Saturday, March 31, 2007

7 miles, Phantom of the Opera, Okonomi House, One of a Kind Show, again

What a day. After running 7 miles through High Park this morning (Darcy, Koto, and I are in training for the Mississauga Half Marathon), Koto and I went to the matinee performance of Phantom of the Opera. When I bought the tickets a few weeks ago, I was overcome with buyer's remorse because the tickets were very expensive, I'd seen it already, and it is obviously so cheesy. But, I wanted to see it as an adult (last time I was 18).

I think that the first time you see any show will remain the best in your mind. If you see the same show again and again, you always hope that they will remake the first one you saw. I remember so many details from the one in Montreal like the beautiful glass chandelier that free-fell from the ceiling, Christine's spooky reflection in the mirror that pitched forward and scared everyone, and the menagerie of taxidermied animals that the phantom assembled to make his underground world seem welcoming. All those details were either absent or toned down in today's show, so that was a bit disappointing. But, overall it was a very good production. All of the lead actors were competent in their singing, acting, and dancing, the comedic portions of the play came off very well, the costumes were striking and appropriate, and the sets were grand and expertly changed. And I even cried, so there. I think it was a very good showing of a very over-the-top musical.

After the show, we subwayed up to Yonge and Bloor to go to Okonomi House. I had heard and read a lot about this place over the past few years and I'd been dying to try it. Their specialty, Okonomiyaki, is basically a pancake filled with cabbage and other ingredients such as pork, chicken, beef, or shrimp. My parents made it a few times at home, but this was the first time I'd seen it served in a restaurant.

I'd read somewhere that Okonomi House has been around since 1978 and it looks like it hasn't changed much since then, which is a good thing. It's casual, affordable, and has lots of vinyl. It's a total mom and pop joint run by a first generation Japanese family, which lends an air of authenticity. The menu is small, simple, and engraved in a permanent sign above the counter, so I think that they have been making the same stuff really well for a very long time. Stuff like terikayi, yakisoba, yakiniku, and okonomiyaki.

When you sit down, they give you menus along with an order form and pen like you get at some Chinese places. I always enjoy ordering like this because I tend to speak softly and I think I exasperate waiters. We ordered edamame to start, and we decided to share one pork and shrimp okonomiyaki and one yakisoba.

The edamame were lovely and nicely salted. I always feel so virtuous when I eat them. I got served the okonomiyaki first, so I ate the first half. When my parents made it at home, I found that it tended to get very large and thick. Maybe the ingredients were cut into bigger pieces? This one was much thinner, but was still full of goodies. They serve it to you on a hot, iron skillet, so it retains heat well. The entire thing is covered with a savoury sauce (not tonkatsu sauce though; we couldn't figure out what it was) followed by a dollop of mayonnaise. For an extra 50 cents, they will bring you a small dish of shaved bonito and a shaker of seaweed, both of which you can sprinkle on top. When you sprinkle bonito flakes on hot food, they curl up from the heat and look like they're alive. I remember when I was in university, I put some on rice and told my roommate that they were bugs. She believed me and screamed so loud. I took a little video so you could see what I mean. I really liked the okonomiyaki. It was tasty, generously filled, and reasonably priced ($6).

While I was working through the okonomiyaki, Koto started on the yakisoba, which is basically stir-fried noodle with vegetables and meat. This particular one had onions, cabbage, pork, chicken, and beef. Even though it was a noodle dish, it came alongside a scoop of white rice. I love double starch. Although it was nicely cooked and not too greasy, it was a little bland for my taste. And the noodle was strangely reminiscent of spaghetti (although I know it wasn't). If you have a choice, I'd go for the okonomiyaki instead.

For all that food plus two soft drinks, the bill came to a crazy $23. I love this place. I wish it was in my neighbourhood. And I hope it never changes.

Full of warm food, we made our way down to Exhibition Place to spend a few hours at the One of a Kind Show. Koto has a keen interest in jewelry, bags, clothes, food, and bath products, so I knew that we needed a head start on the show even though we're going again tomorrow. We adopted a more free form strategy than Diane and I used on Wednesday. First we made a beeline for the candi factory because Koto needed to stock up on the best underwear in the world. She bought 6 pairs and I went ahead and bought that adorable baby dress I saw on Wednesday even though I don't have a shower to shop for. I'm going to send it to our friends Jack and Dana in Boston for their little Maggie.

