Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

January 22, 2010

Vegas Gang #43 - January 21st, 2010

Posted by Hunter

This time on the show:

* Fontainebleau + Ichan
* Resort Fees
* Harrah's + Planet Hollywood
* Harrah's iPhone App

* Vegas Gang Trivia Episode #1

Check out the show:

Feel free to leave comments below. Trivia questions can be sent to - we might use yours on the show.


Read archived comments (33 so far)
January 22, 2010 7:05 PM Posted by atdleft

I'm about to listen now. Let's see what trivia question you use this week. I'm already thinking up more for the next episode. :-D

January 22, 2010 9:16 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Great to have Mr. Simpson back. All I can say is-thank you Al Gore for inventing the internet. Podcasts have changed my life, and Vegas Gang is my favorite. Thank you all.

January 23, 2010 9:56 AM Posted by atdleft


Oh wait, what was I going to say? Oh yeah, great episode this week! It will be interesting to see what Carl Icahn ends up doing with F-bleau. Maybe it won't even be F-bleau by the time he's finished with it.

January 23, 2010 9:19 PM Posted by Joe

The Bellagio really went downhill. The B lost it all in this years trippies to the Wynn and Encore. really feel bad for the place. It could have still been top resort. The Bellagio needs to redeem itself in order to keep up with the rest of the new resorts on the strip.

January 24, 2010 9:26 AM Posted by atdleft

I know, Joe. I know... But that would actually require MGM Mirage to invest in renovating The Bellagio from top to bottom and breathing some new life into the place. It's still "the classy lady" of The Strip, and with some "cosmetic surgery" she can climb back up to the top.

January 24, 2010 11:50 AM Posted by mattk

Hunter you'll be glad to know I spent your $ on an artistic and cultural treasure:

January 24, 2010 11:54 AM Posted by Hunter

Ha! Nice.

January 25, 2010 5:53 PM Posted by Mike P.

Bellagio's suite floors were renovated in 2007 and don't really need any work right now. The casino got renovations over 2006-2009 (IIRC) and except for the notoriously tight slots it doesn't need work either. Retail spaces are fully leased, so they must be doing something right there.

So, except for maybe a past its prime restaurant, lounge or two the top and bottom are just fine. It's just the standard rooms in between that need a makeover, which granted is 90% of their room product.

We had our smoothest ever Bellagio check-in yesterday. Walked into the "executive lounge," where they had our keys programmed and Amex amenities packet all ready. All we had to do was show ID, initial the rate card, and we were off to our room.

Monday afternoon probably isn't the best time to get a sense of a casino's vibe, but today Bellagio's was a lot livelier than Aria. There were more people who looked like they were having a better time handing over their money to MGM. I have to agree with the commenters who've said Aria's casino is too dark. It's way too dark, to the point of being forbidding. Other than checking out restaurant menus and the fitness center we didn't spend enough time there to form a strong opinion about the rest of the public areas.

January 25, 2010 6:30 PM Posted by Joe

Was your suite at the Bellagio as good (or comparable) as a suite at Aria or Wynncore?

January 25, 2010 7:49 PM Posted by atdleft

Yeah, I've been hearing the suites are OK (but if 2007 was the last renovation, they'll even need to start renovating again within the next year to keep the AAA 5 Diamond rating), but the resort rooms REALLY need to be brought into the 21st century ASAP! Same goes for some of the public areas, like the Via Bellagio shoppes. If they don't renovate soon, Bellagio will become to MGM Mirage what Paris and Rio are becoming to Harrah's (a "has been" casino that is no longer living up to its reputation).

