April 16, 2009

Come back to Wing Lei Johnny Chan, Johnny Chan

They say you can tell a Chinese restaurant is good if there are Chinese people eating there. Me, I thought the Michelin star hanging on the wall at Wing Lei was a better clue.

I was entered in the million-dollar Baccarat tournament at the Wynn and I had made it to day two along with a few dozen others, one of whom was right ahead of us getting seated. I caught the eyes of Diane, my girlfriend, and Noreene, her BFF. I don’t like to talk about race but they were the kind of girls you didn’t have to ask if they liked Chinese food before you made the reservation. Bruce, our friend from tha OC who flies his own plane, was with us as well.

“You see that guy?” I whispered. They looked at his back. “That’s Johnny Chan,” I said. “Johnny Fucking Chan.”

“Doctor!” said Bruce. The girls stared blankly.

“He’s a famous poker player,” I said.

“Have you played with him?” asked Bruce.

“Yup,” I said. He knocked me out of a big tournament when his Kings beat my Jacks. Johnny Fucking Chan.”

“Doctor!” said Bruce.

“Why do they call him that?” asked Diane.

“Oh, they don’t really. It’s from a movie,” I said. “Rounders. He was in it. He won the World Series two years in a row.” Back to back baby, and the second win, against Erik “Stretch” Seidel, who will forever regret his decision to wear that funny orange visor, was immortalized in the movie. No one will ever do that again. Not even Jamie Gold.

Me, I never had much luck in poker tournaments. Baccarat was more my game. I had made the final table at the Wynn baccarat tournament back to back the last two times but had come up short: the first time I was the first one out, making a move that failed. The second time I had a chance to win it all when I bet Banker and Tie on the last hand, but when Player drew a third card to make nine, my third card came up one short and I lost by a pip.

The hostess took us to the VIP table in the corner and I told the girls to order anything they wanted because I was RFB. Diane giggled and ordered a lychee martini. I ordered pink Champagne on ice and the geoduck two ways followed by the three-cup cod, probably the best Chinese dish I’ve ever had. “The geoduck is $138! Doctor!” said Bruce.

“It’s good to be RFB,” I said. Diane giggled.

Noreene had her camera out and was looking around the room. “You want a picture with Johnny?” I asked. She grinned and nodded. “Check out the private room,” I said. She and Diane hopped up and found Johnny in the private dining room. He posed for a photo and the girls had their celebrity fix for the evening. “He wanted us to pose in front of the dragon,” Noreene said, showing me the photo.

Diane said, “Johnny Fucking Chan.”

The next morning I once again made it to the semifinals and, with some luck, to the final table for the third time in a row. Diane had been sweating me. It was five o’clock but I held off on the martinis as I wanted my head clear for the final table. Diane wanted something sweet so I suggested cookies or candy from the minibar. “Those things scare me,” she said. “What if you get clumsy and knock all the stuff off? Do they charge you for everything?”

“Well, I suppose they might, but you could get it reversed. Besides, I’m RFB.” She giggled. Then she wrinkled her brow.

“What does RFB stand for again?” she asked.

“Complimentary Room, Food, and Beverage.”

“Oh!” she said. “I thought it stood for Richard Fucking Brodie!”

I took my seat at the final table and maneuvered my way into the lead going into the final hand. When the bets were revealed, I saw that once again, I needed Banker or Tie to win it all. The player’s cards were faced: a natural nine. I squeezed and bent the banker’s cards for all they were worth.

Eight. I lost again.

I ordered that martini. After all, I was RFB.

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June 20, 2008

Not the Champ

People keep asking why I came to Vegas. The World Series combines so many things I hate: slow, boring games; bad food; long hours; and losing six out of seven times even if you're a great player. But everyone knows why I came to Vegas. For the waters.

Although I had some luck in the casino, I failed to cash in the $10,000 limit hold 'em championship at the 2008 World Series of Poker. I did make it to day two despite being sandwiched in between Brandon Adams on my right and eventual winner Rob Hollink on my left, then being moved to the right of Andy "The Rock" Bloch.

On day two I faced the rogue's gallery of Howard Lederer, Erick Lindgren, and Joe Cassidy before Barry Greenstein showed up to round out the table. Nevertheless, I survived until the table broke but then got it all in with Ace-Queen against Ace-King and went busto about 3/4 of the way though this tough field.
I did manage to double my starting stack, but other than that the high point of the event was figuring out I could use the $10 food comp that Harrah's provides each $10,000 entrant to exactly cover a chicken parmesan sub and two bags of smoked almonds.

