Friday, December 30, 2011

Wicked Spoon Buffet at The Cosmopolitan - a review

Chicken Adobo taco (in bowl), Pecan Swirl French Toast, Moroccan Rice Salad, Antipasti and Asparagus

Bacon & Spinach Quiche (top), Mac-and-cheese (left), Eggs Benedict (right), California rolls

The Wicked Spoon Buffet at The Cosmopolitan is one of the newest buffets on the Las Vegas Strip.  It's in the lower mid-price range of all the buffets on the Strip, with the Imperial Palace's Emperor's Buffet being the lowest at about $12 per person and the popular, Sunday-only Jasmine Brunch at the Bellagio starting at $55 before drinks on the higher end.  (For the record, Bally's Sunday Sterling Brunch is the highest priced at $78 per person, but they automatically include champagne with the price of every brunch buffet, so I think their price is on-par with the Jasmine Brunch.)

I was really looking forward to trying this buffet because I took it off of my “to do” list in July.   On that trip I ended up grossly overeating every day when I booked too many restaurants in my plans.  On this day Hayley and I were properly hungry, but not starving, so I personally was ready to try some new dishes and was looking forward to sampling lots of new things.  

There are two services available at this buffet:  brunch is served from 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. daily, with a full selection of breakfast and lunch dishes, and dinner is served from 5:00 p.m. - 10 p.m. daily with dinner entrees.  There was no line just before 10 a.m., and we were seated and choosing our first dishes in less than 5 minutes. 

The Wicked Spoon buffet area itself is very pretty and modern, with lots of seating and great artistic touches everywhere.  The food items are laid out by region (Italy, Morocco, etc.) as well as by separate breakfast and lunch selections across the back of the buffet, so there’s no winding around to find something hidden somewhere.  I was very happy that the brunch seating included equal offerings of breakfast and lunch items because I hate to have more choices of one than the other, but that's a personal preference for me when it comes to buffets.  

Here are some of the selections we tried: 

Bacon, tomato and cheese omelet - Hayley ordered from the omelet chef.  The eggs were perfectly cooked and the omelet was a nice size, but maybe a little too much for a buffet.

Buttermilk pancakes - Served with lots of maple syrup, these were light and fluffy.  Hayley said she could've eaten a couple of stacks, but she was saving room for other things, too.

Pecan Swirl French toast - This was my favorite breakfast item of the day.  They were delicious, fluffy, warm, filled with nuts and slightly caramelized.  Add on the hot maple syrup and it was a very good way to start the day.  

Bacon and spinach quiche - Light and perfectly cooked, the quiche was topped with chives and a bit of mozzarella cheese, leaving yummy strings of cheese trailing when you took a bite.  The pieces of bacon were big enough to pick out but small enough to keep you from having to cut them up.  I wanted seconds.  

Eggs Benedict - Served in its own little silver pot, it was a very pretty presentation, but not a good item on this day.  Eggs Benedict is one of my very favorite breakfast items, so I try to enjoy them whenever I can.  These, however, were not good.  The egg whites were underdone, to the point of the egg being jelly-like and quite raw,  and the English muffin was too tough to cut with a fork, a knife, or both, so I ended up putting that aside.

California rolls - Fresh and bite-sized, these were really good and I sampled a couple of them because I'm too cheap to order sushi at a restaurant.  They had a nice selection of sushi available, but I don't get too adventurous when it comes to sushi, so I just admired most of it for its pretty presentation.

Moroccan rice salad - I put it down after one bite.  It was way too sweet for my taste.  Yes, it had raisins in it, but it was too sugary and not flavorful at all.  It was a very overpowering sweetness for a rice dish that was NOT a pudding.  

Mac-and-cheese - Also served in small, silver pots, these were good but very dense and almost overly cheesy, so it was hard to eat more than a couple of bites without feeling too full.  Definitely a comfort food, but I would've needed a nap after eating the whole serving.

Chicken Adobo taco - A nice, light, bite-sized treat in a tiny corn tortilla.  They added too many onions to the taco so it overpowered the chicken, but I ended up taking the onions off so that I could enjoy the flavor of the chicken, instead.

Chocolate-covered strawberries - Hayley was disappointed in these because they added nuts to their topping, and she hates nuts.  Who puts nuts on chocolate-covered strawberries?  

