Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Las Vegas - Absinthe & Le Reve

While my July trip to Vegas with Tori for Chad's Birthday was all about nightclubs and lying poolside, this visit was more about seeing shows and eating great meals. We lucked out at the rental agency when they upgraded us to a BMW 328i and we drove out to Vegas in style. It was my first time driving a Bimmer and I really enjoyed it, 35 mpg with lots of power. I loved how many automatic features it had while the super responsive cruise control was the best I have ever experienced. After a quick four-hour drive on Saturday, we arrived at the Wynn only thirty minutes after our check-in time. Opening the drapes in our luxurious room, we were greeted with a lovely view of the sun setting between the Mirage and Treasure Island on the other side of the Strip.

After settling in at the Wynn, we drove to Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas since Tori had never been there before. We drank strong margaritas from a bar out on the street and watched two overhead VivaVision shows, American Pie by Don McLean and a Bon Jovi montage. For dinner, we ate at the Grotto in the Golden Nugget. It didn't look that fancy, but the pasta was amazingly delicious. (Ravioli with zesty vodka sauce for Tori and tortellini with creamy pesto sauce for me.) In the morning, we went next door to the Society Cafe at the Encore. I would definitely recommend the Frosted Flake French Toast. After breakfast, we walked over to Circus Circus to watch The Flying Angels trapeze show. I saw a new trick that I have never seen before, the "Pass Over". Visiting Circus Circus brought back many memories of my first visit to Vegas in 1993.

Back at the Wynn, we explored the hotel for a little while before walking over to Caesars Palace to meet up with Nick who moved to Vegas a few months ago to work at the Cirque show, O. On the way back to get ready for our dinner reservations at L'atelier de Joel Robuchon, we watched the beginning of the Vegas Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. It was eerie watching all the racers running down the center of the empty Strip, normally crowded with cars. Nick warned us that it would cause major traffic problems so we got ready early to catch a cab down to MGM Grand on the far side of the Strip. After sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for one long block, we ditched the cab at Harrah's and rode the Monorail the rest of the way.

Since the monorail saved us so much time, L'atelier was able to sit us an hour early, allowing a nice leisurely meal before the Absinthe show at 9:30. I have eaten at this Michelin Star restaurant once before in 2008 and I have always wanted to come back. Tori and I both ordered the four-course menu and a glass of wine. Not technically one of the courses, the dinner started with a L'Amuse-Bouche (Foie Gras Parfait with Port Wine and Parmesan Foam) It was my first time tasting foie gras which is banned in California and we found it very delicious.

1st Course - La Joue (Melting Beef Cheek with Onion Mustard Sauce and Young Vegetables) and L'Hamachi (Yellow Tuna Tartar with Spicy Tomato Coulis) While tasty, these appetizers were our least favorite dishes of the night.

2nd Course - Le Homard (Lobster Bisque with Crunchy Green Peas) We both couldn't resist ordering this smooth and rich bisque. I am normally not a huge fan of lobster, but I loved the flavor here.

Added Course - La Caille (Foie Gras Stuffed Free-Range Quail with Mashed Potatoes) This wasn't part of our menu, but we ordered an extra plate of Joel Robuchon's signature dish to share. The buttery potatoes melted in our mouth.

3rd Course - La Hampe (French-Style Hanger Steak with Shallot and Crunchy Sweet Gem) and Le Canard (Confit Duck Layered with Potatoes and Fresh Mushrooms) I had this steak the last time I ate here, but this time I ordered it medium-well instead of well-done. It was delicious mixed with the side dish of puréed potatoes. I loved the perfectly seasoned lettuce leaves. The duck was Tori's favorite dish of the night.

4th Course - Les Tartes (Traditional French Tarts) We both ordered the tarts with an after-dinner cappuccino. My favorite tart was the coffee while Tori loved the lemon meringue with edible gold leaf.

