Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

Summer in San Francisco is so counter-intuitive. As an East-coast transplant, it still feels weird to spend most of the June and July bundled up in sweats, reduced to breaking out the self-tanner for a little fake glow. So naturally, I jumped at the chance to join a press trip hosted by the LVCVA and R&R Partners, to show off the luxurious side of Vegas.

The new Hard Rock Hotel Tower was our home base. This sophisticated, stylish big-sister of Hard Rock Hotel features a private VIP entrance as well as direct access to a gorgeous swimming pool, the lux Reliquary Spa and Vanity nightclub. While there’s definitely a hip, rock and roll vibe going on at this all-suite property, comfort still rules. Frosting on the cake would be a stay at one of the lucky seven penthouse suites: Nirvana, Provocateur, Platinum, Infinity, Ultra Lounge, Stones or Sex & Pistols.

Standard suites offer two 40-inch flat screen TV’s, iPod hook-ups, Hard Rock’s fave playlists in digital touch-panel jukebox, a comfy, never-wanna-leave bed, a monstrous bathroom with over-sized shower and tub, and even free phone calls throughout most the country. Be sure to check the website for some amazing specials.

Food I’d fly back for in a NY minute:

Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro: The elegant, hat-box shaped dining room styled out with crystal chandeliers, blown glass dew-drops and vanilla ice-creamy leather banquettes, looks like a movie set for Sex and the City (actually, the four gal-pals were obsessed with Payard’s desserts on the show). Surprisingly, a lux-lunch at this Parisian inspired bistro happens to offer one of the best Prix-fix menus in town—three courses, including your choice of any of the delectable desserts, for only $21. Winning brekkie picks include the world’s best choco-croissant, sweet & savory crepes, and steaming-hot beignets. To banish a lingering hangover, try the brioche pain perdu French toast with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Tip: For instant oral gratification pop next door to the retail shop for the Oreo or S’more flavored macrarons.

Yellow Tail: For an unforgettable evening dining on classical Japanese cuisine cleverly re-interpreted by Chef Akira Back’s, (formerly the Executive Chef at Nobu Matsuhisa’s in Aspen) simply follow these three steps:

1. Call waaaay ahead to reserve a table on the private balcony for a birds-eye view of Bellagio’s iconic sight and sound fountain show. There is a new show every 15 minutes.

2. Sip a delicious, refreshing Essence cocktail (cucumber, white cranberry and citrus) while perusing the menu. Later, change it up with a sake-tasting from their extensive collection.

3. Order a variety of hot and cold small plates to share. The fresh, glistening sushi/sashimi was brilliant, with one exception—the Poppin’ Spicy Crab roll.

The secret ingredient is a layer of watermelon crackling ‘pop-rocks” candy, which just didn’t rock my world.

Highly Recommend: the Big Eyed Tuna Pizza- tuna on a crunchy tortilla topped with truffle oil and micro-greens, Maine Lobster Carpaccio- with sweet onion and cilantro, Tataki salad-a trio of raw tuna, salmon and yellowtail dressed perfectly, and the achingly tender Kobe beef short ribs.

Wazuzu: Wazuzu is where celeb-chef, Jet Tila’s inspired Pan-Asian cuisine meets the best of the west. You’ll dine in a sea of crimson under the watchful eye of a gigundous 27-foot dragon made from 90,000 Swarovski crystals and 2,400 flickering lights. Other artistic creations include the Panang Curry, a soupy Thai coconut- curry with veggies and your choice of protein, a silken Miso Marinated Black Cod, Drunken Noodles- tender beef and flat rice noodles napped with a sweet soy, basil and chili sauce (a little oily for my tastes but the rest of the gang slurped them down in seconds) a kick-butt spicy version of Mongolian beef and a full range of designer sushi. If you won big at the tables consider splurging on Jet’s High “Roll”er, made up of Toro, Maine lobster and caviar for a mere $100. A fun drink that paired well with the spiciness was the unique Momokawa Coconut-Lemongrass Nigori Sake.

Nove: Nove (Nine in Italian…maybe because the two owners met when they were 9 years old?) serves up a great view which is particularlydramatic at night when the window’s flickering flames emerge. The restaurant boasts great décor and over-the-top glam with Led Swarovski crystal chandeliers hanging from the cathedral ceilings, crocodile leather banquettes, oversized walnut tables and whimsical, 12 foot tall topiaries of Sophia Loren-ish type women lining the wall. And don’t forget the great food. Chef Geno Bernardo adds his personal pizzazz to classic Italian fare. Everything from bread to pasta is made in-house. They even cure their own meats and sausages. A proponent of farm-to-table cuisine, Bernardo has joined forces with a local organic farm to ensure that only the freshest seasonal fruits and veggies grace his menu.

