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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
October 26, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Annual Vegas Battle of the Bras
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Caesars Entertainment Las Vegas resorts will host the sixth annual "Battle of the Bras" fashion show to support American Cancer Society. Caesars Entertainment executives, Strip headliners, and entertainment personalities will take to the catwalk to showcase one-of-a-kind designed brassieres by our employees, entertainers and local media to raise funds toward breast cancer research. The bras were designed by Caesars Entertainment employees and entertainers including Flamingo Las Vegas headliners Donny & Marie Osmond, as well as The LINQ Hotel & Casino headliner Mat Franco, with bras will be auctioned off during the fashion show. Models taking to the stage include property presidents, senior leaders and Strip headliners, Absinthe from Caesars Palace, X Burlesque from Flamingo Las Vegas, and X Rocks. The event will be hosted by The Flamingo headliner Jeff Civillico on the second floor mezzanine level at Planet Hollywood on Thursday, October 29 at 5:00pm and is free to attend. Read more about Planet Hollywood.
9. Pasta Eating Championship Crowned at Paris Las Vegas
Last weekend, Martorano's at Paris Las Vegas reached a milestone as it commemorated its first anniversary with the first-ever Martorano's Masters World Pasta Eating Championship . Top-ranked competitive eater Matt "Megatoad" Stonie reigned supreme as he walked away Pasta Eating Champion after downing 20 bowls of pasta in eight minutes (!!), setting a new Major League Eating world record. By the way, the Martorano's at The Rio is closing but the one at Paris is staying put. Read more about Paris Las Vegas.
8. Cosmo Ice Rink to Return
Ice skating in the Nevada desert has become a tradition at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which is bringing back its ice rink on the Boulevard pool deck in November. It is made of real ice and is open to the public for $15 plus $5 if you need to rent skates (what? you didn't pack yours?). Monday nights feature holiday movies shown on the big marquee overlooking the pool area while Thursday nights offer retro music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. "Snow showers" will rain down on the rink every Wednesday through Sunday night from 6-10pm. The rink is open Monday through Friday from 3pm to midnight and Saturday and Sunday from noon to midnight starting November 21 until December 20 and then runs daily from noon to midnight until January 3. Read more about the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
7. Pricey Carbone Restaurant Opens at Aria Las Vegas
Restaurants in Vegas often follow the economy. For the last few years it was mostly moderately priced eateries that opened but now things are getting expensive again - like really expensive. One of New York's hottest restaurants Carbone has opened at Aria Las Vegas and brought not only its award-winning, rave-worthy Italian cuisine but the high prices it is known for. Minestrone soup, $18; lobster ravioli, $36; veal parmesan, $64; and their famed lasagna... well, they don't even list the price. You have to "inquire," and you know that old saying... if you have to ask you can't afford it. Read more about Aria Las Vegas.
6. Wynn & Rio Buffets Closing
Say goodbye to two popular buffets, one temporarily and one for good. The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas closed last week for a major makeover that will completely redo the decor and most of the menu - over 120 new items will be introduced. It should be opening again in late November. Meanwhile, the Rio Seafood Buffet is closing soon and will not be opening again. Some of its offerings will get incorporated into the Carnival World buffet but there will no longer be two separate buffets at the property. Read about the Carnival World Buffet.
5. More Wynn Changes
In addition to the renovations of the buffet, Wynn Las Vegas is making other changes to its restaurant lineup. The beloved Bartolotta closed last week and has been redone as Costa Di Mare with chef Mark LoRusso from the hotel's Botero restaurant. That eatery is closing and will be redone as something else to be determined. And as previously mentioned, Tryst nightclub is closing on November 8 for a makeover but now they are saying that it will be dark for at least six months while they come up with an entirely new concept and new name. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.
4. Cirque to Redo Love and Believe
Two more Cirque shows are going to get makeovers in 2016. The Beatles themed Love at The Mirage will get an $8 million "refresh" that includes new music, new choreography, new acts, and new technology including an updated sound system. The show will close in February of next year and reopen with the new look a few weeks later. Meanwhile, Believe starring Criss Angel at Luxor, will most likely get a creative reboot in January or February of next year as well, with new illusions and technology built into the show. Read the reviews of Love and Believe.
3. Britney's Wardrobe Malfunction
Britney Spears had a little bit of a problem during her show at Planet Hollywood last weekend when a zipper on her costume broke. Nothing too risqe was exposed but it's a hoot to watch her backup dancers try to fix it while she continues to dance and "sing" (also known as lip-sync) the entire time. You can watch the video on YouTube. Read the review of Britney Spears show at Planet Hollywood.