Next, we set out to find the NSCAD booth. Apparently, I had browsed through this booth on Wednesday, but since the signage was so small I didn't even know I was there. They had some very nice jewelry, including some rings made of resin with things floating inside like tea leaves and other flakey items. They also had some very wearable (i.e. conservative) t-shirts, cute sculptures of dogs and rodents, greeting cards, bags, pottery, and framed stitchwork. I suppose that the pieces that they choose to bring to the show were the most marketable ones, which means that they left the really crazy/interesting stuff at home. Everything there looked very presentable and of good quality, but nothing struck you as very original or funny or spirited or different. It was on par with everything else at the show. I took lots of pictures of the booth while Koto distracted the girls by trying on the jewelry.

After that we floated around, sampled some chocolate, and Koto tried on lots of jewelry. I ended up buying some cute t-shirts for Ollie, Jack and Dana's little guy, because I can't send that dress to Maggie without a present for him too. One is very brainy with pictures of planets and spaceships, one will probably be a conversation piece with his other 3-year old friends because it has a picture of a cassette tape on it (what's that?), and the last one is a bit edgy with two rubber chickens -- I don't know what he'll make of this one.

We really only scratched the surface today, so tomorrow is going to be a big day at the show. It's nice to go a few times because you can leave something for now and rationalize whether or not you need it. I haven't been doing so well at that. I bought baby clothes without a baby to shop for. You would have too. The dress is adorable.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sophie on the chopping block

My sister is visiting for the weekend and she brought this picture of her kitty, Sophie, relaxing on her chopping board. Sophie loves fruit, so I think that she must have been licking the lemon juicer that is to the left of the board. Sophie lived with my parents in Nova Scotia for a couple of years while my sister was living in Boston and during that time my mom had a strict 'no kitties on the table' policy. All that training seems to have gone out the window. She looks so comfortable.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

One of A Kind Show and Sale

Tonight my dear friend Diane and I took in the One of A Kind Show, spring edition at Exhibition Place. I went for the first time last year and really enjoyed it. It's like the farmers' market for clothes, jewelry, bags, etc. You get to meet the people who made the things you see, which is nice (most of the time).

Last year, we started from one end of the hall and wove our way to to the other, so we ended up rushing through the last third, which was tragically the food section! This year I vowed to get to the food a little earlier on. We didn't get to the show until about 7PM, so we only had 3 hours, which sounds like a lot, but isn't really when there is so much to see.

As soon as we got in the door, we saw the candi factory booth. Last year, I bought one pair of funky underwear from here and they are the most comfortable underwear in the world! I don't know how she (Candice) does it but the cut is perfect and the material is impossibly soft. When I only had the one pair, I would save them for a day when I knew I could wear them all day (i.e. wasn't going to the gym, which would have necessitated changing). Whenever I had to take a long flight, I made sure I had them on. Last summer I visited Candice at her studio and bought a slew of underwear for my friends and family. I can't recommend them enough. This year, she made the most adorable baby dresses. I don't even have a shower to shop for and I'm considering buying one anyways.

I took a very papparazzi-style photo of the candi factory booth. I hope Candice doesn't mind. As I went through the show tonight, I took several pictures of various booths and merchandise. For the most part, I asked permission beforehand and I found that I got very mixed reactions. Some people were very pleased, such as sweet Natalie Cannistraro (see picture at left) who makes jewelry under the label T'LOAA (which stands for 'the life of architectural aftermath' -- Natalie was an architect and graphic designer in a previous life). The food people were pretty agreeable too with one very notable exception of the cranky woman at the Bruce County Nut & Fudge Co. booth who demanded to know why I wanted the picture, who it was for, and what my Web site was. I really don't see what the problem is. Like Natalie said, it's free advertising. But, to respect their privacy, I'm only publishing pictures from the artisans who were agreeable to having their goods photographed.

