viva las vegas

Last month Dave and I went to Las Vegas to celebrate our first anniversary (yay, us!). Dave, obviously if you know him, spends a lot of time in Vegas. But I haven’t been there since I was abuot nine years old, and I remember very little of that trip.

We had a beautiful room at the Bellagio and in many ways, that room (and the awesome room service breakfast) was my favorite part of the trip. We were upgraded to a fountain view room and it was a terrific view all around. The fountains play most of the day on a set schedule, set to music. It’s kind of neat. Like the long-gone and much lamented Kahunaville restaurant in the Walden Galleria Mall (Buffalo peeps will know what I mean), times a thousand. I tried taking video and kept having snafus, but this one’s not bad — you just see my finger over the lens for, like, half a second.

DSC02216The Bellagio is really pretty. There’s this neat conservatory they change with the seasons — it was set for Autumn when we were there. The lobby has this really neat chandelier sculpture, Fiori di Como, but Dale Chihuly. There’s also what is reportedly a very nice art gallery, but it was closed in preparation for an exhibit of Fabregé eggs. This was a little heartbreaking for me. I’ve got a thing for Fabregé eggs. Their history is fascinating, and since there are so few of them, and most in private collection, a traveling exhibit like this is a big deal. And I missed it by four days. Grrr.

DSC02221There are a lot of great restaurants in Vegas. We had a beautiful fancy wonderful dinner at Jasmine, also at the Bellagio. And I was tickled to learn that the burger place Dave took me to is Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar. I’ve watched enough Top Chef to be a big Hubert Keller fan.

I haven’t mentioned much about the casinos, which is because I don’t gamble or have any interest in gambling. I sat down at one slot machine just to try it, and then had to yell at Dave not to put $20 in it — what a waste! A dollar was more than enough. I found the whole thing kind of lackluster. The gambling areas of the casinos are a lot less nice than you see them on TV — they’re crowded. And SMOKY.

I used to smoke. I quit years ago. It was really, really, really hard to do, so anyone trying to quit and struggling has my sympathy, no question. But I kind of thought a lot of people had quit. I mean, I don’t see that many people smoking anymore, out and about. But apparently all the people that still smoke are in Las Vegas. All of them. And all of them smoking all the time. Everywhere. Casino, outside, inside, at the pool, in the halls, in the elevators, even. It’s kind of gross, to put it mildly. And the smell seeped everywhere, into hallways and under doors. I bought a big thing of Febreeze and sprayed our room with it a couple times a day.

We took the bus tour around the city, though, and got to see a bunch of the other hotels. The Venetian is nice but the gondoliers are really cheesy. Paris has a great breakfast buffet. I liked Circus Circus, which Dave tells me isn’t on many other people’s best-of-Vegas lists; I thought it seemed a little friendlier and not quite as avaricious as the other casinos.

Vegas was fun, and in my humble opinion I make a pretty cheap date there, since I don’t drink or gamble. I’d like to go back, but I don’t ever think the Strip will ever hold the same appeal for me as it does for others. I was just there for the food. And the fountains.

our nation’s capital

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We’d been told it was too late for cherry blossoms, but there were lots of trees still in bloom.

For my birthday this year, my very nice husband took me to Washington, D.C. I’d never been there. Somehow I missed the 8th grade trip that every kid apparently takes (and, given that I attended three different schools in that year, it’s not all that surprising). It’s only about a five hour drive away from us here and we had a great time.

IMG_2144We stayed at a nice if quirky hotel, The Churchill. It’s up near Dupont Circle and our room was very nice. I picked it for its quirkiness — sometimes I get zoned out by corporate chain hotels — so I can’t complain too much about the air conditioning that blew hot air or the long narrow bathroom that felt like a maze. Our window opened wide to a fresh cool breeze and the water pressure was good. It worked out fine.

The Churchill was also right across the street from the Washington Hilton where we would pick up our Big Bus tour each day. It also just happened to be where Reagan was shot in 1981. Dave looked up the footage on YouTube and found the exact spot the Secret Service pinned Hinkley up against a wall, which was cool if you’re history dorks like us.

IMG_2148The Big Bus tour is a double-decker bus tour with numerous loops that will take you around the city. We’ve taken similar tours in New York and Boston and we’re big fans. I can’t do as much walking as I’d like to but this way, we get around to everything we want. You can get off at any stop or you can just view sites from the bus (which I cannot enough stress the beauty of in Manhattan, especially — you get to stay off the streets, away from the dirt, away from annoying people, and often have a better view above all the traffic). If the weather’s nice (which it gloriously was, this trip) you get to enjoy riding around outside all day. We had a two-day pass for DC and covered the whole city, all the memorials, Arlington, the National Cathedral, lots of Georgetown, the White House, the Capitol Building, and so on.

