MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
November 11, 2013
Another Makeover for the Tropicana?
The massive makeover that the Tropicana got a couple of years ago dramatically changed the 56-year-old resort, giving a South Beach Miami feel to everything from the casino, the rooms, the restaurants, and the pool area. But the new look has not translated to the kind of crowds the owners were hoping for and now there is a proposal for yet another major overhaul to the Trop, one that aims to bring the resort to the crowds.
RKF development has posted details about on their website about the Shops at the New Tropicana Las Vegas, a massive new retail and restaurant complex that would be built on the corner of Tropicana Avenue and The Strip, where the hotel's valet entrance is now located. The three-story complex would feature dozens of stores and eateries including a food court spread across 275,000 square-feet of space.
The whole thing would be connected to the Tropicana with direct access into the casino. The existing pedestrian bridges from MGM Grand and Excalibur would funnel all of the traffic that crosses directly into the mall, similar to the way the bridges at New York-New York on the opposite corner require people to pass through the building to get to the other side.
It would be fronted by a Times Square style facade covered with LED screens, lights, and windows, which would transform the corner in pretty spectacular ways.
The proposal is, at this point, just a proposal and not a done deal but word is that the hotel's owners are eager to move forward with the plan. If it gets approved and funded, expect a 2015 opening.
New Arena Plans Revealed
Work is about to get underway on the $350 million, 20,000 seat arena planned for the land behind New York-New York and we are getting our first look at what the facility will look like. MGM Resorts has released renderings of the new arena, which will be the capstone of the makeover of New York-New York and Monte Carlo that is now underway.
The arena will be located along Frank Sinatra Drive at the back of the New York-New York property. It will be visible from The Strip in between the two hotels, with a park-like promenade drawing visitors back to it.
The exterior of the arena will be covered in glass with an overlay of video screens that will light up the entire area. An outdoor performance stage and multiple exterior balconies will attempt to bridge the energy of The Strip with the energy of whatever is happening inside.
And what, exactly will that be? Concerts and special events will be the primary reason for its existence, adding another option for big name music tours, conventions, one-off sporting events, and the like.
A professional sports team is also not out of the question as movers and shakers in Vegas have been angling for an NBA or NHL franchise for years. That has never gone through because the arenas in town that could support them (at MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay) are attached to casinos and the idea that you could bet on a game happening just down the hall has been troubling to the major leagues. The fact that this particular arena is not attached to a casino is probably not an accident. Whether putting it behind one instead of inside of one is enough to lure one a team to town is yet to be seen.
Construction on the arena should start early next year and it is expected to be complete in 2016.
Thrill Ride Milestones
Two upcoming Vegas thrill rides reached major milestones this past week as both SlotZilla and the High Roller got critical pieces of their apparatuses installed.
SlotZilla, the "zip and zoom" line attraction in Downtown Las Vegas, is getting its ride cables put in over the next couple of weeks. When finished there will be eight lines total. Four zip lines that will send riders in the traditional seated position a couple of blocks down the Fremont Street Experience from Neonopolis to Binion's. The other four will be the "zoom" lines, on which riders go flying face down, superhero style, propelled the entire length of Fremont Street Experience to near the Golden Gate.
The installation of the cables is requiring the periodic closure of Fremont Street Experience and the roads that cross it from midnight to 8am on certain nights. The ride is expected to open in December.
Meanwhile, over on The Strip, the High Roller behind Harrah's got its first rider pod installed and those extra few feet made this officially the world's tallest observation wheel. Standing at a proud 550 feet, the observation wheel is the anchor of the new Linq retail and entertainment project under construction between The Quad and The Flamingo.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Mega-Show Award of the Week goes to the Headliners Bash, a charity event that will bring together Strip headliners including Jeff Civillico, Recycled Percussion, Mac King, Clint Holmes, Million Dollar Quartet, Jersey Boys, and more for one big show. The event is on November 22 at 9pm at The Quad and raises money for Win-Win Entertainment, an organization that pairs entertainers with charities to aid in their own fundraising efforts. Tickets are on sale now at winwinentertainment.org.
The Sock Puppet Award of the Week goes to Absinthe, the delightfully profane show at Caesars Palace, which has been extended through 2016. The show as originally supposed to be a limited engagement special event but has become one of the best reviewed, most popular shows in town for its over-the-top comedy and thrilling acrobatic acts.
