Latest Vegas glitz, Zagat's new Vancouver guide, West Jet new route: KW-YVR
The biggest thing to ever hit Las Vegas has a grand opening Wednesday night. Here's a preview report from Richard Ouzounian, Toronto Star theatre critic and the chap who puts together our monthly "Six Meals In..." column in the Star Travel section.Regular readers of The Star's Travel section will know that, just like Napoleon's army, I travel on my stomach. My monthly "Six Meals In...." column starts its sixth year in January and I haven't even remotely eaten my way around the globe yet.
So you'll be able to guess that my idea of extreme frustration is to be in a new luxury complex in Las Vegas that boasts over nearly 20 high-end restaurants and only 48 hours to try and grapple with such abundance.
Even I, who have been known to eat two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners in a single day - all in the name of research - couldn't tackle this task.
Fortunately, the people arranging this opening week had a pretty splendid idea. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we descended on six of the restaurants for three "tasting" lunches a day. We had cocktails one night catered by another restaurant, dinner served at an eighth, breakfast at a ninth and tonight's party is supposed to represent many of those not yet spoken for.
What have I learned from this? That I want to come back to the Aria/Vdara/Crystals/Mandarin world when I have a lot more time to eat.
Some quick hits:
Jean-Georges Steakhouse - Since Mr. Vongerichten is known as one of the food world's highest standard bearers, you know his steak house is going to be different. A series of circular rooms keeps it cozy, a witty use of cattle imagery keeps it fun and a kitchen that prepares meat superbly does the rest.
American Fish - Michael Mina has several other ace restaurants in Las Vegas and California, but this is unique. Imagine fresh seafood cooked and served in the highest end hunting lodge you could imagine. And the birch forest behind the bar will keep you riveted.
Sage - Shawn McClain, one of the most highly esteemed chefs in Chicago, comes west with dazzling results. An absolutely stunning room, so romantic that I think I'll take my wife there to propose all over again. And a deft, deft hand with seasoning.
Julian Serrano - The Hispanic heritage of Senor Serrano is front and center, but all with a difference. The reds and golds you might expect in the decor have a new lightness, as does the food. A prawn gazpacho or a spicy chicken croquette are just two of the delights. Tapas in the bar, as well.
Beso - Eva Longoria's Mexican-styled steakhouse is a hit in L.A., so why not Vegas? Two places for one: a sexy upstairs disco and a boldly flavoured downstairs restaurant that does damn fine things to a cow.
Bar Masa - Masayoshi Takayama redefined fine sushi dining for NY with his Masa. Now he does the same for Las Vegas with a daringly bold open room that puts the emphasis on his superb food, like his daringly overstuffed tuna maki rolls.
I think I'm going to stop now before I get faint with hunger. Anyway, I've got to do my interviews with Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Libeskind and Eva Longoria and then get ready to party like it's 2009. Oh, it is.
That's Richard's last post for today. (Slacker!). Here's his stuff from earlier:
Okay, this is a crazy city. I think most people would admit that. But it was looking unusually wacky when I went on an early morning walk. The temperature was about 8 C. I know it's a lot better than -4 in Toronto, but nobody here seemed to know how to dress for it. I saw some people in shorts and t-shirts, others bundled up with scarves and mittens and only a few dressed sensibly (as I was, of course) in a light jacket.
But the insane part is that everybody acted like they had made the right choice. The t-shirt crowd weren't shivering; the ski bunnies weren't wiping away beads of sweat. I guess that's life down here: you make a choice and stay with it.
A choice that the city fathers seem to have made is re-designing the streets so it's impossible to walk up and down the Strip without going through a series of stairs and bridges that amount to a mini aerobic workout. (Okay, nobody told me to eat bacon and eggs before I set out on my walk.) And just try to cross Las Vegas Blvd. at certain points. I simply wanted to go to a discount drug store and buy a Lip Balm that wouldn't cost me $5, like in the average hotel sundry shoppe, but as I looked up and down the Blvd., I realized I either had to go a quarter mile out of my way or cross illegally.
