See, Dine, Explore {Vegas}

Want to know what we saw, where we ate, and what we explored? I’ve written it allll down for you. Here you go!

Dining:

Serendipity 3 – Caesar’s Palace

The Food: Even without the added benefit of dining with Dick Clark, this place was fabulous. Though they are known for decadent ice cream creations – the frozen hot chocolate is a must, even at $10 – but there were plenty of healthy options as well. I had “A Summer Bries”: An open-faced turkey, brie and apple sandwich with cranberry mayo, on raisin pumpernickel bread, and the Husband enjoyed a yummy BBQ chicken and cheddar flatbread pizza. Offering a full bar and dinner options as well, I would say this would be one of my first choices for brunch or lunch on the patio.

The Atmosphere: The atmosphere was totally whimsical. Lots of pink, ornamental bushes in the shape of ice cream creations fun signage… like something out of Alice and Wonderland! Just enjoy the quirkiness, and try not to ruin that white shirt with chocolate dribbles.

Sensi – Bellagio

The Food: I picked this spot for its local, seasonal ingredients and variety of options – We weren’t disappointed. Their cool menu was separated into sections: Seafood, Sensi Rolls, Asian and Italian. I had the Tandoori Butter Chicken Curry with basmati rice, and the Husband had Pad Thai with Kaui Sugarcane prawns. The meal was served with warm homemade naan and crispy flatbread and dipping sauces and seasalt: a sweet and spicy oil dip, yogurt tzatziki-like dip and sundried tomato-like spread. Everything was bright, fresh and delicious.

The Atmosphere: The kitchen was in the center of the restaurant, and was encased in glass. It was very cool to see the preparation, and everything was pristine. The walls of the restaurant were a mix of dark panels, stone fountains made of and thin veils of water. The Bellagio itself, which has an Asian theme, and the high-end shops in it’s mall are beautiful. Take a stroll and catch the famous outdoor fountain show set to music as well (Cooler than it sounds, the water shoots up to 240 feet in the air and is very fun to watch!).

Canyon River Cafe – Palazzo

The Food: We went here for lunch on a recommendation by Gina – It was perfect! Everything on the menu looked both delicious and healthy, and we would have never found the place without seeking it out. We ordered fresh juice (you can pick your combo – I had carrot, ginger, grapefruit!) and homemade ginger ale. We started our meal with kale chips and their homemade ranch dressing. These were perfectly crisped. I ordered a rare Ahi tuna sandwich with avocado, swiss, tomato and onion, and the Husband had fire roasted chicken sandwich on a potato roll with cilantro-lime aioli and and roasted tomato. So. Delicious.

The Atmosphere: Nothing fancy, and nothing particularly “organic”, “earthy” or “health-foodie” about it, which surprised me (because their menu is blatantly so). It was small, on the third floor of the hotel, and pretty unassuming, but totally worth a stop (especially once you’re ready for some green stuff in your life!). Expect to see people in everything from workout attire to business suits!

Julian Serrano – Aria

The Food: A friend recommended this spot, a tapas bar, and the menu reeled me in at once. We ate here before we saw LOVE, and really enjoyed the huge selection of tapas dishes. Raging from contemporary to traditional and including plenty of vegetarian options, we ordered five and a dessert (and a lovely red sangria for me!). We had:

  • crispy pancetta iberica | pork belly | molecular mozzarella | creamy potatoes (The best of all of them!)
  • black rice | fresh calamari | lobster meat | sofrito | squid ink (A close second)
  • stuffed piquillo peppers | goat cheese | mushrooms (Delightful)
  • callos a la madrileña | honeycomb tripe | morcilla | pork chorizo | beef shank | garbanzos (Good, but not as wonderful as the others)
  • spanish iberico sliders | prime beef | iberico pork | caramelized onions (A favorite of the husband)
  • molten chocolate cake | orange jelly | blood orange ice cream (Mmmmm..)

The Atmosphere: The Aria hotel and casino is one of the newest on The Strip, and you could tell. It was pristine, modern, and my favorite of all that we walked through on our trip. Even the Casino floor, which is usually packed full of lights, smoke, people and machines was almost serene with extra leg space, tall ceilings and fewer lights and noises. The restaurant was open to the hotel lobby and other shops and dining spots, but had a unique flair (and very cool bathrooms… a voice recording taught you Spanish!). Sleek and fresh, but not breathtaking.

Mon Ami Gabi – Paris

The Food: Perfectly Parisian. I ordered the French Onion soup with Gruyere (my first time ordering this classic) and thought I had died and gone to heaven. I’ve seen this soup before… watery, crunchy cheese. yuck. This was gooey, decadent and rich. Served with a warm personal baguette and fresh butter, I could have eaten just that and been totally satisfied. However, I also ordered the sandwich de Jour – an open-faced wild mushroom and egg on sourdough with more cheese and pommes frites. Sparkling water topped it all off…Sigh. I wish the Husband had been there too so I could have eaten tasted his lunch too.

