Monday, June 30, 2008

The Neeful Part 3

Saturday (6/28) was a drive into Philadelphia for me to do some sightseeing with the family. Did I mention we have a purple PT cruiser? Its basically the perfect little in town car for my team of 4. We spent the morning at the Franklin Institute which is a very cool hands-on museum for kids. The first part was a Pirates exhibition. This guy actually dug up a pirate ship and found actual booty and its now sitting (the booty not the ship) in a glass case for me to look at, impressive. The rest was pretty standard fare: a gigantic room-sized heart that you can walk through, airplane experiments, awkward teenagers holding plasticized monkey brains out for children to fondle. There was also a cool sports room with a rock wall, virtual soccer goalie training, reaction time tester in a mock drag racer (my best was 12 ms and JB got a 3) and a vertical leap tester. Not to make too big a deal of this but this picture makes it look like I can kind of jump. I'm framing it.

After the museum we navigated over to Jim's Steaks (the Center City location) for my cheese-steak experience. The ended up not having the roasted pork on the menu and its not the kind of place where you ask a-lot of questions (late addition: I am an idiot who cant' read... the roast pork is at Tony Luke's). We waited in the line of about 50 people (we were there at 3 Pm hoping to miss the rush and apparently this was a light volume) for a couple of steaks and a hoagie. You order the steak before the hoagie but lets knock out the hoagie first.

It took forever to make. The guy moved like molasses and since the hoagie is like an afterthought at this place I think put their slowest guy on this station. The rolls they use are great, a little texture on the outside but then soft and fluffy inside perfect for soaking up juice. I think the meat was cappicola, prosciutto and some just boiled ham type thing (imagine Tina's horror). The hot/sweet peppers, salt/pepper, mayo, tomatoes etc. were all great and this would have been a great sandwich if it had not prevented me from eating my cheese-steak for 10 minutes.

For the steak portion you tell the man cooking the steak what you want (see previous post for the lingo), we went with 1 wiz and one provolone. The guy has an impressive volume of food on the griddle at all times and clearly is an experienced pro knocking out steaks at about 10 second intervals each one identically sized and with customized topping combos. You have to tip the man for the pleasure of watching him work. In the back you can see the other guys slicing the meat. There is a regular meat slicer but set to an impossibly thin setting and a kind of basket that catches the molecule-width steak and creates probably 2 lb stacks of meat in slightly offset piles so that Griddle man can scoop a known amount of steak onto the griddle when he needs to refill. Many cows meet their end at this place, I was awed. He keeps a pile of onions and peppers caramelizing right next to the steak and is like a Benihana chef with the metal spatula making a quick chop and scoop move to fill the steak. I could go on for hours about how much I loved standing at this counter watching an awesome thing being made awesomely.

As for the steak itsef this guy really says it all. The chopped texture IMO allows each bite of steak to be fully integrated with wiz and meat sauce. The bread texture is really perfect, holds the juices so that the last quarter of the sandwich kind of makes your head explode with happiness.

I plan to try some others next week when we get back toward Philly but this was pretty damn great and I'm officially putting it on the list of Places That Rock.

On the way back to the car we stopped into a little deli/bakery (Famous 4th), which was an accidental find and turned out to be great coffee (fresh ground) and amazing pastries. They are deservedly famous for the cookies and the rugelach (wow, there alot of ways to spell that I had no idea) was amazing.

After leaving to walk back to the car I noticed a weird guy in the second floor window across the street looking up and down the block with tiny binoculars. The camera was packed so I couldn't get a shot but it seems he is a fixture because on the google street view I'm pretty sure you can see him in the window. From that link go to full screen and look at the rounded corner window on the right. Anyway, he was a creepy dude.

That section of town was pretty funky and interesting, by funky I mean a million tatoo/piercing options and by interesting lots of great looking ethnic restaurants. Could be all tourist setup I guess but I would go back.

Next up is drive over to another foi's house for a home cooked Indian meal. I'm gonna need some time to put together all the notes on the Indian food we are eating, Tina has a notebook with recipes and notes but its in at least 3 languages and I'm not even so good with english.

Before the trip I got Tina a new phone as we are migrating over to AT&T. I wanted something PDA-ish but small for her but that had internal GPS for a backup to the general use of google maps on all our wanderings. The samsung blackjack ii has been a nice little phone. No complaints so far except that GPS kills the battery fairly quickly and couldn't get the satelites through the roof of the PT cruiser most times. Using it to get a fix on location though is great and the Locate Me feature in google maps that works off of cell towers is usually plenty when you are totally lost.

