Christmas in Vegas

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Happy new year, everyone!  It’s a little late, but I feel like I am only just starting to wrap up the old and look ahead at the new year stretching before me.  I suppose a marathon of holiday traveling can do that to you.  After a pretty grueling December, M and I ended up having to stack vacations.  We flew out to Las Vegas early in the morning of Christmas eve to spend Christmas with M’s mum.  Then we were home for five days (which included hosting a New Year’s party and a miniature road trip) before heading out to sea on the Cruise 2.0.  After our trip was cut short this summer, we were given credit for another cruise with Royal Caribbean.  It didn’t take us long to pick another week when the Grandeur of the Seas was returning to all of our originally-planned ports.  However, with the only time the six of us were all available being early January, I had to accept that the cruise would push back my usual frenzy of new-year-induced planning and prepping and organizing.  It was a delay I was willing to make, in return from some solid vacation time.

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Both vacations were very nice, in their own way.  This trip to Vegas was my second visit.  My first visit was with several friends and M’s family, once again.  I was introduced to In-N-Out and dragged through most of the casinos.  I expected this trip to be no less hectic, but, hopefully, just a tad cooler than the 90-100 degree heat I experienced in August.  Thankfully, the weather was lovely for our whole time in Las Vegas.  The plus side of being in the entertainment and events industry is truly the opportunities that come with networking.  M’s mum knows someone who knows someone, or has some points or something…anyways, we were upgraded at least twice and ended up getting beautiful suites in the Elara Hotel.   I’m slightly guilty that we didn’t take full advantage of our living room-kitchenette combo, including the wall-sized projector that used the screen that covered our floor-to-ceiling windows.  I did, however, use the jacuzzi tub almost every night.  I think that was the only way I made it through Christmas, as I was trying to stave off a pretty wicked head cold.  Epsom salt (“sick bath”) soaks every night really helped to clear things up.  This was the most extravagant rooms that we have ever stayed in, which a cool bonus for our holidays.

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The trip was fairly typical for Vegas: opening and closing with In-N-Out, steak & eggs at Ellis Island, lots of casinos, and lots of food.  I’m not too much of a gambler, but M can be, and he managed stayed pretty even throughout the trip.  Overall, the food was better than our first trip (where we had several truly depressing encounters with buffets), and, in spite of a few flops, we found some wonderful restaurants.  The Elara connect directly to the Mile, a mall-type collection of shops interspersed with bars.  While several of those had cheap breakfasts, M and I were soon tired of $2.99 Huevos Rancheros.  After a google search one morning, we realized the Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris casino had great reviews for gluten-free patrons and that it was only about two blocks from our hotel. We headed over; luckily, missed the brunch rush; and were quickly seated.

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The decor was inviting, not stuffy and the first taste of the coffee proved it to be beautifully prepared.  M quickly approved–he can be iffy about “French” restaurants that don’t align with his memories of childhood vacations in France.  That sounds far more hoighty-toighty than reality, I assure you.  While the gluten-free options on the breakfast menu were slightly limited (no GF crepes), I quickly zero-ed in on two important factors: they had fruit and they had GF eggs benedict.  First and foremost, I was certain that I was about to get scurvy by Day #3 of our trip.  There is no fruit to be found in Vegas, and extremely limited vegetables.  Everywhere seemed to be meat, potatoes, and booze.  M and I immediately order the pineapple, which came with a mint simple syrup that was delightful.  Secondly, my family (collectively) are eggs benedict connoisseurs.   We have a slightly unhealthy obsession with the perfect hollandaise sauce.  It is the meal of choice for every birthday, mother’s day, father’s day…you name it.  I distinctly remember driving to four different restaurants one father’s day in order to find a brunch with eggs benedict.  After a long span of trial and error, my family has found the best hollandaise at Amphora, a local Greek diner and bakery.  Unfortunately, they do not do gluten-free options.  In fact, Mon Ami Gabi is the first place I have found with gluten-free eggs benedict and, I assure you, I am not exaggerating when I say that this dish was perfection.

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Nostalgia wrapped up with wonderful ingredients and delicious tastes.  Does it get any better?

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M had the special: lamb shank eggs benedict, which was also very nice.  We were so enamored that we immediately found M’s mum and made plans to go back for dinner.  We were not disappointed.  When the three of us get particular, we can be very indecisive, and more often than not, we end up with several plates to share.  Dinner at Mon Ami Gabi was no exception.  We started off receiving individual plates of gluten-free bread with “Gabi’s olives, roasted with garlic, herbs, and orange zest”, which were delicious!  After some debate, we finally settled on the Duck Leg Confit with lentils and port wine reduction, the Country Pate with cornichons and mustard, Steak Bernaise and Frites, and–after a discussion with our waiter and a quick check with the chef–the cheese platter sans fruit bread.  It was perfect–we each were able to pick and taste over the leisurely dinner.  Did I mention that Mon Ami Gabi is across the street from the Bellagio fountains?  Truly one of the best sights in Vegas, and possibly M’s mum’s favorite, it was icing on the cake to be able to slow down and look over every fifteen minutes or so when a new fountain show began.

