Monday, January 08, 2007

An American in Paris in Las Vegas

I’m on an unusual weekend work assignment, and find myself in Las Vegas, Nevada of all places. Not at the top of my list for cities to visit, and even worse, I’m alone. Where is my colleague, Splint McCollough when I need him? Vegas is his kind of town – tawdry and as glittery as a disco ball, with a slot machine for every out-of-town tourist.

Alas, Splint is at home. I send him an email upon arrival: The Christmas lights are still up here, and David Hasselhoff is starring in “The Producers.”

Splint responds within the hour: Wow. You mean he’s not doing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” anymore?

So, when work is concluded I am forced to strike out on my own in this dazzling city of decadence.

I step out of the hotel and onto the Las Vegas Strip. It is a chilly night. To the left, I see the Empire State Building. To the right, I see the Eiffel Tower. I set off in the direction of Paris.

The contentious voice inside my head immediately starts an argument. “But, you’ve already been to the REAL Paris.”

“Sure, but it’s either French food Vegas style, or the all-you-can-eat Comfort Food Buffet at the Aladdin Casino,” my rational side argues back.

As I head down the strip, I encounter a life-size version of the Arch de Triumph, and a gargantuan hot air balloon, done in neon lights, with the word Paris emblazoned in script letters across its mid-section. I have arrived in the City of Lights, and I’ve only had to walk a quarter mile. Above me, the Eiffel Tower looms. It is a luminescent gold against the desert night sky. I decide to dine at Mon Ami Gambi, a Parisian-style bistro that sits in the shadow of the faux Eiffel Tower. I take a seat in the outdoor café that parallels the Las Vegas Strip. Torch heaters radiate warmth to fend off the cold desert air. In fact, they are downright toasty, and I fear my hair has been singed as I am led to my table.

Mon Ami Gambi is billed as a French Steak House, so I make a swift decision after quickly reviewing the bill of fare and order Steak Roquefort from the “Steak Frites” section of the menu. After all, “When in Rome…” Or is it, “When in Paris?” Or should that be, “When in Las Vegas?” I fear that I am suffering from a case of mistaken location. I decide to roll with it. Las Vegas is the land of dreams and illusions. Okay, maybe it’s not really Paris. But I could do a lot worse on a Sunday night on the road.

The dinner effectively fuels my Parisian hallucination. I start with a ruby-red glass of Louis Jadot Beaujolais 2004. A waiter brings a hot, crisp baguette to the table tucked in a narrow white paper bag. The Salad Maison is fresh greens dressed in tart vinaigrette and topped with a long narrow crouton spread with creamy goat cheese. The Steak Roquefort is classically prepared. The steak is carved thin, infused with smoky charcoal and topped with a slab of blue-green tangy cheese that melts over the hot meat like butter. The mountain of frites are wiry, crisp and paper thin, almost like wontons. Quite frankly, the meal is exquisite in its simplicity and intense flavors. As I bask in the golden glow of the Eiffel Tower, I’m starting to believe that I’m on a Parisian holiday. All that’s missing is Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dancing in the street.

To my right on the Las Vegas Strip, the tourists stream past, some in scarves and parkas, and some in shorts and tee-shirts. The torch heaters are so hot, that I fear I am getting sunburn. I’m almost certain that I’m getting feverish.

As I devour the steak, the fountains across the street at the Bellagio erupt into a twenty-story high dance, and the voice of Gene Kelly croons “Singing in the Rain” as the fountains spurt in unison.

“Wrong movie, Gene!” my contentious inner voice complains, but it is still kind of charming, nonetheless.

In the end, it’s all pretty absurd, but it has a certain appeal. It takes a city with an outrageous imagination to imitate the great cuisine and wonders of the world. Think Epcot Center with neon and showgirls and you’re well on your way to imagining the experience.

As I leave the restaurant through the casino exit, there is a woman about to win big on the “Wheel of Fortune” special edition. Tres bien!

© 2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


wheresmymind said...

Vegas alone? Oh need a wingman (or woman) to really have fun :D

Bradley said...

In the mall connected to the Mandalay Bay Hotel there is a restaurant called the Burger Bar (or something to that effect). It is abasically a build your own burger (they make it, you select the components) place. If you are a fan of hamburgers, it is very enjoyable.

Jann said...

Oh what fun-a perfect place to be this time of year!!