I spent the past week in Las Vegas with friends. Despite it’s reputation of being a mecca for bachelor parties and benders, the town primarily attracts overweight gamblers and families with school-aged children.
My favorite part of the trip was going with a group of guys who I’ve been chatting with online and occasionally in person for a while but didn’t know super well that I had met through an online group chat dedicated to personal development. Because these guys don’t necessarily share my worldviews and come from many different backgrounds, I thought there would be a limit to how well we could connect. It turns out many of us have several common interests in fitness, food, and philosophy. I was pleasantly surprised to have built a few new friendships and gotten several new genuine perspectives on fitness and life goals. It was a refreshing experience to immerse into a new and unknown friend circle and come out enlightened and hopeful about the conversations we had on a wide range of topics.
I flew Spirit round trip for about $250. This was the cheapest flight combination I could find via Skyscanner and the Spirit website. I came in the night before my friends. I slept in a $25 bed in a six-bed room at Hostel Cat, a reputable place I booked on Hostelworld.com. The hostel was in a economically depressed side of town. The rest of the 5 nights I stayed on the 9th floor of the ($135/night) Treasure Island hotel with 3 friends. The final day we checked out late ($40 fee) because our overnight flight left Las Vegas at 10:55pm.
The Treasure Island was located close to all the activities of the Strip. Our room was clean, comfortable, and renovated. It’s not a bad choice for a mid-tier hotel near the action of the Strip.
Just a personal bag
Because I will never pay for luggage, I pack everything into a 25L backpack. All trip clothing goes into a large 10L zippered travel organizer inside the main compartment of the pack. This separates items I will need during the journey from the core trip contents. In a smaller bag, I carry the items I need on the flight: a Platypus water bag (1L), a Sleep Master mask, earplugs, headphones, and a non-fiction book (this trip it was about repairing damaged relationships). This bag is the only thing I fiddle with on the flight. This prevents me having to sort through my whole bag for in-flight gear. Somewhere in between the clothing bag and the in-flight bag is the toiletry bag, which I may or may not need during the journey. Away in the depths of the bag is the one item I will not need during the, my car keys. This all gets packed with the butler method I have mentioned before.
On this trip (5 days) I brought: 2 dress shirts, jeans, khaki shorts, polyester/wool dress pants (navy), a bathing suit, 4 undies, 4 socks, and 2 uniqlo airism tees. This was plenty for both day and night wear in Vegas.
Recommended Las Vegas Food
As with all vacation, I built a map of the area for attacking restaurants that were highly rated and not super popular (touristy). This was done by sorting through Yelp’s listings. This map is only for research purposes. I can’t guarantee the quality of any establishment I haven’t visited. During the trip, I use the map to plot out meals. Here are one’s that I visited and enjoyed. There are several unique, good food options in Las Vegas. For the most part you have to wander of the tourist area of the Strip to get anything affordable that is decent.
The Goodwich (5/5)
It’s a sandwich shop around the corner from my hostel. Though I came in ten minutes before they closed, they were friendly and gave great service. As someone who waited tables and got angry when folks came in at closing time, I greatly appreciate this.
I ordered The Reubenish sandwich. I was impressed. I’ve had a ton of Reubens and this one is up there in my list now.
The bread was crisp and buttery, with a soft finish that respected the contents of the sandwich.
The sandwich had a balanced blend of kraut/cabbage, beef, cheese, and slightly spicy Russian/thousand island dressing. The ratio of the ingredients was intelligent, a bit less greasy than a classic Reuben.
The kraut on the sandwich tasted homemade. The cabbage still had a fresh crisp and proudly displayed hints of Caraway without being overpowering.
The corned beef was seasoned well and had a fall apart bite. They chop up the meat and sear it to achieve great maillard surface area (the chef must follow Serious Eats). The balance of meat to fat was carefully thought out and added a savoury depth to the mouthfeel without overpowering the palate.
The sandwich oozes with a marriage of melted cheese and spicy Russian dressing. The flavors are fresh and unique.
Goodwich is worth a short trip off the strip. They are serving intelligent and inventive sandwiches in a comfortable and contemporary environment.