I mention this right now because any machine is only as good as the data we give it. To get to foi's house we pulled up directions 'from here' to 'contact address' and headed out. The problem was that she lives on Forrest drive as opposed to the Forest drive we had stored. The mailman can figure it out as she has gotten mail before but the little phone map sent us to a very nice house with a very nice family who were not at all Tina's and totally refused to make us any Indian dinner. A few miles away we got to the right spot and I at a silly amount of crazy hot food. We had to open all the windows during the cooking process because the kids were starting to choke/wheeze/cry that they couldn't breath for the chili fumes. Good times. After dinner we took the kid's to Friendly's for ice cream which seemed to be a corporate and ghetto mix of Tucson's Austin's. The place was filthy, the waitress sucked, the people at the table next to us were overfed/loud/NJ jackasses eating waffle fries and sundays at 11 PM on a Sat. night plannng their trip to the strip club. Oh and the ice cream wasn't great.

Saturday night and Sunday day was at another uncle's place. He has 2 girls and a boy who have all gotten married in the last year or so. They are all staying together while the 2 new husbands (from India) get all their work stuff setup. We did a short Valley Forge trip in the morning but the oppressive wet heat kept us from touring too far. The re-enacter guy who had all his kit laid out for like a demo was particularly unfriendly. E. Coast people are an odd lot.

From there we were meant to drive back to Newtown, PA for a night of staging before the NYC adventure but we got lost again when I couldn't get to the N. bound lane quick enough to make the PA turnpike and we got stuck in a morass of little country roads that were all under construction and not showing as such on our map. We cursed the phone but really not its fault. We also ran a turnpike payment stop when I got stuck in the Fast pass lane and some jackass tried to kill me when I went to merge to the cash lane. I assume I'll get a bill someday but whatever.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Needful Part 2

Tina and the kids have been spending the days messing around: Monday was berry picking, Tuesday was a kid's museum, Wednesday was the aquarium.

So I didn't work much on Monday (Baker, Mouth, Out) but the rest of the week is pretty much the usual pace. Getting used to the time zone is strange. The account I'm working now is in Denver so MT, AZ is currently on PT (back an hour) and I am currently on ET (Denver +2) so my annoying 7 AM call (AZ time) now starts promptly at 10 AM (ftw!!!1!1). Granted we don't go to bed early but I'm rolling out of bed every morning promptly at 7:45 having a leisurely shower, shave breakfast etc. and am still at my desk 90 minutes before Denver even starts to come online. No one is the wiser unless they check my ST status and see "Working from the Needful".

Dinner is pretty late out here but I don't know if thats just this house or everybody. The sun goes down at like 8:30 and I don't think we've finished dinner before 9:30 even once. I do know that we are always done by 9:45 because that is when we watch the Hindi soap Doli Saja Ke which you can find all over Youtube and is some amazing stuff. Keep your Mexican telenovellas, this stuff is corny like off the charts. My daughter and I speak no Hindi and everyone is too engrossed to explain it to us (and not afraid to shush me and the 5 year old) so we have created our own names for the characters and plot lines for everyone. The music is pretty obvious for the heavies and they do an awesome 'dun dun dun' camera shake deal when some one is shocked to learn the revealing truth about something, or whatever. Great fun.

Tina is filling a notebook with recipes and instructions so she can cook me some Indian food when we get home .........or so she can carry on family traditions or whatever. I am to report back to the foi (thats paternal aunt if you weren't paying attention to the earlier primer) on how well she is feeding me. Did I mention I love it here?

I plan on doing some sightseeing myself in Philly this weekend and having a real cheesesteak experience. There are the famous Geno's and neighboring Pat's (best website) along with some recommendations for Dalessandro's but I'm going to try for Jim's and get a cheesesteak plus pork sandwich (dude, I've been eating at a vegeterian house all week...I'm due). Rick's has a great how to order site and this freaking guy is my hero.

The Needful Part 1

I love maps. I liked paper maps back in the day and now I'm a google map/earth super dork. One day while playing with the maps at my home office I had a burst of inspiration. I work from home and home is just where my internet connection is so home is really wherever there is internet so home is really everywhere and therefore I can work from everywhere. You can't argue the logic so far. I also realized that Tina and the kids are out of school for the summer and its kind of a waste of time to just hang out in Tucson when its 100+ daily. Adding this all up I decided we should go on a huge cross continent road trip. I would break the trip into chunks and drive a few evenings a week. We would stay mostly with family but also use the Hilton points (we do all our family bidness on an Amex card that racks Hilton points) for intermediate stages. Everyone loved the idea (by that I mean my son.....and pretty much just us) so I laid out a rough plan and map including dates and everything. That trip got whittled down to Tina's version which is fly to PA, stay with family for a few weeks in PA and NJ and do some sightseeing in the area (mainly Philly and NYC). I'm ok with baby steps I guess but the big trip is still out there...someday. Anyway this will be my journal of the trip that actually was (scroll down past the trip that might have been).