Pizza - We were both disappointed by their limited pizza selection to even try a single slice; they only had plain pepperoni and sausage pizza slices available on this particular day.  I was expecting more varieties of pizza, I guess, especially for a big, nice buffet.  No white pizza selections were available, either (the "sauceless" pizzas, with extra cheeses instead of marinara).

Asparagus - These were served crisp and slightly blanched, but they put lemon on them before serving them.  I prefer my asparagus with just a bit of salt, no lemon, so that's probably just a personal choice.

Mint and chocolate chip gelatos - Hayley said they had several different flavors available, but chocolate or chocolate chip is usually a safe bet in any case.  Theirs was nice and creamy, but the mint was especially delicious.  Maybe it's just a favorite of mine and I'm biased - who knows?

Chocolate-covered marshmallows on a stick - Not much to mess up here.  The marshmallows are covered in dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, so they aren't as super-sweet as you'd expect.  A bite-sized treat that's a great end to a buffet.

Chocolate-orange mousse - A surprising little layered treat in a clear cup, this tiny mousse was surprisingly light and not overpowering with orange flavor.  Hayley debated getting a second one, but decided FULL was a good stopping point.

Overall, we were just not happy or impressed with most of the lunch selections we sampled, which is a shame.  The breakfast items and dessert selections were fine, but we just weren't WOW'ed by the whole experience, so I'd give the whole buffet a 6 out of 10 rating.  There are so many other great buffets in Las Vegas that I don't think I'll be going back to this one anytime soon.  I still think that Wynn and Bellagio have the best buffets on the Strip.

The Wicked Spoon Buffet is $22 per person and includes coffee, tea, and soft drinks.  Alcoholic drinks are available at an additional cost.

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Attractions and Revamped Hotels Coming to Vegas in 2012-2013! (Link to article)

There have been very few changes to Vegas in the past couple of years, and my favorite city is feeling the effects on all levels.  It's nice to hear there are some changes underway that will debut in 2012 and 2013.  I need some new things to see and do in Vegas!

Here's a link to the article that details the changes to some of my "Vegas haunts" as well as some other changes around the town:

Looks like I need to get my "to do" list updated!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fremont Street Experience to include Bon Jovi songs!

If you haven't been to downtown Las Vegas in awhile (and I haven't), now you'll have a reason to visit again:  three Bon Jovi songs will be added to the Fremont Street Experience starting on New Year's Eve.

Check out the Vegas Inc. article for the details here:

Looks like I'll be heading downtown again - I LOVE Bon Jovi!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Restaurant Review: Carnegie Deli at The Mirage

The Open-Faced Reuben...that is OBSCENE!

Note that this is only HALF of the Club Dear sandwich (tomatoes, bacon, turkey layers), and a chopstick is needed to hold it together.  Hayley finished it all.

Since we were at The Mirage to see LOVE, we decided to eat at Carnegie Deli for dinner.  When you enter from the Harrah's/Caesars Palace side, it's located just inside the casino, off to the right.  You can order food to go from a separate line, or choose restaurant seating from the hostess around the corner.

The restaurant is not very large, but it is open to the casino on two sides.  This makes it ideal for people-watching in my opinion, but it's intimate enough that you can still carry on a conversation with your table mates and not feel the need to yell.  The decor makes me think of a diner, but one from the early 1940's perhaps - no blinding aluminum on the walls, just lots of photos and a very diner black-and-white tile floor.

The menu is extensive; they offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, and their portions are huge.  The menu mentions that they charge $3.00 for sharing, but I definitely think it's worth it if you're not a big eater.  Even if you ARE a big eater, look around to see the size of the portions before you decide to get something for you.

You are given a plate of their house-made pickles to munch on while you look over the menu.  Given all the great reviews I've heard about these pickles I have to say I was a bit disappointed when I actually tasted them.  They were crunchy, yes, but the overall flavor wasn't my favorite.  I guess because they also added some extra garlic (in an effort to be more like Klaussen pickles?) they were supposed to be very flavorful, but I wasn't overly impressed by them, and I LOVE pickles!

Hayley ordered the "Club Dear", which has to be the TALLEST club sandwich I’ve ever seen!  It contained over 12 pieces of bacon (we stopped counting at a dozen) and at least a pound of turkey.  She ended up taking it apart to eat it in smaller bite sizes with the tomatoes because it was impossible to eat any other way.  She said it was really, really good, no matter the size.  It normally comes with lettuce, but Hayley left that off because it's her least-favorite sandwich topping.