Desperate for good food, I cruised over to Bellagio for the tasting menu at Michael Mina, washed down with a 2006 Ken Wright Oregon Pinot Noir. I'm not loving the 2006 vintage compared with 2005, but I've never had anything from Ken Wright that wasn't good.
Michael Mina (formerly Aqua) is inside the conservatory, where I imagine Professor Plum killing someone with the candlestick every time I walk through the beautiful, fragrant, ever-changing floral display. This time they had a very clever mini-Bellagio complete with fountain show. Stop by and see it if you get the chance. It's one of the best free things to do in Vegas.
I'm planning to enter the $1500 mixed hold 'em event on Sunday.

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June 2, 2008

2008 World Series begins

Although I've been playing far fewer poker tournaments than in the past, having decided they interfere too much with dinner, I'm now in Vegas to play a few events in the 2008 World Series at the Rio. Tonight I will attempt to overcome Harrah's 6% commission and cash in the $5000 mixed Hold 'Em event. Levels will be one hour each, playing limit Hold 'Em the first half hour and no limit the second. Cards are in the air at 5 p.m.

Last night I had dinner with Kyle and his family at Nove Italian restaurant at the Pams. They sat us at one of the large tables overlooking the Strip with gentle flames flickering at the base of the windows. The whole branzino (European seabass) was fabulous. We started with the 2004 Joel Gott "4 Sarah's Metier" cabernet. Gott makes one of the top inexpensive cabs so I was curious to taste a higher-end bottling and wasn't disappointed: it was fruity, well balanced, and finished well. Then we moved on to the 2005 Testarossa Sanford & Benedict pinot noir. I haven't had a California '05 I haven't liked and this one was great: full enough to follow the light cab but as fruity as Hawaiian Punch but without the sweetness. I'll miss them when they're gone.

In gambling, like sports, you're either on a hot streak or you're due.

I'm due.

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April 26, 2007

Lucky Me

It sounded like the start of a letter to Penthouse Forum. My girlfriend Jenni’s 18-year-old twin sisters were coming to Vegas for the weekend. Eighteen isn’t old enough to drink or gamble, so I had to find something for them to do. Adam Ant was running through my head but instead I got them Ricky Martin tickets. For Jenni and her roommate I got VIP seats to the opening of the new Palms theater with Gwen Stefani. Me, I’d rather smoke a Cohiba out on the North Show Terrace at the Wynn or get in between the 400-thread-count Egyptian sheets with Jenni and watch Rounders for the 37th time. Or just watch Jenni. But the girls weren’t in town yet so I went over to Caesars Palace to play a little video poker.

I had been asking the bosses at Caesars to put in one or two of my favorite machines: $100 video poker where you only needed to bet $300 to get the maximum payout on the Royal Flush rather than the usual $500. I strolled into the high-limit room and saw them right in the front, where a trio of Red, White, and Blue slot machines used to be. I drew a marker and had them set the machine for credit play, so it wouldn’t stop every time I hit a payout of $1200 or more. Instead a watcher would watch me and write down all the information to report to the IRS.

The marker lasted about as long as a lap dance from a 20-year-old stripper, and a second marker vanished just as quick. I texted Jenni to meet the limo driver when she arrived at McCarran, then stuck the Nokia back in the cell-phone pocket of my Lucky Brands. Jeans have had that pocket as long as I can recall, back even before cell phones were invented let alone small enough to fit there. What the hell was it originally for? I took out another marker.

It was one of those gambling sessions you always remember, and not in a good way. I got stuck fast. Then I dug the hole deeper and deeper. I wanted to get unstuck before Jenni arrived. But by the time her plane landed all I had to show for my gambling was a stack of markers big enough to plug up the toilet if you tried to flush them. I licked my wounds and took Jenni over to the Wynn where we ate at the only gourmet restaurant that was still open, Corsa. She had an eggplant parmesan that would make Julia Child swear off red meat. During dinner and after, we remembered all the things we enjoyed about each other.

I came back in the morning and played the same machine some more. I couldn’t hit anything so I went over to the Palms to play in the Ultimate Blackjack Tour tournament. I advanced all the way to the semifinals, where I got seated at top pro Anthony Curtis’s left. I decided my strategy would be to get one chip ahead of him and then copy him. Of course, we both busted.

I went back and played some more and kept losing. I thought I had to bottom out eventually but I finally gave up stuck a whopping $150k. I took Jenni to Okada for some Divine Droplets. Good sake drowns all sorrows.

