Mike is back with Strip Walk and this time, he's heading into Palazzo, Luxor, CityCenter, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace and more.
Food reviews for Solaro (Palazzo) and Grotto (Golden Nugget).
Complete photo gallery is here:
Having finished a lunch (see Strip Munch, below), I took a stroll around the property on the way to the bridge. On this path leading to Walgreens, I noticed I door sitting ajar that I hadn't seen before. It was a ground level entry to First Food. Nothing in there but some elevators. This little corner of the property between Walgreens and the Barney's NY valet gets little traffic, so it's easy to miss.
Over at the bridge crossing, the elevator looked like it was being replaced. That's one of the slowest elevators on the Strip, so any change is an improvement.
This is just a quickie since I didn't go in, but here's a view across the way from Palazzo of Gilley's, just a few hours away from it's soft opening. All that was in this space before was fake rocks and some less exotic plants, so this isn't a huge loss or anything from a theme perspective, but man that bare metal roof looks kinda cheap. Next time, I'll get a closer look at it.
Yeah, you read that right. They put up a new marquee. And thus their first (and probably last) appearance in this column.
Closed off spaces in the mall finally look like they're finally be put to use again. The space formerly occupied by Chinois (and above it, the Poetry nightclub) is becoming Max Brenner Chocolate. Across the way, the goshdarnit big FAO space has been sitting in a blackout for a few weeks now, the Trojan Horse turned off and standing there with it's eyes closed and a fence placed around it. In has come The Mother of All Temporary Walls, even bigger than The Great Wall of Encore, to give the scene some privacy while something happens. Probably covering the horse with disco ball mirrors. Because nothing classes the place up like a horse, covered in disco ball mirrors. Those of you who visited the Bellagio lobby in the right periods of 2006 (or was it 2007?) know what I'm talking about.
I loathe to give it any space here, but I passed the Gossy Barge. Aside from a sign and a cutout of the man himself at the entrance, the entire space feels like a graveyard. At lunchtime on Saturday, lone utilitarian-looking light shines down upon the boat, allowing you to see it's outline but little more. The rest of the area's decorations are still there, in the back I can vaguely make out the shapes of the sort of Egyptian looking walls that makes this little corner of the hotel resemble Old Luxor, but the light switch has been turned off on everything. Creeeeepy. I tried to take some pictures but with they turned out awful with all the darkness.
Maintenance alert - a completely missing panel in an elevator. This is one of three in the newish front addition of the mall.
The upstairs area formerly known as The London Club and The Mezz should really be called The Little Empty, as it sits almost forgotten next to The Big Empty, which is the rest of the area around the Spa and Condo Sales Office that hasn't seen any activity since the registration desk moved out two years ago.
In the midst of all this emptiness, sits a new Total Rewards Diamond Lounge. Nothing says 'exclusive' like being isolated from all other human lifeforms by a good 70 feet or so.
Just dropped in to look at the Ah Sin / Sugar Factory work. They've cleared away the tables, chairs, and just about anything that wasn't bolted down, but the real work hasn't begun yet.
I noticed that the roundish, deck-like thingamajig on top of the Cosmo entrances has developed since I last went by.
The bridge path from Planet to Crystals takes you past the entrance of The Harmon, which is locked up with "CONSTRUCTION ZONE KEEP OUT" signs. The immediate area is somewhat landscaped and looking ready but of course everything inside isn't yet. The glass is heavily tinted and reflective, but just putting a hand up to block the light gives you pretty good look in there. Here's a picture of what's just inside the doors. Looks like they won't be done for a while.
Say goodbye, I guess, since this sign was placed prominently at the end of the Excalibur corridor. Luxor has no interest in the free advertising that comes with tourist photos, ANYWHERE. Most casinos don't want you taking pictures of their casino for obvious reasons (Bellagio is particularly noisy about this, as can be a lot of others that host the occasional politician, billionaire, or anti-gambling moral crusader), but given the atrium and the attractions level and the all photo opportunities presented at Luxor, this is certainly odd.
Cranes 'n' Things
Didn't take management of the Monte Carlo long to adjust to life without Lance Burton. He's not even gone yet and his old magic shop is to replaced with another Minus5 lounge. If you enter Monte Carlo from the Strip to go to Bellagio, as this sign suggests, you have a LONG walk ahead of you. In a nice twist of re-theming things, there's a cute Good Humor truck parked out on the Brooklyn Bridge of NYNY, though it doesn't actually sell ice cream. In a twist of de-theming, Excalibur decided that "Spirit Shoppe" was just way too themed of a name for a sundries store, so they changed it to the same modernist 24/7 Always Open logo that is/was used for the old VIP check-in at Luxor, for a store that still looks like a castle armoury covered in tequila ads. Excalibur is also putting temporary storefronts in the path to Luxor. Even after closing The Reading room, the mall at Mandalay Bay continues to open obscure and occasionally kitschy stores, such as a new Sock Market which must be the most niche merchant since Saturday Night Live's "Scotch Tape Store" sketches in the late 1970s.