The Atmosphere: Even though I ate here alone while the Husband was at one of his training sessions, it was totally lovely and comfortable. I waited an extra 30 minutes and was seated on the patio facing the Bellagio fountains in the bright sunshine. With book in hand, under the Eiffel Tower, I could almost imagine I was sitting in Paris! The inside of the restaurant was beautiful as well – lush, sunny and with a ton of character. My only disappointment is that I didn’t get there for breakfast or brunch (Which looked even better than their lunch and dinner menus!) But alas, I had a massage scheduled after my workout that morning… ; )

Spago – Forum Shops at Caesar’s

The Food: One of Wolfgang Puck’s famous restaurants, I chose this spot because I went to his Beverly Hills location when I was 14 with my parents… it was a fabulous experience for young kid, and I’ve wanted to return ever since (And, it offers seasonal cuisine!). I got my chance! I had a “Bee’s Wings” cocktail (gin, ginger honey, lemon juice, shaken – mmmm), and we split a grilled octopus salad with white bean raguout before ordering an Alfredo with prawns (him) and pan seared duck breast with savoy cabbage puree, honey-glazed turnips, huckleberries and sauce a l’orange  (her) entrees. There was a less expensive “cafe” menu with delightful options as well – the pizzas looked divine!

The Atmosphere: Beautiful! The restaurant is right next to a large replica fountain, and the patio is under a painted “sky” – The husband kept saying it really felt like we were outdoors! The interior was modern and fun.

The Public House – Venetian

The Food: I chose this location because during our stay, a Groupon popped up for it ($25 for $50 worth of fare). I checked out the menu, and bought it right on my phone! It was only a quick walk from our hotel, and served a variety of fun dishes – both “small” plates and “large” entrees. Their specialty was beer (the Husband enjoyed a “rare cask beer”), but they had a great wine list as well. We split their take on Welsh Rarebit, and the Husband ordered the fancy pub burger (so, so good!) with bacon marmalade, Gruyere, roasted tomato and Guinness aioli . I ordered an heirloom beet and goat cheese salad, and two small plates: Crispy oysters with foie gras, golden raisins and cider gastrique; and potted farm egg, with forest mushrooms, ricotta and sourdough crouton. Everything tasted bright, and had its own twist. We had the chocolate stout layer cake, malted ice cream and caramelized rice crispy bacon for dessert (wow!).

The Atmosphere: An upscale “pub” flavor, there was lots of dark woodwork and a sprinkle of what I would call “modern Americana” decor. Very manly (I had to get the Husband a burger after enduring kale chips and other “light” picks during the trip). It’s a great spot to pause at while walking the shops, or moving between the Venetian and Palazzo hotels.

Hotel:

We stayed at Harrah’s, Las Vegas. I was unsure about how we would like the accommodations – We had to stay here because this is where the Husband’s conference was being held (and they gave us a rockin’ rate: $25 for weeknights, $88 for the weekend), but I knew from reading reviews that it was a bit older, and not super fancy. Once we arrived, though, we realized it was perfect! While it wasn’t very fancy or super-duper large like the Ballagio, Venetian or others, it was one of the ONLY places that you could walk right out of the hotel and onto The Strip! Most hotels sat back quite a way from the sidewalk, and had lovely, but looong winding paths to their doors. Because we weren’t that interested in sticking around our own hotel anyway – I wanted to see as many as possible! – it was perfect for making a quick exit, and was located smack dab in the middle of the Strip. So, if you want to go pretty cheap, but be in the middle of the action, Harrah’s is a good bet (AND they have Starbucks!).

Things to See and Do

Grand Canyon Tour

There are so many similar companies out there, and all of them seemed to have mixed reviews and horror stories, so I entered this experience with low expectations. But, we ended up having a blast!

We used GrandCanyonTours.com, and paid $199.00 for two tickets (Final cost charged was $209.00, and we tipped the suggested $20 per couple at the end of the day). This included: A Pick up by a shuttle at our hotel at 6:45a.m., a small breakfast snack at the Planet Hollywood hotel before boarding the large tour bus and taking off around 7:00a.m., entrance to the Hualupi Indian reservation where the west rim canyon access is located, 4 hours of free time at the canyon (The Grand Canyon SkyWalk is located here, and tickets were available for $40. We didn’t feel the need to go – the views from the Canyon ledge were fabulous!, but it was an option some really enjoyed. There was also an option to take a helicopter ride.), A BBQ rib lunch (could have chosen chicken or a few other options – the food was cafeteria style but very good!), a quick stop at a Route 66 diner for a snack on the way back to Vegas (sweet potato fries!), and a quick drive-by/stop at Hoover Dam for pictures! Whew! It was almost a 12 hour day, but so worth it.