I ordered the "Open-Faced Reuben" instead of a salad because Hayley talked me into it (“They’re famous for SANDWICHES, mom!  Have a sandwich.”), but I should’ve ordered a salad because it’s what I really wanted when I walked into the restaurant.  I swear the plate my ‘sandwich’ came on weighed at least 5 pounds and the mound of pastrami and corned beef topped with sauerkraut and melted cheese was enough to feed the entire country of Africa for a couple of days.  It was huge all the way around, and  I only ate about 1/10th of it before I gave up – it was way too much meat.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I like corned beef and I like pastrami, but that much meat topped with other stuff and sitting on's too much for mere mortals such as myself.  I believe they have a smaller sandwich that's similar to it and about $5 less, but I didn't really review all of my options on the menu before I placed my order.  Shame on me.

We shared an order of fries, which were very good and crispy, and we each ordered an iced tea.  Our meal came to $65.91 before tip!  For sandwiches!  Our meal at Mon Ami Gabi later in the trip was less than that, and THAT meal included a glass of good wine for me!

Our waiter left a little to be desired because he was a bit slow-moving.  The restaurant wasn't crowded, but he took forever to get back to us and check on tea refills and see if we needed anything else.  I don't know if we came right before he went on a break or what, but we hardly ever saw him.

I would like to try the deli again, because I really want to try a smaller, more manageable salad and get a piece of pie or cake they are famous for.  Their cakes and pies are displayed in long, glass-fronted cases, and they all look fantastic.  It was just not a possibility for this trip, though.

I would rate the whole meal and experience a 7 out of 10.  Given the size of the portions and the selection, it's a great place to take someone for a sharing meal when you don't want to go anywhere too fancy.  Still, the price was a bit steep for me when I'm looking for a more casual dining experience in Vegas, especially for sandwiches.

Planet Hollywood's standard room - it's not that good, sir

This is it?  Are those sheets?  Are we in the military?
What's that over there by the far wall?  Nothing!

That's all the storage space right there.
And Hayley's suitcase is almost as big as the armoire...

See the wasted space?  Do something with it!
When I booked the hotel for my Vegas shopping trip with Hayley this past November, I chose the room based on my discussion with Hayley about the location and my desire to try new things on each trip, especially after so many trips to Vegas.  CET offered me a FREE "Hollywood Hip" room upgrade at Planet Hollywood, where I've never stayed before, and Hayley liked the modern photos on the website.  I figured we might as well check it out because A) I might not get another free room offer from them, and B) it was all about keeping the girl-child happy and keeping her near the shopping areas she was looking to visit.

We arrived from the airport at about 1 p.m., and I didn’t know if we’d be able to check in or not because the Caesars Entertainment website gives the earliest check-in time as 4:00 p.m. for all of its properties.  There were only a few people in line, and we were told that the comped Hollywood Hip room I booked through the CET website would not be ready until after 5 p.m. at the very earliest, but a standard room was available now if we wanted to take it.  I asked Hayley if she cared, and she didn’t.  The front desk guy said, “Well, you’re used to staying at Harrah’s, and we’re a step up from their rooms, anyway.”  Really?  We’ll be the judge of that!  

(I like how all hotel employees always assume - or try to convince YOU - that their rooms are superior to everyone else's in some way.  It's not that I stay in any high-end hotels on my Vegas vacations, but assuming that your rooms are better than other properties' rooms isn't always a wise thing.  Just sayin'.)

Off to the room, and I don’t think they ARE a step up from Harrah’s, personally.  The main bedroom area was very basic and a bit worn, and definitely not as large as I expected based on the front desk employee's description.  The very first thing Hayley noticed when we walked in was the theme: Predator 2.  Oh, boy!  We get to stare at aliens every day!  (If there were such a thing as a "sarcasm font", you could use it on those last two sentences, believe me.)  One of Hayley's big dislikes is aliens, and they're not exactly my favorite, cuddly bedtime friends, either.  I should have asked if “Sixteen Candles” was available and we would have both been happy.  That would be a great idea to add to the Planet Hollywood room booking:  selecting the room 'theme' based on your movie likes and dislikes.  So many other theme choices would've been higher on my list.