Natalie's jewelry at T'LOAA looked so familiar and after going to her Web site, I know why. I've been to Corktown Designs in the Distillery many times and on a recent trip, I took my sister there. My sister makes jewelry as a hobby and she loves looking at it and buying it. I'm pretty sure that she bought some T'LOAA pieces on her last trip to Toronto. She is coming to visit this weekend with the sole purpose of going to the One of a Kind Show (I got her hooked on candi factory), so I'm sure she will spend ample time at this booth. For me, when I look at jewelry, I either love it or hate it. My mind will say either 'Yes' or 'No' as soon as I see it. I really love the T'LOAA pieces. They hit just the right note with me -- bold, original, well-balanced, and delicate. I don't know if I will be able to resist when I go back on the weekend.

This year, there are booths put on by Canadian art colleges, such as NSCAD where my mom teaches. I saw booths for OCAD, NBCCD, and some CEGEPs, but I didn't see the NSCAD exhibit. I'll have to look harder when I go back with my sister.

Another cool thing we saw was pepper mills made out of natural, barely varnished tree branches. The artisan said that he got the idea when he had to go clear a dead tree while he was in the middle of making his other pepper mills. He made some and they went over really well with his friends, so he kept making them. They are quite regal. They could work in both a country setting or a very modern, minimalist one.

One company was selling notebooks made from old storybooks and textbooks. Basically, they remove the binding, perforate the pages, add some blank sheets of paper, and coil bind the entire thing. I have very mixed feelings about this. I feel like the book is defaced. But, I applaud the effort to recycle unwanted books.

Diane and I were both seduced into buying spices from a Quebec company called Crousset. The lady at the booth had spice mixtures, flavoured salts, and herbal teas. I bought a spice mixture called Thai, which has sesame seeds, coriander seeds, lemongrass, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and red pepper. Diane bought something called Eithopian Berbere and a whole peppercorn mixture. All of the spices smelled delicious and I couldn't resist.

Other foods we sampled were chocolate and brittle from Comfort Food Productions (very yummy), wine vinegar from Mr. Vinegar, and roasted flavoured soybeans from The Bean Ladies (salty and addictive). I bought a 50g bag of dried morel mushrooms for $25 from Forbes Wild Foods. I've never eaten a morel before, and I hear that dried is the only way to go because when they are fresh they're impossible to clean (all those tiny nooks and crannies). I can't wait to try them.

One of the last things we saw were bags by Simon Trudeau. I bought one of his bags at the gift shop at Harbourfront Centre when my mom was there for a conference this past fall. I think he really didn't want me to take the picture, but he agreed and it came out so well that I'm going to show it to you anyways. Photos of his bags are all over the Internet, so I don't see what harm one more can do. These bags are very original and funky, but before buying one, make sure it can hold your stuff. The one I bought it a bit too small and there is no give at all in the material.

At 9:30PM, we still had half the show left to see. We grabbed a quick and delicious lemonade at the Lemon Heaven kiosk and tore through the rest of the exhibits at breakneck speed. This happens to us every year. Great show.

Izakaya for lunch; Dark Horse for dinner - meh

I was way too sleep-deprived last night to blog, so I'm going to catch up on yesterday's adventures before diving into today's.

Yesterday for lunch I met my dearest Darryl, who just got back from a fabulous month-long vacation to Australia and New Zealand, at Izakaya on Front at Church. In Japan, an 'izakaya' is basically a pub (i.e. casual drinking establishment serving cheap appetizer-like food such as edamame, yakitori, etc.). Similarly, Izakaya restaurant serves only non-sushi Japanese items such as dumplings, salads, noodles, and curry.

Darryl told me that he went to a place in Australia that had the same theme, menu items, and service characteristics right down to their practice of bringing out food as it is prepared. So your appetizer might arrive after your main and your companion could be halfway through his meal before you even get yours. Could there be an izakaya kit for restaurateurs?

We ordered the fried eggplant appetizer to share and I had the 'seasonal soba' while Darryl had the vegetable curry. Darryl's curry arrived first and looked carefully plated and skilfully cooked. The vegetables were breaded and deep-fried, but they didn't look limp or greasy. Japanese curry is very different from Indian curry, but it really is delicious in a comfort food sort of way. My mom used to make it when I was little. You can buy the sauce in a package from an Asian food store, but it is pretty easy to make from scratch as well. The packaged sauce is made by S&B and comes in a sort of ice cube tray. You can break off one cube for a small servings or several for a larger one. If you want to make it from scratch, I found a great recipe for it in this year's Saveur 100 issue of Saveur magazine. Unfortunately, the recipe isn't published on their web site. If you'd like to have it, let me know and I'll copy it here along with the appropriate citation so I don't get sued.

