A night to remember

IMG_0753My daughter and son-in-law had secreted with Dee a birthday card with the inclusion of $100 and the injunction that this was to be taken, converted into chips and be blown at the tables or slots. Neither of us is a gambler so we texted various friends of greater nous in this area for advice. “Put it all on black” was the card-accompanying suggestion; “18 Black” was another but on our wheel 18 was red so what to do? Another said you can’t lose on Keno machines. Chips collected we did a little roulette, a little blackjack and some slots but even with advice from the locals (on reflection they probably wouldn’t tell us how to win would they?) the first fifty had gone in minutes. With a minimum bet of $10 and no hint of a one-off win let alone a streak, we decided we were crap gamblers, nobody playing looked very happy and that we’d be forgiven for investing the remainder in wine and sake to accompany our imminent Nobu meal.

We had eaten at Nobu in London a while ago and knew it still had a few stars around the empire. It would take us back to Japan and so seemed the best place to celebrate. And how! The manager arrived at our table with a trainee waiter in attendance and asked if it was OK. Well I don’t object to medical students in the surgery so if someone can learn proper service I’m all for it. We are given a cocktails menu and select what has become a real favourite for Dee a dirty cucumber martini for her and a whiskey sour for me, followed by a very nice Albariño from Rias Baixas to accompany what we expected to be a fish influenced meal. The first of these arrived and we sipped and campai-ed each other. Then the duo returned and the manager still presented no menu but rather talked to us about the kind of food we had enjoyed in Japan.

IMG_0751Dirty cucumberHe nodded noted and inwardly digested, excuse the pun, and promised us a succession of dishes we would enjoy. The glow of his confidence obviously enveloped us and then it dawned on us that we had no idea what all this was going to cost us. It’s not often in my life that I’ve been in the situation where if you need to ask the price you can’t afford to buy, so we settled back enjoyed our cocktails and waited for the procession.

And that’s what it was – a procession of dishes carefully planned to complement each other and move us through a stunning evening. Presentation was so superb you didn’t really want to spoil the layout but hunger and curiosity overcame us. Sliver-sliced squid with yuzu sauce, sea bream sashimi with ponzu dressing, waygu beef carpaccio with sesame and spring onions, and several others I’ll need the bill to identify.

Finally our dinnertastic duo returned bearing no plates but enquired what we would like for dessert. After protesting that we weren’t really pudding people we agreed to have some ice cream and set them a little test. We thought they would manage green tea and possibly black sesame two of our favourite flavours from our time in Japan. However our absolute favourite was white peach which we’d first discovered in Okayama. We were sure they wouldn’t have that. They trumped us by bringing out three bowls of ice cream with all three flavours offset with a smidgeon of appropriate fruit and chocolate piping on the dish reading “Happy Anniversary”.

Sheer class! As were the delightful hammered silver teapots from which we poured our sake. It’s great when service like that makes it such an occasion that you absolutely know whatever it cost it was worth it.

Untempted by further slots and tables and excited on our anniversary and last night in the US, we took a bottle up to our room and played music and Take Two (a brilliant Scrabble variant for those who haven’t encountered it) until 3 am when we thought we’d better go to bed as we had to pack and get to the airport by one o’clock to check in for our flight back to Gatwick. We’d promised ourselves another Hooter-free visit to the pool but packing got lengthy and we wouldn’t have made it before it was check out time – we’d already negotiated an hour extension beyond the usual 11:00. Returning the car was easier than picking it up and we checked in, did security and headed for the none-too-special lounge The Club at LAS. However it beat sitting out in the general departure lounge by a long way.

The flight back was a bit delayed and we hit Gatwick about half an hour late but otherwise it was fine. Having landed just before midday and had a trusty south east London Data Cars cab to take us home I was at the computer at three checking whether I would be able to manage a deadline of the end of July for some urgent work for the Dutch publishing agency I work for. They’d enquired while we’d been away and I was keen to do the work if I could – these jaunts have to be paid for somehow. So it’s been back to the grindstone (a very pleasant one) ever since for them and the design and branding agency Maverick, hence my sloth in completing our US blogs.

And I felt bad when I wrote that in 2014. Then life, work, sickness and death intervened and here we are with a July 2014 trip finally documented in April 2017. Gentle reader (if any such there be) thanks for your patience.

Back in Vegas

Genie over LVWe completed the drive back to Vegas with no hiccups. There was a strange cloud formation that looked like the genie had been let out of the bottle so we wondered if it meant our luck would be in. We drove into the self-park at the Hard Rock eagerly anticipating our move to our new non-smoking room. We still had the keys to the old room and went there first.

We retrieved an answerphone message to the effect that arrangements had been made to move us but we needed to confirm by 6 pm. Of course it’s now gone 7 and we missed our slot. A call to reception promised to sort it out. Several more phone calls to check progress, and not even a drink in our room, caused both us and our receptionist to lose it a bit. She eventually promised us an upgrade to a junior suite for our trouble. It was a nice room and certainly didn’t smell of smoke but had a magnificent view of the car park in place of the view of pools and palms we had in the first one. Reception 1 – Lesley/Raggett 0. Genie rating not auspicious.

After a day of driving and two hours of hassle we were disinclined to go out so stayed in the Hard Rock, went to confirm our booking at Nobu for the next evening and then ate perfectly adequately but unmemorably in another of the hotel’s outlets. Given our lengthy wait for a room change our choice was reduced somewhat as most of them stop serving at 10:00. We don’t want people eating when they could be spending real money do we?

