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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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 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 10, 2007

Circle Pacific

When I’m single I like to travel a lot. I met my second ex-wife in the Thai Airways first-class lounge in Bangkok, which I guess is a good place to meet nice Jewish girls from Toronto. I call it “Brownian motion,” which if you took high-school chemistry you may remember is the way particles in liquid randomly move about and bump into each other. Being a geek guy I have a limited need for social interaction. When I’m married I don’t seem to have the desire to go out and meet people, which doesn’t seem to please the wife. When I’m single I turn into this kind of international playboy, workout hound, raconteur, clothes horse – if I could just kick this marriage habit I’d be fine.

Anyway I still remembered a bit about the ins and outs of luxury travel from back when Lion Tales used to be more of a travelogue than a seamy underblog. One thing I know is that there’s a sooper-sekrit way to fly business class for much less than the cost of a round-trip ticket. There are three ways, actually, but the first isn’t secret: use miles. I have a zillion miles saved up from back in the day but unfortunately Qantas has very few award seats available so that wasn’t an option.

The second way is to use American Express’s two-for-one deal. With the Centurion Card I can take a companion for free if I buy a full-fare ticket. I’ve never actually used this program and it’s not as good as it sounds because there’s usually no need to pay full fare even if you’re purchasing a ticket – you end up saving a bit, but not half. I could think of half a dozen uberbabes who would probably jump on a plane but I was aching to try out the third option.

Very loyal readers will remember my brother Mike lives in Thailand. I used to go see him every year but recently something seemed to come up every winter (oh yeah, poker tournaments). Now that I’m not playing World Poker Tour I made a point of going up for a visit this year. That brings us to the sooper sekrit. You see, airlines make an obscene amount of money on business-class and first-class tickets. They make so much that they could sell the seats at half the price and still make a profit. But they won’t, since they are primarily purchased by business travelers who are not nearly as price sensitive as leisure travelers. How, then, to sell the empty seats to leisure travelers without undercutting their own market?

Make the leisure traveler fly around the world.

There’s a special department at all of the OneWorld and Star Alliance airlines called the “Around the World desk.” By requiring an itinerary that is too restrictive for most business travel, airlines can sell these excess premium seats to leisure travelers without cannibalizing the lucrative business market. I gave American Airlines a call and got a quote on a Circle Pacific fare from the USA to Melbourne to Bangkok and back to the USA. I asked how much for first class and it was still $1000 less than the round-trip business-class ticket. Sold.

So I’m here in my personal one-bedroom suite aboard Qantas 94, three hours out of Melbourne. I had been warned the service was friendly but Spartan on Qantas and that’s what it was: no super-premium wines or liquors, a decent dinner menu, and three very friendly flight attendants. I tried three different Australian reds and settled on the 2003 Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir. They have a nice selection of video choices but I spent most of the flight sleeping like a baby in my flat bed with Daniel Negreanu in the seat behind me. David Singer and his beautiful girlfriend Mandy are back in the business-class cabin but most of the Full Tilt team took the same flight yesterday.

I’ll stay in Melbourne until I bust out of the main event, which starts the 14th, and then jump on a sooper-sekrit Cathay Pacific jet to Bangkok. Shh.

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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 27, 2006

Lac d’Argent

Most people don’t realize the big payoff of going to a wine-tasting event. There are many small payoffs, actually, which is why you’ll find small and large groups tasting wines most everywhere. In my case, a local uberbabe invited me to a monthly gathering of the Seattle Wine Society. It used to be called the Seattle Enological society until there was a violent dispute about the spelling of “Oenological” and they changed it to “Wine.”

While most wine tastings are intimate affairs, and some attempt to combine trendy spirituality with veiled alcoholism, the Seattle Wine Society gathering is more like a high-school bake sale. $45 a couple gets you 10 tickets apiece, each good for a small pour of one of the dozens of wines set out. They have food stations with hors d’oeuvres, which each require their own special ticket, and desserts, which are there for the taking but which as a rule I don’t eat.

Two kinds of people attend affairs like this. The first is the wine taster. The taster brings his own wine glasses, wears tweed and perhaps an ascot, and takes a mere sip of each offering before dumping the rest into the provided receptacles. He rinses his glass with water between tastes and perhaps finds some bread to cleanse the palate as well. He nods, wrinkles his nose, raises his eyebrows, and takes notes.