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Mon Ami Gabi was truly the highlight of our trip.  We are crazy excited that a branch is close enough to us that we can visit again for a planned meal without too much trouble.  In fact, when I proclaimed my new found love on Facebook, I found out my mother, sister, and several friends had already been to the restaurant.  How did no one think to let me know of such an amazing place with a gluten-free menu?!  Well, now we know, and I am sure it won’t be long before M and I visit once more.

We also attended a presentation on timeshares for the hotel, quite honestly, because they offered us free show tickets and $50 worth of food coupons in return.  While the presentation was actually very interesting, and the staff did their best to make it affordable for us, we just can’t manage it at the moment.  Plus, they asked M and I all sorts of questions: “How much do you budget per year for vacations?” “How many kids are you planning to have?”  “What’s your five-year plan?”  Eek!…Oh, hey, sorry, I think you may have mistaken me for a responsible adult.  I’m here for the free food, please and thank you.

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But, in all seriousness, it did seem like and interesting goal to keep in the back of our minds when M and I ever get around to budgeting and a five year plan (it’s on my Resolution list, alright?  But, in baby steps like weekly meal-planning and a monthly budget.  No pressure, little baby steps.)  The shows were slightly limited: we picked Absinthe.  We knew nothing about it beyond the red and gold banners that hung next to Serendipity 3.  But we headed to the ticket booth to pick up our tickets before turning our attention to dinner possibilities.  The food coupons were more extensive.  We chose Gordan Ramsey’s Pub and Grille because (a) pub food, (b) Gordan, and (c) we were standing by Caesar’s.  Again, one of the top choices that we made in Vegas.  This place is a little pricey, as all of the celebrity chef restaurants in Vegas are, but the food was phenomenal!  Their GF options are limited on a very small, though they do have New Planet beer.  I ordered the Shepherd’s Pie and M had the pork belly.  Oh my goodness.  This Shepherd’s Pie changed my outlook on all Shepherd’s Pie.  My own recipe is based off of Gordan Ramsey’s public recipe, but I realized I had pumped up all of the flavoring agents to the point where they masked the meat and potatoes.  The thyme, the wine, the Worchestershire sauce are there to provide a simple, steady lift to the true flavor of quality lamb and beef and smooth, luscious potatoes that must’ve been pureed with a pound of butter.  When the potato met with the tiniest bit of fat in the meat mixture, it simply melted away into glorious flavor.

M’s pork belly was also delicious and melt-in-your-mouth–so much that I only dared take the tiny sliver to taste.  To be fair, I was pretty over-protective of my own plate until I finally had to admit defeat to those wonderful potatoes and M had the chance to finish the Shepherd’s Pie.  This dinner was a nice break in our hectic vacation and at that moment, we both need time to disconnect and calm down.  I did not take photos of the food, but did grab one of the place setting before we ordered.  The play of textures was just too wonderful.

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After dinner, we headed to Absinthe, which we soon saw was voted the Best New Show in 2011.  It was a sort-of variety show, heavy on the acrobatics and daring feats with interspersed bits of comedy–all with the Vegas edge.  That meant acrobatics in lingerie, strip teases, and utterly un-PC commentary from the MC-type characters playing host.  The show is set in a tent outside Caesar’s Palace, only about 15 feet high with only ten rows of folding chairs in the round for a small, intimate audience.  That meant that we saw the acts without the illusion that comes from something like Cirque du Soleil, where make-up, lights, and distance add illusion.  Instead, you could plainly see the supreme effort when a man balanced another person on his head, or hung by his feet to lift his partner up to the aerial silks.  That portion was incredible, and, as far as the comedy, the artists and staff are quick to settle you into the correct mood or have cleavage far too close to your face.  Expect crazy, expect crude, expect some mild embarrassment and the potential to be called onstage for a lap dance contest.  If you go with the acceptance to laugh everything off, this entire show will be very entertaining.

On our last night, we went up to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  You could follow the lights to the edges of the valley, which was very pretty.  It is very interesting to remember how much is packed into such a small space.  

I’ll leave it here for now, but I’ll be back soon with my full breakdown of Gluten-Free Eating Aboard Royal Caribbean ships, and then a long-hoarded fish and chips recipe to get us back to the regular rotation!