The next day my parachute finally opened. I played and played on the same money and then held the queen and ten of clubs and in popped a royal flush for $240,000. Unstuck! I had been hammering on these $100 machines all over town for a couple years now and this was my first royal flush. I snapped a pic with my Nokia and sent it to Jenni. Then I hit the ducks, twice, for $60k a pop. It was the kind of day that makes you feel like you can walk on water in your black Bruno Maglis. The girls all went off to their concerts and we went for a smoke afterwards overlooking the Lake of Dreams.

I came back Sunday morning and started feeding the ducks again. At first, I wanted to get unstuck and stubbornly played the same machine till it hit. Now I was on a roll and wanted to play it while it was hot. There was something vaguely wrong with that logic but I couldn’t quite figure out what. I was stuck about $60k on the morning when it dealt me the ten through ace of diamonds.

A dealt royal flush, my first ever, and it was another $240k. Now I was playing on the house’s money, big time, and I decided to just keep riding my streak. I had clubs and diamonds; now I was going for hearts and spades. Royal for the cycle, yeah.

I had to wrap up at eight because the girls had spent the afternoon shopping for me at Nordstrom and wanted me to do a fashion show for them before they went home that night. They were the kind of clothes that would make Paris Hilton drop her cell phone. The girls went home and I had dinner at the Country Club with my friend Barry and the 2004 Justin Isosceles.

Monday morning I got up but my machine was being played by one of the local high-limit players. Bastard. He told me he’d be wrapping up around 9:30 if I wanted to play it then. Oh yeah, I did. I got coffee and came back around 9:30 and started playing. Around ten, a supervisor approached and asked me if the technicians could check something. I wasn’t surprised. When machines pay out like that they always check to make sure the chips are sealed and so on. I cashed out and watched as they opened up the machine. To my great surprise, though, they found something they didn’t like and told me they were going to have to shut it down and change the chip. Apparently it had been set looser than they had intended. They were going to tighten it up, which would take them about an hour. Since I was scheduled to fly out to Reno in the afternoon that seemed like a good place to stop for the weekend with a very, very nice win. The kind that dreams are made of.

Lucky me.

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March 5, 2007

Fireside chat

I had snapped a photo of her on the job running cocktails at Sapphire, the lounge at Harrah’s Reno. Her uniform top looked like it came from Victoria’s Secret and the way she filled it out it wasn’t going to stay secret for long. So when Gabe said he had plans with Sarah tonight but did I want to come along I didn’t think too hard before inviting them both to join me at the White Orchid, the gourmet restaurant at the Peppermill.

“I like those uniform tops you wear at Sapphire,” I said to the 22-year-old over a trio of tuna tartare and a bottle of 2005 Rombauer Chardonnay.

“Those aren’t a uniform,” she said. “They like us to dress edgy.” I imagined her fishing through her lingerie drawer looking for something to wear to work. I took a gulp of the Chardonnay. Edgy worked for me. We decanted the 2002 Darioush Cabernet to drink with dinner. Sarah had peppercorn New York steak and Gabe and I had the elk, medium rare.

“Is elk some Reno thing?” asked Sarah. She had grown up in Las Vegas and moved to Reno to go to college. People ended up in Reno for some reason or another. Sarah was half-Jewish, half-Lutheran and straightened her hair every other day to keep it from becoming a cascading mass of dark curls. I would have liked to see the curls. There was a lull in the conversation so I asked her if she had ever worked as a stripper. She smiled and shook her head.

“I did do a pole dance once on amateur night,” she said. “But I was flipping my head around and crashed it into the pole.” I could see how that might bring an end to a stripping career. “I have some friends who are strippers,” she said. “You know the worst thing about the job isn’t the customers – it’s the other girls.” Apparently it was a very competitive business and some of them played dirty.

It was 9:15 Sunday night in Reno and we closed the place down. It’s not that there wasn’t a lot of action in the Biggest Little City in the World – it’s that gourmet restaurants weren’t where it was at. But Sarah knew about a little lounge tucked away in the back of the Peppermill called the Fireside Room. She led. We followed.

Like the rest of the Peppermill, the Fireside Room was decorated in lights and colors that were trendy in 1980, either a tribute to the death of disco or what actually killed it. We sat at the large circular booth surrounding the gas fireplace and ordered a 60-ounce scorpion with three straws. The waitress was Brazilian. There was some kind of nutty hotel exchange program going on and Reno was full of Brazilian waitresses for two weeks. She asked if we wanted the scorpion blended or on the rocks. I said rocks and she brought it blended with a quart of whipped cream on top. It tasted like a strawberry daiquiri. I wondered how the Reno girls were faring in Rio de Janeiro.

I had brought a couple of Dunhills so Gabe and I lit up and enjoyed them by the fire. We ordered another scorpion, on the rocks this time. By the time we finished the cigars, Sarah was too warm and wanted to move to a booth away from the fire. There was a thin man sitting alone there so we asked if we could share and he said fine. His name was Chris.