The second is the wine drinker. To the drinker, the point of the affair is to drink a healthy amount of the best wine possible. Uber and I were drinkers. On a tip we were directed to a table with wines from a vintner that makes custom-label wines for restaurants and corporate parties. These wines did not require tickets. Unfortunately they were pouring sparkling wine this month in recognition of the holiday season and we both prefer reds so we didn’t guzzle the free stuff.

Of course local Northwest wines dominated the tasting and I discovered some new blood. The 2003 Silver Lake Winery Cabernet, rated Best Buy-outstanding by Wine Press Northwest, was just that. By the end of the evening, having used four or five tickets on the Silver Lake, we were on a first name basis with the volunteer pouring it and began ordering in French: “Lac d’Argent, s.v.p.” Alas, there were more than a few genuine oenophiles present and competition for the Silver Lake became fierce. As we set up a human wall around the Cab table, we joined forces with two uberhot winebabes who turned out to be sisters. When the last bottle of Lac d’Argent was gone, the diaspora began in earnest and soon we were on our way. We had learned about one nice inexpensive wine, but that was not the big payoff of the event.

No, like Thomas Edison, quoted for saying he had invented 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb, we had learned a dozen or so wines not to order. And that was the big payoff.

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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 13, 2006


As the last page on the calendar hangs on by a thread of spirit gum, the shops in Las Vegas flood with customers and casinos shower their favorite gamblers with holiday shopping sprees (by the way, email me if you want a great deal on a new high-end watch). As a fish preferred customer, I always get invited to these shopping sprees, which tend to stress me out since I don’t love shopping. It’s like the old Wheel of Fortune where you had to spend the money you won on fabulous prizes you didn’t want. “I’ll just take the cash, Pat.” Bzzt.

There is one time I love shopping: when I go with Jeffrey. Not only does he get perverse pleasure out of torturing the salespeople with his world-class genius in sales and customer service, but his origins in the schmata biz combined with his good taste also make him a prized personal shopper. Years ago he turned me onto Jhane Barnes; today his sartorial approbation goes to James Perse.

Because of all the casino shopping sprees I only had about 15 minutes to go shopping with Jeffrey and Victoria before I drove her to the airport (thanks to the helpful advice of a certain blogging inkhorn I decided not to ask her if she was an ecdysiast). Fortunately I got to have dinner with Jeffrey at SW, where we shared a very nice bottle of a Gangloff Côte Rôtie, made primarily from Syrah, and singing with notes of tobacco, coffee, and eucalyptus. Jeffrey’s girlfriend and his youngest daughter, both about the same age, were supposed to join us and drag us to Pure afterwards but enervated from the weekend seminar they crashed in their rooms.

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December 10, 2006

Heads up

One of my favorite foods growing up was Peking Duck. Last night I took a couple gambling buddies, Benjie and Simon, and my old friend Kevin Hogan to Wynn’s Wing Lei restaurant for the fabulous five-course Peking Duck dinner, washed down with a couple bottles of 2002 Dalla Valle Cabernet. Kevin had to take a redeye home after dinner but Simon and I went over to the Imperial Palace to check out the new heads-up PokerTek table at the release party all the bloggers had been invited to. By the time I got there the room was littered with empty cans and Chardonnay bottles but a few conscious bloggers were playing play-money poker. I grabbed an empty seat at the 10-handed table and played a sit-and-go, which I won using optimal game theory, although Joanne inexplicably beat me in a heads-up match.

The party descended to the Geisha bar where the sober, Argus-eyed Michael Craig wove through the interstices of the swaying assembly and took furious notes for future blackmail use against the besotted bloggers. Iggy held court as usual, the pokerbabes crowding around to be in the presence of his movie-star looks. Mike whipped out a couple of expensive cigars and we enjoyed the last night in the company of the few fellows bitten by not only the poker bug but also the writing one.

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December 1, 2006

Bunnies galore

Everybody’s been after me to write a review of the new Playboy Club at the Palms so I’ll do that a bit later in this uber-ish post. First I have to report that the ebonizzle angel who sat with me at the N9ne bar yesterday actually gave me a real Myspace page and a real email addy. She promised to accept me as a friend next time she logged in so those of you who see my life as some kind of irresistible train wreck can browse though my 200+ Myspace friends and try to figure out who she is.