There were only two drawers and one closet in the bedroom armoire – too much wasted space for a room with double beds.  Pretty sure more than one person will (usually) be staying in a room with double beds, so why not give us more places to put our stuff?  The hanging space was very limited because of the smaller, single-door armoire, and we had to be very creative about putting away our clothes.  I ended up putting most of my folded clothes in the useless door area below the TV because...what else would I put there?  A stack of phone books?  Two females in one hotel room equals more space needed to put stuff!

No decorative pillows on the beds, no random bed d├ęcor, and not even a colored or creative bed skirt in sight…even Harrah’s uses some color for a standard room!  We both first thought that there were only SHEETS on the beds, with no comforters at all.  Luckily we were wrong about that!  All white bedding makes it look BLAH.  It was a very sterile-looking bed area.  The beds themselves were not the most comfortable I've slept in (Aria and Bellagio top that far...), and it was hard to find a good 'spot' to lay in at night.  I did like the suede headboards, but that's all I can say I liked about the beds.

The Roman shade on the window was frayed and worn on the edges, and you couldn't totally block out the light at night on the sides.  I really like sleeping in a completely dark room in Vegas.  For me, it's hard enough to get comfortable in a strange bed, so I want complete darkness and quiet to help me get the little sleep I manage.  To even GET to the window was hard enough:  a randomly placed purple chair was right in front of it, between the armoire and the foot of the bed, and we both had a hard time getting to the window to open or close the shade.  BEHIND the chair and in front of the window was a random "table" with movie memorabilia in it; again, alien guns weren't the thing I was hoping to see, so leaving that table behind the chair became one of the better decisions for this particular room.

Next to the bed near the far wall was some sort of light display-box-thing that was supposed to 'highlight' one of the alien movie posters on the wall.  Again, it had no real practical use, and the bottom portion of it was uneven and barely allowed Hayley to stow her suitcase out of the way.  It offered no other benefit or "wow" factor for the room because the lights weren't working.  Not that I'd turn on the light to highlight the alien poster in the first place... random, striped wall?  The carpet pattern didn't compliment the wall pattern, and neither of them went with the purple chair.  I think either the wall paper or the carpet was left behind from when the hotel was still Aladdin, and they haven't really finished updating everything.  At least that's what I keep telling myself.

The bathroom in the standard room is very big, but they could use the space better and put in a couple of open shelves under the sinks for storage, or even add a second sink with all that space - again, I'm thinking double beds, double sinks and a place to put everything that goes along with it.  There IS a separate area for the toilet with a door, so that's a plus I like when sharing a hotel room (there's no need to share too much, y'know).  The garden tub was nice and deep, but yet ANOTHER alien movie print staring down at you is not the best view when you want to relax in your hotel room.  Hayley actually took a bubble bath the first night, but she didn't comment on it.

The shower area is separate and glassed-in, but the tile is older subway-type tiles and very old-looking.  They would do much better to re-tile the shower to match the rest of the marble in the bathroom, or just use a pre-fab shower to make it look more updated and less like an old shower.  Good water pressure, though, and the water was nice and hot.

So, would I stay at Planet Hollywood again?  If you haven't figured it out by now, the answer is NO.  Given the below-standard state of their "standard" room, I will be happy going back to Harrah's for my next trip...unless I get an offer for another CET property I haven't yet occupied.  I give this room a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 - it was clean but very worn, and the bathroom saved it from being completely useless, but my vacation time should be enjoyable all around, even when I'm in the room.

If you're interested in checking out some of the OTHER rooms offered at Planet Hollywood, check out their website here, I'd stay away from the basic rooms if I were you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Demystifying Harrah's two towers and the rooms they offer

Nothing wrong with a nice Deluxe room at Harrah's, is there?
I didn't think so...
I recently uncovered a post by one of my LV4E friends, CarolWI, regarding the two Harrah's towers and the various rooms available.  I thought it might be helpful to re-post her information here, especially for a couple of my friends who are planning a Vegas trip right now and don't know where to stay on their budget, but *might* decide to ask for an upgrade, depending on what they can get before the upgrade request.  

Carol used to work at Harrah's as a reservation desk clerk and posted about the rooms that had recently been updated and had their descriptions changed in 2009.  Since then all the rooms at Harrah's have been updated to reflect standard colors and fabrics; even the most basic rooms don't have loud or flashy decor anymore, so 'renovated' doesn't really apply.  The "new" descriptions are still applicable today, however, so here's the room and tower information she provided to everyone at LV4E.  I hope it's helpful to someone else!