Next came my soba, which was also beautifully presented. The broth was light and not too salty, the piece of tempura in it was delicious and crispy, and the noodles were cooked perfectly. It's a very healthy yet satisfying thing to have for lunch.

The eggplant, however, I could have done without. I think the entire vegetable was deep-fried as is, sliced in half, allowed to cool off a bit, and then slathered with tonkatsu sauce. There was too much sauce on the eggplant and since it was slightly cold, it didn't melt into the eggplant flesh. It was like ketchup on a hotdog. The eggplant itself wasn't overcooked though, which was nice.

After work Darcy and I both were completely exhausted, so instead of cooking we went to a pub in Bloor West Village that we used to go to all the time called A Dark Horse. When we first moved to the neighbourhood in 2000, we went there every Friday. The interior was cozy and clean, the service was excellent, and the food was amazing. Then at some point, the management changed and it all went downhill. Darcy was served flat beer from the keg tube twice in a row, so we stopped going. We figured after 6 years we should see what's it's like now.

Now it's pretty grim. The room was packed even though it was a Tuesday evening. It may have had something to do with the great, summer-like weather. So, both the inside and patio were at capacity, but they had only one server working. There was a manager helping out and a barmaid behind the bar, but basically one girl had to serve about 40 or so tables. She did the best she could.

Aside from the service, the food was underwhelming. It's definitely not the worst I've had, but it is nothing like it used to be. We ordered the Thai spring rolls for an appetizer, which they said could be served hot or cold. We assumed that cold meant that they would be like Vietnamese fresh rolls, which is fresh or pickled vegetables wrapped in rice paper. They came deep-fried, dripping with oil, and soggy. Darcy had fish and chips, which he said was good. I had a club sandwich on grilled ciabatta bread with a side salad. I had asked for the mayo on the side, but I guess they forgot. No big deal. The bread was stale, but it was masked by the grilling. The chicken portion was very skimpy and the salad greens looked like they were a week old. Some of it was actually decaying. This is really a pet peeve of mine. I don't know how you can put wilted/rotting greens on a plate and serve them.

So, lesson learned. We'll give them another 6 years and maybe we'll try again. In the meantime, if you're in Bloor West Village and you want some good pub food, you have a better chance at Bryden's or The Yellow Griffin. The best food in Bloor West Village is not pub food though. You won't be disappointed if you go for Japanese at Yama or Eastern European at Amber European Restaurant.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Trimurti was great; e-DENTITY...was not

My company sweetly gave all employees complimentary tickets to e-DENTITY, which is playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre from now until May 20. I'm always up for a free show, so I went with Tanya, Amanda, and Jessica.

Before the show, we went to dinner at
Trimurti, an Indian place on Queen West. This is the first time I've gone for Indian food since the trip in November and it was excellent. We had a mixed appetizer plate (chicken pakoras, samosas, vegetable pakoras, chicken tikkas), Murgh Afghani (chicken marinated in cashew paste, cream, and yogurt), Gosht Dansak (lamb with lentils), Chana Masala (chickpeas and potatoes) Saag Paneer (cottage cheese and spinach), naan, and basmati rice. The Murgh Afgani was especially good. The chicken was incredibly tender with a slight tang from the yogurt. The Chana Masala was nice and spicy and the lamb was perfectly decent. The only thing I could have done without was the Saag Paneer, which ironically was my choice. The cheese was a bit tough and the sauce was coarse and bland. The naan, however, was searing hot, flaky, and delicious. Overall, it was an wonderful meal and the bill came to under $20/person.

After such a great dinner, I was looking forward to a great show, but I think that was too much to ask. The show was, in a word, terrible. I think they wanted it to be a cutting edge display of how technology is shaping our everyday lives, but it was so incredibly boring, poorly acted, and miserably choreographed. The 'storylines' weren't even that current. This script could have been written 15 years ago.