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TuesdayJul 1
5pmDrive Tucson to LA
ThursdayJul 3
5pmDrive LA to SF
SundayJul 6
12pmDrive SF to NV
MondayJul 7
8amDrive NV to Yellowstone
WednesdayJul 9
1pmDrive Yellowstone to Denver
ThursdayJul 10
8amDrive Denver to Wichita
MondayJul 14
5pmDrive Wichita to St. Louis
TuesdayJul 15
5pmDrive St. Louis to Chicago
ThursdayJul 17
5pmDrive Chicago to Cleveland
FridayJul 18
5pmDrive Cleveland to Pennsylvania
WednesdayJul 23
12pmDrive Norristown to Richmond
ThursdayJul 24
5pmDrive Richmond to Knoxville
FridayJul 25
5pmDrive Richmond to Knoxville
FridayJul 25
5pmDrive Richmond to Knoxville
SaturdayJul 26
8amDrive Knoxville to Atlanta
MondayJul 28
5pmDrive Atlanta to Vicksburg
TuesdayJul 29
5pmVicksburg to Ft. Worth
WednesdayJul 30
5pmDrive Ft. Worth to Midland
ThursdayJul 31
5pmDrive Midland to Tucson

Tucson to Newtown PA (map in the sidebar is in development)

The trip out was fortunately uneventful. We had a 7:15 AM flight which means out the door at 5:30 AM. We were loaded up with a backback each plus 1 carry on and 4 big time suitcases all right at the 50lb limit. Luckily we bought the tickets before the extra fees went into effect.

Air travel with kids is always potentially dicey but ours are pretty savvy and well behaved. The same does not hold for the little hellion behind me on the way from DFW to Philly. He spent the whole trip being a snot screaming loudly at his parents and even more loudly to the plane in general “I am Optimus, I will blast you a million!!!!!!!!! (three year old mouth explosion and laser sounds)".

Sunday was a sleep in day and then to a first birthday party for one of the cousins. Lets set the stage here because we'll be talking alot about Indians. My wife's father is from India, specifically Gujarat which is a major supplier of the Indians (see language on that page) you'll find here in the US. He came over for college and met my mother-in-law (who like me is one of the whiter people on the planet) at Kansas Univ. His pickup line was something to the effect "would you like to smell my sandalwood" which just goes to show its not what you say but how you say it that gets you girls. He has several brothers and sisters in the NJ/PA area and Tina was born here before he came out to Mesa with Motorola. We've been back here a few times for weddings but never really stayed long. We will be staying with an aunt (foi) in PA (there is a crazy complex way of titling people in Gujarati that I only barely have down) and uncle (kaka) in NJ with a few days in NYC in the middle. Indian hospitality is frankly ridiculous, in the good way. They go so far overboard to be welcoming and taking care of guests that I can't help but feeling a overwhelmed all the time. The women do 100% of the cooking, cleaning etc. and I'm really trying hard to instill those values in my home (good thing Tina never reads this). Because I married in and took (traditionally thats kinda how it happens) one of the daughters they are supposed to be extra nice to me so that I 1) won't beat her too much and 2) will let her come back to visit occasionally. I'm obviously overstating but we all know its not possible that they like me this much, it must be an obligation. I can't refill my own water, make a plate of food, throw away a napkin without causing a great commotion. I might stay forever. All kidding aside my wife's family are as a whole and individually some of the nicest people you would ever have the chance to meet and I'm very proud to be considered part of their extended family.

ANYWAYS, Monday was d-day for me. I have crap teeth due to gross negligence in my formative (pre-marriage) years and now am fairly discolored with several fillings in the front that are beginning to show. I’ve wanted to deal with it for a while but the cost of veneers are prohibitive even with my good dental insurance. After we put this trip together Tina came up with the idea to get my teeth done back here. Her uncle and cousin have a cosmetic dental practice just outside of Philadelphia and were very kind to offer to do the job on my top 8 teeth.

I don’t have a paralyzing fear of the dentist but certainly a healthy anxiety about the process in general. This is in no doubt a direct result of the quacks and charlatans I was subjected to when I was young. I always wondered why those Argentineans they sent me to had such strong German accents.

I went in with Dr. Patel the Younger to the main office for one of the digital x-ray deals where they lock your head in place with a set of vices and screws and a giant magnet slowly swirls around your perimeter while the staff hides under lead fallout shelters. From there we went to the older office where the real work gets done. Dr. P is great guy in general and is one of those doctors that makes people feel comfortable without seeming false. I listened while he worked with other patients explaining procedures, calming kids etc. and I was very impressed.

Irena the mostly silent Russian assistant however lacked some of the office charm. She ran me through a lot of before tasks like taking 'before' pictures and specific x-ray stuff communicating only with grunts or (go thick Russian accent now) ‘turns the head’ commands. I’ll admit to feeling afraid that if I got out of line she would not hesitate to plunge a pick deep into my ear to ensure compliance.