2. Vegas Has Top Grossing Restaurant in the Country
Each year, the Restaurant Business Online does a survey to find the restaurants in the US that make the most money. This year's survey has put Tao at The Venetian at the top of the heap with an estimated revenue of $47 million! Vegas did great on the Top 100 list with 15 entries including Mon Ami Gabi at Paris (#27 with $17.2 million), Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian (#74 with $13.8 million), and Top of the World at Stratosphere (#39 with $16.2 million) all making appearances. The only other city that had more restaurants in the Top 100 was New York. See the full list.
1. Caesars Palace to Redo Original Hotel Tower
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Caesars Palace and to kick 2016 off in style, the hotel is redoing its original tower. Currently known as the Roman Tower, which opened with the hotel in 1966, the 587 rooms will get a $75 million, top to bottom makeover with new decor, new furnishings, new fixtures in the bathroom, 55" televisions, stone entries and showers, and more. The first of the new rooms should welcome guests in January 2016. Read more about Caesars Palace.
When you think of ghostly cities, you usually wind up with someplace like Savannah, Georgia, reputed to be the most haunted city in America. Las Vegas usually doesn't come into consideration unless you are talking about the ghosts of all the "dead presidents" that have been spent there.
But Las Vegas has more than its share of spooky tales including at some of the major resorts on The Strip. Just in time for Halloween, here is a rundown of where you might be able to find some paranormal activity on your next trip to Vegas.
Although none of the original structure still remains, this iconic Strip hotel is said to still be haunted by the ghost of the man who got it built, Bugsy Siegel. There have been numerous reports of sightings of Bugsy's ghost wandering around the pool area late at night or in the wedding chapel, which is near the site where his apartment used to be.
The former Las Vegas Hilton (and before that International) is also said to have a celebrity ghost: Elvis Presley. The King made the hotel his Vegas home for many years and people report seeing him backstage in the theater where he performed and in the hallway near the suite he lived in when he was in town. Other ghost stories about the hotel center on the tragic 1981 arson fire that claimed the lives of eight people.
Another blaze destroyed much of this hotel in 1980 when it was known as the MGM Grand. 85 people were killed and the staff and guests report seeing the spirits of people in hallways, staircases, and elevator lobbies.
There have been numerous reports of odd goings-on up on the 10th floor of this hotel. Several people have said they thought someone was walking close behind them - close enough that they could feel the person's breath on their neck. When they turn around, there's no one there!! There are no theories as to whose prankster of a spirit is doing this.
Right next door at the pyramid, there are a lot of tales ghosts roaming the halls. They are supposedly construction workers killed while the hotel was being built and/or guests who have jumped from the balconies. The 12th and 14th floors are supposedly the most active.
One of the most widely repeated hauntings happens at this family friendly hotel, which may have stemmed from a decidedly unfriendly family matter. According to the legend, a woman staying in room 123 killed her son and then shot herself. Reports say that a ghostly voice crying for help can be heard in this room and that the words "Help Me" will appear on the mirror. Similar events are said to also happen in the poker room and in guest rooms 203, 576, and 230.
Parenthetically, my only Vegas ghost story happened at the former Las Vegas Hilton many years ago and involved a TV that kept turning on by itself and the air conditioning coming on full blast while I slept. I wouldn't have thought too much about it if it weren't for stories that some of the people who were trapped by the fire turned on their air conditioning in the false hope that it would draw fresh air from outside or other parts of the hotel. (insert creepy music here)
Restaurant Review: Zydeco Po-Boys
Louisiana natives are pretty snobbish about their food, and rightfully so. It's hard to find good examples of the Cajun and Creole delicacies the region is known for outside of the bayou but Las Vegas, oddly, is becoming an outpost for authentic examples of the cuisine. Lola's has won awards and accolades and now you can add Zydeco to list.
Chef Brandon Trahan is from Louisiana and takes has both his regional and general cooking bona fides down. He studied at Le Cordon Bleu and worked at several of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants in New Orleans before making his way to Vegas to open Zydeco.
The menu is like taking a trip down south - chicken and sausage gumbo, red beans and rice, Zapps potato chips, and of course po-boys, which are basically hero sandwiches with a Cajun twist. They are served on Leidenheimer bread, which anyone from New Orleans will tell you is a requirement for making a "real" po-boy.
Options include house made Cajun sausage, turkey, fried catfish or shrimp, ham, and the iconic beef "debris" (oven roasted brisket).
They even have a few vegan and veggie options in case someone in your group insists on missing out on the pleasure of a sandwich called "debris."
Cajun spice dusted fries or onion rings, fries topped with sausage and cheese, and frozen daiquiris round out the offerings.
You have to start with the gumbo, which is lighter and more soup-like than you might be used to. Trahan explains that there are a bunch of regional variations on Cajun cooking and this one focuses on fresher, lighter, and leaner ingredients to amplify the tastes. It works amazing well here, with the flavorful chicken, sausage, and Cajun spices given room to make it to your taste buds without getting buried in a heavy stew.