Le Cirque (5/5)
Excellent French fine dining experience at Le Cirque. I ordered the Pre Theater menu ($72) with wine pairing ($40.)
Le Cirque lived up to my expectations. The staff were friendly, swift, courteous, and informed.
The meal began with an amuse bouche of an acidic lemony foam with, beneath, a savoury carrot puree. The flavors were forcefully challenging yet very well balanced. Excellent way to start the meal with a thoughtful bite from the kitchen to get me thinking.
The bread was good. I’ve had fresher bread at other fine dining restaurants, but the flavors were nonetheless well balanced and the crumb soft enough. I appreciated the juxtaposition of salted & unsalted butter on the same plate, preferring the salted variety. The choices of bread were varied and consistent with other fine dining restaurants
No surprises for the bread course.
The escargot had a plump bite with enough chew to give it body and allow mouth time for the sauce flavors to meld in the palate. I found the sauce a bit bitter and leafy for the relative medium softness of the butter/something bitter in there sauce. The sauce of the dish was a bit gloopy for my tastes and had a bit of a xanthan gum mouthfeel. The chablis wine pairing was crisp and sweet, a complement to the buttery dish.
The potato-crusted black bass over braised leeks was so good. Though the bass seemed a bit dehydrated/over executed (cooked to 137f instead of 131f) the dishes flavors were outstanding. The savoury potato and fresh firm fish were lavished by the soft yet complex slight acidity of the leeks and buttery pinot noir sauce. The dish naturally paired well with pinot noir, which was an element lightly accented within the dish.
For dessert I chose the chocolate ball. The waiter pours hot sauce over it at the table which mesmerizingly melts away the chocolate exterior. This dish is bitter and sweet with dark chocolate crust, hazelnut notes, and a crunchy, toffee crunch interspersing smooth ice cream. The port wine paired well with its syrupy deep sweetness and oaky complexity.
The final bites were hazelnut and raspberry macaroons with a Pâte de Fruit. All was soft and freshly fruity.
Le Cirque made me feel at home. It took me away from the garish facade that is the Vegas casino. They present an authentic and intelligent fine dining experience amidst the gambling harpies of vegas hotel conglomerates.
Meraki Greek (5/5)
Meraki serves heaping portions of high quality Greek food about 15 minutes’ drive off the Strip.
The Gyro platter had crisp, well seasoned lamb meat. The dish came with soft and buttery pita. The fries were crisp to the bite and soft and starchy inside.
The salad on the side didn’t add to the dish. The flavors of the cheese and dressing were harsh on the palate and had no balance.
This meal was $207 for myself. Picasso is super expensive. That being said, the food was world-class. The setting is unforgettably place on the shores of the Bellagio lake with all the beauty and none of the Vegas Strip noise. I was greeted by star Chef/Restaurateur Julian Serrano at the entry.
I opted for the Degustation menu. This includes bread, amuse bouche, Maine Lobster salad, Seared Dayboat Scallop, Foie Gras, Colorado Lamb Tournade, Chocolate Bread pudding, and petit fours bites.
The olive bread and baguette were lackluster. I prefer the gourmet bread from my local grocery store. The bread was cool, tough on the bite, and lacked flavor, moisture, and seasoning.
The amuse bouche was a quail croquette with chilled corn chowder. The croquette is a fried stick of quail with cheesy sauce filling. Alongside the corn chowder, this was a soulful entry into the meal. Lots of savoury flavors to prime the palate. This dish was not a palate cleanser as many amuse-bouches.
The Maine Lobster salad was excellent. Cool chunks of fresh lobster packed with a light vinaigrette, shrouded with delicate bitter greens, light onions, and a subtle hint of black truffle that lingers effervescently on the palate. The dish tastes fresh and is a nice movement from the amuse bouche to lighten the palate.
The scallop was the texture of cold butter with the taste of meaty seafood. It was deeply seared and served over a potato puree. The dish was lovely.
The seared foie gras was a standout. This is the best method of serving foie. The outside holds a deep crisp while the inside is buttery and deeply unctuous in a uniquely poultry-offal manner. The black cherry glaze and deep crunchy bits on the plate balance out the soft mouthfeel and fatty savour of the foie gras. This is a combination of flavors that cannot be replicated with any lesser ingredient.