Once she was done the Dr. came back and got down to it. Irena's big left babushka was flopped onto my shoulder during the morning’s work and was somehow maternal and comforting despite weighing roughly 40 pounds.

First he hit me with some numbing stuff and then did the shots. This was the worst part of the whole thing and really not bad at all. The shot in the front teeth was the worst and actually burned a bit. I barely felt the rest and soon my whole upper mouth and nose was totally numb. Then the grinding/drilling process which sound and smelled bad but I couldn't feel so no problem. After he got them all ground down I had to bite on a mouthpiece full of play-do for 5 minutes to make the mold. When he told me "this is the the grossest thing you can have in your mouth" I had to suppress my inner Michael Scott and the very obvious 'thats what she said' moment.

Net of 3 hours later and he had me setup with some temporary veneers that 3 days in are doing fine. I just have to avoid eating rocks, apples or laffy taffy and I'll be fine.

Vegas = Win , Blog = Fail

Um, I forgot something. We had a celebrity sighting that I forgot to mention. Maybe you have heard of a certain director with certain distinguishing facial hair and a certain vegan wife? Thats right we partied with Morgan-freaking-Spurlock and I somehow forgot to document this.

I noticed him walking to the sports book at the Venetian and scurried back to tell the gang at dinner that I finally had the only celebrity sighting of the week. I think they didn't believe me because if you are going to fake a celebrity sighting its gonna be of Morgan-freaking-Spurlock. Anyway, when we were leaving dinner I was walking a bit ahead and came across them AGAIN so I very very nonchalantly and with great subtly turned around and inclined my head slightly in their direction to indicate to my close friends for whom a huge display would not be necessary what direction to look. They immediately caught my subtle signal and I didn't have to resort to frantic flailing and jumping up and down and we all stood and marveled for a few minutes at the most famous people in the room. I think the wife had a tribal armband tattoo which is too bad and he was taller than I expected (movies = tiny people). I missed Javon Walker's champagne incident so this was as close to newsworthy as it got.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vegas - This Time with Less Running Day 3

Tuesday morning, our last full day on site. Breakfast should have been simple but the E. germans at the bakery didn't want to sell me coffee so we had to go up the escalator to the coffee shop where the son of the Rico Suave guy, a girl and a guy with an impressive afro shaped by his visor hat. Afro guy was literally dance humping the girl when I arrived trying to convince Rico's kid that he (Rico's kid) knew the lyrics to the Back to the Hotel song and using his dance hump to trigger the memory for lil Suave. He was unsuccessful as Gerardo was already (or still) stoned. After repeating my order 4 times (medium Americano) we got the man paid off and moved on. The pastries, yogurt and coffee were all great.

The girls went shopping again and we shot dice for a bit at the Venetian, losing again and had no drinks. An executive decision was made to go back to the CR and stop flushing money at the Venetian. It was not a mistake.

We played some craps and met the greatest cocktail waitress of all times. We didn't catch her name because she never stopped long enough for a good look at her badge. Upon delivering my second drink she wouldn't even stop long enough for me to tip her. SERIOUSLY. When I got a later drink I gave her a handful of white chips to make sure I didn't get behind and she was a machine after that. I don't recall the end of the crapping but I eventually convinced the boys to try out the live 3 card poker table. We sat down with a ginormous hawaiin lady dealing who was having more fun than our happy drunken selves. She was a riot, making fun of the silent asian guy that eventually joined us and just about everybody that walked by. Hawaii was spelled for a few by some weird Canadian-ish white guy who was a real buzz kill. She made fun of him too. I remember betting for her alot but no idea if she made money from us. Dan hit one of the small jackpots with a straight flush or 6 monkeys or something. Other than that Sprintwaitress didn't slow down and I was pretty smashed by the end of all this ( I assume the other guys were too). Waiting at the slots for the others to relieve I played a dollar on the penny slots (AND GOT 2 DRINKS IN 5 MINUTES!!!!!) and turned it into 1,000 on one of those video slots that has lines that go everywhere. When the lights started flashing I began laughing uncontrollably and when the screen came up asking me to play a memory game to quintuple my win I think I actually started crying with laughter. I somehow picked 3 cameras together so I got up to 6,000 or so and finally cashed out with like 4,000 pennies. I desperately hoped they'd pay me off in pennies but a very nice lady gave me dollars instead.

Lunch at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba was really good and I am thoroughly impressed we were able to navigate there on foot. We met up with the girls and had some unimpressive white and red sangria along with a wide selection of tapas. Again I wish I had made notes but I was a little sloppy by this point.