I had been in Vegas two days longer than my original plans called for. The forecast in Seattle was rainy and warmer so I planned to return tomorrow per my revised itinerary. Meanwhile I took advantage of the extra days in Vegas to hang out with one of my favorite people in the poker world, Chad Layne. I wanted to treat him to one of the great restaurants at the Palms but he insisted on taking me to Hank’s at the Green Valley Ranch. Hank’s is a virtual clone of T Bone’s at Red Rock so I was hoping they still had my favorite side dish, pureed cauliflower and horseradish. They did, and Chad and I shared a chateaubriand plus the creamed corn and grilled tomatoes. Chad and I usually do Grey Goose rather than wine but I snuck a glass of the 2002 B.R. Cohn Cabernet with the steak.

Apparently my having written about eating for the last 10 or so years qualifies me as some kind of expert. Real writers are calling me for quotes on fine dining in Vegas. When I started coming here 25 years ago it was all about $1.99 prime rib and all-you-can-eat buffets. Every hotel had the steakhouse, the Italian restaurant, and the Chinese restaurant. The emphasis was on cheap, not gourmet. Today you can hardly find a celebrity chef who doesn't have a place in a Strip resort. In the middle of the desert, the freshest exotic seafood in the world is trucked and flown in daily. The tip for two at Guy Savoy is more than most families of four spend on dinner. It's a paradise for the gourmet and the expense-account owner, but the day of the bargain is gone.

After dinner I played a little online with some of the many uber-hot pokerbabes who comprise my fan club on Full Tilt. They all use the two hottest avatars, the one that looks like Shana Hiatt and the one that looks like David Grey’s wife Taylor. Railbirds, who used to ask who I was, have now seen me on TV more than they care to, so now they ask who are these people I’m playing with. “Uber-hot pokerbabes,” I answered. “What’s that mean?” one of the babes asked. “Uber,” I said. It’s blogger for “very.” A fellow player corrected me: “It’s actually German for ‘super.’” Yeah, if you want to get all technical and shiznit. Babe und Überbabe! While all this idle badinage was going on, uberbabe karenr was beating me out of every pot in a heads-up HORSE, sending me on uber-tilt. I might have blown my whole bankroll $20 at a time but thankfully I couldn’t do a rematch because Jim had arrived to take me up to the Playboy Club high atop the Palms’ new Fantasy Tower.

The Playboy Club, at first glance, is a casino. It is, in fact, the first casino with a cover charge in the history of Nevada. The floor is filled with blackjack tables with booths and bars around the outside, all framed by picture windows framing the spectacular view of Las Vegas. Jim was a member, meaning we could sit at a table without getting uber-expensive bottle service, so we did and ordered drinks as he whipped out a pair of cigars with labels I didn’t recognize. “Pre-Castro Cubans,” he said. Wow. I thought it was pretty cool of him to share these ubercigars with someone he had just met. “How much money are you planning to ask me to lend you?” I asked. Fortunately he got my sense of humor and we had a great time talking about all things Vegas, poker, and online. Service at the table was superb: our server came by frequently to check on our drinks and a hautboy policed the ashtrays and empties, even stopping to replace the box of matches I had taken from across the table.

The one thing you think of when you hear Playboy Club, of course, is the bunny, and oh, there were bunnies galore. Our server sported black ears and a little white cottontail (they are now sewn on rather than velcroed – apparently people were grabbing them and selling them on eBay) and in fact even the blackjack dealers were bunnies. They were all nice looking but frankly the Palms had already done a spectacular job of hiring beautiful girls to serve drinks and none of these bunnies had anything on the earless bartenders downstairs at the Mint, who all had an attractive air of professional competence in addition to their pulchritude. Still, bunnies are bunnies and the experience was more than pleasant even though I neither asked for nor received Myspace addresses.

I insisted on paying for the drinks, given the magnitude of his tobacco magnanimity, and left Jim there to hold court with his next wave of friends. On the way down the elevator there was a guy wearing some kind of caveman outfit with an enormous bejeweled watch and a silver pendant with a script “A.” A girl asked him if the watch was a Breitling. “Yes, it is,” He said casually. “You’re somebody, aren’t you?” she asked. “Who are you?” “Bob,” he said. “Bob? What’s the ‘A’ stand for then?” “Uh…Andy. Bob Andy.” Now Bob Andy could be the world’s biggest TV star and I wouldn’t know it but maybe one of you can recognize the star sighting from my description. And speaking of seeing stars, if there’s anyone left on the Internet who hasn’t seen the photos of Britney Spears getting out of a sports car with no panties: do yourself a favor and don’t look.

