Saturday, September 12, 2009

Eating & (Not) Drinking Through Vegas

Thursday, we headed to SeaTac Airport to catch a flight down to Vegas. Dan's sister is celebrating a milestone birthday with a group trip, staying at the Paris Casino, near the center of the strip. Although it was originally going to be a 'girls trip', Dan & I somehow convinced her to expand the guest list to include us, and our brother in law came along, too.

Ironically, I'm spending this month not drinking any alcohol, so some of the usual Vegas excess was off the table for me - but that certainly didn't stop me from having a great time. And it became a fun adventure to figure out what to order when we went out to eat and bar hop.

Our first stop was before we even left Seattle, at Casa Agave (formerly Tequilaria) in the SeaTac Airport. Dan & I usually fly out in the morning, making a stop at this favorite spot out of the question, but with an afternoon flight, it was perfect.

I started my teetotalism with a Virgin Classic Lime Margarita, blended. There's definitely something lacking in a classic margarita when the tequila is absent, besides the liquor. The tequila lends a smoky quality that you just can't replace with something else, and also serves to balance the sweetness. This was a great learning experience to kick off the trip, as margaritas are my go-to cocktail in Vegas. I realized that other favorites (notably the Mai Tai) would be similarly flat and overly sweet, so I crossed them off my list... but was determined to learn more about 0 Proof Vegas.

Dan & I also indulged in some Chicken Nachos while we waited for our flight time.

Once safely in Vegas, delivered to our hotel, checked in and unpacked in the room, our first order of business is always to hit the bar and get the Vegas fun going. I had no intention to change that routine for Dan (or myself), save for the not drinking alcohol part. We popped down to the Casino floor, and went to a little bar that we had dirty martinis at during our very first trip to Vegas. At a loss for virgin cocktail ideas, I went for a Shirley Temple - the classic kid's faux-cocktail.

Once again, the sweetness of 7-up and grenadine was a little much for me, since I don't usually drink sugar & HFCS heavy sodas, but a little sugar buzz definitely helped me keep up and enjoy the excitement of the Strip.

After doing a little walking around in the Miracle Mile, next door at the Planet Hollywood Casino, Dan & I stopped into Pinks Hot Dogs new location at PH. I ordered a latin inspired dog covered in guacamole, tomatoes, onions, and nacho cheese, Dan ordered a Polish dog (true to his heritage), and we split some onion rings - choices we would later regret.

Besides the dogs being kinda tough, and tough to eat, Dan's came with chili on it - which wasn't as advertised and was almost surely a mistake, since chili is a very un-Polish ingredient. But regardless, the satisfied our hunger before bedtime.

Lisa (the birthday girl) arrived the next morning, and we convened poolside at our hotel. Right under their replica of the Eiffel Tower, the Paris pool is simple but beautiful. It's a huge octagonal pool surrounded by lots of space for lounging. There are two hot tubs nearby, and a cafe/bar in the pool area, with servers roaming around taking orders.

Dan & his sister went to get something to drink, and brought me back a tasty virgin pina colada with a slice of pineapple - a perfect way to cool off. The creaminess of the coconut and the tartness of the pineapple juice definitely made the drink feel complete and not overly sweet, even without the rum.

Jennifer & Matt arrived next, and we all hit the Hawaiian themed Cheeseburger Las Vegas for some dinner together. I went for a Chicken burger, fries & more onion rings, and a club soda. The club soda was a little boring, but I wasn't going to defile a mai tai by stripping away it's rum, and felt like having something sugar-free and light.

I continued that theme when we went over to the Hawaiian Tropic Zone for some post-dinner entertainment courtesy of people watching on the Strip and later karaoke. The hot cocktail of the evening was something called a Wild Orchid, which apparently went down easy and would make a great accompaniment to brunch.

The next morning, we hit the 24 hour diner in our hotel and I had some oatmeal with brown sugar, milk, strawberries and bananas - and just some water to drink.

After a day out and about, we all met up again for dinner at Ah Sin - a pan-Asian restaurant inside the Paris Casino with all-you-can-eat sushi specials - and no onion rings.

To drink, I went for the Passion Fruit Iced Tea, which just kept coming. I think I downed 5 of them, leaving me with an adequate sugar/caffeine buzz.

Dan & I also shared the lobster spring rolls and a variety of sushi rolls.

After dinner, the rest of the party arrived - Laurie & Alisa - and we joined the girls for a walk down to Margaritaville. The place was HUGE inside, deceived by the small storefront that had always led Dan & I to believe it was a small little place. Not so, as evidenced by the entire plane hanging from the ceiling. The vibe was really fun, with a live band and DJ alternately keeping people dancing, and the place was so packed that we had to pounce on a table.