The I'm Happy For Them... No, Really Award of the Week goes to the person who won $12.5 million on a Megabucks slot machine at MGM Grand last week. The player chose to remain anonymous, probably so people like me would call and demand the $60 bucks back that I contributed to that $12.5 million the last time I was in Vegas. Not that I'd do something like that, of course.
The Speaking of Millionaires Award of the Week goes to Ryan Riess, who won this year's World Series of Poker at The Rio and walked away with a snazzy bracelet and $8.36 million. The 23-year-old Riess is a WSOP newbie, having never sat at the main table before and only competing once before in the event.
The Mad Award of the Week goes to the former Casuarina casino a the Westin Las Vegas just east of The Strip, which has been given a new name: The MAX Casino. Why? Who knows. It may be a nod to the past considering the building used to be the Maxim hotel and casino, but more likely it is an effort to make people think that the tiny slip of a gaming space is actually bigger than it really is. (Mad Max. Get it?)
The Speaking of Name Changes Award of the Week goes to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Palazzo. Wait, you may be saying, the mall at The Venetian is called the Grand Canal Shoppes and the one at the Palazzo is called The Shoppes at Palazzo. Not anymore. The whole thing is now the Grand Canal Shoppes, despite the fact that the part at the Palazzo doesn't actually have a, you know, canal.
The Light 'em Up Award of the Week goes to the Neon Museum, which will be adorned with holiday lights for the first time, giving a decidedly festive spin to nighttime tours. The lights will be up from November 30 through December 31 and night tours are $25.
The Salute Award of the Week goes to David Saxe Productions, which is offering $25 show tickets to all active duty and military veterans from November 11-18 in honor of Veterans Day. The tickets are available for V: The Ultimate Variety Show, Vegas! The Show, Recycled Percussion, and B-Beatleshow and can be purchased at the box office or by phone at 702-260-7200.
Restaurant Review: Buddy V's Ristorante
Best known for his reality show "Cake Boss" on TLC, Buddy Valastro does more than just make wild baked goods, as is evidenced by his first Las Vegas venture Buddy V's. Located at the Palazzo, this casual cucina serves up hearty Italian classics, many of which are based on Valastro's family recipes; everything from "My Wife's Eggplant Parm" to "My Mother In Law's Shrimp Scampi."
Do yourself a favor and start with the macaroni and cheese carbonara, done with mozzarella and fontina cheese, egg, and pancetta. Of course in this case the "favor" is to your taste buds and not your cholesterol or waistline, but one bite of the creamy, gooey, rich concoction and you will not give a hoot about such pedestrian concerns. In fact with food (and portions) like this, you probably want to leave most illusions of dietary sanity at the door.
To that end, we also ordered the garlic bread, also dripping in mozzarella and fontina, and remain proud of our decision. This is what cheesy garlic bread should be like and I actually wish I could have some right now, even though it is only 8:30 in the morning as I type this.
I also want some of the meatballs, which you can order on top of various pastas or as an appetizer or side dish on their own. Beef, veal, and pork in an almost creamy tomato sauce and topped with pecorino cheese. Yes, you could stop right here with a very successful meal, but we were just getting started.
We skipped past the handful of salads and the pizzas to go right for the pasta section. The lasagna had layers of noodles, beef, pork, Italian sausage, four kinds of cheese, and tomato sauce piled so high that it was probably visible from space. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but about two inches thick and deliciously dense in both texture and flavor.
Another winner was the Valastro Sunday Gravy, an Italian classic with sausage, lamb, meatballs, and pork all cooked in a pot with the tangy tomato sauce and a bowl of rigatoni to ladle it on to. Each piece of meat was insanely tender, slow-cooked and spiced "just so." It's the kind of meal where you need hunks of bread to sop up the leftovers; not there will be any.
If you feel as though pasta just won't do it for you, there are plenty of Italian style entrees from seafood (roasted branzino, sea scallops), chicken (parm, marsala, and picatta), veal (osso buco and more), and beef (steak pizzaiolo, etc.). Go at lunch and you have some sandwiches (meatball sub, chicken parm, etc.) and a couple of the entrees.
Of course we can't forget about dessert. As of this writing, there is no "Cake Boss" style bakery (although it is rumored to be coming soon in a very nearby space), but don't worry because there is still plenty of sweet to go around here. It's presented in a family photo album style binder and is filled with all sorts of temptations. We sampled two - the mini donuts with raspberry and chocolate dipping sauce and the "lobster tail," a massive pastry stuffed with a creme filling. The donuts were merely okay while the tail was sent down from heaven.