The tour guide was chatty and a bit goofy, but overall very knowledgeable and funny. They showed a documentary about the SkyWalk on the way down, and some comedy show clips on the way back after a quiet “nap time”. The scenery was beautiful on the trip, and it didn’t seem long at all though it was three hours each way.

Free Shows – Bellagio Fountains, Mirage Volcano, Treasure Island Sirens

Besides the numerous (often pretty weird) sidewalk entertainment, you can catch hotel shows while just taking a stroll! Most run just during the evening hours – signs are posted – but they are worth a quick stop. The fountains were my favorite – beautiful!

Beatles LOVE Cirque Du Soleil

…. totally spectacular. The artistic direction was stunning, and the stunts, dancing and acrobatics were absolute perfection! Roller-bladers, aerialists, twirlers, modern dance, lights, projection, stage transformations… this show had it all (and it was set to my favorite music!). We purchased our tickets ahead of time, but for many shows it is just as easy to pick them up while you’re in town. They are pricy – expect to pay over $100 – but there isn’t a bad seat in the house (a circular theater) and it is very, very worth every penny.

Shopping

Like I said before, we didn’t spend a lot on things to take home (our suitcase wouldn’t have allowed it anyway! It was already overweight… ahem. My fault). But, it was amazing to just browse everything from Jimmy Choo and Chanel to Cartier and Louboutin. Several hotels have large indoor shopping areas attached – Venetian, Cesar’s, Planet Hollywood, Aria…. you can’t miss them.

PURE nightclub, Caesar’s

This was our late-night spot. There are a lot of places to choose from, and each is a bit of a fiasco to get into (long lines, lots of bribes, many have pricy covers – $30-$100+). There are a lot of VIP tickets that you can purchase, and people handing out “free” or discounted entrance passes, but it is pretty difficult to decipher which of these services are legit, and which are scams. We were handed tickets early in the evening, and because this spot was close to the hotel, we decided to try it out. After a long wait with lots of crushing crowds, we got in! It was expensive and crowded, but had cool decor and a rooftop portion that had great views. This was one of those times I was glad I had my husband with me, if you know what I mean, but together we had a blast :) We were wiped out after about two hours (for some, the night was just beginning!) but it was a pretty fun experience overall.

Random:

  • You will walk a LOT. As in, miles. Bring flats you can carry in your clutch to and from places that you want to wear your sky-high heels… trust me!
  • Grab all the free coupon and guide books you can – There are some good ones in there!
  • Make reservations – Even the morning of! It gives you a little peace of mind, and you can always bump them back or cancel if you really need to. Some weekends get busy, and you don’t want to miss out on a restaurant you picked!

Wishlist

There’s always next time!

  • Eiffel Tower – We meant to make a trip up to the top, but ran out of time!
  • Breakfast – My favorite meal of the day, but between work, flights and tours, I had to “settle” for Starbucks coffee and oatmeal every day :) There are lots of good places I looked at though: Babystacks, Hash House a Go Go, Mon Ami Gabi and Serendipity 3 all had devilish looking pancakes…
  • Tao – Seemed like a very cool club, but very hard to get into.
  • Titanic – An amazing exhibit at the Luxor, ran out of time!
  • Other shows – So many neat shows and concerts, Phantom of the Opera, different Cirque shows and more!
  • Shopping – Sigh.
  • Pools – Were closed for the season. We didn’t really miss them too much, but I would have loved to lay out and read!
  • Win a million dollars.
  • :)

Vegas: A wonderful place to Explore!

Let me know if you have any questions – I’d be happy to answer them!

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{TRI}ed and true

I am SO PROUD.

The Husband, who loves sports and games and golf, but is not terribly fond of pointless running (umm… remind me why we have to get sweaty if no one is even keeping score?!), successfully completed his first mini-Tri last weekend!

After an already great weekend, the two of us, along with our friends Destrey and Sheri (remember them from this adventure?), competed in a fun, low-key tri hosted at a local University. It consisted of a 250 yd. swim, followed by corn-hole, a 4 mi. bike ride, an egg race and a two mi. run. It was a blast, and the perfect way to attempt to get the Husband hooked on racing ; )

It was a small group, but we did well (Destrey got second place!). The Husband tore it up in the pool, and I only barely got an edge on him during the run. We’ve been swimming two days a week for about a month, and it’s been amazing to see his progress. He was brave just to jump in and try with such short notice (we only decided to do the race a few days before) and I think I might even be able to convince him to do another in the spring. It would be easier to persuade him if the required attire didn’t include obnoxious amounts of spandex…but I’m not complainin’ :)

Haha…awkward.

