Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Las Vegas, Nevada ~ July, 2016

Several months ago Steve learned that he would be attending NBA league meetings and the Sports & Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) conference in Las Vegas. With the Republican National Convention coming to Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena, nearly all employees would be required to work from home. That seemed too good to be true, so in lieu of working from home, the Cavs decided to send Steve to Vegas.

 Tagging along was always in the back of my mind, but the price had to be right. A free room at the Aria is nice, but I still needed to get there! Well, my patience paid off and I found a non-stop flight for $120. The price was finally right.

We departed Cleveland after work on Friday and made our way to Sin City. I have only been to Vegas once and it wasn’t very fun…Steve has been a handful of times, but we've never been together. We were excited for another adventure; after all, our 10-year wedding anniversary was fast approaching!

We arrived at the airport at 9:00 pm local time and quickly jumped into a taxi. We arrived at the Aria and stepped into one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever seen. Incredible. Swanky, fresh and very cool. The rooms were comfortable and modern.

 My favorite room features were the alarm clock (no sound, just the lights slowly turning on and the curtains opening slightly) and the goodnight button (we could power down the room with the touch of a button).

I’d love to tell you we spent a lot of time outside roaming the strip, but we did exactly the opposite. The Aria is in an ideal location, but it also offers everything we could possibly imagine. Incredible food, three pools and a casino. What more could we ask for?


Let me first talk about the food. OMG. The food. I have never enjoyed food as much as I did on this trip!

After arriving at the hotel just after 10 (1 am EST) we needed a quick snack. We found Five50 on the main casino level and knew it was right up our alley. Wood-fired pizza and beer. I (we) visited Five50 three times. I do love my pizza and their pizza is delicious!
I ordered a slice of the Gotham (pepperoni, sausage, salami, mozzarella, grana padano) while Steve had a slice of the Forager (white sauce, mushrooms, bacon, spinach and ricotta).

On my second visit for lunch (no Steve) I ordered a slice of cheese and a glass of Rose.

 On our next visit (yes, my third visit in three days!) we split an entire Gotham pie with added ricotta. For dessert, we ordered the Elvis milkshake (banana and chocolate ice cream, peanut butter and candied bacon) and added a shot of rum.

  On Saturday night, we had dinner at Sage, also located in the Aria. Five50 and Sage are both run by the same chef/owner - James Beard award winning chef Sean McClain. Another partner and executive chef is Richard Camarota, also the husband of my HS friend and college roommate (small world!) Anyway, ironically she was in Cleveland visiting her parents while we were in Vegas, but regardless, she set us up at Sage and it was a culinary dream come true.

 We started with two cocktails, a little bread with salted butter and an amuse-bouch.

 We opted for the four-course tasting menu. I started with the artichoke fennel salad with bacon lavender and tangerine while Steve chose the ahi tuna crudo with sunchoke puree, grapefruit and endive. Both were light and a perfect balance of refreshing and sour citrus. A nice start to what would be a decadent meal.

For our second course, I opted for the foie gras brulee with strawberry compote, toasted cocoa nib with toasted brioche. Wow. It was one of the creamiest, delicate and ridiculous things I’ve ever tasted.

 Steve chose the wagyu beef tartare with crushed caper aioli, slow poached egg and crispy chocolate. The meat was perfect and the caper aioli added a nice salty finish.

Next we both ordered the black bass with baby artichoke, bacon vinaigrette and barigoule sauce. The skin was nice and crispy and the fish perfectly flaky.
  For our fourth and final course, I chose the wagyu beef filet with porcini mushrooms, bacon and béarnaise sauce. If I thought the foie gras was the best thing I had ever eaten, well this wagyu beef took the cake. I had never had wagyu beef before now and it was magical. Not only was the beef prepared perfectly, but the beef itself was rich and tasty and just so incredible.

 Steve ordered with veal cheeks with pickled vegetables, herb spätzle and paprika jus. Although he thoroughly enjoyed the tender meat and the overall flavor profile of the veal cheeks, he was also excited that I was getting a little full and had to offer him a few bites of my steak.
We thought we were done, but we still had one final dish to finish the meal. This light lemon sorbet was a nice palate refresher and the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
 Bardot Brasserie is the third place we visited during our stay. Also located in the Aria (I told you we didn’t venture far!)

 Steve was able to join me for brunch on Sunday. We enjoyed the everlasting Rose in addition to the French omelette with fine herbs, gruyere cheese, hash browns and salad. The French omelette was perfectly prepared. Light and fluffy.

We also enjoyed the seasonal fruit plate with buckwheat beignets and a frozen yogurt pistachio parfait. We had a great Cavs/LeBron conversation with the bartender as we watched Believeland in the background. It was a picture perfect set-up.
  We enjoyed dinner at Bardot on Monday night. Once again, the everlasting Rose is what caught our attention and the menu was intriguing.

  We started with Escargots Bardot. Wild burgundy snails were wrapped in puff pastry with toasted hazelnuts and a chartreuse garlic butter. They were divine. The combination of the rich snails, soft pastry with garlic were quite memorable and like nothing we'd ever had.

 For our entrees, Steve ordered the oak-smoked Duroc pork chop with bacon lardons, baby carrots, horseradish potato puree and a grain mustard beurre blanc. The smoky flavor of the meat paired very nicely with the salty bacon and grain mustard.