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November 27, 2006

Stone Tablet

I played the Ultimate Poker Challenge $340 on Saturday but got cold decked early with KK v. AA. They’re changing the schedule to Fri-Sat-Sun instead of Sat-Sun-Mon and moving the $660 event to Saturday. Both changes seem good to me. My dating counselor Michael Craig took fifth place for $20k+ in the Full Tilt $350k guarantee yesterday – good job! I got back too late to sweat him from dinner at Delmonico with a gambling buddy, his wife, and Carmen (yes, I know she’s hot, no need to post a comment). Delmonico used to be one of my favorite haunts but I rarely stay at the Venetian any more so it had been years. I was happy to see they still had the Foie Gras of the Day. I pointed it out to Carmen and she asked, “What’s Foie Gras of the Day?” I said, “It’s the Foie Gras du jour.” I ordered that and a filet mignon, hold the slab of butter. Both dishes were perfect. We started with a 1999 Veuve Cliquot Rosé Champagne and moved on to the 1997 L’Ermita Priorat, which was drinking spectacularly.

Scott Adams does a serious blog entry every Sunday and yesterday he wrote about free will:

Unfortunately, I can’t convince most people that free will doesn’t exist. I have
tried arguing that the laws of physics clearly apply to brains, and brains cause
your actions. That seems so obvious to me that belaboring it with additional
evidence would be overkill.

Unfortunately it’s not obvious. The laws of physics are models we use to try to understand the way things work, and different models are needed for different corners of the universe. Believing that the laws of physics as we understand them are engraved on a stone tablet is no more scientific than believing in Creationism. One model that works very well for living in society is that by and large people have control of, and are responsible for, their behavior. That is free will. While there may be a deterministic process that produces human behavior given some initial state, unless and until that state can be measured and the resultant behavior predicted, determinism is simply not a useful theory. Given the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, it seems unlikely such a precise measurement could ever take place.

More to the point, my beliefs are actually a major source of input to any such deterministic mechanism. That why religions have such a major effect on the world, for good or evil. If you believe people can do anything of value with their lives, evangelizing for determinism doesn’t seem like a good strategy for causing that to happen. If it were me, I’d instead write books illustrating the degree to which we get surreptitiously programmed and how to counteract that and live life to the fullest.

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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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November 25, 2006

Candy and her sisters

As winter storm warnings in Seattle turn my Weather Channel tray icon red, I’m camped out in my usual haunts in Las Vegas enjoying the sunshine and 2002 Duckhorn Cabernet. First thing I did was call Perry, who is going through a bit of a divorce, and invite him to dinner at the Luxor Steakhouse. Moments later he got a call from EZ, who hooked us up with second-row seats to Carrot Top, coincidentally in the same hotel. I had seen his act before and thought it was hilarious; the second time around I honestly didn’t remember a single joke from the first time, which either speaks to Carrot Top’s originality or the Duckhorn Cabernet’s alcohol content.

I spent Thanksgiving at Steve and Martha’s place with their sons and their smart and beautiful girlfriends. The younger son, Jonathan, was dating a sorority girl named Candy who, Steve informed me, was going to bring her sisters. Unfortunately Michael Craig called them and told them what a great guy I was and all of a sudden the sisters were spending Thanksgiving with their grandmother. Indefatigable, I brought a couple bottles of the 1995 Ch. Lynch-Bages from my cellar and we quaffed it as my fellow trenchermen and I devoured Martha’s barbecued turkey. After dinner we played some charades (hardest charade: Charlotte’s Web, evilly supplied for my humiliation by Martha) as we sat by the fire and burned drying racks and used charades clues.

Benjie and his entourage are in town so if I’m out of the UPC tournament early I’ll have dinner with them tonight.

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November 19, 2006

Geek Girls

I was somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the radio began to lose hold of NPR. I felt a little lightheaded and then suddenly the radio spectrum was filled with country music and Christian stations like a sky full of giant bats. I put aside the fear and loathing and somehow made it back to Caesars Palace to have dinner with Matt Maroon at Bradley Ogden, where I planned to use my once-a-year $400 birthday food comp from Harrah’s. Unfortunately Matt had a plumbing emergency in Akron and had to change his flight, so I called Alan, who was happy to be pressed into service at the last minute to dine at one of his favorite restaurants.