We split a small paella plate. It was pretty good but not great, very little crust on the rice but it was very moist.

spanish white anchovies, avocado & roast pepper - very good but the avocado wasn't ripe

spanish cheese - manchego and a few others I don't recall for sure but all were very good.

squid a la plancha, olive oil, garlic - was good and seemed pretty fresh

rioja short ribs, manchego mashed potatoes - again very nice but I didn't catch alot of wine flavor

beef skewer, horseradish cream, red onions - this one was so good even ate the caramelized onions. seriously

spicy potatoes with tomato alioli - were good but I prefer my homemade version

I think there might have been a couple of other plates in there but I frankly lost track.

We walked through the Wynn to get back which was very posh but for cripes sake is just another casino and I don't care at all. As near as I can tell I stumbled back to the room and took a 2 hour nap until dinner missing the first half of the final NBA game. I got up and showered and realized I had just enough time to get down to the book to make a halftime bet. I literally ran to the window and didn't even look at the score just caught that the Celtics were getting 5 in the 2nd half. I jumped on it and then later realized that the Cs were up like 20 at the time. They wound up covering for me but it just goes to show you that no matter what you cousin sal tells you with sports betting its a coin toss everytime.

Dinner was at Pinot Brassiere and I gotta give it a mixed review. I think the food was great across the board but again the service was well....problematic. I hate to sound like the guy that totally gets hung up on that but I guess for this trip I'm that guy. First up big points for the no corkage policy. I'll need Dan to fill in details but he brought a magnum of chateauneuf de pape, a great pinot and an outstanding one from bordeaux. The wine was fantastic and Dan gets several merits for arranging its delivery.

There was a long delay in having someone come over and deal with us but not a huge deal as were in no rush and having a nice evening. I should mention here that TinaH ended up having to send back her steak requested m. rare when it came a few degrees past medium. It took a while to make but they handled the best you can, the manager came over and comped the plate and she and the waitress apologized. It happens sometimes just saying that there were several missteps like that.

The waitress was very nice and even brought us a decanter for at least 1 of the bottles. I was looking forward to trying the sweetbread foie starter having still never tried sweetbreads but it wasn't on the menu and in its place was a foi and seared scallop so I got that instead. The foie was great and the scallop would have been perfect but it was like 5% too dry. So I guess thats either from being frozen or cooked just a few seconds too long. It was still buttery delicious just saying it wasn't perfectly perfect.

For dinner I had the pork belly from the regular menu. I was debating between that and the osso bucco and asked the waitress to help me break the tie. She did the 'both are good' routine for so long that I finally threw a dart. This is a pet peeve of mine, if I want you to recommend something then freaking do that. I'm sure they are both tell me which to get. Anyway it was delicious but I'll always wonder about that osso bucco I missed out on. I loved the citrus flavor with the pork. I'm going to have to find a way to infuse that the next time I smoke some butt. The truffle vinagrette was a light background, not overwhelming. I really liked that someone thought this dish through and 1) didn't go crazy with flavors and textures and 2) balanced the few flavors on there with the fundamental flavor of the pork which is the right thing to do. There were vegetables and they were fine but didn't do anything else one way or another.

For dessert I had a plate of cheese that offhand I know had Savarin, Humbold Fog, Pierre T something and a hard Basque sheep's milk. They were fan-freaking-tastic. It was served with little crackers and a plate of currants, honeycomb and celery (maybe celery I can't be sure). We basically licked the platter on that one. As we were ruminating waiting for the check one of the waiters moving a table lost control and dropped the point of the corner into the center of my back. It hurt and I got a little bruise (cue the awwwww from the crowd) and the waiter asked if he got me and apologized but on the whole made it seem like that happens some time. Someone might crash into you with a table, you know it happens. Again the food was great but the service wasn't so much.

There was no question we would end up back at the CR to shoot some dice and introduce the girls to our new dark mistress. She did not dissapoint and I had all I wanted for drinks and we had a good craps session. It was a packed table and we each had to elbow in for room. At the other end of the table a couple of youngish guys bought in for like 2K (at CR...come on). Our dealers were a weird lot we had a very grumpy slovak that refused to pay Dan off on the $10 change only bet he made. The stickman had a stool to make him the same height as TinaB. He moved slowly and Dan named him Lawrence which seemed to fit. We hit a run of bad shooters until Bill from Chicago got us all back on track. I ran off to the restroom and returned to find everyone heading for the cage to cash out. Apparently my TinaB had called game over right as Kerrie was about to get the dice. She has been properly chastised and it won't happen again.

Dan and Kerrie flew home in the morning and we were on the road around 9 I think. The only notable part of the return trip I recall was at the cowboy cafe in Wickenburg. We all ordered and TinaB was last looking at the ham and cheese sandwich. Let me set the stage a bit and say that this is the cowboy cafe. Posters (many signed) of pro bull riders cover every wall and there are handmade doilies everywhere. ANYWAYS, my little wife asks "in the ham and cheese sandwhich what kind of ham and cheese do you use" to which the now exasperated waitress replied "I think its boiled ham and american cheese". TinaB will argue this point but I swear I heard her say 'that won't do' under her breath a little and she went with like a chicken salad or something instead. They obviously spit in our food after that but my club sandwich and chili hit the spot.