I asked Chris if he lived in Reno and he said no, Nevada City. I pretended I knew where that was. Sarah actually knew. I asked what he did.

“Actually, I’m having some health issues right now and I’m not working.” I looked him over and offered that he looked healthy. “They’re not visible,” he said. “I have about a year to live.” Chris had aneurisms in a couple places on major blood vessels. They could go at any time.

Sarah hailed the Brazilian and asked for a cocktail menu. Without needing to ask what any of us wanted, she ordered two huge drinks that looked like they came from an ice cream parlor for Gabe and Chris, a pomegranate margarita for herself and a pomtini for me. I guess when you run cocktails for a living you get to know what people drink.

Chris said, “I’m trying to decide right now if I want to have an operation. There’s only a 20% survival rate, but if it works—” He motioned like a plane taking off. “I’m good indefinitely.”

I asked if he had found the very best doctor in the world for his condition.

“There’s a guy in Texas,” he said. “He’s done 300 of these. My doctor’s only done two. I would be his third.” He looked down. “And his second survival.”

“Doctors are like auto mechanics,” I said. “For this, you don’t just want someone competent. You want the best in the world.”

Chris nodded. “Funny,” he said. “I used to be an auto mechanic. I worked on Ferraris my whole life.”

“Then you understand,” I said. He nodded.

Sarah asked if Chris would take a picture of the three of us. He did.

“Ferrari will take me back at any time,” he said. “If I get this health problem handled I’d like to go back to work. There’s an opening in Seattle.”

The Brazilian came to tell us she was leaving and had to close out the check. It was late anyway.

“I live in Seattle,” I told Chris, and gave him my name.

“When you get there,” I said, “look me up.”

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February 18, 2007

Steakhouses are for vegetarians

I tore myself away from Caesars Palace without getting up the nerve to try the new high-tech ubertoilet they had in my Augustus Tower suite (but only in the powder room). Rather than hop back to Seattle in between trips to Vegas and Reno, I jetted over to LA to spend a couple days with my uberhot new sweetie Jenni. I forgot it was the Grammy awards but I found a room at Le Meridien.

Jenni had sent me some old photos, including one I really liked of her taken some years ago in a plaid dress sipping a cosmopolitan. That inspired me to take her to Mastro’s steakhouse in Beverly Hills, one of my favorite restaurants and, to my surprise, one of hers since she has been a vegetarian her whole adult life. “Mmm…sides!” she said, and made the reservations. She surprised me by wearing the same plaid dress and looking fantastic. Well, that didn't surprise me.

We left the $30/day valet parking at Le Meridien and arrived at the $7 valet parking at Mastro's. I asked for the super-double VIP presidential table and they escorted us upstairs to a nice large table far away from the piano player, which is a good location. I got the Chilean sea bass, which I go in and out on loving but I seem to be in a loving phase. We shared a cornucopia of sides including the wasabi mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas.

The cocktails at Mastro’s are huge – I’m guessing about 10 oz. once you refill your glass with the extra they always bring. Jenni tried a “flirt,” a trendy new drink made with vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice, and Champagne. I got a Tanqueray 10 martini with blue-cheese-stuffed olives. The live music is a bit too loud upstairs and the tables are too close together downstairs, but other than that I love the place.

The next evening Jenni suggested we hit Sushi Roku with her roommate Christine, friend Diana, and one of her beautiful 18-year-old twin sisters, Alejandra. No, I’m not making that up. Diana picked us up at Le Meridien and drove us to the restaurant, but when I got there I realized it was only two blocks from the hotel. Welcome to LA! Ale and Jenni ordered veggie and the other girls let me order for them so I selected a bountiful fish feast and a bottle of cold Harushika sake since they didn’t have the Divine Droplets. Harushika used to be my favorite but D.D. ruins you for all other sakes.

Later, we smoked on the comfy sofa out front of Le Meriden and felt the cool Southern California air on our skin. Tomorrow I would fly into the heart of my favorite soap opera: Reno.

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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 24, 2007

Hotel problem solved

Although January was certainly high season in Chiang Mai, the idea of every hotel in town being booked was foreign to both Mike and me. We walked around town, asking at all the nice hotels if they had a room for the next five nights. The answer was always the same: “Sorry sirrrrr…fully booked!” Finally we went over to the Chedi hotel, a new, ultra-high-end joint on the bank of the Ping river with availability showing on the Internet starting at the Thai-diculous rate of $333/night. Chedi is a Singapore-based chain with a dozen locations around Asia, two in Thailand (the other is in Phuket).