AFAIK most of the restaurants are still good. Prime is still a HUGE cash cow, Sensi and Fix are still considered "hot" and "haute", and Picasso and Le Cirque are still beloved as the "most civilized dining rooms on The Strip". So far I'm still thinking of trying Le Cirque for Valentine's Day, and if I ultimately keep my reservation there I'll let you know how the Maccionis' flagship restaurant is doing. :-)

January 26, 2010 9:24 AM Posted by detroit1051

Atdleft, my observations are now so old (3+ years), I probably shouldn't comment, but I will.
Prime is a cash cow, but it can't compare with SW or others. It's fine for convention-goers, but I doubt Prime gets a lot of repeat business from serious diners.
Never liked Fix, but Sensi was excellent the eight-ten times I had lunch or dinner there. It is a contemporary restaurant that really works. Part of the fun was looking at the totally different show kitchens around the restaurant.
Picasso is great, but after probably the third time, I wished the menu would change. Can't wait to try Serrano at Aria. Picasso only has a six seat bar, but it's a very tranquil place for a cocktail whether you dine there or not.
LeCirque is also excellent, but Steve Wynn built the room too small. Tables are so close together, it seems like adjacent diners and you are involved in each others' conversations. Don't expect seclusion and privacy. I've actually had dinner at the bar four or five times. Very enjoyable. If you go, don't get one of the few tables in the bar area; they don't give you the LeCirque experience.

January 26, 2010 9:29 AM Posted by detroit1051

More on hotel rates, Aria vs Bellagio:

January 26, 2010 2:22 PM Posted by atdleft


I dunno. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a world renown "Master Chef". And although accusations have flown that he's resting on his laurels with Prime, it somehow still makes the big bucks... And rumor still has it that it's the most profitable restaurant not just in Bellagio, but possibly for all of Vegas.

Fix is a Light Group property... Which I shouldn't hold against it, but the food really isn't as great as the hype. Still, it makes money because it's a Light Group property.

Chef Martin Heierling really is a culinary genius here in Vegas, and one we can now call our own. Sensi's great, and hopefully once the "opening kinks" are worked out at Silk Road (@ Vdara) that will also be a great eatery.

With Picasso, I've also been hearing the same "resting on laurels too much" argument that I've heard with Prime. However, Michelin seems to disagree (it still has its 2 stars) and Julian Serrano also happens to be one of the more respected "celebrity chefs" in town.

And btw, it's so funny to see Bellagio room rates rise back to the top while Aria is still cutting its rates. One would think people want to flock to "the new hottest thing!", and it seems occupancy levels at Aria are holding up, but I guess only because of the low room rates. If anything, this is strong evidence to show MGM Mirage that Bellagio is worth saving. If the brand had become this powerful, then they need to keep investing in this property to keep it on top of The Strip's high roller pack.

January 26, 2010 9:56 PM Posted by Doug

I think if Bellagio just put flat screen TVs in the standard rooms(if they haven't done it yet) would get everyone to stop talking about the need for a Bellagio renovation. Yeah, they might need some paint and plaster here and there, but that's just regular maintenance of any hotel.

I hate to once again bring up a non-design issue, but in my opinion people keep retuning to Bellagio because they have the best overall gaming conditions of any hotel on the strip. Oh sure, if you want to play sky-high stakes you can get good gaming at most casinos - even Harrah's places. But Bellagio has the best gaming across the board (Mandalay Bay isn't that bad either despite their handful of 6/5 blackjack tables).

January 26, 2010 11:58 PM Posted by motoman

On the issue of cellphone marketing, which Chuckmonster addressed at length: Wynn's January 2010 e-newsletter has a survey indicating they may be thinking along these lines as well:

"How would you most likely use your mobile phone while on vacation?

-- Make or edit reservations (room, dining, show)
-- Receive special offers and information via SMS (text) messages
-- Get information about amenities and what’s happening on property
-- Interact with other guests
-- I would not do any of this on my mobile phone"

January 28, 2010 4:22 AM Posted by detroit1051

Soffer's incompetence and greed were out of his control?
``When the world turns on you, it's hard,'' Soffer said. ``Some things are out of your control. That's the way life is.''

January 28, 2010 9:19 AM Posted by Mike P.

detroit & atd:

I'm not a frequent diner at Le Cirque, but the last time we were there I thought food and service were as impeccable as ever. We're going to Circo tonight, which is more our style.

I've noticed new faces on staff at Bellagio, some old faces doing new jobs, and some people we know have moved to Aria. We'll see how Circo is holding up -- we thought about trying Sirio but the menu is nearly identical.

