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Trip Report! Vdara, PGP, Thoughts on lots of casinos and more

Last edit: HedgedBettor on Wednesday, 20th July 2016 7:36 pm
Last response by HedgedBettor 30th July 5:48pm

Finally back to town after a 2 year absence! Its the longest break I've ever had between trips and there's definitely some of "absence makes the heart grow fonder" with Vegas (particularly when you've gotta fly cross-country like I do.) It was great to be back in town.

We stayed in a Vdara One-Bedroom Loft again, the same room from two years ago, and the story is the same. Its not enormous by suite standards (900 square feet spread out over two floors with a kitchen included), and the bedroom in particular is extremely cramped, but the view is to die for and the room rate (averaged ~$425/night for Weds-Sat nights) is quite fair considering everything. You can get a better rate if you have status with Mlife too - the year off meant I was starting fresh at zero.

One weird thing about Vdara in early July is the NBA Summer League. A couple teams seemed to have bought blocks of rooms for their players/staff at Vdara (based on the t-shirts I saw constantly it was New Orleans and San Antonio) and other guys appeared to be staying there long term too, which meant there were a lot of Very Tall People around. I guess it makes sense, since rooms are easier to live in long term with features like the full kitchen, plus there's no casino or nightclub on property but its still close to the action.

With all the talk of PGP on the board my eyes were open for signs of corner cutting all around town, particularly at MGM properties. To have a "control group" of sorts I didn't mention PGP's existence to her - I wondered how somebody who wasn't primed to look for it would notice these cutbacks. But both of us noticed something very different. It was the "deferred maintenance" going on around town, particularly at Caesars properties, that jumped out at both of us. In the 110 degree heat, the majority of the escalators at the bridges around Caesars properties were broken, whereas at MGM's bridges we only saw one broken escalator. Moving walkways into casinos were broken all around town though. Seems like the casinos don't think they're worth it anymore. In terms of the actual PGP policies, I didn't notice much.

We visited a bunch of properties we hadn't been to in years, though only a few are even worth mentioning. We played at Paris, which was just as awful as I remembered, not sure I'll ever set foot in it again (though I made a hell of a lot of money on the way through so there's always that). The Cromwell was a standout - I really liked the style of the place, limits were reasonable and it was a lot of fun. But when I asked the pit boss about the noise from the nightclub on the roof in the rooms I can't say the answer was encouraging. I kinda wish I could stay here but I don't think I ever will. SLS stunk, we walked through it and were totally turned off. This is not the vibe or the crowd SLS was going for when they stuck their fancy LA boutique brand on the wall. It was dark and weird and didn't work at all. Of the others we strolled through, I was kinda amazed that high limit in Luxor now hits on soft 17. What's the point of even having this room? Excalibur, Mandalay Bay and Tropicana were unremarkable (I guess the Trop's renovation was OK).

Of the home base properties, Aria was its usual standout self, very much untouched by PGP, and it was notable to me that limits at Bellagio have come down. I didn't see any tables above $100 minimum on Saturday night, whereas Bellagio used to have a bunch of $500+ tables on the main floor. And I rolled into high limit there and was allowed to play at $100 despite the signs reading $300 since the room was empty. This was at 11 pm on a Saturday night! I know summer is slow season but there were a lot of people playing at those levels on the main floor. More fools them, they will pour you some seriously nice liquor in that high limit room.

Dining was a mix of old standouts and new tries, and all the points go to the old standouts. Raise a toast to Sage, which delivered one of the best meals I've ever eaten (and I've eaten a hell of a lot of good meals). I've always liked Sage, this was my fourth trip there and its gotten more daring and better each time. Don't miss it. Pour one out for Tetsu, which closes at the end of the month. What a pity - this was one of the best restaurants in town, but apparently chef Masa wants to limit his restaurants to NY and Tokyo to keep his travel schedule simpler. I guess I can't complain, apparently a new Tetsu will open in Tribeca in a year, I can always go to that. We tried Heritage Steak and it was pretty good but not as good as Craftsteak used to be. Then we ate at Costa di Mare, since the menu looked good and I've never had a bad meal at the Wynn. Well, now I've had a bad meal at the Wynn. Costa di Mare stunk. My grilled octopus appetizer was rubbery and bland (emphasized the next day when I went to Sage and had a sublime interpretation of the same dish), spaghetti al'astice was just an undercooked (definitely not proper al dente) boring pasta in a tomato sauce with a little lobster, a Tuscan-style tagliatelle with braised short rib ragu that I requested off the tasting menu was remarkably uninspired - basically everything was mediocre at best. What a pity. We did a lunch at Javier's, which is still awesome tex-mex in a really cool setting, and we also had brunch on Saturday at Bardot Brasserie at Aria. The Bardot brunch was pretty impressive, a fascinating French/American fusion that left me totally stuffed all day. My wife's Croque Madame was exceptional, we split the nutella sticky bun which was pretty good, and my boeuf bourguignon croissant benedict was pretty damn cool (I described it as being less than the sum of its parts but then again the sum of the parts is pretty amazing so thats not an indictment of it as a dish). I'd definitely recommend you give that a try if you're staying around Aria, and on our next trip I think we'll give Bardot a shot for dinner.

We seldom do shows on Vegas trips but I think we're going to give Absinthe a shot the next time we're in town. My wife and I separately got glowing recommendations for it from MGM employees (a manicurist and blackjack dealer respectively) despite it being at Caesars, so you know its not just corporate shilling. Curious if others have seen it and liked it?

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 YoEleven responded on Wednesday, 20th July 2016

Nice report.

Not the first poor thing I have heard about Costa di Mare. Disappointing.