The place was spectacular. It was built in open style on two to four levels. Everything was teak, water, and candles. There was a world-class spa and fitness center with TechnoGym equipment, same as Caesars Palace. The club lounge, bars, and restaurant all had indoor and outdoor seating and spaciously separated tables. A small lap pool with chaise longues overlooked the Ping. I was home.

We had them show us a room, which was small but beautiful, and then a Jacuzzi suite, which was nicer than most of the places I stay in Vegas. We took a half-hour of the bellman’s time to tour the place and ultimately I decided to get a suite for five nights on a promotional package that included more extras than I’d ever seen: free full breakfast daily, one free dinner for two including house wine, free cocktails and canapés every night, tapas at the bar one night, free use of minibar restocked daily, in-room espresso maker, and two comps that are tough to get even in Vegas: free Internet and free laundry. I asked for a view room on the top floor but the entire fourth floor was reserved for the princess and her entourage, checking in later in the week, so I settled for the third floor.

The hotel problem solved, Mike drove me in his turbo Toyota pickup to one of our favorite restaurants in Chiang Mai, the Galae. This outdoor thai restaurant, at the base of a mountain just above a lake, specializes in seafood and has a table permanently reserved for the king. They had a good wine list for a Thai restaurant and I ordered an inexpensive Australian Shiraz to toast Maria Sharapova.

The next day at 2 p.m. I moved into the suite at the Chedi and headed for the gym to work out before cocktail hour. I was the only one in the gym and a Thai attendant stood by, I guess ready to catch me if I fell off the elliptical machine. I relaxed in the suite, tried out the shower, which had both rain bath and European shower heads, and met Mike in the club lounge for cocktail hour. Three attendants were there to wait on one or two tables. They brought us some nice canapés and offered us a choice of drinks, including a dozen wines by the bottomless glass. I drank the Bordeaux all week while Mike settled on the Shiraz.

We took our comped dinner the first night and it was incredible. The menu was Thai, Indian, and European, but at the suggestion of the German intern who was working there in a supervisory role, I had a fantastic Indian dish, chicken Tika. Mike and I agreed this had to be one of the best meals we’d had in Thailand. We sat out by the river, armed with mosquito repellent placed on every table, and listened to a Thai piano player who had quite a bit more skill, and better repertoire, than the one at the Sheraton. I asked when they were opening a Chedi in Vegas.

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January 7, 2007

You want seamy?

With the imminent implosion of the Stardust, the Las Vegas landmark where I gambled through the night the weekend I turned 21, it gets harder and harder to find in Sin City the dirty, gritty experience loyal readers demand of my seamy underblog. So with a scant few days on the calendar until my big Circle Pacific trip, I pinged Kyle and asked if he wanted to hit Reno for the weekend. He made a courtesy call to his financial backers and then booked a flight.

Kyle got into Reno a couple hours earlier than I did so at my suggestion he took the shuttle to the Grand Sierra (formerly Reno Hilton) and played some poker. When I landed I rented a Ford Explorer from Hertz and picked up a grinning Kyle in front of the Sierra. He was up just a little in the ultra-loose 3/6 Hold ‘Em game but it amused him no end to see people call a river bet and turn over Jack high in a six-way pot.

It was a quick hop to Harrah’s, where my buddies and hosts John and Gabe had put us in the Ambassador Suite. We did a walking tour of downtown Reno before dinner. You want seamy? Virginia Street has been torn up for years, cyclone fences and detour signs routing cars and pedestrians in serpentine patterns. Buildings are boarded up. Soot stains drip from windows of burned-out edifices. The “O” is dark atop city hall, which proudly proclaims “REN.” Casinos, bars, and strip clubs populate downtown in the Biggest Little City in the World. We looked out the window of the Ambassador suite and drank it all in.

Gabe and John took us to the steakhouse, where the food and service excelled as usual. We started with an Amarone while the 2002 Phelps Insignia decanted. I’d been a good workout hound so I decided to indulge in the escargot and filet mignon, with a table-prepared Caesar salad in the interregnum. After dinner it wasn’t hard to drag the boys to the FQ Men’s Club, scene of my recent geek-girl encounter, but my hopes of a repeat night of fantasy turned out to be chimerical. Once again the place was filled with hotties but most of the ones we talked to quickly lost interest when we declined the “VIP room” treatment, where you get to pay $250 for a half-hour of lap dances. “And we also accept tips,” one hustler said.