Toronto Star theatre critic, Richard Ouzounian, absolutely hates almost everything he sees, including stuff that I have loved (e.g. Hair at Canstage last year). I can't imagine what he will say about this play. He may have a meltdown right there in the theatre.

It was very nice of my company to give us the free tickets. I don't want to seem ungrateful, but it was shockingly bad. Dinner was excellent though.

Mildred Pierce is Closing

I know. I can hardly believe it myself. Mildred Pierce has been a Toronto fixture for 17 years and they will be closing on July 11, 2007. I read it in James Chatto's Toronto Life blog. So, if you haven't been yet, go. And make reservations. Also make sure to go at least once for Sunday brunch. Get there at about 9:45AM because they don't take reservations for brunch. And if it's cold outside, bundle up because there is no indoor waiting area. Have the Veda's Choice (Eggs Benedict on freshly baked croissant with smoked salmon -- there is no other). If you'd like to see pictures of the brunch items and read my 2 cents, click here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Left Las Vegas

Since our flight landed on Saturday morning at 7AM, I have slept for 23 hours. After getting home, I slept from 9AM-5PM, got up for two hours, took a 3-hour nap from 7PM-10PM, got up for 3 hours, and slept through the night from 1AM-11AM the next morning. I love sleep.

On our last day in Vegas, we were both sleep-deprived zombies, which made the work day very long. We called it a day at around 4:45PM and then set out to do the last things on our Vegas list, which were to visit
Wynn Hotel and Casino and Mandalay Bay.

Wynn is very upscale with the cheapest rooms going for about $400/night so we thought it would be the most beautiful hotel on the Strip. Just like everything else we hyped up a lot (i.e. O), it was kind of disappointing. It was opulent and very well tended, but it wasn't as striking at the
Bellagio or the Venetian. However, I think the most impressive parts of the hotel (i.e. $500/round golf course) are exclusively for the enjoyment of guests so you can't see them if you are just wandering through the public areas of the hotel.

After leaving Wynn we took a lovely complimentary shuttle to the monorail station where we hopped on and took it all the way to
Excalibur, which is a super cheesy, old casino hotel with a knight-theme (e.g. Round Table Buffet, Sir Galahad's Pub and Prime Rub House, etc.). We had to walk through it and the Luxor (cheesy casino hotel with an Egyptian theme) in order to get to Mandalay Bay.

Jeff stayed at Mandalay Bay when he came to Vegas last year with his dad. It was a very nice, tastefully decorated hotel casino with a sort of water/marine theme. There was a beach area next to the pool, a huge fish tank in the lobby, and an actual aquarium called the Shark Reef on the lower level. Jeff had been to the Shark Reef last year, but he sweetly went in again with me.

I absolutely love watching sharks from a safe environment (I'd die if I ever saw one in open water). There were tonnes of sharks at this aquarium and some of them were quite big. My pictures didn't come out very well, but my videos did. The first one is the longest with a few good views of sharks as well as some other fish. The second one was taken from the glass tunnel, so fish and sharks were swimming above us as well as beside us. The third one is very short and dark with one shark materializing out of the gloom very slowly in a sinister fashion. The last one is my favourite and has great lighting, but it was cut short because my memory card filled up.

We stopped for a light dinner at
Red, White and Blue, a casual restaurant inside Mandalay Bay. We had lunch with the guys at the office at 3:30PM so we weren't that hungry, but it was going to be a long trip so we ate anyways. I just had a house salad and it was perfectly fine.

We shared a cab to the airport with a very chatty guy named Brian from Miami. He told us that he comes to Las Vegas at least once a year, so he's been there more times that he can count. He told us about some great hiking trails two hours away in Utah that we must check out if we are back again. He said that he assumed we were into hiking since we looked fit and outdoorsy and I had never been so flattered in all my life. He was probably talking about Jeff.

The flight was very smooth and we even left early. Flying time was about 4 hours. I thought it was so far away, but it's completely do-able to go to Vegas from Toronto for a weekend. Except that you won't get any sleep while you're there and you'll be destroyed for at least two days after getting back.