Absinthe is closing and moving at the end of October. Those that work there have been told they will be dark for two weeks while they break down and set up in a new as-yet-unannounced location. June was their best month in their five year run, so the closing will be relatively short, but plan accordingly if you were thinking of going back in the fall.

 ProfessorYaffle responded on Thursday, 21st July 2016

Totally agree about Costa Di Mare - hugely disappointing meal there last month - fish was filleted by an amateur, and the potato side was cold and overcooked.

Shame, as the setting is just stunning.

 jcookdc responded on Thursday, 21st July 2016

Great report. On the food front, if you like Mexican (based on your Javier's review) and are also down with interesting fusion, I would wholeheartedly recommend you try China Poblano. It is a must visit for me every trip - usually go for lunch. Chinese and Mexican dishes from Jose Andres, sounds nuts, but it is so damn good.

Somewhat surprised you haven't heard of Absinthe before. It's been running about 5 years now, and seems to get rave reviews across the board. I've been probably 2 or 3 times now, and also twice to Vegas Nocturne before that closed. Big recommendation for Absinthe. Will be interesting to see where it winds up, but I trust the brilliant minds behind it will ensure it keeps up its quality. I haven't been to too many shows last few trips, either, but did check out Love last time. Gave it a go after several years since last viewing, and thought it was still quite good.

Last thing - agree on Heritage Steak. Tried it last trip and was disappointed. Not the level of my other go-tos, namely Delmonico and Carnevino. Need to try some other steak places, too, but was also disappointed in Jean Georges the one time I tried that one out.

 HedgedBettor replied on Thursday, 21st July 2016

Funny about China Poblano - I was pushing for us to do lunch there the day after we did Javier's but my wife really didn't want to try it. Not a fan of the idea of Chinese/Mexican fusion, plus she argued that if we were doing Mexican we might as well go back to Javier's. We ended up at the Aria Cafe cause we couldn't agree on something, it wasn't ideal!

As for missing on Absinthe before, its just cause we never do shows. It was notable that it was recommended twice when we weren't even asking for show recommendations!

 jcookdc replied on Friday, 22nd July 2016

Well, I hope you can try China Poblano next trip and report back! While it is Chinese/Mexican "fusion," the dishes are pretty separate. Like, you can get tacos on the one hand and a bowl of noodles on the other. The two cuisines aren't necessarily fused together into a single dish. And, speaking of tacos, they're the best I've ever had in Vegas and better than the Mexican food I've had at Javier's (which was still good). Just my $0.02!

 vespajet replied on Sunday, 24th July 2016

I've been to Heritage Steak twice (October 2013 and May 2014) and both times I had an incredible meal there. Of course a lot can change in two years.

Of all of the restaurants at Cosmo, China Poblano is the one I've been to the most. The only thing I've tried from the Chinese side of the menu is the "When Pigs Fly" BBQ buns, which were freaking awesome. I typically tend to stick to the Mexican side of the menu and it's quite good. I'd go to China Poblano just for the salt air margaritas. The last time I went there, I decided to hit it while I was enjoying a cigar and a few cocktails at Casa Fuente and Caesars to Cosmo isn't that bad of a walk.

 HedgedBettor replied on Sunday, 24th July 2016

I'd say the steaks at Heritage were good but not great (my flatiron wasn't properly trimmed and had some nasty gristly chunks, and while it tasted quite good it wasn't the absolute best of steaks) and the sides ranged from good (risotto) to OK (yukon gold puree, and not up to the craftsteak standard) to mushrooms (shockingly mediocre given that Colicchio restaurants have been spectacular at mushrooms for years. Where were the hen-of-the-woods??) The setting was a 100% straight take on the old Craftsteak NY space though (same seating/lighting fixtures), which I found amusing

 wpsteel66 responded on Thursday, 21st July 2016

Thanks for the detailed report. Sounds like you had a great time.

I agree with your assessment of Sage- one of the best restaurants in Vegas and elsewhere…although, I did enjoy Heritage Steak back in 2014…Bardot is on my list to try next trip...

I have not visited Paris since 2010 …what specifically made Paris a disappointing/terrible experience??

Sounds like I am not missing anything by not stopping by SLS at any time after they opened…

 HedgedBettor replied on Thursday, 21st July 2016

Paris just felt really run down. Its not quite fair but I think you can sum the place up with the cocktail waitresses -dressed in this absurd half bathing suit/half dress outfit, it felt like it had an age requirement of over 40. That outfit would look absurd on a 20 year old, but on the 50 year olds it looked both absurd and sad. That was how I felt about Paris as a whole. (Though I shouldn't complain, I made the whole trip on the one shoe of blackjack I played there)

 Diablo responded on Thursday, 21st July 2016

Nice report.

Are the hotels responsible for the maintenance of the escalators on the walkways? i never knew that, i thought it would be a city thing.

 Malibugolfer responded on Friday, 22nd July 2016

Really good overview, thanks for posting.
Yes, I miss Paul Bartolotta also.

 vespajet responded on Sunday, 24th July 2016

I really do like Vdara, but I just haven't had a reason to book another stay there (I stayed there in May 2013 because I got a really good air+hotel deal for a one bedroom Vdara Suite.). Location-wise, it's excellent, as you can be gambling at Aria, Bellagio or Cosmo within a couple minutes of leaving your room at Vdara. I really do like the fact that it's non-gaming and I do find that I'm liking the quieter non-gaming options when it comes to rooms in Vegas.

 StudiodeKadent responded on Friday, 29th July 2016

Drinks on the main floor... did you notice the cutbacks?

 HedgedBettor replied on Saturday, 30th July 2016

In the S17 blackjack pit at Aria not far from the craps pit I found very prompt cocktail service but the drinks were mixed very weak.