I enjoyed the counter-seating at L'atelier that creates face-to-face interaction with our friendly waiter and where you can watch the chefs working in the quietly efficient kitchen. Hopping back on the monorail, we rode up to Caesars Palace for our after-dinner show, Absinthe. (As we walked across the overpass, we could see marathon runners still crossing the finish line.) Absinthe's small spiegeltent lies in the front courtyard of Caesars and we were in the 5th row back from the tiny center stage. As people entered the tent, one of the static trapeze performers, Genevieve Landry, sat above the aisle messing with people as they went underneath to their seats. Most were unaware of her sitting right above their heads on the static bar. The show started with a chair-balancing act and the Green Fairy descending from the ceiling as she sang and performed a burlesque routine. These were both okay, but Absinthe really kicked off with the appearance of the Gazillionaire and his assistant, Penny Pibbets. They were very funny, raunchy and racist as they introduced the rest of the acts throughout the night.

The Aerial Straps routine was amazing as a couple spun in the air over our heads to the song, "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri. There was another burlesque routine with a women slowly working her way into a big inflated bubble as she discarded her clothes and the Gazillionaire and Pibbets performed their own comedic acrobat/dance routine that cracked us up and reminded me of Borat. The roller skating act was impressive, but frightening as the woman spun in the air, whizzing past our faces with her head barely missing the floor. My favorite act was the static trapeze routine by Ssens Duo. The couple's constant motion to the song, "Kilometer" by Sebastien Tellier, was mesmerizing. Tori performs static trapeze and was impressed by the routine's length and their perfect form throughout. The show ended with a tightrope walking act, combining a mixture of comedy and drama. Absinthe is now my favorite Vegas show.

(Video - Static Trapeze starts at 1:39 after short comedy routine)

Since the Strip was still closed after the show, we walked back to the Wynn. Tori's high heels were pretty comfortable, but her feet were sore after walking at least two miles in them. Sleeping in on Monday morning, we headed over to The Venetian for breakfast/lunch at Bouchon, Thomas Keller's restaurant in Vegas. Since I love a Croque Monsieur, I instantly ordered the Croque Madame off the menu. It is the same thing except for a fried egg added to the top of the grilled cheese and ham sandwich. Since I wasn't super hungry because of our large dinner last night, I thought that I would ignore the large pile of french fries that came on my plate. Wrong!!! They were so light and perfectly seasoned that I ate almost all of them. Ha! Tori got bread-pudding french toast which was great too. Afterwards, we walked around the Grand Canal Shoppes and went for a Gondola Ride before heading back to relax/nap/read in our room until dinnertime. (I loved the complementary robes hanging in our closest.) Very nice!

Chad had recommend the Botero Steakhouse at Encore so we went there on our last night. It is a beautifully designed restaurant based around the work of the Colombian artist, Fernando Botero. In the circular space, we were seated right next to The Seated Lady statue at the center. We started with a wedge salad that was amazing, so refreshing with iceberg lettuce, bleu cheese, pickled onions and pieces of candied pork belly. Good thing we shared because it was huge. While I ordered the twelve-ounce Filet Mignon as my entree, Tori got the Potato and Truffle Crusted Salmon. It was perfectly cooked and she said it was the best piece of fish she has eaten in her entire life. While my steak did not reach that level, it was still very good and the three individual pepper sauces that came with it made it flavorful and unique. For desert, we finished with the tasty S'mores Beignets, marshmallow-stuffed donuts and dipping sauces.

Complimentary tickets for the show, Le Rêve, came with our rooms at the Wynn and we went after our meal at Botero's. Le Reve is an aquatic show created by the former Cirque du Soleil director of Bellagio's "O" but with close-up seating circling the round tank, I think it had a much better stage. The production values were amazing as the performers appeared from up under the water on the evolving stage or dropped down from the hole in the ceiling on elaborate rigging. The show's main theme was about a woman's doubts and dreams after a young man's declaration of love. Tori's favorite part was a static trapeze routine performed on rotating apparatuses shaped like school desks. I would love to see the underbelly of this stage to see how it all worked.

Since we drove home on Tuesday, we could sleep in and still avoid the long Sunday traffic jams on the I-15 back to Los Angeles. We stopped at Buffalo Bills's on the Nevada border last time to ride the roller coaster, but it broke down right before it was our turn. Trying again, this time we found the entire resort closed for renovations. I guess third time will have to be the charm for us. Near Barstow, we stopped for lunch at Peggy Sue's 50's Diner. I have always seen the signs on these Vegas drives but this is the first time I have eaten there. It was decent, but after all our amazing meals in Vegas, I was a bit too spoiled for simple diner food. We should have gone on the drive out instead. :)

It was a great trip!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Flying Trapeze - I'm a Catcher!