After I got back I watched Ocean's Eleven (the re-made version with George Clooney) and the Las Vegas episode of No Reservations with Tony Bourdain. It was neat to see all the same places we visited on TV. Tony talks at length about how awful the Strip is because it is basically Disneyland, but he's missing the point. The Strip is not supposed to be real life. It is supposed to be a place where people can escape from reality. Everything on the Strip is about having a good time and everyone is 100% into enjoying themselves. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I can see now why people want to go to Las Vegas.

If you'd like to see more pictures from the last day in Vegas, please click here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill at Caesar's Palace, Fiamma at the MGM Grand, O at the Bellagio -- this town is killing us

So, so, so tired! I just got back to my room from seeing O at the Bellagio and it looks like this is going to be my third consecutive night getting only 4 hours of sleep. And we're leaving tomorrow, so I have to pack. Wah!

Today was another fun-filled day in Vegas, but it's becoming a bit of a strain due to all the sleep deprivation. Since tomorrow is our last day in town, I think Cameron should let us leave early and go sleep in a lounge chair by a pool somewhere. Sigh.

For lunch, Cameron took us all to Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill in Caesar's Palace. I had been dying to go here and I didn't think I'd get the chance, so I was thrilled. Caesar's Palace is an absolutely enormous property. Mesa Grill was excellent. The complimentary basket of carbs contained the most delicious corn muffins that were a swirl of two kinds of dough, studded with crispy whole corn kernels. They fell apart when you touched them and they melted in your mouth. I ate two.

For my main, I had chicken tacos, which were presented in the deconstructed way that Bobby Flay does everything on Iron Chef America. Each ingredient was presented separately and attractively on a long plate. The chicken was charred and delicious, the cilantro and mint were fresh and green, the sauteed onions were lovely, and the sweet garlic sauce went with everything perfectly. Best chicken tacos I've ever had.

Oh, and the waiter seduced all of us into having margaritas with freshly squeezed juices. I had a Cactus and Pear margarita. It was pretty good and very strong, but I've been spoiled for life by the cocktails that Marcelo and I had in Goa. Those were way better.

Since O wasn't going to start until 10:30, we had dinner first. I made a reservation at Fiamma, an upscale Italian place in our hotel. Jeff had gone there on his last trip to Vegas. I had fusilli with prosciutto, peas, and black truffles. It was pretty decent. Creamy. For dessert, I had a little scoop of Sicilian Blackberry sorbet. It was tart and sophisticated tasting with a hint of booze, I think. The food was good, but my tummy was very upset later in the evening (actually, during the show). I don't know what it was, but I had to run out on two occasions. I think I only missed the contortionist, which was okay with me because they creep me out.

So, O was a very impressive production with an elaborate set. The stage was large and round, like usual, but in the middle was a large pool with a perforated floor that was raised and lowered so that the pool could be at different depths during the show or disappear altogether. The artists in the show were synchronized swimmers, high divers, and acrobats. It sounds really cool on paper, but actually in practice it wasn't as good at Mystere. The water limits the types of stunts that can be performed and the result is sort of like watching the Summer Olympics except that everyone is in costume. I don't want to sound jaded. It was a very cool show, but seeing it after last night's show made it a bit underwhelming. If you have to choose between the two, I'd totally pick Mystere.

Well, I am about to drop and I have to get up in 4 hours. I took a tonne of pictures today in Caesar's Palace, MGM Grand, New York New York, Paris, and the Bellagio. If you'd like to see them, please click here. Nighty-night.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Lunch on a patio, Mystere at the Bellagio, dinner at a 24-hour cafe -- we are kicking the ass of Vegas

Another great day in Vegas. I know it's a cliche, but it really is a dry heat. There is zero humidity in the air, so the warmth is so comfortable. Every day feels like a perfect summer night.

Jeff and I partook in the MGM Grand Buffet again for breakfast. We're probably going to keep going here for the rest of the week as it's fast, easy, and affordable. I stayed up really late last night blogging so I was a little rough around the edges today, but it's nothing that another late night can't cure.

It was a quiet morning at the office as we all had our heads down working through some client issues. The funny thing is that our company actually shipped the same office furniture that is in the Toronto office (desks, chairs, couches, coffee table, etc.) down here, so when we are inside and working, it feels just like we're back at the mother ship. Except with a nicer view.