The exception was a sweet 21-year-old with a sunny smile named Summer. She just plonked herself down next to Kyle and hung out with us, ordering sushi for herself while I smoked a cigar. Yes, that’s right. Strip clubs and brothels are now the only place in Nevada where you can smoke and eat at the same time. Summer sat with us until it was time for her act, which we watched appreciatively.

My second visit to FQ confirms it sports much hotter strippers than most men’s clubs I’ve been to. Without that magical geek connection, though, we left the club at a decent hour and returned to the Ambassador Suite to find Kahlua nips waiting for us in our respective bedrooms, along with a bountiful gift basket in the living room and a cornucopia of undrinkable Pepsi products in the refrigerator. I really hope the new owners of Harrah’s sell the company to Coca-Cola.

Saturday we had lunch from the coffee shop menu in the Italian restaurant because the coffee shop was closed for renovation. Unlike Vegas, where most of the resorts have some healthy choices on the menu, Harrah’s Reno had all-carb all-fat all the time. I had a greasy sandwich and then went to the gym to work out. Kyle and I played a little 3/6 Hold ‘Em at the El Dorado and watched the Seahawks stumble to victory before Gabe took us for dinner to Ichiban, the excellent Japanese restaurant in the hotel. There we had a bottle of Mikune “Root of Innocence” sake. It was good but no Divine Droplets. We had the teppanyaki, done well in standard style, and then Gabe invited the two lesbians sitting next to him to join us at the topless show “Rock My Ride.” They happily assented and we all huggled into a VIP booth to watch the show. It was a standard topless revue with the exception of a very long and tedious puppet act. The dancing girls were beautiful and only one had implants.

After the show Gabe suggested we hit the trendy new nightclub in town, 210 North. For the hottest club in town on a Saturday night, it was pretty dead. I spent a fair amount of time trying to order Scotch from a ditzy blonde bartender who didn’t know what “neat” meant but I ended up with a yummy Bowmore 17. We split that popsicle stand in short order but on the way out a young man exclaimed, “You’re that poker guy!” He emoted as if I was his long-lost brother for the better part of a minute and I left him with a smile and well wishes.

We returned to Harrah’s and the lounge there, Sapphire, where two of the dancers from Rock My Ride were relaxing and two young nurses from California were exuberantly dancing. The nurses grabbed me for a dance but Gabe was waving me over to the show dancers’ table so I extricated myself and left Kyle to take care of the nurses. Victoria, the redheaded dancer from the topless show, introduced herself and said she bet I didn’t recognize her because she was wearing a wig in the act. I bet her I could think of a way to recognize her and she said, “I’m not showing you my boobs!” “Seen ‘em,” I said.

We closed down Sapphire and then all went to a gritty, seamy local hangout called Keystone Cue and Cushion, a combination nightclub, diner, and pool hall. “The strippers come here after work,” Gabe said. We went to the bar, where smoking was no longer allowed although management didn’t care if you did – at this point any potential enforcement is simply a $100 fine for the smoker. They did, however, have to remove the ashtrays so you needed a glass of water if you wanted to safely park your ashes. Gabe and the dancers all knew the bartender, Kenny. Victoria filled me in: Kenny had been diagnosed long ago with terminal cancer but had long since outlived his expiration date so he was just taking each day as if it were his last.

We played a little eight ball while Gabe sipped a drink and waxed philosophical to Kyle and Kenny. Then came the news that Kenny needed a ride to the hospital because he was suffering blackouts, but he would wait until his relief came. Apparently this was not an uncommon occurrence. Everyone seemed cool with it so we returned to our pool game. No one was keeping track but I went undefeated.

We had flights the next morning so I reluctantly returned to the Ambassador suite while the 21-year-old Kyle stayed up all night flirting with the dancers and listening to Gabe’s progressively existential philosophizing. For some, a weekend in Reno may be too long. For others, it leaves you wanting more. Either way, you want seamy? You got it.

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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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December 31, 2006

Hookers to the left of me, lawyers to the right of me

Despite, or perhaps because of, its status as the world’s top vacation destination, Las Vegas is one of the best places in the world to have a great meal by yourself. Many of the best restaurants in Las Vegas have full-service bars where you can dine solo, and with the smoking ban about to take effect, eating in the bar becomes an even better option.

I spent Christmas evening at the bar at N9ne steakhouse, where they were still allowing smoking until Jan. 2. The bartenders were worried about business but I told them not to – this has happened before in many other cities and the bars do just fine. There are more drinkers who will forego indoor smoking than non-smokers who will put up with smoke just to have a drink.

Two attractive girls sitting to my left chatted me up over a dozen Kumamoto oysters. After a few minutes I ascertained that they were professionals, in the sense of the oldest profession. I asked the one next to me if she had a web site or myspace but apparently she hadn't gone high-tech yet. Soon they tired of my deviation from their sales script and migrated to a table full of twenty-something boys.