I had been working on my catch-lock for a couple months now so I can become a Flying Trapeze Catcher. My first goal was to catch my girlfriend, Tori, by the end of the year and I completed it today, a month early. After Tori coached me through several practice locks, she announced that I was finally ready to catch her. I felt confident but still a bit nervous.

Here is the 30 second video of my 1st Catch of Tori's Knee Hang. With the added pressure of a flyer behind me on the board, it wasn't as smooth as my practice locks, but I pulled it off.

Here is the video of my 2nd Catch. Much smoother, but I was completely exhausted after releasing Tori to the net.

I am very happy this evening, but I am also very sore. Wayne had given me some knee pads to cushion the back of my knees on the catch bar but I forgot to wear them. I will also have to build up my endurance. Tori can catch two full classes in a row. Up to 32 catches in a day!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Indoor Skydiving - Riding the Wind Tunnel (Perris, CA)

Tori and I went Indoor Skydiving up in Perris, CA on Sunday for Kenny's birthday with Jill, Corinna, Lisa, Wayne, Lindsay and Jennine. When we arrived in the morning, the 96 foot tall wind tunnel looked like a rocket ship about to blast off into space with the huge intake vent at the bottom spreading out like an exhaust nozzle. Since it was a busy weekend, we could only purchase the First Time Flyers Package of two flights each for $55. (One minute per flight.)

While Kenny and Jill have done this before, the rest of us first-timers had to take the short training class to learn all of the hand signals and practice the Stable Position. (Arched back with legs bent at a 45 degree angle and elbows at 90 degrees. Hands cupped down and chin up.) Without the force of the wind, it was hard to maintain the position for very long, especially with my sore muscles from Saturday trapeze. After the training, they gave us a jumpsuit, earplugs, goggles, and helmet.

Since they booked ahead, Kenny and Jill shared 15 minutes, two minute flights interspersed with the rest of ours. With all that extra time, the instructor taught them new positions with each flight. (Spinning like a top, flying upside-down and a horizontal corkscrew.) During one flight, Kenny entered standing upright on the net with both hands in the air. He looked like the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubeman with his arms flapping out-of-control over his head. Ha!

Out of the newbies, I was the first one into the chamber. Walking in, the instructor had me lie on the net before they raised the wind speed. I was able to maintain the Stable Position fairly easily but my bent spine hurt and the jumpsuit dug into my crouch. When the instructor gave me the signal to relax, I shot up high in the air. It was a bit of a surprise, but I remembered to drop my hips to get back down again. On my second flight, I leaped through the doorway onto the air column with my hands under my chin before spreading out into the position. It was less painful this time and he taught me how to spin in place by slightly tilting my arms. That was fun.

All the wind tunnels I have seen on television have an open padded area surrounding the column of air, but the one in Perris has a pressurized chamber surrounded by steel and glass walls. The only padding was lining two narrow doorways leading into the narrow antechamber where we sat between turns. It sounds more dangerous, but it actually provides more stability since you don't have to worry about slipping out the side of the updraft and falling to the floor. This means that the 120 miles per hour wind is consistent throughout the chamber so you can shoot up high without worry. Lisa shocked us on her first flight when she disappeared completely out-of-view through the windows over our heads.

Since Jennine sat this experience out, she took our pictures through the glass with three different cameras while watching and holding Tucker. At the end of our session, the instructor showed off all his coolest tricks. (Launching super high up, several flips, twirls, and a sweet maneuver where he floated vertically upside-down 8 feet up and lowered his body in both directions while keeping his head still.)

Afterwards, we walked over to the airfield where I tandem-skydived back in 1998. Eating lunch at the Bombshelter, we watched the skydivers jump out of the planes overhead. Most came in quickly under their chutes with sliding or running landings, but we saw one big wipeout where a guy hit the dirt with his feet and then face-planted forward. While it was a great day, my chiropractor told me this morning that I strained the hell out of my middle vertebra. He popped them back in place and I'm now good to go.

Link to 2016 Indoor Skydiving Post at iFly San Diego