I decided to get a little more adventurous, and asked our server for a suggestion of a non-alcoholic cocktail. He said he could do any of their margaritas without alcohol, and when he mentioned a raspberry version, I was sold. More like a slurpie than a cocktail, it was wonderfully thick and made for a better virgin cocktail than the classic lime - perhaps because I think of blended fruity margaritas differently.

The next day, Dan & I decided to walk down to the Southern end of the strip, making a stop first at the MGM Grand. Here we had one of the highlights of our trip - getting to hold a lion cub and have our picture taken with it. Dan did the actual holding, but I got to feel the incredibly soft fur of little Pebbles.

Pebbles was so small and young - still awkward when trying to walk and totally enamored with the handler, who was able to get her to look into the camera. She and her sister took turns standing in for photos, and the pace of everything was really tailored to their needs, with lots of breaks and very little time actually in the hands of guests. This is of course disappointing when you're holding the cub and can't even look at it (because you have to look at the camera), but was surely the best thing for Pebbles, so I felt good about that.

Also at the MGM is a Rainforest Cafe that we've never been to before, but given our love of the bar at the one in Tukwila, it seemed an obvious choice for a drink. Being a kid-focused establishment, I rightly assumed they'd have some fun non-alcoholic drinks, and opted for their Raspberry Lemonade - another slurpie-esque blended drink with fresh fruit. Definitely fresher tasting than the Margaritaville version.

When we reached the end of the Strip at the Luxor (not counting some of the new resorts opening up way, WAY down Las Vegas Blvd), we popped in to see if the renovations going on during our last trip were complete. They are, revealing that they've built a grand staircase & escalators in the center of the lobby, ascending to the second level where they have bars, restaurants, rides and exhibits. Our beloved La Salsa Cantina was gone, but in it's place was T&T (Tacos & Tequila).

Faced with another menu featuring nothing but alcoholic cocktails and soda, I explained my predicament to our waitress, who paused, then offered that I could have any of the frozen slushie drinks from the little bar across the way (one that makes those yard long margaritas) sans booze. When she told me the 'Coral Crush' was a passionfruit slushie, I was sold - but only on a small glass. Without alcohol, I don't think I could suck down a yard of margarita, even a passionfruit one.

To eat, we got complimentary chips & salsa, and ordered the very popular appetizer platter, which included beef taquitos, shrimp quesadillas, veggie nachos, and a delicious little chicken tamale topped with a slice of avocado, all accompanied by a generous helping of fresh guacamole. The portion size was very un-Vegas, in a good way, and was just the right amount of food for Dan & I to share for lunch.

The grand finale (for Dan & I) was a big dinner with everyone Saturday night, at Lisa's favorite Vegas restaurant - Taqueria Canonita, in the Venetian. She and Dan's folks had been there a few years back, and she fell in love. It's right along the canal running through the shopping & dining area of the hotel/casino, offering great views along with their great service and food.

Our waitress, Kathy, offered up a virgin pina colada as a good non-alcoholic choice, which it absolutely was. Made a little more from scratch than the poolside version at Paris, it was creamy and delicious - but loaded with calories, so I made sure to pace myself and drink just the one. The lack of alcohol aided that endeavor by not numbing my self-control. That coconut cream is a calorie bomb that I didn't want to repeat too often.

Along with our meal, we shared some chips, salsa and guacamole, and for my entree I ordered the San Louis Pollo Rostizado - an achiote marinated chicken breast served with sauteed Napa cabbage, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, crispy bacon and crispy onions (aka onion rings).

The chicken was moist and flavorful, and the dish was beautiful, as you can see.

Dan went for their pilonchillo pork tenderloin, which he thoroughly enjoyed. After dinner, the staff brought out a tres leches cake for Lisa, and we all sang Happy Birthday. Everyone else headed out for a night of club-hopping, but it was already after 11pm when we finished dinner, and Dan & I had a 7am flight, so it was back to the room for us.

Despite my no-alcohol approach, this trip to Vegas was just as fun and fulfilling as all our others, and was our first trip shared with other people - something I'd definitely do again. I was mellow, but exciting, and though we didn't get to do everything on our wish list, we did a lot and had a great time. Plus, I learned a bunch about non-alcoholic cocktails and drinks!

Pink's (Planet Hollywood) on Urbanspoon

Cheeseburger at the Oasis (Planet Hollywood) on Urbanspoon

Hawaiian Tropic Zone (Planet Hollywood) on Urbanspoon

Ah Sin (Paris) on Urbanspoon

Rainforest Cafe (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon

T&T (Luxor) on Urbanspoon

Taqueria Canonita (Venetian) on Urbanspoon