On my right were three more attractive women. The lithe brunette next to me referred to the other two as her "crew" and tried to sell me on the blonde farthest from me, an attorney who was 35 and never been married. Hookers to the left of me; lawyers to the right of me. I wondered which occupation was considered more reprehensible.

Meanwhile, I ordered and enjoyed the lemon chicken special. They were serving the 2003 Palm Terrace Cabernet by the glass. I have been justifiably avoiding the vintage but this was an exception, lush and full of berries. I finished dinner and went up to the party suite, where apparently the people above had overflowed the tub because there was a nice-sized waterfall coming down from the light fixture over the wet bar. I called maintenance and they put a barrel under it then went off to investigate.

Next I tried the bar at Okada, one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas and not just because of Sabrina the teenage sommelier. Now that I’m a workout hound I’m craving more fish than steak and Okada fills the bill admirably. I ordered a couple of chef Masa’s specials, now available a la carte instead of as a tasting menu. I started with a tai snapper consommé. Thin soups like this are an opportunity to serve up flavor with almost no calories and this one did that to perfection. Other than a few julienned vegetables floating around, it was pure flavor. Sabrina came around and let me try some 1986 Ch. Margaux that had been opened the day before. Without vacuum sealing, the wine reminded me of seeing an elderly Lauren Bacall do those TV commercials. When she was 19 and filming To Have and Have Not she may have been the most desirable woman in the world. Drinking the day-old wine, I could tell it was once beautiful. Most of the structure was gone but like listening to jazz, even when they aren’t playing the melody I can still hear it. I ordered the next special, a tasty roast duck breast, to go with the red, then finished the meal by sipping some Divine Droplets sake.

Happy new year to my loyal readers!

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December 22, 2006

Kyle and Tyler’s Excellent Adventure

Every young man, on his first trip to Vegas as an adult, has one great misconception about the town. It’s not about gambling. No, people don’t really expect to win. It’s not about getting a bargain. No, people really expect to be ripped off. No, there’s a greater misconception and it's universal among men. What is it? Read on.

My online poker buddy Kyle and his best friend Tyler had been looking forward to their first post-21 trip to Vegas, planned for right after finals, and I made sure I was in town to properly show them the sin in Sin City. Naturally the first stop was the Caesars Palace Seven Stars Lounge and uberbabe Elisabeth. We got there just before closing but she made a mean martini and launched us to the poker room, where we tried in vain to start up a game of HORSE. We played some 3/6 Hold ‘Em into the wee hours.

The boys had booked an economical package including a room at Harrah’s that was virtually free. I decided to pull a few strings and get a penthouse suite at the Palms, which I handed them the keys to. You shouldn’t have to stay at Harrah’s your first night in Vegas. Kyle liked the steam room but Tyler was all over the five-head shower with light show.

As loyal readers know, my favorite Vegas sin is gluttony. I exposed the boys to some fine victuals – Little Buddha and Nove at the Palms, with a brief stop at the Playboy Club, and Vic and Anthony’s and Grotto at the Golden Nugget. At Vic and Anthony’s, one of the best old-school steakhouses in town, we uncorked some fine vino: 1999 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rosé to start, followed by the 2002 Stag’s Leap Fay Cabernet. I remembered to ask them to leave the butter off the steak and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Grotto was unimpressive but they had a nice inexpensive Italian wine list and we were accompanied by an uberhot pokerbabe geek girl we ran into at Caesars who I had previously met at Binion’s.

The next two nights we got a great 4/8 HORSE game going at Caesars. The boys kept asking about going to a strip club but we ended up playing low-stakes poker every night instead. You see, that’s the great misconception about Las Vegas, that it has phenomenal, earth-shattering strip clubs. In reality, the sex industry in Vegas is overpriced and underdelivers. Like many facets of this money-machine town, it’s a sucker game.

But I told the boys to take a detour next time they’re near Tampa.

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December 20, 2006

December in Vegas

Recent racy posts in my seamy underblog are drawing concerned mail from the erudite Oxford researchers who read me patiently, hoping one day I will say something about memes, so today I’ll slip back into the usual chronicling of my effete lifestyle rather than focus on cautionary tales involving bankrolls and body parts.