At lunch, Cameron took us to a microbrewery across the street from the office. We sat outside on the patio under an umbrella, sipped icy drinks, and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. I could really get used to this.

Cameron doesn't have any connections with the
Mystere show by Cirque du Soleil, so we bought our own tickets and went to the early (7PM) show. We took the monorail all the way from the MGM Grand to TI (aka Treasure Island). Apparently, TI used to be a very family-friendly place, but it is trying to re-brand itself with a sexier image. So, now it's become 'TI' and the old pirate display has been replaced by a 'Sirens' show.

Mystere was a spectacular. I've seen three other Cirque du Soleil productions (
Varekai, Corteo, and Alegria) and I think this is almost my very favourite one (I'm still partial to Varekai). Even after seeing all those other Cirque shows, Mystere still took my breath away and sent chills through me. The circus acts in this show were incredible. The 'hand-to-hand' act with two impossibly buff men doing stands and contortions while supporting the other's entire body weight was unbelievable. I'm trying to describe the others, but it really is something you need to see. I can't recommend this show enough to anyone who is planning on going to Vegas.

After the show we headed to the
Bellagio with the intention of going to dinner at Olives, which is a Todd English restaurant with a view of the fountains. Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea because we couldn't get near the place. Instead we walked out front and watched the fountain show up close. Again, it was so beautiful, although I preferred yesterday's aria to the Frank Sinatra that they played tonight. In any case, it was amazing. I videotaped (is there a new word for this yet?) the whole thing and I had wanted to upload it to YouTube so that you could all see it, but the file is too big. I'll see if I can figure something out. Check this space later.

We ended up walking all the way back to MGM Grand to find some food. By this time it was 10:15PM and all the restaurants were closing except for the 24-hour cafe. Poor Jeff was about to faint from starvation. We both had huge sandwiches and fries and I had a very strong vodka and soda. This was Marcelo and my drink when we were in India. I didn't even start drinking it until after I had finished eating and it still went right to my head. I'm such a lightweight.

Well, the most exciting news is that we managed to get tickets to see
O tomorrow! I am so excited! We tried to go today, but it was completely sold out. I think I snagged the last two tickets for tomorrow night's late show (10:30PM). I can't wait. I'll blog all about it as soon as I get back to my room. Goodnight all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Blue Man Group, Dinner at Bouchon, and the Bellagio Fountain -- I heart Vegas

We had the best day today. After getting a great night's sleep last night, I was so ready to have some fun.

We started the day with breakfast at the MGM Grand Buffet. I think that at certain times they get huge crowds, so there are actually ticket booths and velvet cord lines set up at the entrance. You pay your 'admission' and then get seated. The breakfast buffet had everything you can imagine for breakfast as well as some things you'd never consider (crab salad? Um, no.). I had one half of an Eggs Benedict (they were all set out in a steam tray, yet perfectly made), smoked salmon, watermelon, canteloupe, and strawberries. For $13, it was a very good deal.

Our CEO arrived today from Toronto to do some sales calls, so a few of us went for a drink after work. I always panic when I need to decide what to drink, so I picked the first thing that I recognized on the menu: a Manhattan. This was a pretty strong drink to have on a empty stomach, especially when everyone else had beer or wine. We only stayed for one (good thing, since I was smashed) because Cameron had sweetly gotten us free tickets to see
Blue Man Group.

I had wanted to walk down the Strip a bit since I hadn't seen it at all yet. We started at our hotel and walked north in the direction of the
Venetian where the show was being held. Immediately across the street from MGM Grand is New York New York, which is an enormous hotel complex built to resemble New York City. I know this sounds gaudy, but the scale of it was magnificent. There were replicas of the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building, and Empire State Building. And the craziest thing was that intertwined in between the skyscrapers was a functioning roller coaster. We walked as far as Bally's and then hopped on the monorail that goes to all the major casinos on the Strip. We just barely made it to the show on time. We were literally running to the box office to get our tickets before the show started.

Blue Man Group itself was a decent show. The crowd was so into being there and participating that it broke my heart. I was much more subdued. The physical comedy was funny and the musicians were great. I think I had my expectations set a bit too high, but nevertheless we had a good time.

