Mike's adventures continue: Encore Las Vegas, Bellagio, Aria, The Crystals and a stop at Valentino Grill @ The Venetian.
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It's New To Me! I always figured the Nite Life Shop, with it's proximity to XS, would sell stuff like tiny handbags and hair gel to douche-bags. It's actually the Showroom Merch Store, and it's returned to it's original location from the old days when the Encore hallway was a dead end to the Monorail Bus. This spot was vacated for Taste Of Wynn, but I suspect they have higher sales expectations for Le Reve booklets and Garth stuff (black Stetsons?) than they do for Wynn-branded aprons and cookery. Given that the line outside of XS can be impenetrable on some nights, whatever goes in the location next to it is going to suffer a few hours of being unreachable on many evenings.
Taste of Wynn is mostly cookware and ingredients wearing tags saying one of the Wynn chefs personally chose it, hopefully so that you'll look past the price. The store is divided up with sections for different restaurants and some general purpose items stacked in the heart of the room. It's a small space, and I'm surprised what restaurants are reflected here. I expected to see the steakhouses, Bartolotta, Okada, and maybe Boloud; but in reality I didn't see the steakhouses (maybe I missed them?) but did notice a lot of Society and Wazuzu.
The casino was pretty empty on Saturday, but without the curtains I find the room more appealing and actually wanted to stop and play (but didn't.) I never understood the appeal of the curtains since they assist in blocking out the natural light that Encore was built around and without regular maintenance they will stink of smoke. Cloth draperies are okay if they're kept free of dust and dirt and up out of the visitor's reach, like the awnings over the tables at Bellagio or the little curtains lining the drop-ceilings over the tables at Wynn.
I mostly went in here to check on The Great Wall of Encore (seems appropriate, this company is allegedly run from China now if you are to believe the recent Wynn-terviews.) I can't quite state enough just what a tall obstruction this wall is, it goes all the way up to the skylights. Nice touch on keeping it white above the casino ceiling level, so that what left of the atrium ceiling is viewable up there doesn't have a slight red tint, like the columns below the divider line.
I was just passing through on my way to Aria, but the rolling carts of flowers always indicates that the Conservatory people are at work.
It seems that the folks here aren't content to let all that stuff in Aria, Crystals, and the always-important Pocket Park keep them too busy. The spring display recycles some of the expected set pieces like the big flowers, moss frog, and flowered snail; but adds more stuff like a big shovel, mushrooms that appear to be picked from Fantasyland, and this flower bee. What's designed to really grab your attention are the Giant Ants in the Plants.
While this isn't a pleasant view, I like the little detail of how the eggs coming out of the, uhhhh, *ahem* are formed into a little step-bridge up the back. Though why anyone would need a step-bridge to climb onto this ant, I don't know, since the walkway to it is blocked off to guests. Maybe they were planning on having people get their photos riding the ant? Unsure.
Since some enjoy monitoring business levels at Bellagio now that it's not a single flagship property and starting to put on some grey hairs, I'll just mention that it was around noon on a Saturday, and the buffet line was all the way out to the room elevators hallway. The Cafe line was tame by comparison, but still made it difficult to get around the conservatory. JP's nearby was also doing brisk business.
Also, maintenance is still visible.
Stepping out to the transit platform, I noticed that LED boards and boarding voiceover announcements are now mentioning Aria at the Crystals and Monte Carlo stops. This seems to confirm that they were having some kind of problem: either "how do I get there?" questions, people thinking they have to ride from Monte Carlo to get to Aria, or the option that just calling the station Crystals had a side-effect of people not knowing that Aria exists. I still think the Crystals stop should just be called CityCenter, but oh well.
Major new eateries are open. Mastro's, the treehouse restaurant, is the highfalutin place. Brasserie Puck is open for lunch and dinner and both serve things that even I, a Picky Eater, could eat (in other words, they have cheeseburgers.) The Pods is located on that wooden platform thing connecting the levels and is basically a coffee and bakery stop with Puck's name attached to it. Since I couldn't find any information on Pods at Puck's site, here's a menu .
Todd English (of Olives fame [or infamy]) has opened PUB, and it occupies an awkward corner of the building. If CityCenter was a body, PUB would be in the armpit. There's a somewhat hidden away entrance just inside the door at Crystals, a patio entrance at Pocket Park (the closest thing to a real entrance), and a view (but no entrance) to an otherwise empty corridor of Aria.
