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 14, 2006

Fish from soup to nuts

With most of my friends leaving Las Vegas by Monday night I still had one more day of shopping to take care of, the nadir of which was a ballroom hallway filled with smokers at Caesars Palace getting their two-week reprieve from being forced to be considerate. I spoke to a lady who said she had asked a security guard what they were doing about the smoking ban. “Nothing,” the guard said, “because we don’t have to.”

The apex of the day was dinner at Okada with gambling buddy Alan. Sabrina the teenage sommelier picked out a fabulous 1990 Chassagne-Montrachet Maison Leroy. I rarely drink older Pinot Noirs because I don’t know how to avoid the ones that have become weak and watery but this one was in top form, lush and winy. Sabrina rarely lets me down. As usual we invited her to hang out with us after work and as always she politely declined. Because she is as beautiful as she is talented Sabrina has developed an elaborate fable about being engaged to a guy in another State to fend off all but the most persistent admirers. My usual opening lines (“Hello, I’m incredibly wealthy” and “Are you a stripper?”) seemed inadequate to the task.

Alan and I ate very healthy, mostly sashimi, though I added a delicious miso-glazed black cod. While the meal was fish from soup to nuts, the table talk was an olla podrida of topics. To call Alan an excellent conversationalist is an unfair underselling of his talents. I frequently tell him he could be one of the top talk-show hosts in the world. He not only has a wealth of knowledge and strong opinions on practically everything, but he also can rattle off a ten-minute extemporaneous monologue replete with dramatic structure, suspense, and a punch line before opening the floor to questions. Tonight he explained to me why the movie Running on Empty, with Judd Hirsch, was perhaps the most perfect movie ever made and he couldn’t understand why Hirsch wasn’t acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest actors. He also chided me for misstating in a prior blog entry that he showed me pictures of cats on his cell phone. It was actually on his iPod Nano.

After dinner we made a smooth segue to the heated terrace over the Lake of Dreams to smoke a pair of Cohibas and sip some Johnnie Walker Green Label. In walked a young Jewish-looking guy, who turned out to be named David, with three beautiful women, who all turned out to be from Toronto. The question, of course, was how does one guy end up with three girls? What’s their relationship? I hoped to gather material for what is becoming my seamy underblog. I sent Alan over to chat them up and ask them if they were strippers. David claimed to be married to the most attractive of the group, a perfect young blonde barely out of her teens. The two brunettes made up some cockamamie story about accidentally meeting up in Vegas on separate vacations. We pressed further but they sensed we were getting close to the truth and beat a hasty retreat while Alan gave a monologue about what happens with women once you are comfortably in a relationship with them. I don’t remember the whole thing, but it ended, “Women have a plan for the relationship and want you to follow it. They always have a plan. It just never works.”

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December 9, 2006

Descent of bloggers

The bloggers have descended on Las Vegas and despite my busy schedule this weekend I dropped by to lunch with 20 or so of my colleagues at the fabulous Wynn buffet. I snagged a seat next to uberbabe Amy Calistri and soaked in the atmosphere of pure brainpower mixed with alcohol fumes so characteristic of a blogger gathering. Michael Craig and I had dinner with Joanne Lutynec at Okada so she could win her bet, then with Carmen at Country Club the next night so that – well, basically just because she’s hot.

Yesterday was supposed to be the first day of the smoking ban in Nevada and although a judge delayed enforcement by a couple weeks most of the restaurants have already complied. Dinner in the front room at Country Club was a delight now that there was no smoke drifting over from the bar. Surprisingly, hallways in the convention centers both at Wynn and Rio still had ashtrays all over but I’m sure that will change.

Today I went over to the Rio and spoke at Jeffrey Gitomer’s success weekend. Jeffrey knows some of the best people, including my old friend Kevin Hogan, who I actually introduced to Jeffrey. Jeffrey is my hero because he always surrounds himself with uberbabes who are not only beautiful but also smart and competent. One of the guest speakers he had lined up was Victoria Labalme, a quick-witted speaker with the looks of a model who uses theatrical performance to make her points. I found her very interesting.

All the bloggers are whoring themselves out for paid reviews now so I’m keeping one step ahead of them with this:

[Advertisement] Two of the hottest topics in online poker these days are which sites have Macintosh software and which sites are still open to US players. The folks at Compatible Poker have organized the answers to both those questions in a way they hope will make them a ton of money in affiliate revenues, and frankly I think they will succeed if they are smart enough to realize, like most smart advertisers, that Lion Tales readers are the pathway to success for them. Anyway, the Mac Poker page on Compatible Poker has a nice list of sites people can play on if they use a Macintosh, and the US accepted poker site page tracks which sites remain open to US players so that if your favorite site shut its doors you’ll have somewhere to shuffle up and deal. Another option would be to move to Canada, although it looks as if they may be moving toward poker prohibition themselves. And Mac users will definitely want to check out the list of compatible sites. In fact, even if you have a PC you should check out the list of Mac sites; remember, your opponents there will be people who have not figured out in 22 years that Microsoft technology is superior in every way.

I’ll leave you with proof that I am in fact the world’s leading authority on dining in Las Vegas. Bon appétit!

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December 6, 2006

Anything Goes

An uberbabe invited me to a local production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes the other night. The conversation went something like this:

Uberbabe: “I’m sure you’re busy but I have two tickets to a Cole Porter play and I remember you either love or hate musicals.”
QL: “Google informs me that you are referring to his most popular show, Anything Goes, which is in fact closing tonight at the Second Story theater in Redmond. Shall I meet you there or do you want to eat first?”

I do love musical theater (which puts me in good company with my and Jerry Seinfeld’s hero, Superman – watch till the very end) and Cole Porter is my favorite. The tiny theater had seats on three sides and we strolled right in and grabbed front-row seats. It was delovely.

The days of Anything Goes in Las Vegas are long gone, and to the amazement of many, this Friday smoking will finally banned in most public places in Nevada. While there are still exemptions for brothels, bars that don't serve food, and gambling areas, this will be a tangible improvement to health and quality of life for millions. Some businesses are mounting an unlikely last-ditch challenge to the law, worth mentioning only so I can quote the aptly named American Cancer Society director from the Las Vegas Review-Journal story:

Buffy Martin-Tarbox, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society and the spokeswoman for Nevadans for Tobacco Free Kids, which advocated for Question 5 but was not mentioned in the suit, said it's disappointing some business owners are doing their best to "skirt" the will of voters.

Buffy Martin-Tarbox is my new favorite name.

Atlantic City is keeping a step ahead and proposing to remove the casino exemption for New Jersey’s smoking ban. If they do, look for Vegas to watch closely how it affects business. Given the boom in poker rooms since they all went voluntarily non-smoking, I doubt the effect will be negative.

Meanwhile, New York City is making a bold step in public health, voting to ban the use of trans-fats in restaurants. No more tobacco, no more partially hydrogenated vegetable oil…long gone is the day when anything goes.

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