Two local uberbabes who had been wanting to treat me to dinner took me to SW Steakhouse at the Wynn. They were a little miffed because, although they were good customers of the casino and had reservations, management had treated them to a healthy serving of the new cruelty until I showed up, at which point the staff jumped to attention, rearranged the seating chart, put us in the best table in the house, and asked if there was anything else I needed Mr. Gladstone. I tried to get the ubers to sit facing the Lake of Dreams show but they preferred to let me have the view so they could people-watch. The frog was broken anyway. We went with cocktails as the ubers were not big drinkers and I was fighting off a cold and didn’t need the histamines.

I still had some hated shopping to do at the Wynn so I just went into the company store and bought the same kind of mattress and bedding they had in the rooms to replace the bed in my guest room that my ex-wife took when she moved out. Later I thought it might be a mistake to have the guest bed be that comfortable. It could encourage long stays by relatives.

Harrah’s, known by some as the “evil empire” because of the mathematical precision with which they extract the maximum value from gamblers while returning the minimum in comps, agreed to be bought out yesterday. The deal should take a year to consummate. Gamblers are hoping the acquiring firms will split up Harrah’s to increase competition among casinos and, like the French response to the post-WWII plan to divide Germany in two, hope they will consider the idea of many smaller pieces. Whatever they do, I hope I still get to use the new Qua baths and spa at Caesars Palace. I’m becoming addicted to the tea sommelier.

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December 16, 2006

Yours is a very bad DSL company

The next morning I went down to the gym at Wynn to work out and found the perfect blonde from Toronto dutifully toning every muscle in her youthful body with ostensible husband David standing nearby in workout gear. “Nice supervising,” I told him. I guess you don’t let that one out of your sight for a minute.

This time of year plans never work. With airports and highways filled with amateur travelers, vacationing employees replaced by inexperienced substitutes, and hostile weather over most of the northern hemisphere, it’s no surprise when even the most ossified traveler cracks. I finished up the shopping the next morning and then headed to the airport. Headwinds made the flight a half-hour late and my seat opponent was a large infrequent traveler who wanted to chat me up to mitigate his fear of flying.

On the parking shuttle in Seattle, a doddering old man took my bag when he got off. When I discovered the only remaining bags weren’t mine, the driver radioed the gate to ask everyone to double-check their luggage. I drove up in the rain behind a line of three cars being held up. The doddering old guy got out, opened his trunk, looked at a corner of my bag, said, “Yup, it’s mine,” and closed his trunk. I stood in the rain and, gritting my teeth and smiling, restraining my strangling hands a la Dr. Strangelove, asked him to check again. He reopened the trunk, looked at the same corner of my bag, and said, “That’s mine.” I reached in and lifted my luggage tag into view, then wordlessly removed the bag from his trunk, walked back through the rain to my trunk, and loaded the bag.

When I got home, Verizon had turned off my Internet, leaving only a browser screen saying to call them. I called them but they were closed from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. so I watched a couple episodes of West Wing season seven and finally got to sleep. When I woke I saw it was just after eight. I immediately called Verizon and spoke to six different individuals, none of whom could explain why my service was cut off, but all of whom were very clear it would take up to 48 hours to restore. I asked to speak to the vice president of customer service, but apparently they don’t have one, so I settled for a one-month credit, although I had no confidence this same screw-up wouldn’t happen again next month.

The service actually resumed in only a little over an hour. I got a little work done and then the lights flickered in the strong winds. Now my Internet was down again. Steve was on his way over to meet me for dinner but I called Verizon tech support and got someone in India who, after making me do a list of ridiculous things, decided my modem was fried. She said I would have to call Verizon sales to get another one. “And let me guess…they’re not open?” “Oh my goodness no. It is well after 6:30!”

Fortunately I realized I could just drive to the CompUSA a mile a way and pick up a new DSL modem, so Steve and I drove over there, got one, left it in the house, and headed to Yarrow Bay Grill for a nice meal. Just as we were leaving the parking garage after dinner, the lights flickered and went out. “Ha! We sure timed that one right!” I said, not realizing that the flicker was the result of Puget Sound Energy throwing the switch on 700,000 homes, including both of ours, due to widespread wind damage

I spent the night in the dark but by morning the thermometer had dropped to near freezing and the power showed no signs of going back on. I booked a room in downtown Seattle and called a local uberbabe to join me downtown for dinner. In the hotel room I fired up OpenTable and saw a name I hadn’t seen before, Qube. It was close to the hotel so I booked a table. It turned out to be the first night they were open! We shared two of the four tasting menus, the surf and the turf. The surf was absolutely fabulous, beginning with salmon prepared three ways and moving on to prawns three ways (hence the “qube”). The turf was good as well, especially the game duck. They had my favorite sake, Divine Droplets, making the meal a complete score. When you lose power – make PowerAde!

It looked like power might be out for days. Fortunately, tomorrow I was flying to Vegas.

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