  I ordered the Parisian gnocchi au Pistou with goat cheese, summer vegetables, cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. I love gnocchi…when it’s prepared like this! The best gnocchi I had previously was at La Madia in Chicago. I have tried to make it myself and have tried it several times elsewhere, but no one has ever come close, until Bardot. Each piece of potato had a perfect sear that added texture to the light potato dumpling.
 I can honestly say that I have never had such an incredible culinary experience in such a short amount of time. The foie gras brulee and Wagyu beef filet at Sage and the gnocchi at Bardot are arguably the three best dishes I've ever had. Thank you Vegas.

 While Steve attended his conference during the day, I spent a little time at the pool. Despite the 110 degree temperatures, it wasn't totally unbearable. I was actually able to lay outside for a while with an occasional plunge to cool off. Honestly, 90 degrees in Mexico is much hotter than this!

  Well, there you have it! SMS Trips and Travels goes to Vegas. We leave for our home away from home in just three days and cannot wait...Ocean Maya Royale here we come!


My 37th Birthday Celebration(s)!

My month-long birthday celebration began at the Lakewood 4th of July parade. We were joined by Mom, Rich, Sean, Travis and families and the kids had a great time collecting candy.

With Alex's birthday falling on July 6th, my mom thought it would be nice to host everyone at her house for breakfast and mimosas! It was a great time and the bottomless mimosas were a big hit. I think it should be an annual tradition :) 

Christie and Laura are two of my work friends and they treated me to a day at the Indians game on Wednesday. We took off at noon and made our way to Progressive Field. It was a gorgeous day. Unfortunately, the Indians did not fare well and lost 12-2.

Progressive Field has some of the best food in baseball and we couldn't resist sharing these nachos from Momocho.

On my actual birthday Steve and I decided to venture East (by east I mean 5 minutes from work!) and visit some of the best restaurants Cleveland has to offer. I had a free night at the Marriott that was set to expire, so we decided we'd make it a staycation and made way for a culinary adventure. We even took a $15 Uber ride to offset the cost of hotel parking.
We first visited Crop Kitchen for a pre-dinner happy hour drink.

Next we visited L'Albatros, one of Cleveland's most renowned restaurants. I can honestly say I can't believe it has taken us so long to visit this gem!

We started with a selection of five cheeses and loved all of the recommendations. We’ve already committed to seven choices during our next visit! We also enjoyed two cocktails, including (my favorite) a Boulevardier. The cheese alone will have us coming back again and again.

Next, we moved to the whole roasted artichoke and two glasses of Rose wine. The artichoke was meaty and nicely accompanied by a lemon aioli.

For entrees, we enjoyed the pasta with Brussels sprouts and scallops in a cream sauce in addition to the walleye and lobster quenelle. We preferred the walleye to the pasta. It was delicate and delicious and highly recommended. I loved the time it took for us to enjoy our meal because we did just that, enjoyed the meal and company.

 Finally, for dessert we ordered the pistachio cake. As a lover of anything pistachio, I was a little disappointed as I thought this a little dense and dry. I plan to try the chocolate napoleon next time.
With the stellar combination of service, food, drinks and price, we’re already planning our next visit to L'Albatros. I initially thought this place should be reserved for special occasions, but we plan on visiting again for our regular date nights. The atmosphere is nice, but relaxing. The food is some of the best and the service is professional.
The most amazing part of the night is when we had a bottle of prosecco delivered to our table from our incredible friends in New Jersey. Jean and Ron made this night extra special. We'll be seeing them very soon for our annual trip to Mexico where we'll be enjoying Quattro champagne daily!! Cheers!

My birthday staycation continued on Saturday with more incredible culinary experiences. Rising Star coffee is considered some of the best and we stumbled upon their location in Little Italy. Steve ordered a  cappuccino while I ordered a Vietnamese iced coffee. Both were tasty and full of caffeine!

Next we headed across the street for an incredible brunch and bottomless mimosas at Trentina. Trentina is another spectacular restaurant from James Beard Award winning chef Jonathan Sawyer. Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern is one of our favorite restaurants downtown, so we were certain Trentina would not disappoint.

The bottomless mimosas were delicious and we were excited to see they were offered with grapefruit juice.

We started with the pickles, cheese and charcuterie plate. Inspired by Italy's Alto Adige region, it's a delicious combination of a triple cream blue, ash goat, speck, llama sausage (!!) along with crispy polenta and pickled kale, broccoli stems and cabbage. Definitely one of the best charcuterie plates we've ever had...and we LOVE charcuterie plates!!

I ordered the brunch pizza with ash-roasted potatoes, lardo, provolone, pecorino, locally foraged ramps, and grated egg yolk bottarga.

Steve ordered the bacon egg and cheese Bolognese with semolina bucatini pasta, beast bolognese, Trenta Grana parmesan, bread crumbs and Trentina eggs.

On Saturday afternoon, we met Sean, Alex and the kids at Lakewood's Summer Meltdown. Steve had a little helper pushing the (empty) stroller :)

With our birthdays falling only two days apart, it's only natural that Alex and I celebrate together every year. This time, my mom and Rich watched the kids while we walked to nearby Buckeye Beer Engine to enjoy a few beers and burgers.

It was a great time and put another exclamation point on my spectacular birthday weekend!

My 37 years have been awesome and I have to say the last 15 with Steve have been incredible. Once again, my husband treated me like a total princess and I'm not sure I fit the princess profile. I had an incredible birthday at some of the best Cleveland has to offer. My birthday month continues in Vegas and then Mexico for two weeks!! Oh, and a very special 10-year wedding anniversary in between :)