Just about everything in Vegas is fake. The Beatles that rock out during LOVE every night at the Mirage; the statues of Caesar around his “Palace”; the waterfalls that surround the pools; even a few of the top floors of the Venetian are just tarp painted to make the building look taller than it really is. The more I think about it, the more I wonder how the city first came up as the destination for our Persian family reunion.
One thing (possibly the only thing) about Vegas that isn’t fake is the food. Most of it is over the top and it’s all certainly pricey, but it’s also good. With a slew of celebrity chef restaurants that probably haven’t seen their namesakes in months and the knowledge that most of the discerning palates are a bit drunk, I didn’t know what my snobby self was getting into. Luckily, as usual, I was wrong.
The first bite I took that highlighted how well Vegas does food was my first afternoon there. I stepped into Pantry famished and stepped out ready to gain twenty pounds. What better way to celebrate the end of a morning body wrap? Not too concerned about the fact that I’d be in a bathing suit in a couple of hours, I finished off the tender Corned Beef Hash in under twenty minutes. That might not seem like much of a feat, but served in a skillet the size of my head and underneath two poached eggs, it was more than my fair share of breakfast food. It was my first taste of Vegas excess.
Though breakfast seems ideal for those nursing hangovers, dinner was where this city really won my heart. Bouchon did everything well, from the over-the-top cheese boards to my Moules au Safran with a broth so nuanced I had to stop myself from tilting my head back and finishing the goodness in a few gulps. It was one of those places where you have to take multiple “one last bite’s,” even when you’ve gorged yourself and cannot fathom something else passing through your lips. To balance out the decadence of the French options, hotels like the Cosmopolitan have restaurants like Jaleo. As a tapas restaurant, getting two or three plates at a time and ordering until you’ve tried a lot and are satisfied is the way to go. With classic Vegas showiness, some dishes like the Presa ibérica crudo ahumado come out under a vase filled with fragrant smoke while the Croquetas de pollo are served in a worn-down sneaker. Still, I was confident enough in the quality behind this show to eat raw smoked pork. By the time I finished with the perfectly charred veggies decorated with a fiery-acidic sauce, I was planning a trip to Jaleo in D.C. Vegas had won me over.
Of course, you can’t leave Vegas without experiencing the booze. While I happily slurped down mojitos poolside, there were dozens of other options, including the classic Manhattan. Honestly, I loathe Manhattans. I truly don’t understand what most people see in whisky and bourbon; they overpower everything in a cocktail and make me gag when sipped on ice. Give me gin any day. However, I would drink the Manhattan served at Heritage Steak any time of day. I don’t know if the quality of alcohol was better or the bartender just knew what he was doing, but I do know what clinched it for me was the smoked maraschino syrup. It added a depth to the alcohol of which I didn’t know dark liquor was capable. As the final drink of my trip, it felt like a prize for spending the whole say site seeing in the hot desert. Who knew the best Manhattan could be found closer to the West Coast? Now that I think about it, maybe all that heat went to my head and this drink was actually a mirage?
I would go back to Vegas for a lot of reasons. It’s cheesy and everybody drinks much more than they should and there are way too many college kids, but it’s kind of great for a vacation where you want to be wowed and not think too much. Don’t go looking to be enlightened or to experience Europe in America. Go to hang by the pool, visit the desert, and then blow all your money after an amazing meal.