My recent travels took me to an unlikely place - Vegas. Now, I'm not much of a gambler, so finding fun things to do in Vegas was a bit of a challenge, since, you know, the main thing to do is gamble. But with a little help from some knowledgeable friends, we found plenty to do on and off the Strip.
First notable stop for dinner: Lotus of Siam, also known to some as the best Thai restaurant in the country. This is a no-frills restaurant located in a strip mall WAY off the strip, but well worth it. Many of the dishes here were ones you might have tried in your local Thai restaurant, but the flavors were so much richer and bolder than the bland takeout that I have in my neighborhood. The green curry with shrimp and drunken noodles were my favorite by far.
Next stop, right in our hotel, was Sage. We started with some old-school drinks at the bar - I had an excellent Aviation and bakerbiker tried a Manhattan. We then moved on to the dining room, where the chef specializes in locally-inspired, inventive dishes. We went with the prix-fixe, since we wanted to try lots of different things. My very favorite of the evening: slow-poached farm egg with smoked potato, shaved black truffles, and country bread. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner rolled into one! Main dishes were also excellent - I had a tender potato-crusted Arctic char with fennel, apple, and horseradish. Definitely a flavor profile you don't see every day. The one dull spot of the meal was dessert. Mine was perfect and totally unique -- lemon-thyme semifreddo with roasted grapes, sugar cookies, and orange honey. But bakerbiker's meal came with a somewhat boring chocolate torte. Overall, though, would totally recommend a stop for a meal here. They have happy hour during the week as well, and it's a bargain with half price drinks and an affordable bar menu.
To burn off those calories, the next day, we drove out to Red Rock Canyon about 45 minutes away, and spent the day hiking. I have been to the southwest exactly one other time, so the landscape is really different and striking for me. I've never been to the Grand Canyon, so for those of you have, this is probably nothing. But I was still in love with the colors and shapes.
For an evening out on the town, we splurged and went to a Cirque du Soleil. There are actually seven or eight Cirque shows going on in Vegas simultaneously at any given time. After A LOT of research, we settled on "O," which was a good choice for me. It was a mix of diving, synchronized swimming, and acrobatics. The set is basically a stage equipped with a pool that opens out underneath it. There was a plot, but it didn't take over, and you could focus on the artistic parts, which were really impressive.
To top off the weekend, we hit Bouchon for brunch. The food was upscale Euro-American brunch fare. I had a very good garden omelet, plus a cup of homemade yogurt and granola, with fruit and honey. Portions were huge and tasty and kept us both full until dinner.
Which leads me to dinner, which was really the highlight meal of the trip. We drove off the strip to Rosemary's, a tiny spot in a strip mall (lots of unexpected gems in strip malls on this trip). Things I especially enjoyed: prosciutto-wrapped figs with basil pesto, crab cake "fritters" with shaved fennel, and a gorgeous piece of halibut on sauteed spinach, with crunchy leeks and chive butter. You can guess from the descriptions, but the flavor combos were really different - I would never have even thought about putting basil with figs! The wait staff was awesome, and the owner even called me a few days later to find out how my meal was.
Overall, the city itself was a bit much for me - so much excess. But we were still able to find some fun stuff to do - and no gambling!