Vegas Baby Vegas

Some places don't live up to the billing. Other places do. Las Vegas is not so much in the latter camp as having steamed through it, burst out the other side and created its own genre of being just like the movies. Only more so.

Yep, as Twitter types will be aware, I'm in Vegas on (yet another) press thing. And, as I supped a rather fine Mimosa this morning, watching the famous Strip from one of the Four Season's 180 Degree Suites while a very nice lady massaged my feet, I couldn't help but wonder: Where did it all go wrong?

Things stuttered slightly yesterday with a very disappointing meal. I'd initially written it all off to jetlag but, in retrospect, Mon Ami Gabi really doesn't deserve its classic French bistro look and status. It's theme bistro. Certain dishes - an excellent scallop gratinee, powerfully garlic-heavy escargots - were fine and the place feels like a chunk of Paris that's been dismantled and rebuilt, London Bridge like, in the middle of the desert. But the steaks were average - and the proposed pink cooking came uniformly brown throughout - the sauces underpowered and as for the "frites"... Don't get me started. Ah bollocks, too late.

Dear Mon Ami Gabi. Millimetre thin, deep fried potato shavings are not frites. Frites are slender and crispy, with a miniscule amount of flouriness more than backed up by the exterior crunch. They are not, and never will be, deep fried packing material. Seriously, what were you thinking?

So, while the city as a whole delivered all the surreal pleasures I'd expected - and I have the signed Donny & Marie photos to prove it - the food had proved disappointing. When that meal also follows several hours of very poor airline food (Virgin, good food can be served in the air, please try harder), it's dispiriting.

And then today, everything's been faultless. After an intermittent night's sleep - it usuall takes me at least a night to get used to a new bed - I got up early and (you'll be delighted to hear this Giles) spent an hour in the gym. I met the rest of the party - a thoroughly decent, multi-national bunch - in the lobby and we headed to The Four Seasons for breakfast at Verandah, with a view over the pool that kind of demanded a splash of sepia tone...

Beautiful pastries awaited us on our outside table, ditto a lovely fruit platter. Good coffee was poured, a freshly squeezed combination of watermelon and seasonal berry juices was every bit as refreshing and delicious as it sounded. And then a rather excellent pastry chef appeared with little plates of fantastic non-greasy doughnuts with assorted toppings.

What I thought was a Krispy Kreme-esque glazed doughnut turned out to be coated in a frosting with a delicate but impressive lemon flavour. And if I hadn't liked that one, I could have had my own made...

That was followed by huevos rancheros, a dish that I find very hard to resist when I see it on a menu, as those days are way too rare. It was a little polite - Vegas chefs, you won't offend me with proper spicing, really you won't - but the chorizo had some bite, the eggs were distinctly non-health and safety influenced (runny yolks, something that so many places seem terrified to serve) and the whole gloriously messy package was a very good bit of morning refuelling. The guacamole on the side was rather pretty too.

Lunch though was a different league. A restaurant called Border Grill offering Mexican food to the masses at the crowd-pleasing Mandalay Bay did not fill me with hope. However, thanks to chef Mike Minor's ability at the stove, it did ultimately fill me with probably the best Mexican food I've ever eaten. Even Andrea, the Mexican journalist on the trip, happily admitted that the food (from this non-Mexican son of Pittsburgh) was excellent.

Pick of the dishes would be the ceviche, blue-cheese and chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, a traditional Cochinita Pibil - pork you could cut with a fork and the application of gravity - and, making up for last night's disappointment, a piece of grilled, marinated skirt steak that I would have just as happily married as eaten. Well, I'm in Vegas. You do that sort of thing.

But trust me, if you're ever over here, visit. It's sensibly priced and the cooking is exceptional. I know they say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas but with food this good, you've got to shout about it.


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