So I crossed illegally and suddenly a policeman appeared to tell me I had done wrong. Have you ever seen a policeman in Las Vegas? I swear this is the first one I've ever met there! I apologized and told him I was from Canada, where everybody was so easygoing that we just crossed whenever and wherever we felt like. He let me go.
Accessing the rest of Las Vegas from City Center, BTW, is a tricky proposition as well. A long, long, long corridor will take you from one end of Vdara, over a bridge to the extreme end of the Bellagio, but it seems like the kind of secret route that they used to smuggle Allied prisoners out during WWII. Or you can look for the entrance to the Mandarin Oriental, cross over another bridge, walk through the Crystals shopping center (see photo), out through Aria and back home.
Crystals.jpeg Only this morning, all of those entrances were closed because they were preparing for the big opening press conference which takes place any minute. I knew I had to get back to my room to write this, so once again I threw myself on the mercy of the powers that be. This time, however, I evoked a word even more powerful than "Canadian," which was....."Media."
So it's off to the press conference, then a tasting at three different restaurants for lunch. I'll report to you again about both events (as well as a recap of where I ate yesterday), before I start an "only in Las Vegas" series of interviews this afternoon: Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Libeskind and Eva Longoria. (No, not all at the same time!)
That was Richard's mid-afternoon (Toronto time) file. Below is his first blog item of the day. He's nothing if not prolific!
I must have been to Las Vegas two dozen times in the past 10 years, but blame Celine Dion and all those Cirque du Soleil shows rather than a gambling problem. Okay, here's my deep, dark secret. I play the penny slots and usually come home $45-$100 to the good. There. I've said it and I feel a lot better. But over the decade, I've stayed at all the major hotels including the newest ones and eaten at all the best restaurants.
All of this is to lay down some street cred when I tell you that I have been blown away by the 18 hours I've been at the new City Center development so far.
It really is a whole new Las Vegas. Some might call it "kinder, gentler", but I prefer to think of it as cool and classy. Hey, not one of the three new hotels now open is trying to look like another city or country. Audible sigh of relief. I wasn't really looking forward to the Luxembourg Hotel, Spa, Casino and Jellied Suckling Pig Restaurant.
Anyway, I'm staying at the Vdara, which opened two weeks ago. It's a 100% non-smoking, non-gaming building. Pinch yourself. Yup. it's still Las Vegas. I kind of feel like I've gone to heaven, only there's room service. Everyone is unfailingly polite, cheerful even, and the rooms have to be seen to be appreciated. Every one is a suite. And I mean a real suite. Not just the lets-add-a-sofa-and-a-coffee-table-and-call-it-a-suite kind of room. Nope. There's a full sitting room, kitchen, dining area, separate bedroom and great big bathroom including a tub that all 6'l" of me can stretch out in.
And the service! Room service breakfast this morning brought a waiter who had a toaster with him. He plugged it in to my kitchen and toasted my English Muffins while laying out the rest of the meal. Goodbye, sogginess.
What's this cost? Jim has been letting you know how sweet Vegas deals are these days, but according to travelexpert.ca, you can get rooms on the Strip for as little as $29 Canadian. Hotels.ca was listing a deluxe room at the Vdara for $137 Canadian.
I also took a tour of the Aria which has also redefined the Vegas hotel experience. Wood, glass, metal, stone. Real works of art. Clean air. One-touch computers in your room that work the lights, temperature, music, TV, DVD, etc. all from your bedside. And a whole new fibre optics system that delivers wireless internet at eight times the speed of normal hotels. Sweet.
The sun has just risen here in Las Vegas so I'm going outside to see how the city is waking up on this very important day. Big Press conference at 11:00 AM local time, giant party starting at 7:30 PM. I've put my dibs in for a dance with Eva Longoria, who's going to be there. Hey, I had dinner at her restaurant, Beso, last night, so I figure we have a lot to talk about.