Anyway… to reward ourselves for a superior performance, even in nippy October weather, we enjoyed a post-race lunch at Wilson’s Sandwich Shop. It is a depression-era landmark, famous for its “Mity Nice Hamburgs” and “frosted malts”. Founded in 1936 by Stub Wilson, the meat for the burgers is ground fresh daily, and it beats any other fast-food hands down for quality and price.

You can’t go wrong with a hamburg, fries and a malt, but they also have awesome homemade pie, hot dogs, chicken, chili and spicy black bean veggie burgers (my choice for lunch – yum!). At Wilson’s, however, you CAN go wrong with how you order. It is an art form, and if you do it wrong you’ll get a glare and maybe even a tongue-lashing. Reminiscent of the “soup nazi“, these unwritten rules are part of this restaurant’s charm. It also makes it easy to spot newbies (like us!) who can’t seem to get it quite right…

Watch this video to learn more about Wilson’s! (And if you visit me, I might take you there… or try to get you addicted to racing. Maybe both).

Perfect end to a great weekend.

More adventures await!

Labor & Birth {Days}

I. Love. Surprises.

As evidenced by the photo to the left, even when wearing serious cowgirl garb, I can barely contain my excitement (that’s a swing set in the trunk by the way. I loved that thing…Until I realized that wasps built nests in the glider, and then I steered clear of the thing for months). I think the bolo tie made the outfit, don’t you?

Birthday excitement then…

When my Birthday dawned yesterday, it wasn’t much different. Even though I’m 25, not 4, and had to go to work, I was beyond happy to be greeted with THREE b-day surprises, including flowers from the Husband, and chocolate from the Parents. But, what excited me most of all was the prospect of dinner at my favorite restaurant in the universe: Revolver.

…Birthday excitement now

I adore Revolver’s seasonal, local, fresh, amazing food… and their retro-funk decor is a total treat. Chatting with the staff is fun, and the wine list is to die for. In short, this place is a gem, and I LOVE that it is nestled in our little city in Northwest Ohio.

We dined on poutine with duck fat french fries, braised goat and aged cheddar (not so healthy, but oh, so amazing), sweet corn bisque with vanilla mascarpone (the vanilla was intense!), pekin duck breast with roasted sweet corn, spicy pickled cucumbers and avocado, and local pork loin with fennel gratin and watercress. And, I can’t forget, polenta… I rarely DREAM of food, but Chef Mike’s polenta is simple, rich and heavenly.

For dessert, we got both the rich chocolate brownie with homemade raspberry reduction and ice cream, and the summer fruit trifle (served in a glass jar!) with fresh whipped cream and buttery pound cake and a cup of French press coffee (hey, it’s my Birthday…I can’t eat two desserts if I want.)… *sigh*. Perfection.

This day of bliss actually followed a pretty amazing Labor Day weekend. Even though it was packed, we had a ton of fun with friends and family at our annual Labor Day Family Camp (where the Husband and I first hung out eight years ago!), enjoyed great friends at a wedding, and even got to hang out along the Ohio River and take a spin on a Jet Ski!

The wedding was so lovely, and we are ecstatic for our friends Pat & Emily (they’re going on their honeymoon to New Zealand and Australia – how cool is that?). We stayed with our friends Sarah, Andy, Karen, Josh, Liz and Kyle at Sarah’s family river house after the wedding, and were treated to delicious food, a boat ride, sangria, a church service on the lawn and more hospitality than anyone could ask for (Thanks!). It’s a fun group (the guys and Karen all work together) – it felt like a little vacation.

We started and ended our weekend at Labor Day Camp. Also known as “The Best Four Days of the Year”, this camp has been a part of our lives for a long time. Our entire church family attends – a million little animals kids, parents and pastors alike, and we take time to learn, eat and play together. My lovely mama danced, my little sister sprained her ankle but was too busy running around to notice, and my brother got to sit by the fire for hours with his friends. Our stay there (even though we always leave tired, sick of the camp food, totally over the hard wooden benches and in need of a real shower) is always refreshing and delightful.


So, we caught up with friends, listened to great teachings, had amazing times of prayer and ate lots of s’mores… In short, I don’t think we’d miss it for the world (even if that means getting ready for a wedding in a camp bathroom with no air conditioning in 100 degree heat…Thank the Lord for hairspray).

I hope your holiday was just as full of simple joys, and that you get to see friends and eat at your favorite restaurant soon too.

Do it. It’s worth it.