I think everyone had a great time and I'm looking forward to the next trip which probably won't be to Vegas but if it is will take us back to CraftSteak.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vegas - This Time with Less Running Day 2


We met up with the team for a late breakfast at Bouchon. My hope was that this would be a good mix for the group for the whole trip. Some nice pastries, fruit and more savory stuff in case of hangovers. Didn't work out but you never know when traveling.

We ordered and then waited about 15 minutes for the guy to come over and let me know that the Boudin Blanc I ordered wasn't available. I took his suggestion for the corned beef but it was just kind of annoying that it took that long to find out the dis wasn't available. They then eventually brought out half the table's food and we waited another 5 for the rest. Lame.

The food was fine but the portions were ridiculous. Part of why I picked the frenchy spot was thinking it might be well done food on European portions. My wife was delivered a full pound of bacon and we would up leaving a net of 3 breakfasts on the table. The food was fine, not great but fine and I doubt I'll go back.

From there we split up a bit. The girls to the pool and or shopping, Dan to the dice tables and me and g$ to the poker room. On the way to the poker table we stopped at the sports book to look at the NBA lines and put some silly money toward the Euro soccer national championships or whatever the hell it was. We were clueless and threw money away. Even more clueless-ly we ordered drinks from the cocktail waitress and she came back wanting money. There was something about a drink ticket but I only had the betting ticket so it cost $15 for 3 beers. This began a pattern of not drinking at the Venetian. Boo.

Before hitting the table I decided to cash in the match play money they gave me at check in. Having not read the fine print I soon found that I had to first sign up for the players card and then I could only put the coupon down an even money bet in an equal amount to actual cash. By this time I didn't care so me and my pretend $25 went to the craps table and after alot of excitement I wound up with a $5 profit and no drinks.

I've been playing some online poker again in the run up to the trip and put together a little stake but I'm still not much as a live player. We opened a 1-2 NL table at the Venetian and played for a few hours. I think made my buy in plus 150-200% based on 1 giant hand and a only 1 or 2 others. The action was sorta choppy for the first bit. Opening raises ranged from the minimum $2 to a healthy $12. Early on I had an A-K and led out with $7, fold all around. A guy from Kentucky to the dealer's immediate left was playing kind of aggressive, big opening and continuation bets and he didn't get called down for anything. On the good hand he limped along with another guy and I made it $12 to go from the button with JJ. KY called and I think the other guy bailed. The board comes J-2-2 and he bets out around $20. I almost raised but at the last second decided to call and let him keep firing. I didn't see him improving whatever he had unless he made quads. Turn is a blank and he fires again. Maybe $40 this time and I call. River brings an A and he checks. I go all in and he calls immediately. He turns over A-2, 2s full which obviously loses to my Jacks full. After I doubled up so quick I was a little reluctant to mix it up and only got into one other decent hand that the crazy lady at the end finally laid down.

The table was fine and had all the requisite poker weirdos. To my left G$, no additional commentary required. To his left a young asian kid with more money than sense but obviously plays alot. He has all the mannerisms down, the way he flings his chips, holds his cards. He has spent alot of time cultivating an image. Next is a kind of disheveled (clean just sort of untucked and slouchy) white guy who played only for big raises. I kind of think he was a good player but have no evidence to prove it. Next is the dealer played by the 4 generic stereotypes: asian lady who likes to talk trash, young asian guy who is just biding time until he can play again, old white guy who 'has a few stories from back when the stardust was a real swank joint' and young white guy who was just bad in high school We had 2 of the young white guy clones who appeared to literally be the same guy they were so identical. Next was KY guy. He is easily tiltable, drinks, goes to strip clubs, hunts, golf, cheats on his wife and goes to Sunday school. Kind of your standard cultured-version redneck. Next is a workout guy who has no idea what he is doing but likes the rush of the game. Next is Long Island lady, she is on her second marriage and came to the game through her husband who has money. Her home games with the ladies are pretty loose and her play is wild. Next is grumpy old guy, solid player who is not enjoying sitting by LI lady. Next is an older black guy, he isn't very good but he like to call bets so we keep him araound as long as possible. Last is KY's buddy who is a poker junkie and probably organized the trip for his buddies who by the way keep drifting in and out and each is more cheesburger-filled than the last. These guys could lay waste to a buffet.

After Tiger made his inevitable charge to twin the US Open I finally convinced G$ it was time to roll out. We'd had 1 drink at the table and said we'd wait for 1 more before we rolled out. This ended up being 20 minutes. Boo Ventian, bad form.

