February 15, 2007

Heads up

Having been inexplicably passed over yet again for the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship I decided to play the $200+30 rebuy satellite Saturday at Caesars Palace for one seat in the exclusive field. Only 71 people entered so I had a decent chance of getting into what’s becoming one of the premier events in poker.

My buddy Chad Layne was at my table but was busted early by the charming Alex Vuong, who trapped him with top pair and a better kicker.

Terry Fleischer showed up at the table with 25,000 chips but his wild style didn’t work out so well at this table as people kept showing down big hands against him. He doubled me up playing four-deuce suited but I lost most of my chips when my Presto couldn’t hold up against eight-six flopping two pair.

I put my last few chips in with a raggy queen and got called by the same guy who busted me in one of the season two UPCs by calling with Ace-Ten. Once again, he had Ace-Ten and once again I lost the race and busted 25th.

It wasn’t so bad to bust at 5:59 p.m. since I had a 6 p.m. dinner invite from Benjie and Mark at Bradley Ogden, conveniently located steps from the poker room at Caesars Palace. I had a steak tartare and Chilean sea bass, both excellent as is pretty much anything I’ve ever had at Ogden. Benjie always lets me pick the wine and I saw no reason to get anything but the 2002 Casa Dalla Valle Cabernet.

After dinner we went to The Producers, the new abridged version that had just opened at Paris. We walked across the street and enjoyed David Hasselhoff’s performance as the flaming director-actor. I was not a big fan of the show when I saw it on Broadway, not loving Mel Brooks’ score, and it’s fair to say that it in my eyes it benefited by being shorter. The acting and production were terrific and I’m sure it will be popular with tourists.

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January 3, 2007

No pair

With 2004 and 2005 shaping up to be two of the best vintages in Napa history, I was excited to find a three-liter bottle of 2004 Caymus Special Selection staring me in the face as I walked into the Wynn Resort’s Country Club Grill for one of the final meals of 2006. Benjie and I entertained four uberbabes and with the help of Jodie, the excellent sommelier, picked out a 2005 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to start. I was hoping the ubers would prefer the lighter-style Pinot, leaving the chewy, chocolaty Caymus for the boys. The strategy worked pretty well and no one left thirsty.

There’s a whole literature on pairing wines with food but to me that’s like pairing a girlfriend with an event. I think it’s best to have one you really like no matter what else you’re eating or doing. Tonight both wines were superb. Both the Oregon weather and Pinot Noir in general are temperamental. 2005 was a year with difficult weather and produced a wine with higher acidity than normal, which will please Burgundy fans who find Oregon’s usual output too unstructured. In any case Penner-Ash will now be a name I look for. The Caymus was exactly as expected, huge but elegant. This is a wine to cellar for 20 years or so but with the way restaurant wine lists work I may have to drink a few more bottles this year.

Being a workout hound I ordered the sea bass topped with diced tomatoes. I had never thought of combining those two flavors but it was probably the best sea bass I’ve had. That’s a hit-or-miss fish for me: if it’s too loose and flaky I don’t like it and of course I don’t want it overdone either. It’s like the shower in my old apartment with a dial that had one angstrom of perfect temperature: any deviation and you got either arctic blast or thermonuclear war. This sea bass was perfect.

After dinner we retired to the high-limit lounge and had cigars and digestifs. Many of us were ready to put 2006 to rest. It was a tough year.

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January 1, 2007

Me say Rao

No Smoking signs went up all over Las Vegas this weekend, but it looks like Atlantic City is about to stay one step ahead by banning smoking in casinos altogether. In Vegas you can still smoke in bars that don’t serve food and are not part of restaurants, and of course outdoors, which is where smoking is best done. I was a big supporter of the ban but now that it’s here, to quote gambling buddy Benjie, “I didn’t realize just how bad it was gonna bite me in the ass.” Read on.

Benjie, who knows even more uberbabes than I do, took me to Rao's (pronounced “Ray-O's”), the new Italian restaurant at Caesars Palace, along with two of his top ubers. There was no smoking inside the restaurant but they were hoping the terrace lounge “outside” was OK and had the tables seeded with ashtrays and matches. I say “outside” in quotation marks because while the terrace is outside the restaurant, no matter how many clouds they paint on the ceiling it’s still inside the hotel and I suspect the heath department will not allow smoking there.

