Vegas Eats (and Drinks)

I just got back from a weekend in Las Vegas with the Hubs and some friends. I swear, the older I get, a weekend is about all I can handle.

Sometimes people ask me what we do when we’re in Vegas. Do we gamble? Some, but not a lot. My favorite thing to do in Vegas is to eat. With so many top notch restaurants in such a confined area, it’s hard to decide where to eat when you’re only there for a few days.

Sage at Aria was at the top of my list as it has both Iberico pork and absinthe, two products only recently available in the United States. Do you have a culinary bucket list? I do, and these are two things that were on it. I got to cross off both in one meal.

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Poor picture quality; good quality food.

Iberico pork, or specifically jamon Iberico comes from a specific breed of pig in Spain. Generally, the pigs are left to roam the forests of southern Spain, eating what they forage from the forest floor, including lots of acorns. So, this is markedly different from your typical Tyson pork loin you buy at the local grocery store. The dish on the dinner menu was Iberico pork loin, not the same product as jamon Iberico, but it was very, very good. I have ordered pasture raised pork from the Monroe Farm Market before, and this was pretty much on par with that, but prepared much better. I’m still holding out for some authentic jamon iberico someday.

Sage has a separate absinthe menu, something I’ve not seen anywhere else. The waitstaff are completely versed in the presentation of the cocktail, and it’s quite a show. Absinthe was banned from the United States in 1915, and only in 2007 was the ban lifted. Supposedly, what is available now in the US is a “watered down” version of the original, and there are only trace amounts of the hallucinogenic compound found in it.  I didn’t see any green fairies after I drank this. So who knows?

While the presentation was stunning, the taste was a let down. It was pretty bad. It tasted a lot like Jagermeister, which I hate. But I wanted to try it, and I guess now I can say that I have.

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On this trip, we decided we’d like to try a Thai restaurant. There are a number in Vegas, but when you search the internet or yelp for “best Thai restaurant,” Lotus of Siam pops up. Just a few weeks before we went to Vegas, Tony Bourdain even went there on his show, Parts Unknown.

Sometimes, places I’ve eaten that I’ve seen on TV have been a bit of a disappointment, but I’m here to tell you that this place is legit. It’s not easy to get to if you’re staying on the Strip and don’t have a car. But drop some cab fare, and get over there. It’s a few blocks east of the Strip in a very unassuming strip mall. The word is out on this place, too. We arrived Friday night without reservations, and were told the wait would be an hour. But we stuck it out, and the wait wasn’t quite that long.

The menu is like eight pages. It’s seriously overwhelming. But Tony said the reason to come to this place was for the Chef’s Specialties, so I flipped to the back page to check those out. We started with some appetizers, and I ordered the Nam Prik Noom. It’s a dip like salsa, but thicker, and made from green chilies and garlic. It came to the table with a variety of crunchy vegetables for dipping and something like fried pork rinds. It was amazing. And it was so simple. I cannot wait for peppers to come in season so I can make it myself.

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I ordered short ribs in a spicy coconut sauce. They were so good. Rich and tasty. And, I didn’t realize, but there were noodles hiding in that silk sauce. Score. The Hubs had garlic shrimp, which was unusual because the shells of the shrimp were peeled off about halfway, but left on. Then the whole thing was lightly battered and deep fried. And you ate the whole thing. It was crazy good. Those shells were so crunchy and briney after they were fried.

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We met a friend of ours from home who lives in Vegas now for dinner at Lotus of Siam, and he took us to a couple of his favorite bars downtown after we ate.

Park on Freemont is fairly new, and absolutely adorable. There’s a nice outdoor seating area, that would be perfect for people watching in Downtown Las Vegas, but we got a table inside. I’m not usually one for cocktails–I like beer and wine, but I took a peek at the specialty cocktails menu. I couldn’t resist ordering the “Wombat on Bathsalts” simply because of the name, but it was actually really good. It was tequila blanco, simple syrup, strawberries and lime juice. No wonder I liked it so well, I love margaritas.

The food menu actually looks pretty good, too.

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We visited the Container Park downtown and had a drink in a wine bar. The park is pretty neat because the whole thing is made from shipping containers. There’s even a playground (which we may or may not have had a run through). There are a couple restaurants, including a BBQ place that smelled amazing when we walked by.

The next night was our last night, and we planned to hit up a steakhouse. I couldn’t get reservations that fit our plans at the Homestead in Caesar’s Palace, so we went for Mesa Grill right beside it instead. I’ve wanted to eat here since I stared coming to Vegas several years back because it’s Bobby Flay’s restaurant. And really, its kinda unique in Vegas because there aren’t many restaurants specializing in Southwest cuisine. On the way to our table, we walked past the open kitchen and saw the big red hunks of meat on the grill. Since we didn’t get a steakhouse, we all were sold on getting a steak after seeing that. The special was a 48 ounce prime porterhouse that was aged for 80 days. My friend Chris and i decided to split it, although, it could have easily been split by the five people at the table. It was amazing. And a couple others at the table also ordered steaks, and we tried each other’s. There’s didn’t taste like ours. We chatted up the server (who ended up knowing all kinds of stuff about steak–even though that’s not what they’re known for) who said the difference was that ours was prime and the others were choice. She said that’s why it wasn’t on the menu all the time, because they couldn’t always get prime beef. Obviously, prime steaks are better quality than choice, but the reason is that they typically come from younger cows that have more marbling. This makes it more tender and flavorful. The difference was marked.

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So after that run of meals, naturally I need to detox for a week or so. But man, oh, man. Was it worth it. I cannot wait until my next trip back, because I’ve already got some places I’d like to try.

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