There are two towers: Mardi Gras and Carnaval. 

Mardi Gras tower sits closest to the casino.  The entrance is by the Harrah's cafe'/Ming's Table restaurant. 

Carnaval tower sits behind the Mardi Gras tower.  The entrance is near the front desk area and Starbucks. 

Room types are as follows: 

Classic...standard room, lower floor, no view, or upper floor, view of backside of hotel.  These rooms have been upgraded since 2009 with basic colors and no additional premium amenities.

Deluxe...formerly called 'Premium', these are in the Mardi Gras Tower. Odd-numbered rooms face the pool and hear music from Carnaval Court outside Harrah's. Even-numbered rooms have virtually no view, or if you are above 10th floor you get a partial view of Treasure Island. 

Luxury...a room with a view of the Strip (remember there is NO 'panoramic view' of the Strip and you have to look out OVER the Mardi Gras Tower/Casino roof). There are Luxury rooms in Mardi Gras looking directly out at the Mirage/Volcano. In the Carnaval Luxury rooms, you are higher up; facing North you will see TI/Mirage and facing South you will see over the pool and out towards will NEVER see the Bellagio fountains because of the distance, and some guests say they can hear music from Carnaval Court in these rooms. 

Mini Suites...a standard room, only larger.  Some have a small sofa that can pull out into a double bed. Others have only a desk instead of a couch. These only have 1 king size bed, no double beds standard. 

Petite Suites...these are much larger and somewhat of a triangular shape. Most have only a king sized bed although there are a couple that have 2 queen beds. It is one large room with a sitting area with a couch/coffee table. You have two separate windows with a view of the North and South Strip, but ONLY if you are above the 15th floor in Carnaval. 

Executive suites...these are on floors 30 and above in Carnaval tower. They have a separate living room with a bar and big flat screen TV, as well as a separate bedroom area.  Most have only 1 king bed, but a couple have 2 queen beds, as well as another flat screen TV in the bedroom area. The bathroom has a corner jacuzzi tub with small flat screen TV, separate shower and toilet. Odd numbered rooms have a view of the Strip, and even numbered rooms have a view of the back of the hotel. 

The executive and mini suites in Mardi Gras are the most newly renovated and (they) are not allowed to 'sell' these to hotel guests..they are reserved for higher players and are reserved through a host based on their play. 

Then there are larger suites above that: the vice-presidential and presidential suites, with two bedrooms, etc.,  but those are generally reserved for high-rolling players, or if an upgrade is available for purchase, between $150-$300 per night additional. 

ALL rooms above the Classic type are additional $$$ to upgrade. Upgrades must be approved by room management or VIP. 

Also to be noted - room types requested at booking are based on availability at the time of check in and are not a guarantee of the room you will receive. But of course (they) always do the best to honor your request.

Thanks again to Carol for putting this information together.  It certainly helps to know what to expect, even when you're getting a "comped" free room!  

For the record, my favorite Harrah's rooms to stay in are the Deluxe Mardi Gras rooms (view or not), or the Luxury rooms in the Mardi Gras tower.  For some reason I like being in that tower more than Carnaval, even though the elevators are not that far away from each other, or very far from the front or back of the casino.  Go figure...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Photos: Chandelier Bar at The Cosmopolitan (link)

I adore the Chandelier Bar at The Cosmpolitan.  Here are some photos to brighten up a rainy day!  

(Not mine - just borrowed.)
Pretty Cosmo Photos!

Fun fact:  Did you know that the Chandelier is made up of over 2 million beads?  That's a lot of BLING!

Link to buffet review: Wynn Country Club's Jazz Brunch by Diana

If you're looking for a great place to have Sunday brunch in Vegas, you might want to check out the Wynn Country Club's Jazz Brunch.  My friend Diana recently did a buffet review for this one, complete with lots of photos and details!  (She's a great trip report writer, and a neat lady to boot.)

As a comparison, she has dined at the Jasmine Brunch Buffet at Bellagio (once with me, on several other occasions with various friends and family), and she says this one is "on par" with the Jasmine Brunch.  Be still my beating heart, because I LOVE the Jasmine Brunch Buffet!

It's now on my "to do" list for the next trip - I don't know if I can pass up that much Cajun food in one location!

A link to her blog and the review, plus hours and pricing: