from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Las Vegas '15 Dispatch

Jake drove us home from the airport in his Tesla, so my first impressions this trip to Las Vegas, after passing all those slot machines in the airport again, were revisiting those incredibly graceful lines!

I appreciated the beauty, silence and smoothness of the Tesla throughout our week's stay. Jake gave us a demonstration of the new "driverless" feature...what a weird sensation! We've all been reading the fascinating blog, waitbutwhy, with Elon Musk's story. Besides Tesla Motors, he played his significant part in creating PayPal, Solar City and SpaceX and potentially, the Hyperloop! 

Newton was always willing to run errands in Las Vegas so he could drive this amazing car. Here is a sunset he caught returning from one of his outings:

Larissa and Jake had the house all clean and decorated with a perfect Christmas tree awaiting lights and ornaments.

Here is Newton marching the lights around the tree for ideal distribution!

This glowing TV hearth even had crackling sounds...with subtitles!
After food shopping (including Trader Joes!!), we were ready to pull off our typical Christmas Eve buffet, complete with champagne, pesto/red pepper spread goat cheese, smoked salmon, cheeses we would never find in Natal, Larissa's delectable deviled eggs, plus Jake's addition this year: cups formed of parmesan filled with caramelized onions and feta cheese! You can see that a portion of our gang is vegetarian.

We like to dress-up for Christmas Eve
Christmas morning is our traditional gift-opening bonanza. We started off and ended with plenty of humor provided by our hosts!

We have had a sort of frat-boy tradition in the family where someone unwittingly gets "iced." That is, the person happens upon a strategically placed bottle of Smirnoff Ice and must then chug it on one knee (I am exempted because I would throw up if I had to drink that sweet stuff). We have added a funny addendum to the silliness since we all hate panettone - that Italian/South American holiday craze that is the equivalent of fruit cake in the tends to be re-gifted until rotting!

Well, Elise opened the first gift - from Jake and Larissa - which looked like a panettone, except inside was a Smirnoff Ice!

After quite an elaborate array of gifts had been opened, Newton opened his last gift - from Larissa and Jake - a high-tech earphone box...except the box held the actual panettone! THAT is called "getting 'toned."

Good going, you two! There were so many fantastic gifts received. Elise gave us countless gifts, including that FitBit watch with which Newton has been monitoring his daily steps, exercise, and sleep.

We had our traditional Christmas dinner: Trader Joe's stuffed turkey breast and cranberry sauce for Newton and me, and a double recipe of my Mother's macaroni and cheese recipe - my one culinary legacy - to insure non-combative breakfasts for the next couple of days.

Jake and Larissa offered three group presents: a mystery gift that we would only discover the next afternoon; dinner at the fanciest French restaurant in Las Vegas, for two days later; and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the VIP theater three days later.

One afternoon we all played one of Jake's five new board games he received for Christmas, as he and Larissa are game maniacs! Elise and the two of them seemed to jump right in more easily than Newton and I, who played "Dead of Winter," about zombies, in a flummoxed state:

Elise had found a rare old favorite game from a collector to give Jake: "Keys to the Kingdom." Too bad we sold our old one at a yard sale years ago. The three of them remastered that game in no time.

The day after Christmas we were to show up at 1:15 at this location on the Las Vegas Strip for the mystery ???????????. 

Soon, quite a strange young woman happened along with a theatrical hat, and our group of nine gathered around for this shot and some information:

Supposedly a huge casino heist had taken place the day before and it was up to us to follow clues and sleuth our way to revealing the culprits. Our first stop provided free drinks and the first clue. That led us to a professional mime in a bitter cold and windy spot who enacted wordless clues. The group had to pay the guy at the cigar store $5 to receive further cryptic instructions, then I recommended Jake as a whiz at deciphering anything. He led the nine of us up two flights of external stairs at the seedy Travelodge Motel. One of our group yelled at a maid cleaning a room en route to the top, where we wondered if we should knock on some numbered door??? It was then that we noticed the 'up' arrows in the clue were actually horizontal arrows on a billboard that led around the corner, so back down we clamored with a traumatized maid in our wake.