Thanks for that, Richard. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming from Jim, who's had plenty of nice trips this year but still wishes he was in Vegas to check out City Center.ZAGAT'S VANCOUVER VISH LIST
Okay, pardon the really bad headline. But Zagat today issued its new Vancouver 2010 guide in advance of the Winter Olympic Games, and there's plenty to consider if you're headed out for the Olympics. Or just for fun some other time.
The publication says the Games have helped keep Vancouver on top of its culinary game despite the recession, with such new spots as db Bistro Moderne (chef Daniel Boulud) and Market by Jean-Georges (chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten). Downtown, they singled out Miku, Voya at the Loden Hotel (I had an AMAZING dinner and fab drinks at the Loden a year and a bit ago), as well as The Edge and The Refinery. On the West Side, they singled out Gastropod, Maenam and Trattoria Italian Kitchen, which is a wonderful spot on 4th Avenue that's hugely popular with young folks.
(Funny, I saw nothing about Beard Papa, the suburban chain that serves dreamy cream puffs. But that's their loss.)
On the bargain side, Zagat's mentioned Nat's New York Pizzeria, Cru and Pied-a-Terre, as well as Mis Trucos and Cafe Barcelona and the soon-to-open Judas Goat (how do you mention a place that isn't serving food yet, I don't know).
The winner for overall top food was La Belle Auberge, located way out in Ladner. Vij's in Vancouver, profiled by the Star's Adrian Brijbassi in the Star Travel section not too long ago, was named Most Popular. Top Decor award went to Seasons in the Park, while top service went to Bishop's. Up in Whistler, top food award was given to Bear Foot Bistro, while the Keg was named most popular, which says something about Whistler but I'm not quite sure what.
The Opus Bar at the lovely and trendy Opus Hotel was named most popular nightspot, while Stanley Park (duh) was named most popular attraction. A personal fave, The Wickaninnish Inn near Tofino, also was singled out as a top hotel on Vancouver Island. I had a superb meal and a fabulous room there in September, along with the best massage of my life. I damn near proposed to the girl after she was finished rubbing my neck and back and fingers and toes.
WEST JET: KITCHENER to VANCOUVER
WestJet today unveiled its flight schedule for the summer of 2010, featuring five new routes and expanded service on 19 trans-border and international routes. The summer schedule includes new, non-stop service between Kitchener-Waterloo and Vancouver, Toronto and Puerto Vallarta, Vancouver and San Francisco (a popular Air Canada route), Edmonton and Kamloops and Edmonton and San Francisco.
Kitchener-Waterloo to Vancouver is a godsend for folks live out there and want to avoid Pearson and the Toronto traffic. Or even if you're in Hamilton or London or anywhere west of Mississauga, really.
WestJet also says a bunch of seasonal routes will become year-round, including Toronto to Atlantic City, Miami, Puerto Plata, Bridgetown, Cayo Coco, Varadero, Turks and Caicos, St. Maarten, St. Lucia and Cancun.
JIM'S DEALS OF THE DAY
DREAMING OF BOEING
Good reports out of Seattle yesterday on the new 787 Dreamliner, which had its first foray into the skies. It's been plagued by delays, but the successful first flight is good news for Boeing, for the air industry in general and for Air Canada and its customers in particular.
Air Canada has ordered 37 of the new planes, which are smaller (210 to 290 seats) and more nimble than some of the bigger planes out there like the A-380 or the Boeing 777, which seats 349. The thought is that Air Canada will use them to reach countries like China with routes that wouldn't be economical with the bigger planes.
There's talk of Vancouver to Guangzhou by 2011. There also are suggestions that the 787 would give Air Canada more options for increasing Toronto-Shanghai and Toronto-Beijing flights on a year-round basis, according to the Globe and Mail.
The first 787 isn't slated to go into commercial service until late next year, likely in Japan. So don't expect to see any of these babies flying over the skies of Toronto any time soon.