We tried the ham and debris po-boys dressed traditionally with lettuce, tomato, Swiss, provolone, and mayo or Cajun mustard. The ham was delightfully light and the debris was juicy, beefy goodness. I wanted to order another one to take with me.
The only thing on the menu over $10 is the fried shrimp po-boy and that one only goes over that mark by 50 cents. You can easily do a substantial meal for $10-$15 and probably have leftovers.
The restaurant itself is more geared to takeout than dine in but there are a few tables and stools available if you can't wait to go all the way back to your hotel room to dive into your po-boys and gumbo.
And with food this good, who could blame you?
Downtown Las Vegas
616 E. Carson Ave. #140
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A-
Restaurant Review: Rao's
Las Vegas loves to appropriate the institutions of other cities. There's the Sphinx, the canals of Venice, and the Eiffel Tower to name a few obvious examples, but there are quite a few restaurant steals as well. Caesars Palace has two of them, with Old Homestead, a steakhouse from New York City that has been in business for more than 150 years, and Rao's, an Italian restaurant that has been operating in the same location since 1896.
Rao's came to Caesars in 2006 so it hasn't had quite as long of a run as its NYC ancestor, but it has become a bit of an institution of its own right in Sin City as one of the few places on The Strip where you can get authentic Italian cuisine that doesn't involve pizza toppings.
The dining room itself is quite nice, with three fairly distinct areas to choose from. There's a "patio" evoking a New York streetside experience although here you're actually indoors and looking at a casino and people lining up for the Bacchanal buffet. Past that is the private club-like main dining room with lots of dark wood, white table clothes, and pictures of famous faces adorning the walls. Go a little further and there's a garden room with big windows that open onto a real patio facing the pool. It's all classy and upscale but not too intimidating.
The menu has the classic first, second, and third course layout. Starters include a few salads (Caprese, roasted beet, Caesar), sauteed mussels, fried mozzarella, and an antipasto plate as examples. Seconds are the pastas that will mostly be familiar to traditional Italian fare including spaghetti Bolognese, penne vodka, linguine and clams, and lasagna but also with some more creative ideas like ravioli stuffed with pears and ricotta cheese or the fusilli done with Italian sausage and cabbage.
Main courses are more recognizable dishes like veal parmesan or picatta, ossobuco, steak pizzaiola, shrimp scampi, and so on. The furthest they go outside of the box here is a pork or veal chop served with in a cherry pepper sauce. But that's okay - if you want adventurous dining, there are about a billion restaurants in Vegas waiting for you with their molecular small plates gastronomy experiments.
We started with the bruschetta - crunchy and very garlicky (in a good way) toasted bread loaded with diced cherry tomatoes drenched (in a good way) with olive oil and a balsamic reduction. The flavors were bold, which I found entertaining but may be a little overwhelming to more sensitive palates. We also ordered their traditional meatballs from the side dishes list as an appetizer. Made with veal, pork, and beef they came swimming in a sea of tangy marinara and were seasoned just right - tangy more than spicy.
Main courses were considered but we were all more in a pasta mood so decided to make the seconds our thirds, so to speak. You don't need to worry about portions - even though they don't consider this to be main courses there is more than enough food there for you to consider them as such. Be prepared for leftovers.
The lasagna was simple and quite good, done with what seemed like a few dozen layers of pasta, beef, rich sauce, ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella. My only complaint is that it didn't age well - the first few bites were great but as it started to cool it became kind of rubbery. Maybe I just wasn't eating fast enough.
The rigatoni comes with pancetta and white onions in a peppery red sauce. The bacony flavor infused the entire dish in drool-worthy ways and the pasta itself was darned-near perfect.
The best of the bunch was the taglione done with prosciutto and peas in a light parmesan cream sauce. It was a great counterpoint to the bright flavors of the marinara and Bolognese sauces the other dishes came in.
Per the note above about too much food, we weren't able to get to dessert but if we had we would've had our choices of things like tiramisu, cannoli, cheesecake, profiteroles, creme brulee, and seasonal gelatos and sorbets. Just typing that makes me want to go back for more.
The service was impeccable from first contact to last - they know what they are doing here and are eager to prove it to you.
The prices are high - this ain't no Olive Garden. Salads are all around $16 and other starters run up to the big antipasto plate at more than $30; pastas all hover within a few bucks either way of the $30 mark; entrees start at around $30 and go all the way up to nearly $60; and desserts are all in the $15 neighborhood. The three of us were going with the somewhat less expensive pastas and still managed to rack up a bill of over $200 once you included drinks, tax, and tip.
Is it worth the cost? As mentioned at the outset, there aren't too many places in Vegas that serve this kind of traditional Italian fare beyond the typical Buca di Beppo type chains so that alone makes it worthy of consideration. Throw in the quality, the fine surroundings, and the excellent service and it just might move it beyond just consideration.