We landed in a restaurant for lunch and further clues from these shady characters:

Eventually, after up and down and about the strip and a quite hilarious comedian, we were sent to the Hard Rock Café for another free drink and to discover the Elvis Impersonator who would divulge, by way of a skit, the conclusion to our sleuthing.

The event is called "Alibi," and it apparently employs professional actors who probably outnumber the available theatrical jobs in Vegas. It was a fun afternoon!

                              Late afternoon on the Strip:

We then went to the atmospheric, multi-storied Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan:

Jake and Larissa's instructions on our fancy French dinner invitation said, "No lunch or drinking prior." So we dressed to the nines and arrived hungry and thirsty at Joël Robuchon's in the MGM Grand.

It is a quiet and elegant cocoon amidst the commotion of the casino. After champagne, we ordered the prohibitively expensive tasting menu: eight courses, all with multiple small dishes.

Get ready:
Caviar on king crab
Red cabbage gazpacho; carpaccio of foie gras with black truffles; Maine lobster in daikon
Frog leg fritter; parsley coulis; my favorite!
Flan of sea urchin; langoustine ravioli; lobster with pumpkin/black truffle coulis;
Grilled lobster w/baby spinach; pan-fried sea bass w/ stewed leeks; seared foie gras, sweet& sour grapes & 5 spices
Beef chop on grape vine shoots; bone marrow, chanterelle fricassee; vigneron sauce
Creamy hibiscus emulsion; violet cream, sorbet & blueberry compote; jasmine tea chantilly w/pineapple & lemon confit 
After chocolate (not pictured), coffee and this delicacy cart
Add in fine French red and white wines and...VOILÁ!

The women were presented with gift bags at the end...sweet irony: containing panettone. We got 'toned!!

The dinner seems like a blissful dream now - we were not overly stuffed, but dazed and happy! Thank you so much, Jake and Larissa, for this life-long memory. We're so glad you had a good poker year, Jake!

Of course we went home and finished the evening off in our jammies with cards and Trader Joe's quite good $4.50 Sangiovese!

We didn't have a lot of shopping time, but I was desperate to replace my winter coat as it was cold in Vegas and would be freezing at our next stop in Chicago. Alas, the few stores I managed to check had only one or two coats left in sizes 2xx and 3xx. Here I am on the strip in two sweaters, clutching my scarf to my neck:

Note Elise's new Star Wars sweater, bought expressly for this event! We all had a grand time watching "The Force Awakens" in our comfy seats. 

We returned to the same theater a couple of days later to see "The Big Short," such an excellent Oscar contender.

The marathon effort to get Newton his Christmas light jacket finally ended. We ordered the Tommy Bahama jacket online in size small since the wrong item had been delivered in LA. It arrived in time and fit! We just needed to find a Tommy Bahama store in Vegas to return that mistaken item. On the last night we tracked a store down, then checked several stores around it for my winter coat replacement. Bingo!...a cheap coat that isn't too heavy to schlep on planes, but decent for winter in Chicago, then Colorado, till I find the right one. Whew.

Since we were all taking off the next morning for my grand-niece's wedding in Chicago, we needed to burn the exceedingly dry Christmas tree in Jake and Larissa's fire pit on the patio. We had the cheater-fire-starter and two remaining rosés from my Christmas gift from Newton: four rosés from four regions of Italy.

And for lack of alternatives, the fire pit got 'toned with one large and three small panettones.

What a bunch of fun we had over Christmas! Thanks to all my Darlings.

Chicago, here we come -



  1. The complete story of Vegas. Nice since we heard bits and pieces in Chicago. I had to Google "panettones" to figure out what they were. It does sound like the traditional fruit cake, but the fruit cake usually had sufficient alcohol (rum or bourbon) that preserved it for years. Given the dietetic habits of your children, I'm wondering if those non-plant based delicacies served at Joël Robuchon's were consumed.

  2. Jake and Larissa had the Vegetarian Tasting Menu; Elise doesn't eat red meat, and I rarely do; she only missed the three bites of the most exquisite steak I ever had, the rest was seafood or foie gras.


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