The lamb tournade was alright. The mouthfeel was tough. The lamb’s exterior did have serious maillard charred complexity. Is wasn’t too impressed with the flavor of the meat or it’s texture.
The chocolate bread pudding was like a light brownie. The plate many interesting and complex bits of flavor.
The meal was finished with some small bites from the kitchen that were pleasantly sweet and soft. These encompassed several flavors on the sweet/salty/bitter spectrum.
Picasso is an amazing environment with good, but not impeccable, service. The interior is beautiful and it is set on the lake of the Bellagio with fountains gushing every 15 minutes. This is an unforgettable place to dine on incredible food. While there were a few hiccups, Picasso was an excellent dining experience.
Trattoria Nakamura-Ya (⅘)
Came for the lunch happy hour deal. Nakamura-Ya has a unique fusion of Italian and Japanese that is well executed.
I ordered the Carbonara Miso and Karaage.
The Karaage app was a blend of balsamic Italian salad with Japanese fried chicken. The flavors worked. The fattiness of the chicken was cut by the balsamic glaze. I enjoyed this dish. The chicken was juicy and well executed.
The Carbonara miso was thin buckwheat ramenesque noodles tossed with a light miso & cream sauce with crunchy bits of panko and some veggies. I found this dish unbalanced with little to counteract it from tasting and feeling milky.
The lunch deal was good and the flavor profiles here are interesting. This is worth trying.
At night we went to Vegas’ world class music venues. All are located as part of their respective hotels. These are SUPER expensive. Think $50 cover. The fee comes with access to a show by a world renowned artist up close. We saw Tiesto, DJ Snake and Zedd at three different venues. These places are loaded with Asian and European tourists, most of whom are there to get intoxicated, hang out with a few friends, and listen to ultra-loud dance music. While I enjoy the environment, I could only handle it in moderation.
Tiesto at Hakkasan MGM
This was my least favorite of the three venues. There is no outdoor area and it’s difficult to navigate. The space crams everyone in like sardines. It was cool to see and hear the world’s #5 DJ, a native of Breda, Netherlands, mixing on stage.
DJ Snake at XS Encore
XS is the nighttime manifestation on Encore hotel’s high-end pool and cabana area. There is a lot of space. You sit between two large fancy hotels. It’s upscale feeling. I loved this place. I didn’t love DJ Snake, he was too dubby/choppy in his music style for me.
ZEDD at Omnia Caesar’s
This place is OVER THE TOP. There is a massive moving chandelier and hundreds of monitors displaying graphics in unison with the music. There is ample indoor and outdoor space. The place feels wealthy. The main room feels like a technologized king’s chamber. Everything is intricately designed. I’d hope so. The place cost $135 million to build. I was impressed with Zedd as an artist/performer. He looked genuinely excited to share his music and pump up the crowd. It was pretty cool to see a guy around my age who has found something he’s passionate about doing it at a world-class level with his music.
Getting in free
Many times, especially if you’re a female, you can skip the $50 cover if you text a promoter in advance and get on their guestlist. I got away with this and saved $50 at Omnia. The other two nights I tried unsuccessfully to get guestlisted. This can be done with a Google search. Many of the promoters publicly list their cell numbers on Instagram, Facebook, or their website.
Thoughts on Vegas
It’s expensive. There is a ton of seedy activity going on, especially at night. You need to be aware of this and plan to avoid it. There is a ton of noise. It is hot, think 110F in the summer. I don’t regret going, but I don’t think I’ll be going back soon. The noise and frivolous spending are an enervating experience.
I have mixed feelings on the trip. I think Vegas is a sketchy place. The whole city feels nouveau riche, a thin veneer of plastic beauty overtop morally questionable yet banal underpinnings. The concept of Vegas (come here to frivolously spend, consume, and forget) is problematic. However, I believe it is possible to extract some of the good of the Vegas Strip (food, shows, people watching, and genuinely interesting architecture) without getting caught up in the soullessness of it all. Visit at your own risk. Go with good people.