From there we headed over to the King of casinos, my new home away from home, the place where everyone knows your name, where the women are ugly, the men are desperate and the drinks flow freely. The Casino Royale.

I bought of a share G$'s crap dice and began angling to figure out how to get a drink. I sat down at the video game 3 card poker which is really too silly of a game for me to describe and made a few bucks and had a few gin and tonics. When the fake boobs of the fake video dealer no longer intrigued me I decided to sit down at the live 3 card game and play 'for real'. The other players were gin-soaked hard luck types. My people. The old lady running the table who had the whole thing figured out was named Lois or Babs or something. From Chicago but lives now in Goodyear, bright orange tan, lots of lame diamond jewelery and bleached blond hair. To my right was a lesbian couple. A tall white girl who played forward for the Univ. of Texas and was as tall as me and her partner who I got more of a coach vibe from was 5'5 and black. I started off playing drunk so I could pretend not to listen to Babs but eventually I got fully drunk and me and the lesbians had a good time screwing around with Babs. I lost some money but let me say it was some of the best I've spent. The drinks didn't stop and we laughed the whole time.

Dan and G$ eventually picked me up and we rolled back to the Venetian to buy cigars. We also stopped off at the faux Mexican place by the faux canal with the faux gondoliers singing a very operatic version of 'Volare' every 5 minutes while morons snapped pictures. Turns out mojitos were good but a little faux and Cabo Wabo margaritas were real and great. I also think we ate a little chrorizo and cheese and that someone who is not me spilled a huge drink on the table/floor. Cigars procured we met the girls and headed for Lotus of Siam.

We opted for cabs this night as its much closer. The place smells a little fishy and looks pretty dumpy but I don't care. Its a top 10 place.

When you go don't mess around. Get the appetizer that has sour sausage and the jerky one and the satay at an absolute minimum. From there we sort of let Dan and the waiter take over handling several bottles of wine and picking the rest of the food. We had a soup that was so hot it was making everyone cough followed by the drunken noodle sea bass, crispy duck, chicken on noodles and some green beef. For dessert that no one had room for they brought out the coconut ice cream, sticky rice and mango. All I can say is sooooo good.

I didn't make any notes from this meal, you just have to go and experience it yourself.

Cabs over to the Stratosphere so the Tinas could ride the retardedly high roller coasters and the rest of us could shoot craps again. We faded a couple of good shooters and made some money. More interesting than the game was the environment. First was the pimp that walked through causing a wake of awe and disbelief all around him. He was head to toe in white and tan with a white sort of top hat and an impressive weave full of big curls. You don't often see a man that sure of himself. Gerhard got nominated to hold all the purses but the cigar he was chewing made him look more like a skinny bodyguard than a skinny guy just holding purses. The dealer from OK who was a nice enough guy but porcine and farted at one point. He needs to improve his diet because it made an odor that told us he was terribly unwell. I know for sure it was him (and not me you accusers) because when he reached over to the pay the line he brought a foul wind of destruction with him.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vegas - This Time with Less Running Day 1

TinaH had the goofy idea for a Vegas roadtrip. At least that was my original take on the roadtrip portion it and it turns out I was dead wrong, we had a blast.

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Left Tucson around 9 AM Sunday, gassed up (let me now be the last person in America to mention that gas is stupidly expensive) and made good time until phoenix. Took the 303 cutoff rather than going through town which proved to be pretty quick. Picked up 60 near Surprise and headed for Wikkieup for some BBQ.

Eat at Joe's

G$ haunts the bbq forums and 'knows' the Eat at Joe's guy. By knows of course I mean they mutually and anonymously discuss smoked meats. Anyway the website does the place justice. It looked a little ramshackle from the outside but the inside was clean and nice. I got the hungry guy combo plate and it was all pretty good. It should be noted that other than the wings which were outstanding I would rather have g$'s bbq but that isn't a criticism necessarily. None of the meat was particularly seasoned but the texture on all of it was very good and the sauce was tasty but missing any heat. The chicken wings were especially nice...some olive oil and herbs (thyme and or basil mabye?) made a nice bite through crust and the meat inside was tender and juicy. Really outstanding. The sides were all good but with like 2 lbs. of meat in front of me I frankly paid them little notice.

I don't mean to sound like it wasn't good, it was. In fact there is 0% chance you will find better food between Phx and Vegas so you absolutely should go. I'm just spoiled because I make decent bbq and g$ makes ridiculous. Anyway, Eat at Joe's.

Dam Road

Hit some traffic at the dam. Not too bad but it allowed me time to gawk at the stupid new bypass bridge they are building. Look at this thing (link) and know that driving under it was humbling or terrifying...something like that. I'm reasonably sure I will not drive across that ever. At least not sober.