I'd like to mention one last thing. As I walked through Monte Carlo casino I saw in the distance this one section of the casino that was flashing coloured lights like a Tokyo arcade. When I got closer, I saw that a table pit had an attractive young lady in skimpy clothes elevated on a platform dancing to Britney Spears while a bunch of lights illuminated her in red/purple/green/blue and other unnatural tones. This becoming popular in the casinos these days (the dancing girl, quite the opposite for Britney Spears) and I thought this was something Monte Carlo had adopted to stand out from the crowd of so many other casinos around it.
Then I walked to NYNY and saw another young lady dancing to that Kesha song we're all sick of (you can sort of see her from the waist-up over the horizon of those slot machines), with the same lighting gig and the EXACT. SAME. OUTFIT.
MGM-Mirage is even homogenizing the eye candy. All I have to ask is that you please keep this out of Bellagio.
StripMunch Mini: Two for the price of one!
That's right, TWO small dining reviews this time.
Grotto (Golden Nugget)
If you're downtown and hankering for some Italian for dinner (and dinner only), your choices on Fremont are either this place or Pasta Pirate (which is a menu split with seafood) at the California. After trying Grotto, I suggest you might want to try walking to the Cal. I haven't tried the one there, but I know that I'm not getting my money's worth here. The layout of this place is pretty good, with the pool on one side and a festive dining room. On the other hand, the lasagna was 90% cheese and nowhere near as good as my past lasagnas in this column, it was closer to Olive Garden than either Dal Toro or the Italian room at the local Suncoast in Summerlin, and what I had at Valentino Grill blew this away. The chicken dinner was just simply okay. Service seemed designed to ignore us, and worse, the manager called a staff meeting for the entire restaurant at 5PM. The waiter, on one of the few occasions where he came around, said that this was a regular event and huffed that the boss possibly should pick a better time when we pointed out that taking all staff off the floor at the dinner hour is bad planning.
We didn't try any desserts, but the cart looked pretty amazing.
Solaro (The Palazzo)
I've always sort of liked Wolfgang Puck, though my history with him is not very deep. In 2003, I tried the Puck Cafe at MGM Grand and got a pizza with more toppings than I bargained for that I was unable to enjoy. His face and name appear on frozen pizzas that I used to get around here at VONS and was "the least bad for you" out of the salt and calorie laden pizzas that show up in your grocery's freezers, and they were very good. I'm also familiar with him selling his cookery products on the Home Shopping Network, and although he gets zinged by the fine dining community in Vegas for having so many different restaurants that he himself is never at, I've rarely begrudged him for it. While it may bother people who actually want to know the name and see the face of that outlet's chef at least in a web site bio if not actually in the kitchen, simply having a "brand" out of your name isn't too bad an idea if every one of your locations is known for quality. REAL quality, not just chain food quality.
Solaro is a poolside diner serving breakfast and lunch, run by Wolfgang Puck's operation. The page for the restaurant says that it's for hotel guests, but I called the place and asked if I could eat there if I wasn't staying at the hotel. The lady told me to "tell the person checking keys that you're here to go to Solaro by Wolfgang Puck." And so the next day, off I went. This may be a temporary thing, but all I can say is that I was stopped by no less than three employees (two at the room elevators, and one at the pool entrance) and all three let me through when I said I was going to Solaro.
Dining is either open to the sky at the base of Palazzo's tower, or in a patio that's covered but open to the outside. You can catch some glimpses of the pool area, which is much nicer than Venetian's (well, maybe not the Venezia one.) My chicken sandwich was very tasty, and they were kind enough to put garnishes that I wasn't sure about on the side.
This place has some negative reviews out in the general foodie and review space, mostly from years past when they apparently ran it as a self-serve operation and guests were taking food from a window to their tables. There is now proper waiting staff at work here, and they are VERY attentive. There was about five people walking around the dining area frequently for not too many guests. Praise and a large tip was left behind.
This place is well hidden, and even a good handful of hotel guests will probably not notice that it's here. A sister restaurant, Riva, services the Venetian's original pool, and while it looks nice enough in photos the Venetian pool was a slab of concrete when I stayed there in 2001 and having the abandoned St Regis construction hanging over it now can't be making it any better.
Solaro is a seasonal gem that costs a little more than the typical coffee shop ($16 hamburgers, for those who remember my rant about $14 hamburgers a few columns back) but the service and location makes it well worthwhile on a day when the weather isn't blast furnace hot. I would like to go back again sometime this year, although I know that eventually my Jedi Mind Tricks with the key check people will have run out of luck. Even if that happens, it will simply make me want to try other Puck locations like Brasserie at Crystals or Lupo at Mandalay Bay (the latter of which I intended to try for this section months ago, but have been procrastinating.)
Recommended, but definitely call ahead if you're not staying at the hotel to find out what the policy is.