Here's the most important thing: There's cell phone service in here now. Upstairs, downstairs, full bars, and as many G's as you please. A golf clap is deserved for someone in an office somewhere who did what should have been done two months ago.
Speaking of otherwise empty corridors, here's the path to what turned out to be BarMasa at lunchtime. I had no idea what was down here walking up or going away, and after I got home I figured out what this is. You know, I complained at opening about all this talk of "airport architecture," but this gated off entrance really does look like the Second Terminal that hasn't opened yet.
We've heard a lot about CityCenter's food department being a rotating door ("Please step forward. Thank you.") but the menu at Cafe Vettro hasn't changed too much. I wandered upstairs and the buffet line had maybe eight people waiting. Far, far, far fewer than the overloaded Bellagio buffet. JP's off the casino floor was doing really good business though, maybe even better than Bellagio.
Last thought: the smell coming out of the SkyBox grill by the sports book? Incredible, at least if you're as hungry as I am. It was doing pretty good business too, although I can't figure out if it's a place where you get waited on or a place you order at a counter and seat yourself, because it appeared to have elements of both.
StripMunch: The Grill at Valentino
When you have a hotel that has it's own canal network with gondolas and drivers singing 'That's Amore', you need an Italian restaurant. Even though certain hotels may lack the same charms but have a lot of fancy chefs, the reality is that there's a certain crowd who gravitates to the Venetian for pasta, assumes the pizzas are better at NYNY than Monte Carlo, and figures they can't go wrong choosing Paris for french food.
When I wrote about Dal Toro at Palazzo, @atdleft made comments about Valentino and I said it was probably somewhere I wouldn't go. I changed my mind. Sort of. I was originally going to Trattoria del Lupo at Mandalay Bay as my next review, but the distance to MBay seemed too far so I decided to continue my exploration of dining at The Haus of Adelson, a place where I have almost never had a meal at until now. (It's not my fault they never built a buffet.)
Valentino is a fancy Italian restaurant with food I might not be able to swallow and prices I definitely can't swing. Fortunately for me, They decided to take some spare space that looks like it was originally intended to be a bar/lounge and put a more mainstream Italian experience there.
This place is, odds on, probably your best bet for less gourmet Italian fare. The food is (allegedly) coming from the same kitchens and cooks as the Big Room. The outfit that is operating this place is also running Giorgio at Luxor with a different chef, though I suspect this is a notch up.
This dinner played with my conscience, as it introduced me to lasagna with veal in it. That's one of those things I generally try to avoid for the ethical arguments better outlined somewhere else. I wasn't aware it was in it until just when I was ready to order and didn't want to take up more time finding an alternative, so I figured that I at least can't say that I don't know what I'd be missing. The meal was tasty, both me and my Anonymous Diner, who was the same one from the Dal Toro review, agreed that it was better than we had there the last time I wrote a food column.
On the other hand, service was about the same as far as speed, although that isn't saying too bad about Valentino since the room is MUCH busier than the Palazzo equivalent in the resort's basement. Service was competent at the Grill but probably not a staff that rotates into The Big Room. The room itself, as I mentioned before, looks like it could have once been a lounge, since it has a bar but it doesn't scream "this is a setting for Italian food." Table-mats are brown paper instead of cloth so that after each diner the staff simply folds, crumples, and tosses the table mat into the trash, er, I mean, into a recycling bin for Sands' new refuse sorting program that has been the subject of a lot of media attention this week.
So, about that veal: I passed on Sinatra for it's dish including this as listed on the menu (as well as because it's in Encore, but that's another rant for another day). Suffice it to say, I'll have to find a position on veal that I can square with my conscience, and I think what I'll negotiate myself to settle on is that I'll begrudgingly accept it as part of a larger meal, but would never order it specifically.
The Grill at Valentino is in The Venetian. Dinner entrees for two came to $41 before tip.
Remember, your feedback/suggestions are useful. I probably would have passed on this restaurant if it wasn't for user comments. I was originally planning to get away from Venelazzo next time since we have now done three consecutive reviews there, though my original intention was to visit Lupo at Mandalay Bay. But then I'm also a bit concerned that this is turning from Mike Tries Restaurants into Mike Eats Lasagna And Pizzas (and maybe Alfredo.)