Monday, July 23, 2012

Vegas Vacation: The Food

I’m beginning my three part “Vegas Vacation” series with something I hold dear to my heart: Food! I’m one of those people who plan my vacations around restaurants and starts thinking about dinner while I’m still eating lunch. I love trying the “it” restaurant in town whether it’s burgers and “ta-ta’s” at Hamburger Mary's, the organic beef brisket at Winslow's Home, or sipping signature cocktails at The Chandelier. For three days, we ate and drank our way around Las Vegas and I discovered why this city in the sand is known as a culinary hotspot.

Our first stop on our foodie tour of Sin City was the Sugar Factory American Brasserie. Winner of the 2012 “Diner’s Choice” Open Table Award, the Sugar Factory is the place where celebrities Katy Perry, Kourtney Kardashian, and Drake come to get their sugar rush. Led by Executive Chef Michael Sellmann, the Sugar Factory is becoming known for being more than just a candy connoisseur and the “Eats, Sweets, and Treats” lived up to the hype. 

For lunch, I tried the Monte Cristo sandwich: Turkey, Honey-Cured Ham and Swiss cheese served on Grilled Brioche bread, topped with Tomato Jam and lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. Foodie alert: The tomato jam made this sandwich! Lori and I split the $36 “Lollipop Passion”, a drink so big they served it to us in a goblet and it came complete with smoking dry ice and candy accessories. Not be outdone, Mike and Marion sweetened the deal by splitting the indulgent “Strawberry Cheesecake Overload Sundae” for dessert.

You’re going to need to walk off all of that food somehow, so amble through the 6,000 square foot flagship candy store where you’ll find everything from Couture and Signature Series lollipops to milkshakes and cupcakes. The delicious food and chic dining experience at the Sugar Factory are enough to make any Parisian say, “Ooh la la!”

While living and studying in Europe in 2004, Lori and I started a tradition of eating at the local Hard Rock Café whenever we visited a new city. Whether it was London, Dublin, or Munich, we stopped in for the Sante Fe Spring Rolls and a little taste of home. As poor students traveling through Europe, we did this more out of necessity than preference: I worked my way through college partly by working at the Hard Rock Café St. Louis and, in return, received 50% off my meals at all Hard Rock Cafe locations. 

The tradition continues today (sans employee discount) as we stopped by the Hard Rock Cafe Las Vegas for the Jumbo Combo (delicious!), a break from walking The Strip, and a rockin’ good time. Looking to escape the heat and rest those weary feet? Stop by for a free tour of their vast collection or peruse the world's largest Rock Shop. 

No trip out West is complete without a trip to the hamburger Holy Land known as In-N-Out Burger. I first visited In-N-Out last year while on a business trip to San Diego and fell in love with the kitschy “crossed” palm tree themed interior, the paper-hat wearing employees, and the “Not-So-Secret” menu options. The line was long at In-N-Out Las Vegas (Dean Martin Blvd. location), but the wait was worth it. And as any devotee will tell you, there’s only one way to do it at In-N-Out: “Animal Style!”

For dinner on Saturday night, we put on our Vegas best and headed to Bally's Steakhouse. One of the oldest steakhouses on The Strip, Bally’s has the look and feel of a 1960’s country club, complete with Ralph Lauren pinstripe wallpaper, servers dressed in tuxedo’s and photos of the Rat Pack adorning the walls. For dinner, I started with the Maine Lobster Bisque and finished with the 16 0z. Filet Mignon, served with a Béarnaise sauce. The sides are a la carté and as a table we split the asparagus and twice baked potato.

While Las Vegas is becoming known for their celebrity chefs and world-renowned cuisine, Bally’s hasn’t kept up with its neighboring restaurants. We thought the food was good and the service was decent, but the overall look and feel of the interior seemed shabby and outdated. Looking for a good steakhouse experience in Sin City? Don’t bet on Bally’s.

For my last meal in Vegas, we headed to the appropriately named, Hash House a go go. The winner of multiple awards from the New York Times, Travelocity, and Fodor’s Magazine, Hash House a go go has been featured in publications and on tv shows since opening in 2000. Fans of the Travel Channel series Man vs. Food will recognize Hash House a go go from the episode where host Adam Richman tried to conquer both the Fried-Chicken Eggs Benedict and a one pound Stuffed Burger. Creator and Founder Johnny Rivera and Executive Chef Craig Beardslee wanted to create “twisted farm food” giving those old, farm-made recipes a twist. The interior of the restaurant reflects that farm feel with blades of wheat on the tables and industrial accents that’ll make you feel right at home on the farm.

Need a big breakfast to recharge after a night out in Vegas? Be careful what you wish for. My “Tractor Driver Combo” came with a 16 inch apple cinnamon pancake. Everything from the turkey sausage to Marion’s Snicker pancake (made with actual mini Snicker bars) was downright delectable.         

Whether you're looking for a casual bistro or fancy fare, Las Vegas has ample opportunity for you to sample the best from world famous chefs. I'm heading back to Vegas in October for work and I'm already planning my restaurant itinerary: Stack at The Mirage and Aureole at Mandalay Bay have made the list. 

Stay tuned for part II of my Vegas Vacation: The Fun!

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