Arrive at the Venetian and cleanup for dinner at Rosemary's. One planning element I neglected in all the run up was how we would get to/from the offsite dinner spots. I had the car which seats 6 BUT I sometimes have a drink with dinner and don't wish to drive back. After consulting with the doorman and the accordion player (he was there and proved helpful...never underestimate the accordion player) we got a limo. It should be noted that we got it for much less round trip than what I was originally quoted thanks to their combined efforts.


Dinner was great. Let me get the one sour note out of the way first so we can get into the good stuff. Our waiter was a young guy who was thoroughly attentive, extremely friendly and totally took care of us. Nearly full marks except that he talked 50% too much and 50% of what he said caused me to desire to stab him in the eye with my salad fork. Repeatedly. Just a for instance "Are you enjoying the wine?...Yes, its great.....DIE-licious huh?". I'm not saying this ruined the meal or anything, just knocked off a couple of points. Back to what was a great meal.

It is in a strip mall and looks like crap from the outside but don't let that throw you. The decor inside ranges from tasteful and understated to stuff stolen from the Olive Garden down the road 10 years ago when they were repainting. Also don't let that dissuade you. All that matters at the end of the day is good food.

I went big and got the tasting menu. Not listed on the website but was a 5 course deal for about $80. (menu)

crispy wanton topped with goat cheese watercress and citrus aioli

Great small bite to start. The citrus alioli on the plate was light and tasty. The bite itself was a nice mix of the crunch of the wonton, creamy tang of the goat cheese and pepper of the watercress. Gerhard complained he got too much watercress so we threw bread at him.

Salmon Tartar
Watercress, Saffron Sauce & Caraway Crackers

This was the one I was least excited about. On the paper it remdinded me of the skagen stuff I ate alot of in Sweden and didn't really care for. This however was quite good, the fish was super fresh and the watercress had a nice pepper and crunch to it. I didn't notice much of a saffron flavor but it was a nice dish.

Hugo’s Texas BBQ Shrimp
Maytag Blue Cheese Slaw

The shrimp were good and the combo of blue cheese and slaw was not one I'd had and I thought went great together. The sauce was kinda smoky and I thought it was kind of out place, sort of unrefined I guess. The plate didn't make alot of sense until Gilligan came over and told us the story of how Doyle Brunson and the chefs Dad snuck into a kitchen and made the dish up and they keep it on for him. Whatever.

Crispy Skin Striped Bass
Andouille, Rock Shrimp, Fingerling Potato Hash, Hushpuppies & Creole Meuniere Sauce

TinaB had this for her entree so we swtiched plates and I got the full portion and she had my half. Let me give you some advice, marry a small woman. You will eat well. I don't love fish, its just usually not that interesting and is behind just about everything else that comes out of the water. This kicked ass. The crust on the top side was perfectly crisped and the fish was moist and fantastic. The taters and andouille sausage in sauce under the fish was rich and tasty but didn't overwhelm the fish. Nice and blanced, this is a must have dish.

Roasted Rack of Lamb*
Kalamata Olive Mashed Potatoes, Fried Arugula & Rosemary Bordelaise Sauce

I'm already full but I love a nice rack. Take that as you wish. I don't even remember eating the arugla, I was kind of food drunk by then. The lamb was cooked perfectly, great crust and the sauce was subtly but noticeably infused with rosemary. Classic combo and a great flavor. I didn't love the potatos w/ olives. Felt like the olives lost some flavor in the mix and they didn't add anything except a weird texture. None of that matters, the rack of lamb should be listed as meat dessert item. I gnawed the bones.

Desert was a trio of small portions: vanilla creme brule, some kind of chocolate cake and a tall shot of chocolate into which they poured some berry flavored lambic. My wife claimed all dessert which was fine but somehow I ended up with a lemon cooler and a highly alcholic coffee anyway. The creme brule was good, vanilla flavor is the best and the shell was crunchy just like God intended. Didn't try the cake, the lambic shot called to mind a liquid center chocolate. The lemon cooler pie was a center cut of some rich, sweet, tangy pie. I missed having more of the graham cracker type crust to cut some of the richness. There were also some mint leaves that I sort of sliced up and had with each bite. Fantastic.

I leave it to Dan to talk about the wine. I have no memory except that it was great and I like the first few glasses of champagne.

Vinnie the limo driver was ready when we were and took us back to the hotel. From there over to Harrah's for some craps. We should have walked away when the weird busty drunk lady to our right started arguing about her $1 hard ways working or not. The boss was ready to return her $4 but she kept on arguing so she 86-ed herself. Nothing of interest beyond that except the cartel lost about $50 each. Next up was the Flamingo where we played and made it all back plus aobut $25. Interestingly there was a (possible) transvestite at the other end of the table who rubbed the dice on their cleavage before each roll. At this point in the evening this was unbearably funny.