How much you spend here really depends on what and how much of it you order. Appetizers, pizza, salads, and sandwiches are mostly under $15. Pastas are all in the $20-$30 range but there is more than enough for one person or one serving. Entrees start in the low $20's and go up to the mid $40s. So you could do a really satisfying meal for under $40 all in, but you could also go nuts with the meatballs and garlic bread and desserts and double that, so be careful in both financial and gastric ways.
One thing that is absolutely worth mentioning is the stellar service. From the front desk to the wait staff to the management, we got treated like family and it wasn't because I was there to review the restaurant. They doted on everyone and it makes a great impression.
The restaurant is located in the space formerly occupied by First Food & Bar, on the main level of the Grand Canal Shoppes, up one floor from the Palazzo casino, down a hall near Barney's New York. The space has a comfortable kitchen vibe and big windows overlooking The Strip.
I'm a big fan of Italian cooking but there aren't a lot of great Italian restaurants in Las Vegas. Now there is at least one.
Restaurant Review: Aureole
As I was escorted to my table at Aureole, the Maître d' asked me how long it had been since I had last visited. I confessed that it had been an embarrassingly long time, but that's often the nature of the beast in Las Vegas. There are high-profile restaurants opening every other day it seems, so keeping up with the new sometimes precludes revisiting the old. That's a shame, especially when it comes to a restaurant as fine as this one, where dining is an experience worthy of having again and again and again.
The physical centerpiece of the restaurant is its four-story wine tower and the catsuit clad "wine angels" that fly up to grab whatever bottle has been requested by the well-heeled clientele. It's great eye candy and a now iconic bit of Vegas spectacle but in some ways it almost sets up the restaurant as something less substantial than it really is. How good could the food be at a place that has hot chicks flying through the air to get booze?
Good. Beyond good. Amazing, and then some.
I started with an off-menu special of risotto topped with incredibly rare Italian truffles, presented tableside in a velvet lined wood box by the chef himself who shaved them into the bowl. No, seriously. The theater of it was undeniably delicious but not as delicious as the dish itself, creamy with a deep, earthy overlay that created both a balance and a contrast. I love it when flavors work like that together in unexpected ways.
Next was a sample of the onion soup, which didn't look like onion soup when it was delivered. The bowl was topped with a gruyere cheese puff pastry that the server "opened" for me to expose the soup underneath in another bit of fun culinary optics. Here too, competing flavors created a fantastic whole with the sweet onions, tangy gruyere, and musky foie gras all working in unison.
I toyed with the idea of getting the double pork chop with a smoked onion tart and collard greens, but at the urging of the server went for their signature blue cheese crusted filet mignon. I will admit that the first bite left me a bit cold as the blue cheese kind of overwhelmed everything else, but then either my taste buds adjusted or somehow I stumbled into the right proportions of meat, cheese, spring onions, and purple kale that made up the meal and it got really, really good.
I ended with a sampling of their sorbets (everything from strawberry to coconut to passion fruit) and the honey lavender crème brûlée with lemon madeleine. It was light and airy but more than substantial enough to not feel cheated.
The menu changes often so don't get too invested in the stuff I ate other than to understand the type and quality of the food served here. The cuisine is billed as French and New American but I saw shades of a multi-ethnic, international flair: Mediterranean Branzino done with a green olive tapenade; salmon with feta cheese; ahi tuna and sea scallops with house made kimchi; Jidori chicken breast with basil pesto; and a New York steak with Peruvian potatoes and chimichurri sauce.
Prices are, unsurprisingly, high with most appetizers within a few bucks of $20, main courses $30 to $70, and desserts mostly around $10. Add in some of that flying wine, tax, and tip and you're looking at $75-$100 per person easily. There is an option of a four course "parallel" tasting menu (which means you get two items in each course) for $85 but if you do that the whole table has to do it, so the do-it-yourself option is probably better for people of divergent tastes.
The service was impeccable from the moment I walked in until the moment I left.
This is a special occasion restaurant; the type of place that you should have one of on your itinerary whenever visit Las Vegas. Visit and you are pretty much guaranteed a meal that you will rave about for a long time after you get home.