We decided to try Sage for our first dining experience at Aria since Shawn McClain is the only significant new chef there, and really enjoyed it. He dabbles a bit in molecular gastronomy without getting too carried away with it. Mostly it was familiar ingredients in interesting combinations, prepared very well.

January 28, 2010 2:11 PM Posted by mike_ch

Mike P: You find them similar? Huh. I can find stuff that I'd like to try at Sirio but Circo is just way too foo-foo for me.

January 28, 2010 2:41 PM Posted by parchedearth

I am a fan of both Circo and Sirio. Sirio is very high caliber classic italian. In only a month, it is already the clear cut tourist favorite of the 3 upstairs restaurants at Aria. Their lasagna is the best I have ever had. Make sure to sit in the main dining room rather than out front by the bar. Circo is more fanciful from both decor and food perspectives.

January 28, 2010 3:07 PM Posted by mike_ch

Parchedearth pretty much hit it. In an Italian restaurant, about the only thing I'm interested in are lasagna, fettucini, or pizza (and likely not the dressy stuff served in expensive restaurants.)

Basically, I have the taste buds of a five year old, but this seafood-heavy Italian isn't for me. Which is why I'll be passing Circo and Bartolotta.

January 28, 2010 3:10 PM Posted by Hunter

I completely respect the fact that some people just don't like certain things but man... Bartolotta is soooo good. You're missing out. The chef's sampler there is incredible - I tried a bunch of stuff that honestly looked kinda gross but I was so glad I did. Fantastic.

January 28, 2010 5:17 PM Posted by detroit1051

Hunter, that's what makes life interesting I invited two Las Vegas friends to Bartolotta in late 2006. We sat downstairs at a perfect table. Our three entrees and the service were mediocre. We all said we wouldn't go back.

The three of us and a friend from Detroit dined at SW the same year. It was the best steakhouse experience any of us have had. Superior food and service. Just great!

January 28, 2010 9:00 PM Posted by John

Sirio is classic Italian fare. Circo is rustic Tuscan cuisine. And yes, they are different things. Circo only seems foo-foo, but it definitely is not. Even the dress code is 'casual attire.' I haven't tried Sirio, but will be doing so tomorrow.

Not enough can be said about the quality of just about everything at Le Cirque though. The space is very romantic and intimate as well. Ahh, just talking about it makes me want to go back.

January 28, 2010 10:57 PM Posted by Andrew H

Hunter, will you be reworking Vegas Mate to fit/take advantage of the ipad? Just wondering......

January 29, 2010 8:13 AM Posted by Sean

Bartolotta is simply one of the best restaurants (if not the best) that I've been to, ever, and that includes places like Alex (Wynn), Daniel (NYC), Boulud (NYC). The quality of the chef's tasting menu is out of this world. I encourge everybody to go and give it a shot. The first time I was there with my buddy who doesn't like to spend a whole lot at dinner, but will humour me and do it anyway, at the end of the meal he said, "you know, that was almost worth it...", in a very sly sort of way. Also, he is a picky eater and doesn't eat fish, but he absolutely destroyed the John Dory that was presented to us.

The second time we went there with his folks, we sat outside at one of the cabana tables, which is an experience unto its own. The Sommelier recommended some great Sicilian wine, and for my picky buddy (who doesn't drink wine), recommended a red Italian beer, which earned her a great tip. My buddy also mentioned that the soft-shell crab was the best thing he's ever tasted...or perhaps next to Cool Ranch Doritos I'm sure.

This is all to say that the product at Bartolotta is outstanding, and I think the service and the restaurant itself only complement the food.

Do the chef's tasting with at least 4 people because they bring out the corresponding number of dishes EACH COURSE, except for the whole fish. Lots of different food to try.

January 29, 2010 8:17 AM Posted by Hunter

I'm experimenting with the iPad SDK, yes.

Fundamentally, I think Vegas Mate as it is currently conceived works best in the smaller form factor - designed to be a mobile guide in your pocket. That said, I think there's potential for companion apps that are exclusive to the iPad that share the same data set.