IMG_2103We spent most of our time off the bus at the Lincoln Memorial; that’s the one I most wanted to see. It was a lot of walking but worth it. It really is something, standing in that beautiful building and looking at that incredibly detailed and downright lifelike sculpture. There are crowds of people there all the time, but the throng is always in motion and you can walk right up to Lincoln and say hello. (He doesn’t respond, but it’s still nice to be friendly.) And as you leave and walk back down the steps you have the grand view of the National Mall before you. I felt a little like Forrest Gump, but Jenny or no Jenny, nothing in the world would have induced me to run into that murky water.

The first night we ate at a place called 1789, a small upscale restaurant with the snootiest of French waiters. I asked for the horseradish sauce (offered in the menu!) for my steak and he sniffed and said, with a disapproving shrug of his shoulders, “If you like.” He was so disdainful, it was actually kind of fun. We had a more congenial dinner at an Italian bistro on the second night, and we also had lunch at Good Stuff Eatery, a burger place owned by Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef. I got the Prez Obama Burger; it was yummy. The milkshakes are good, too.

"Jenny, I'm glad we were here together in our nation's capital."

“Jenny, I’m glad we were here together in our nation’s capital.”

What we didn’t do: we didn’t visit any museums. On one hand we sort of wanted to, especially the National Air and Space Museum, the Newseum, and the National Archives. Those would have been amazing, but it was just too nice out — the weather was so gorgeous, and after the long cold winter, we just couldn’t bear to give it up to spend the days inside. I mean, just looking at the line at the National Archives (to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, I assume) was a big deterrent — we could’ve spent the entire day just standing in that. There are amazing treasures in the museums of DC, I know, but maybe that’s a focus for another trip. For this one, we just enjoyed the city.

All in all, it was a great birthday present and a fun trip. Visit over, the drive home was quick and included a stop at Wegmans. Who could ask for anything more?

western new york eats

In November, it is with a heavy heart that I will leave behind family, friends, Wegmans… and all of the wonderful foods of Western New York.

Of course Long Island has a great many things to offer. It has diners, which are convenient and comfortable. It still has Chipotle, thank goodness. It has the best take-out chicken parm we’ve ever had. And of course, it has Dave, which makes all the rest entirely moo. But it can’t compare with the eateries back home. Buffalo has crappy sports teams, an ugly unusable waterfront, lousy schools, snow (though not really that much more than anywhere else) and a bad economy. But it also has seriously good eatin’, and a lot I’m going to miss.

I’m not much of a chicken wing fan, really, but I enjoy them every now and then. Dave loves them (I’ve been assured access to them is not why he’s marrying me). Here in Buffalo we make wings really well — they started here, after all. I knew that, but I didn’t really appreciate it until I saw what passes for wings somewhere else. Yikes. How small were those chickens? And stop breading them, gross! By the way, they’re chickens. Not buffaloes. Why would anyone call them “buffalo wings”?

Personally, I think we have great pizza here, too. New York is known for it, but theirs is the thin-style crust, and not so much to my taste. I like the really cheesy gooey kind, not deep dish but not paper thin, either. And of course then there’s bingo pizza. No bingo is complete without bingo pizza.

Beef on weck is hard to find anywhere but here in Western New York. You can get good beef, I imagine, but not the rolls. I don’t eat it often, but I’m going to miss having the option to do so.

All Buffalo natives revere is Mighty Taco. it’s very hard to explain, if you’ve never had it. It’s nothing like Taco Bell, nothing at all. But it is like someone took Taco Bell and made it not crappy and not disgusting and really, really good. It’s cheap, quick, everywhere and yummy. Mighty, long may it rule.

Moving away from fast food, there are just so many great restaurants here, Irish, German, and Italian. Sean Patrick’s has been a favorite of ours for the past few years — the nice booths in the bar, the potato soup. Our first date was at a wonderful place called Mulberrys, a hidden gem down in Lackawanna. It used to be a “best kept secret” kind of place, but I think everyone’s heard of it by now. It doesn’t look like anything from the outside, but inside it’s delicious and romantic. The meatball is enormous and the homemade lasagna is so good… and I’ll never forget that first night Dave and I went there and he held my hand for the first time.

chefsBut hardest of all to leave is my favorite restaurant of all, Chef’s. I’ve always loved it there, the red-checkered tablecloths, the fishtanks, the pictures on the wall. I remember going there with Mom in the year before she was gone, and what a nice time we had. Or with my cousins, Kate and Em, when they were little. And all the times Dave and I have been there, sharing noodles Lady-in-the-Tramp-style. It’s a special place for us. I mean, spaghetti parm alone — it’s one of a kind. And then there’s just something about being there, about how it’s always busy and bustling and full of people out having a good time. It always makes me happy.  That’s why we decided to have our rehearsal dinner there, and I’m so glad — one last Chef’s dinner out before I go. 🙂