I'm not a water lounger, I prefer swimming.

Our favorite pool was the lazy river. It actually had a pretty swift current going through it (fast enough that if you swam backwards, it was pretty hard to make any headway. It was fun doing endless laps around it, under chilly waterfalls and around tight curves. Between the swimming and walking around the Strip, I actually returned from Vegas lighter than I left!

I'm thinking that the cool weather is actually a good thing - I imagine in the full heat of summer the pools are really too crowded to do much actual swimming in. With the weather the way it was, we were easily able to find beach chairs, too.

The pools are a bit far from THEhotel, about a 5 minute walk. They're much closer to Mandalay Bay. But they're definitely one of the reasons that if I ever return to Vegas, I'll return to THEhotel/Mandalay Bay.

Posted by JAY at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)

Vegas Restaurant: Lotus of Siam

Lotus of Siam is a Thai restaurant that garners rave reviews from many sources. Entering the restaurant for lunch, we were immediately enveloped by tantalizing aromas. When we ordered, the attentive waitress asked us how hot we would like our dishes, on a scale of one to ten. We generally like spicy things, so we responded "six". Hoo! Most of the dishes at this restaurant come loaded with tiny thai bird chiles. Anything hotter than what we got would've been past the point where we could enjoy it. If I'm ever in the area again, however, I'm thinking a "three" might be the way to go!

That being said, most of the food was pretty tasty. Details are below.

Sean ordered the tempura shrimp, and I should've protested more vigorously... japanese cuisine in a thai restaurant? It was just ok, and a bit overly battered.

Koong Sarang ( Prawn in a blanket ), by contrast, was delicious. How could it not be? It was shrimp and bacon wrapped in spring roll skin and deep fried.

The big disappointment was the VERY highly recommended (online at Chowhound) Nam Kao Tod, rice fried until it's slightly puffed and crispy, with peanuts and sausage. Unfortunately, the lime sourness was pretty overwhelming and ruined what might've been a texturally very interesting and otherwise tasty dish. I think that I have a limited appreciation of sour - but Sean didn't like it at all either.

Spicy fried chicken wings were very good, though not very memorable. Sean really enjoyed them, though.

After all those appetizers, we shared a Drunken Noodle Sea Bass dish. It was very tasty and I enjoyed it a lot - but it could've use some more noodles to eat the tasty sauce with.

I really wanted to try the highly recommended mango and sticky rice, but we were really full by this time and settled for coconut ice cream. The nice thing about it was that there were chunks of fresh coconut throughout the ice cream, which added a lot of extra enjoyment as compared to the coconut ice cream that I've had before. Of course, the frustrating part was that it was all white, so it was impossible to pick out the coconut to divide the coconut with each spoon of ice cream.

Overall, I enjoyed our meal here. If I were local to this restaurant, I would definitely return and try various dishes. The prices, if you're not ordering many different things, like we were, are pretty reasonable too.

953 E. Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Tel. (702)735-3033

Posted by JAY at 02:58 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2009

Stratosphere Tower

On a 'thrills vs cost' value scale, nothing comes close to the rides on top of the Stratosphere Tower. For just thirty bucks, you can dangle off the edge of the tower in various ways! That little red and white spike on the top of the tower? The most terrifying ride I've ever been on!

It was a near thing - on the day that we wanted to go on these rides, it was deemed too windy and the rides weren't open. Now really, if a bit of wind is enough to make the ride unsafe then there's not enough built in tolerances to begin with! It's probably more likely that the ride operators don't want to stand out there when it's that windy. Luckily, on our last day it wasn't windy at all, and the rides were open.

The first, and worst, ride that we went on was called the "Big Shot" It's pretty simple, it just rockets you up really, really fast. And then rockets you back down (I'm pretty sure it's accelerated, and not just a drop). And then it toys with you, sending you back up and down irregularly. The tower has 4 sides, and had we paid a bit extra for a day pass, we would've been obligated to try it from each side, or come back and try it at night. We could hardly walk after getting off, though, so at that moment we were damned glad that we didn't have a daily pass. Youtube vids do not do this justice. It is by far the scariest of the 3 rides.

The X-Scream ride is also pretty scary. It's basically a big seesaw with a track that holds the cars. The cars start at the back, the seesaw tilts over the edge of the tower and the cars shoot forward. As you can see, the front cars dangle off the edge of the track! Sean and I were lucky enough to get front seats for our ride too. After you shoot forward, the seesaw unexpectedly drops you another 10 feet or so. But while it's pretty exciting, it's not endlessly terrifying like the Big Shot.

The last ride, the Insanity, rotates you off the edge of the tower and then starts spinning. Then it opens up so that you're almost horizontal with the ground while you spin. It's a lot of fun, and if you're not scared of heights it's not scary because it doesn't really accelerate that fast - everything's gradual. I wanted to take out my camera on the ride and get some pics/video, but I didn't want to get in trouble. This one is worth having the day pass for - then someone from inside the tower observation deck can see you spinning over the edge of the tower and take pics or video.