Openers and closers provided the highlights. A trio of tasty starters sure got our attention: Crudo (Italy’s version of sashimi) with fresh chopped salmon, tuna and yellowtail with a drizzle of lemon and olive oil, an earthy salumi platter with cured meats, walnut pesto, parmigiano and toasted ciabatta and a well- blistered pizza with a tomato, basil and mozzarella di bufala (a purist’s delight).

We ended with the most fun dessert, “make-your-own” mini cannoli, guaranteed to bring out your inner child. Our waiter (thanks for the superb service, by the way) brought us a plate of empty shells, a tube of sweetened cream for filling and a dipping tray with a selection of toppings that included baby white and dark chocolate chips, raspberry sauce, coconut flakes, crushed candy bars, etc.

We zipped upstairs for an after-dinner drink at the renowned Playboy Club, a combo upscale lounge and gaming venue. We absolutely loved playing “Guess-who” as the 60 plasma screens flashed celebrity pics acquired from the Playboy archives. Since there were more bunnies than customers that night we jumped towers to hang at Ghostbar’s lively outdoor lounge, sipping a signature “Ghostini” (blend of Absolute and Midori) while taking in the unparallel views from the 55th floor patio.

“Would you mind taking my picture?” was all the pickup line one lucky lover needed here.

Strip House: For an all-American upscale meat and potatoes dinner, carnivores will be in cow-heaven at Planet Hollywood’s indulging in prime cuts of steak, blissfully unadulterated and charred to perfection. The stunning décor (opulent red-flocked walls covered with sexy vintage pin-up photos, seductive red leather booths and soft lighting) and the exceedingly hospitable service make this a perfect date-night spot.

“It sounds so romantic, but I don’t eat meat,” you wail. No problem. Strip House offers organic chicken, fresh seafood and a long list of decadent sides. A vegetarian could easily make a tasty meal out of the Creamed Spinach gussied up with Black Truffles, Crisp Goose Fat potatoes, a tangle of sautéed wild mushrooms and green beans with garlic. The table next to us was in seventh heaven over the Warm Garlic bread Gorgonzola Fondue (definitely ordering that next time as well as a repeat of the addictive, sweet & salty teriyaki beef jerky and the Rockerfeller-rich creamed corn with smoky pancetta, and the…)

Entertaining Entertainment

If you want to continue the good-ol’-days strip theme, stroll next door to Peep Show, starring Holly Madison (from Hefner’s Girl Next Door fame) as Little Bo Peep. This topless revue (with the obvious exception of Holly, the rest of the “tops” were refreshingly un-touched) is rather tame by Vegas standards but a heck of a lot fun, with a couple of great singers that carried the show. Holly fans can pay for the added thrill of a post-show meet and greet which includes champagne and the opportunity to take your picture with Holly.

For a different thrill-set, go see Cirque du Soleil’s KÀ. I have to admit that after seeing half a dozen of Cirque’s shows, I was so “been there, done that” but KÀ totally blew my mind. I couldn’t begin to follow the story line about some Imperial Twins separated by war after embarking on an epic journey but it didn’t matter. The multimillion dollar set is an amazing backdrop for showcasing the talents of the gravity-defying artists. (I don’t want to give anything away but I’ve never seen anything like the 60-foot free fall during a fight scene.) The human-size animal puppetry combined with cutting edge multimedia was incredible, as was the beautifully simplistic Shadow Play scene, which pays tribute to the earliest form of story telling.

Daytime Diversions

Other than pool-hopping and hanging in the air-con malls, there wasn’t a lot I wanted to do in 110 degree heat, EXCEPT test my mad flying skills at Vegas Indoor Skydiving. For an exhilarating experience, “flying” scores right up there. Their indoor vertical wind tunnel allows you to experience all the fun of skydiving without the “OMG, I’m going to die” part. The instructors were exceedingly patient, hysterically funny and very safety-conscious.

First you’re weighed in (after all the fine dining I really appreciated that they wrote down my poundage without comment) and sent to the classroom for a brief lesson on proper body positioning (good thing I’m taking Pilates-I aced this one), special hand signals to use while in flight, followed by a short video reiterating the do’s and don’ts. After putting on the special flight suit and head gear our intrepid trio of journalists entered the padded womb-like tunnel. We each took three turns flying. The instructor kept giving me the signal “to relax” but with all the adrenaline, it’s harder than it looks. My last time, he twirled me high in air like pizza dough, and I finally loosened up. One more lesson and I’ll be ready to try out for .

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