While I waited for Alan to arrive I hung out in Caesars’ Seven Stars Lounge, the über-VIP room open only to those who gamble at least a million dollars a year with Harrah’s. While the room has plush chairs and sofas, original art, and complimentary food and drink, the real star of Seven Stars is Elisabeth, the 23-year-old farm-fresh blonde butler. In addition to being the friendliest person in Las Vegas and very good at what she does, Elisabeth (whose mother put the “s” in her name so she would never be called “Lizzie”) wants to be a scientist some day. Geek girls are my bag but I’d have to take a number with Elisabeth, who’s happily married with a baby, so I content myself with sipping 2002 Joseph Phelps Cabernet, munching on lamb chops, and engaging in geek chat every few minutes when she comes by.

Alan arrived and joined me for the Phelps, which unfortunately had moved to the inferior 2003 vintage, while showing me photographs of cats on his cell phone. It was time for our reservation so we tore ourselves away from the lounge and Elisabeth and segued to Bradley Ogden. We enjoyed squash soup and frogs legs to start, then Alan had the monkfish while I had the pork tenderloin. They had the 2002 Casa Dalla Valle so I introduced Alan to it. After dinner we had a few comp dollars left so we had a couple glasses of the Glen Goyne 17 year single-malt Scotch. The Maroon arrived and we caught up awhile before I retired in anticipation of an early flight to Reno in the morning.

I hate early flights but I wanted to get into Reno in time to get some gambling in and then hang out with my two buddies from New Orleans, John and Gabe, now hosts at Harrah’s Reno. I rented a Mazda 6 from Hertz and pulled it into Harrah’s, where they gave me the Imperial Suite on the key-access top floor. Now getting the Imperial Suite at Harrah’s Reno is a little like getting the Honeymoon Suite at the Days Inn but it was worth it for the reactions from the Chinese women every time I got in the elevator: “Ooh, you top floor! You have good room! You play lots!”

I played lots and then twisted John and Gabe’s arms into joining me for dinner at Harrah’s excellent steakhouse. The waiter suggested a seafood platter to begin and who were we to argue? We drank a nice 2002 California Pinot Noir to start, then went to the 2002 Ch. Pichon-Longueville Bordeaux. I ordered the buffalo topped with thin slices of foie gras and guzzled the Bordeaux to wash away visions of Indian massacres and force-fed geese.

Gabe had a friend who was opening a new restaurant that evening so we took a limo over and discovered the place was crawling with gorgeous young girls, apparently dancers from a nearby men’s club who had been invited to seed the crowd for the group of investors they were entertaining. Two of them glommed onto us right away, getting cozy and chatting us up briefly before inviting me to take them gambling, which basically sounded like inviting me to give them money for nothing, so I politely declined. They asked us to come by the club later and Gabe raved about it so we went over to the FQ Men’s Club right behind Harrah’s, where we had started.

I don’t go to many strip clubs but this was one of the nicest I’d been to. It was uncrowded and full of very pretty girls, some as young as 18 per local ordinance. One very cute, petite blonde around 19, Dawn, approached me and said she’d seen me at the restaurant but didn’t want to intrude. “Intrude away,” I said, and she chatted me up awhile. She had a perkilicious body despite the mandatory Chrysler logo all the strippers seem to have on their lower back. I discovered she was a geek girl and bought a couple lap dances from her at $20 a pop. She kept telling me how klutzy she was in the huge platform shoes she was wearing and proved it by tripping and falling into my lap a few times. I love geek girls.

I paid Dawn for two dances plus one more in advance and she asked for my card. I gave it to her and she wrote down her information on a second card. I guess they don’t give phone numbers any more, just email and Myspace. Gabe got rip-roaring drunk on Sapphire and tonic and when he entered his bellicose phase, unwisely bloviating and gesturing at a table of young Latinos, I ushered him out and implored him to take a cab home. I hung around a few more minutes waiting for Dawn to finish with the Latinos but a stunning mocha 18-year-old named Natasha came up to me and asked if she could dance for me. I heartily assented and even at 3 a.m. it was hard to ignore her charms. We didn’t connect on a geek level like Dawn, though, so I paid her for the one dance, waited a few more minutes in vain for Dawn, then left for the Imperial Suite solo.

I decided to look up Dawn’s Myspace profile to see if there was a note to text her if you wanted her to come over after work but the name she gave me did not exist. The phony phone number of the 20th century has given way, with the dawning of the new millennium, to the phony Myspace. I got to bed around four.