Posted by JAY at 03:53 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2009

Vegas Restaurant: Cafe Giorgio

We didn't actually eat a meal here - the bar serves really cheap appetizers and drinks in the afternoons and we passed by a couple times to have a quick bite. The prices are heavily discounted, around 5 bucks a dish, 3 bucks for a beer and 4 bucks for well drinks (rum and coke, lemonade and vodka, etc).

We had calamari and arancini. The calamari was pretty standard, but served with a very savory dipping sauce. The arancini were a bit different, the balls of rice were mixed with a brown meat sauce before being breaded and deep fried.

The bartender was friendly, with entertaining stories about how it was living in Vegas and encounters with rude 'celebrities'.

Cafe Giorgio

Posted by JAY at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2009

Vegas Wrap-up

Whew! Fun trip, but I'm glad to be back. We arrived back on Friday morning, after leaving at midnight. I dropped Sean off around 7am and then headed to T&T groceries to wait for them to bring out the roasted pig. While I waited, I snacked on some steamed buns and took a nap in the car.

We had some high hopes of winning a bunch of money early in the week - we were up about 600 bucks playing blackjack tables. But by the end of the week we had lost it all and ended the week in a statistical dead heat (the odds for blackjack are ever so slightly in the casino's favor - about 52% or so). Still, because we didn't lose the money that we had budgeted for gambling, the trip as a whole was a lot cheaper than the $5,000 we had planned on. The total cost ended up being about $2,300 (including costs to get a passport etc). So no complaints!

The best parts of the trip were definitely the ATV tour, the Stratosphere rides and eating at Picasso (mmm). If I ever return, I'll spend a bit more time in the pool and definitely try another acclaimed restaurant (or 2!). THEhotel was awesome too.

The only major downside (other than not winning piles of money and turning a profit) is the ubiquitous smoking in the casinos. The older casinos, with lower limits at the tables, were the worst for not having ventilation that could keep up with the stink - we didn't spend much time there! If they banned smoking, I'd be back in a heartbeat!

The weather was perfect - cool enough that we did enough walking on the strip to not gain weight while there (which was quite the surprise!).

I might do a few random posts on Vegas in the coming posts, as I organize various pics.

Posted by JAY at 10:01 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2009

Lunch at Trev and Rucell's

Rucell and Trev invited me over for a yummy lunch and to play with Riley and Sienna. Sienna's growing FAST! And Riley was happy to see me - he's so cheerful! Of course, judging by the way he was insisting that I use the TV remote to turn on Guitar Hero, he may have just wanted someone else to ask to play the game. (Something's wrong with that sentence, but I'm tired!)

We also had some yummy egg tarts that I'm trying to find the bakery from. The custard was really nice and silky.

Posted by JAY at 11:13 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2009

Airport Art Fail

People Falling Out of the Sky*

  • Jonathan Borofsky (American, b. Boston, Massachusetts 1942)
  • Lexan, aluminum plate, stainless steel cables
  • Five figures
    Red, yellow, orange figures: 5.27 x 5.21 x .04 metres
    Blue, green figures: 2.24 x 5.44 x .04 metres
  • Fabricated at La Paloma, Sun Valley, California
  • Collection of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority

Seriously? Is this appropriate for an airport art installation?

*Actual title: I Dreamed I Could Fly 2003

Just got back from Ottawa on a work trip. Yay, meetings. Actually, there are a few new people on our team and meeting them was great. One of them is quite the joker and enjoyed making jokes at the new director's expense, mocking his leadership, sense of direction and French counting skills in the first hour after meeting him.

Poor Sean was away from his familly 2 weeks out of the month this month - in Vegas and Ottawa. His wife Jax probably hates me now ;-)

Posted by JAY at 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2009

Dinner at Jen's

Went to Jen's place for dinner and to play with Naomi. Dan's been using a meal planning site and he got the ingredients for her to cook. It was all really good, though portions seem a bit small - knowing that, Jen actually made two menus. So we had a yummy salad with apples and grapes, pork tenderloin topped with a blue cheese stuffing and spinach pasta with pine nuts.

For dessert, I brought over ingredients for a lemon meringue pie. I had enough crust for a small 7-inch pan, so I blind baked it before I left. I used an "America's Test Kitchen" recipe for the filling and it turned out really well, slice-able, but still loose. I used the extra meringue to make a couple of cookies that Naomi really enjoyed, so I thought that she'd like the meringue topping on the pie. But no, she preferred the tart lemon filling.

Still, I liked the recipe enough that I made a bigger one and brought it over for Dan and Melanie to share. (Jen and I finished the first one that day.) I used the extra lemon filling to top egg bread toast, which leaves it tasting like a pastry. Yum! The meringue used a trick that I didn't know about - beating some cooked cornstarch paste into the stiff egg whites to prevent weeping.

Posted by JAY at 10:47 PM | Comments (5)