Other than some minor service glitches expected from a restaurant open for less than a month (they kept topping off our Panna with tap water and forgetting to replace cleared utensils), Rao's is a great addition to the Las Vegas dining scene. The primarily Italian wine list had a nice selection of mid-priced Barolos and Supertuscans and at the recommendation of the cute Asian sommelier Julie, we tried a Gaja Barolo I hadn’t seen before. It was nice but about 45 minutes in, just as I was draining the last ounce, it really started to open up and became excellent.

April, our server, suggested eating family style so we ordered a couple appetizers, pastas, and a double order of sea bass to share. The clams and mussels in white wine and garlic were tremendous, as was the pasta with vodka sauce. The raviolis were sautéed in butter, which I found too rich for my taste, but the others loved them. Frankie Pellegrino, one of the owners in from the original location in New York, asked for and got feedback and then brought us a complimentary dessert barge in thanks. As a rule I don't eat dessert but the others loved it.

After dinner we headed over to Harrah’s, where Benjie was taking a bunch of friends to the Improv. We scored a couple stogies and then realized all the usual places to smoke were either gone or so crowded because of the holiday weekend that they were hopeless. Restaurant bars and lounges were all non-smoking now. The outdoor seats by the pool were closed for the winter. We went up to the ballroom area but they had already plastered all non-casino hallways with No Smoking signs and changed all the combination wastebasket-ashtrays to simple trash cans. Finally we just sat down at a row of slot machines in high limit and lit up. The times, they are a-changin’.

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November 26, 2006

Savvy Guy

Benjie and twin brother Mark sprung for the hottest restaurant in town, Guy Savoy (It’s spelled “Guy Savoy,” but it’s pronounced “luxury yacht.) for dinner last night, along with their buddy Nick. I give it mixed reviews. The food itself was superb and the room comfortable. The service, however, was just plain old Vegas-inconsistent. Immediately on being seated, a farm-fresh blonde server offered us a variety of Champagnes by the glass. We decided to look at the menu first but waited several minutes before they were offered. When they came, no amount of preparation could eliminate the sticker shock. The appetizers started in the $40 range and the main courses were around $75 or more. I settled on a $68 bowl of soup made from artichokes and black truffles. It was truly sublime. For the main course I had a pan-roasted mix of three game birds. It was interesting but didn’t blow me away.

At the boys’ request, I ordered the wine, a nice Montrachet to start and then the 1989 Pichon-Longueville Comtesse, one of my favorite second-tier Bordeaux. The friendly sommelier, who remembered me from Craftsteak, decanted the Pichon and when I tasted it I put on my best poker face and said, “You guys wouldn’t like this.” Unfortunately my bluff got called and the wine was gone all too quickly.

During the appetizer a poised redhead planted herself at the tiny bar outside the restaurant and began chattering nonstop at the bartender, all the while glancing and smiling in our direction every minute or two. We were wondering what her deal was. I ventured, “She is probably no innocent to the pleasures of the flesh.” Nick, in his southern drawl, said, “You’re a pretty savvy guy.” So to satisfy my curiosity I got up and moseyed over to the bar, eyeing the racks full of empty Champagne glasses at the back and waiting for a break in her monologue. It never happened, so I returned to the table.

As a rule I don’t eat dessert but they had a cheese cart so I ordered a selection of sheep’s-milk cheeses, my favorite, along with a Jacobo Poli grappa. Nick asked, “Would I like that?” “No,” I said. “I’ll have one o’ them too,” Nick said, obviously giving me no respect after my comment on the Pichon. It was fun watching him screw up his face while drinking it, whooping it up and shouting, “It goes down real smooth, like paint thinner.” The couple at the next table, who were likely celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary with a $1500 meal, raised horrified eyebrows in our direction. “You’ll have to forgive my friend,” I said. “He’s just off the boat from Alamaba.” Then a debate ensued about whether it was physically possible to sail from Alamaba to Las Vegas, or at least to Lake Mead. I decided not to bet against it.

On the way out Nick, who has the skin of an elephant and balls the size of Alabama, successfully chatted up the redhead and got her name. “Did you get her web site?” I asked, about to warn him about the rash of phony Myspace addresses going around. “Nope,” he reported proudly, “But I gave her my number!” That never works for me. He must be a savvy guy.

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