Nothing to announce yet but I'm fiddling like a mad man.

January 29, 2010 9:18 AM Posted by atdleft


Thanks. I'm thinking about getting an iPad, and it will be fun to have a BIG Vegas Mate that I can play around with. :-)

Mike C-

I hope this doesn't come out the wrong way, but I'm wondering if you have Hypersensitive Taste Bud Syndrome.

Aka, you may be a "supertaster".

Poor thing. This might explain why it's hard for you to adapt to new foods.


Oooh, you're making it hard for me to change my reservation! I've been toying with the idea of changing it to Bradley Ogden at Caesars, since they're one of the true "green restaurants" in town. But if you're giving me a good excuse to keep my plans for Le Cirque, I might just stay put. ;-)


I guess I'll just have to try Bartolotta soon.

I see some vegetarian friendly items on the menu, so maybe I'll drop some hints to my dad and see if he takes me here for my birthday in March. Thanks for the great idea! :-)

January 29, 2010 9:55 AM Posted by Matt K

I'll throw in my $0.02 on Bartolotta. I ate there once in 2006. I considered it a compromise choice because my dad and I couldn't get into SW. How lucky we were. The meal was outstanding, and I remember being dazzled by the menu alone. Virtually everything on it brought out an "Ooh, I'd like to try that."

But what I remember best, strangely, was the bottled water. The waiter made a pitch for us to try their imported Italian bottled water, and we said yes. It was from someone's private well and came in what looked like a wine bottle. I swear on my grandmother it was the best water I've ever had and If I had been paying (not likely) I would have ordered a few more to go. I can't remember the name of it, sadly.

January 29, 2010 11:15 AM Posted by detroit1051

Atdleft, you've been wanting to try Bradley Ogden since you commented on ELV's negative post a few monhs ago. It's tough to have so many choices in Vegas. :) Regardless of where you dine, I hope you share your comments here.
As for me, I'll have to give Bartolotta another go next trip.

January 29, 2010 2:52 PM Posted by atdleft


Damn, you have a good memory! I've been attracted to Bradley Ogden's "farm-to-table green restaurant" concept, but ELV's review did scare me a little and led me to take my dad to Aureole for his birthday instead. (And btw, Aureole is still a fabulous restaurant regardless of what a couple NY Post idiots say!)

Oh, and of course I'll share my Valentine's Day meal review here if everyone here would like that. :-)

January 29, 2010 4:13 PM Posted by mike_ch

atdleft: No, my problem is probably called "growing up in a small town with a fairly low income for food." Aside from meals at home, my diet is largely chain food and if you haven't been to a drive thru lately, ethnic food means tacos and pizza.

I do tend to "attach" to the very first variation of something I try, hence why I seem to like burgers best with no toppings at all and have trouble with any pizza that isn't cheese or pepperoni, but I'm not sure if that's just me being stubborn.

I've always thought I just had a middle-America palate, feed me steak and mashed potatoes until my (accelerated) demise. Though I saw a BBC doc on people who eat way too much junk food and how they have difficulty eating anything aside from the burgers and pizzas they're used to, and that very much reminded me of myself. I'm completely lost in a salad. With trepidation, I can take lettuce and tomato on a burger, but put pickles or onions on there and my wretch reflex starts and my throat locks up and refuses to swallow.

I keep hoping I'll find a cheap tapas place where I can afford to try different things someday without feeling like I wasted $25 on something I didn't like.

January 29, 2010 5:10 PM Posted by atdleft


Are you sure? It's still sounding like you may be a "supertaster". New scientific research is showing that many so-called "picky eaters" really do have a hard time adjusting to foods with strong flavors (fatty, rich, intensely savory, intensely sweet, etc.).

Still, let me know when you need to do some of your own "research". I'll most likely either be doing Bradley Odgen or Le Cirque for Valentine's Day Weekend. And if I have a good excuse to not invite my creepy ex-boyfriend to dinner, that will be all the better. :-p

January 29, 2010 9:04 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

As someone who eats cheeseburgers with ketchup and mustard only five times a day...I don't think I'll be giving you a hard time.