After a comfortable night in our king size bed with no views to distract us we tested the SatNav with a trip to the suburbs. In Boston Dee had discovered many garments to her taste and budget in a store called Talbots. There’s a Talbots in Las Vegas and there’s a sale on. It’s in Rampart Commons Shopping District – oh please let there be no more enticing lizards on these ramparts! (For those who weren’t there  a fateful encounter took place on a Watford pre-season tour in Ibiza in 2004 when a discussion with a lizard on Ibiza town ramparts resulted in a team of plastic lizards with full squad names and painted numbers being entered in a five-a-side tournament – don’t ask!).

It started on the ramparts  Keeping the shape

We had a fascinating half-hour ride through the plusher suburbs (not much featured in CSI) with neat detached houses, corner mini malls, swimming pools in profusion and well-kept streets. We found Talbots with no trouble and suffice it to say I emerged wearing several bags and Dee a beaming smile.

On our way back in we drove the length of the strip. Now we know we have to do it at night but we have a date at Nobu for our wedding anniversary dinner. Even by daylight finding the Eiffel Tower, a pyramid, the canals of Venice and many other fantasy buildings lining the street was quite staggering enough.

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To have examined them each in detail would have been kitsch overkill. There was the massive tower of Caesar’s Palace and the prospect of interesting beer among the other strip attractions we passed.

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Nirvana poolSo we retreated to the Hard Rock and got a couple of hours by the Nirvana Pool before being kicked out for a private function. It transpires that despite having their own hotel and casino in Vegas, Hooters had taken the Hard Rock over for the week with performance prizes, beauty pageants, recruitment sessions and a whole load more. I guess this was an international gathering so they wanted the home team to feel they were somewhere different. I had no idea there were 430 Hooters in 28 countries the only one in the UK being in Nottingham. I didn’t know that as I haven’t there been for ages – and it’s probably not our kind of place anyway. So there was nothing for it but to freshen up, frock up and head for the tables prior to our Nobu dinner.

SFO to LAS with hearts left behind

Our second hotel was a pleasant boutique hotel with otherwise great staff (see yesterday) who recommended a breakfast location not too far away. However they weren’t serving breakfast any more so we took ourselves quite by chance to a San Francisco classic diner Sear’s Fine Food which was great. Lots of antique paraphernalia and photographs and a splendid old world atmosphere and great bacon, eggs and pancakes. When we left it we went back to the building where the car was garaged and noted a fabulous art deco exterior on 450 Sutter. The lobby was amazing all marble, gilt and mirrors. Don’t miss it if you’re ever in that area.

Union SquareWe wandered around Union Square taking in its historical significance as a place of meetings and protests, admired the Dewey Monument statue of the Goddess of Victory high above us and thought idly about taking a cable car ride – one of the musts in San Francisco which we had failed to do in our previous days here. We had seen the lengthy queues down by Pier 42 and in Market Street and thought we’d have to wait for ever.


But at the stop in Union Square we managed to board the second car that pulled in. It is quite an experience and one we’re glad we did. As transport it is comfortable enough and a historic reminder of the early days of the city. It gives you the clearest impression of the vertiginous nature of many San Francisco streets and the utter chaos that seems to await the cable car after cresting every hill. The guards are also characters determined to maintain the sense of fun in taking this iconic ride – cable cars are not included in our three day travel card.

Cable car stop  Cable car RideCable car chaos  Hoppin off

By then it was time to make our way back to the hotel pick up our luggage and make for the airport. We had a rather slowly served lunch at the normally excellent Blue Mermaid and had to get a taxi back to Union Square. The driver told us he’d tried having a London taxi as a tourist attraction in The City but it couldn’t manage the hills and was knackered in two years.

I failed to take the correct exit on the way to the airport and SatNav again took us on a fine tour of the suburbs before delivering us to the car rental return area. San Francisco airport was great – the Air Train ride from the car rental centre to the international terminal was easy and the terminal had some very interesting displays on the history and development of San Francisco. We boarded quickly and easily with our “pre” status accorded by Virgin America in Boston and made the short trip to Las Vegas a destination included in our trip not because of any burning desire to visit Sin City but because it was convenient for the drive to the Grand Canyon, the next real item on the agenda.

We got a cab to the Hard Rock Hotel a recommendation from seasoned Vegas visitors as being a little bit off the strip and preferable to many. I’m no prude and have travelled extensively but I have to confess to a feeling of shock on walking in to the reception area of the hotel to find a pair of pole dancers strutting their scanty stuff at either side of the bar area that bordered reception. On a closer examination – well you have to don’t you – they were both so disinterested and disinclined to perform that the experience was neither erotic nor truly sleazy given their location. Impression number two wasn’t good either. Despite checking no-smoking on the booking form we were allocated a smoking room. To be fair it didn’t smell too obviously but there’s a principle at stake. We were asked if we could bear with it tonight and they’d fix it for us while we were away at the Grand Canyon. The basic room rates are so low as the resorts make their money in other ways that it was cheaper for us to pay for four nights rather than one and then two, and it meant we only had to take an overnight bag on our trip next day.

IMG_0723We wandered around the huge hotel/casino me resisting the temptation to purchase some really awful Beatles dolls – well Dee is a big fan! We then ate an acceptable dinner in one of the few eateries that remained open and retired to our not-too-smoky room.