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November 18, 2006

Bitch and scratch

Steve and I jetted down to Vegas for a nice long weekend at the Wynn, which was kind enough to send me a nice birthday offer. The main problem with getting complimentary room, food, and beverage at the Wynn is picking which restaurants to dine at because there isn't time to do them all. We settled on my favorite, SW, for birthday night and had the 2003 Darioush Cabernet after the mandatory birthday Champagne (I prefer Rosé, which is drier and nuttier than the regular). We were joined by my gambling buddy Benjie and his friend. What with it being my birthday and all they gave us the best table in the house, outside on the rail by the Lake of Dreams. Although the 2003 Darioush is not as good as the 2002, it made for great sipping while we ate filet mignon and watched the giant frog sing “Low Rider.”

Saturday night was a VIP drawing, which I didn’t win, and then Steve and I popped into Country Club to see if my buddy Jodie, the sommelier there who used to be our favorite waitress at Craftsteak, could seat us on the terrace even though the place was booked for a private party. She came through for us and we had more pink Champagne and the 2002 Cliff Lede “Poetry” Cabernet from the Stag’s Leap district, another of my favorites.

Sunday Benjie returned the dinner favor at Charlie Palmer’s at the Four Seasons, which is actually part of Mandalay Bay with a separate entrance. That made the fourth steakhouse in a row including Jak’s on Thursday and we saw no reason to deviate from the pink-Champagne-Cabernet plan. This time we tried the 2002 Casa Dalla Valle. I had a feeling that 2002 would be a good year for this exceptionally dry Cabernet and the reviews were universally rave. The fruitiness of the vintage complimented the great structure of Dalla Valle perfectly.

Our final night we had the wonderful tasting menu at Okada, accompanied by “Divine Droplets” sake. Sabrina the teenage sommelier, usually a highlight of the Okada dining experience, unfortunately had the night off. I have to speak to someone about eliminating her nights off. With the departure of Takashi Yagihashi, Okada has two new chefs. Masa Ishizawa is the one whose name is being trumpeted but insiders told Lion Tales that the genius is a young man named Hiro. He has made the tasting menu even better than it was originally, and after the sixth compliment we threw our waitress Hiro-san came out to greet us. We bowed at his feet a few times, chanting “not worthy,” before reluctantly leaving the beautiful room.

Steve and I took a couple cigars out on the show terrace to enjoy our last night in town together. He jetted off in the morning but I drove the Mercury Moron I rented from Hertz all the way to San Diego to catch the Indigo Girls concert with my buddy Alan. They were playing in an unimpressive conference room at Pala casino, but the woman tending the portable bar was anything but unimpressive. She made us a pair of Bloody Marys from scratch, a rarity in any bar let alone a concert venue. Alan had scored front-row seats so we had a great view of Amy and Emily and of opening act Bitch. House security protected us from the screaming crowd of unruly lesbians until the very end, when encore “Galileo” prompted most of the audience to crush towards the stage. We escaped safely and had a nice chat with Bitch on the way out. I tried to get her name but all she would tell me was Bitch. I think she kind of liked me though. I'll probably email her for a coffee date.

After the show we dined in the Oak Room. There are no alcohol comps in California but we shelled out $110 for the 2002 B.V. George Latour, which I correctly figured wouldn’t have as much acid as some vintages. It was a little light bodied for Alan but I enjoyed it. In the morning I drove the Mercury Moron back to Vegas.

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November 10, 2006

Unremarkable milestone

Steve and I drove through a break in our usual November torrential rains, although not a break in the traffic, to Issaquah for opening night of Bye Bye Birdie at the Village Theatre. It’s a fun if lightweight show that I remember from our high-school production (I didn’t act in that one, although I did play Big Julie in Guys and Dolls). We traditionally meet beforehand at Jak’s for the best steak in Issaquah. Jak’s doesn’t take reservations and what with the traffic and all we got there a bit later than usual and were quoted an hour’s wait. Fortunately they got us seated in half that time and we polished off two filet mignons along with most of a bottle of 2002 Darioush Cabernet in time to arrive at the theater seconds before the curtain.

As usual the cast, costumes, scenery and music were top-notch, as expected from one of the top regional theaters in the world. After the show I hit the cast party, congratulating two of the regulars who really do a tremendous job and flirting with a few of the starlets. Visions of Citizen Kane flickered across my mind’s eye as I imagined myself taking an interest in one fetching brunette’s career but I didn’t want to end up alone in a castle with a lot of crates so I just smiled and congratulated her.

I’m 47 today, kind of an unremarkable milestone, but I informed the crew of the US Airways flight to Vegas that everyone had to be nice to me today. They brought my Diet Coke in a clean plastic cup. Steve and I are painting the town for my birthday weekend starting with dinner at SW tonight. He’s a spontaneous kind of guy who loves to hop on a plane at the last minute so we’re planning a memorable Vegas vacation.

I recovered from my unlucky streak in Moola and crossed the 50-cent mark for the first time before taking a bad beat and retreating to 47 cents. Poker? What’s that?

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November 8, 2006

Well, we got what we asked for

In giving control of the House and possibly the Senate to the Democrats in yesterday’s election, America sent an emphatic message to Washington that the Republican Government had gone far away from the “American values” they claimed they stood for. While several self-destructed with scandals of their own making, even many of the Republicans who hadn’t yet been caught taking bribes or molesting boys were ousted by fresh political faces, leaving no doubt that Americans were ready for a change. We got what we asked for: now I hope the Democrats will actually end the war and restore civil liberties. This is a free country and it should be legal to sin.

While Bush’s private Vietnam, Iraq, was certainly a lightning rod for the voters’ thunderous discontent, talking to my few Republican friends revealed that they too were disturbed by the party’s about-face from their traditional stance of fiscal conservatism and social libertarianism. Becoming a party of religionist socialist warmongers finally lost them their critical mass of support. With the Republicans spending our children’s inheritance on a severely unpopular war, suddenly there was no reason to fear the Democrats and their penchant for spending. If we’re going to spend billions, better on health care than bombs.

Given the circles I travel in, it’s easy for me to see reaction to the online gambling legislation as one reason for the shift in the political winds. It was a pleasure to see Leach, who sponsored the bill, thrown out, and tinglingly exciting to see the first numbers showing Kyl losing, although he closed to win it. Politicians are rightly frightened of the ability of the Internet to take whole economies out of their reach, and they saw gambling (at least the kind without the lobbying money of horse racing and lotteries) as low-hanging fruit to pluck back under their control. The trouble is, Americans do not wish to be told what they can and cannot do in their own homes and, beyond that, control of the Internet is to a large degree technically impossible. It will be an uphill battle to reverse this legislation now that it has been sneaked in, but with rumors of MGM-Mirage’s interest in buying Party Gaming, the lobbying dollars may soon be climbing Capitol Hill.

A reader emailed me about domestic Bordeaux blends. Last night my old friend Tony and I shared a bottle of 1986 Beringer Private Reserve, smooth and elegant. Drinking young wines day in and day out, it takes a moment to get used to the absence of tannins but we enjoyed it with a pair of filet mignons at Purple Café. It had just a hint of acid, less than the BV George Latour, and was deliciously balanced. I had been saving it because I had two bottles of it, which made it good to serve at a dinner party, but given my current wifelessness and therefore no dinner parties in sight, I figured at 20 years old it was ready to drink. And I have one more bottle.

I took some bad beats on Moola but with optimal bankroll management I’m only down to 17 cents and can easily rebuild. I should cash out for $10 million pretty soon.

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November 1, 2006

Taking the Fifth

I took fifth place in UPC yesterday for $2200. I didn't hit many hands at the final table but the show should be entertaining as I attempted my usual strategy of compensating for my lack of poker ability with comic relief. Ted "The Milkman" Melikian and I bantered back and forth until I lost most of my chips calling the big blind's flop jam with AJo on a board of King-Jack-x. I shoved the next hand with Q8o and lost the race to The Milkman, who overjammed with AJ.

The tournaments are a lot of fun and I hope to play more of them. It's not really worth a special trip to Vegas given the small buy-ins but I spend plenty of time there anyway so when I'm in town, I'll play if I'm not busy.

Caesars Palace gave me two bottles of their house label Cabernet. I took them to FedEx to ship them home and was told it was illegal. Now I can't play online poker, ship wine to myself, carry shampoo on an airplane, or smoke cigars in a cigar lounge. Too bad the Soviet Union isn't in business any more or I would consider moving to a more free country.

I'm voting a straight Democratic ticket for the first time ever, not that I think they're good guys, but dog shit smells better than cat shit.

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