By the time we got out of the show it was 9:15 and we were starving. I'd read so much about Thomas Keller (head chef at the very famous and well respected
French Laundry), that I was dying to go to his Vegas restaurant, Bouchon, which was happily also in the Venetian. We had a bit of a hard time finding it at first. We wandered into a part of the hotel complex that is modelled to look like the Piazza San Marco in Venice except that instead of museums and cafes, you have restaurants and high end shopping. The ceiling is painted to look like the midday sky so it always daytime in there. There is also an actual canal that snakes in between the shops and restaurants where you can take a real gondola ride complete with gondolier. Insane.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had looked at some message boards to see what everyone thought of Bouchon. There were equal numbers of good and bad reviews, so I figured it was worth a try. And when else am I going to be able to eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant? The food was excellent and the service was friendly and attentive. Jeff had steak frites and I had slow-cooked veal breast with polenta and forest mushrooms. The veal was incredibly soft and flavourful and the mushrooms were meaty and delicious. We didn't drink at dinner tonight, so it was actually pretty affordable compared to last night.

We walked all the way back to the hotel and got to see all the famous hotels in their glittering nighttime glory. The weather here is so mild that it doesn't feel like you are outside at all. I think the air temperature is the same as body temperature. And the streets are so clean. Walking down the Strip feels like being on a movie set.

By chance, just as we were passing the Bellagio, the fountain display began. You may have seen it at the end of the movie Ocean's Eleven (the re-made version with George Clooney). They play music while the show is going on and I know it may sound cheesy, but it really was beautiful. I took two short videos of the display. The first one shows the more subtle part of the show and the second one displays the dramatic finish. We're hoping to see it again before we go, but on the right side of the street.

Jeff and I are planning on going to see the Cirque du Soleil show called 'O'. It's a show that can only been seen in Vegas because the set is a huge water tank. Apparently, the performers are world-class acrobats, synchronized swimmers, and divers and they perform in, on, and above the water. I'm so excited to see it.

Well, I'd better get to bed so that I can play hard tomorrow. I took tonnes of pictures today. If you'd like to see them, please click here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

First Day at the Las Vegas Office

After a horrible night's sleep totalling about 3 hours, bathed in the green glow of the MGM Grand, Jeff and I started our first work day in Las Vegas. Everyone here is on vacation, of course, and is dressed in tank tops, shorts, and flip flops so we seem incredibly overdressed in our business casual attire. We met for breakfast at 7:30AM at the Studio Cafe, which is one of about 20 restaurants available in this hotel. Jeff had a hearty breakfast burrito, but I was feeling a bit delicate and shaky after such little sleep, so I had vanilla yogurt and berries, which was actually delicious and filling. Even though it was 7-ish in the morning, there were plenty of people in the casino playing poker and slots and drinking alcohol. We think they were actually left over from last night.

We met Chris (VP) and took a cab to our Las Vegas office. Our Vegas branch has only four employees, so it's a modest space in one of those very open air looking low rises that you see in cities with warm climates. One entire wall is lined with windows with a view of palm trees and the distant mountain range.

The project manager, Cameron, is from Toronto, but the rest of the employees are American. So, he has taken it upon himself to inject a little Canadiana into the office. For example, the server is named 'Celine' and she has a lucky bottle of maple syrup that keeps her from crashing. A very American touch is the aerosol can of Easy Cheese (yes, it really exists) that gets moved from cubicle to cubicle depending on who deserves punishment.

Everyone at the Vegas office is very friendly and a lot of fun. They're a really good group and they're doing such a good job supporting our Vegas clients. It turns out that Jeff and I will most likely not have direct contact with any clients while we are here. We will be supporting our guys only, which takes a lot of pressure off us.

With the time change, Daylight Savings, and the sleep deprivation, this was the longest day ever for me. I hit the wall at about 1PM and it was all I could do to stay awake. At about 5 we headed back to the hotel and went for dinner at Shibuya, a very swank sushi restaurant in our hotel. Happily, Jeff likes Japanese food too. We had miso soup, edamame, dragon rolls, and something called Shibuya rolls. I felt like having some sake so I asked the waiter to choose a sweet-ish one for us, which turned out to be $49 for a small carafe! I charged the entire meal to my room. It didn't feel so expensive that way.

Jeff isn't a big drinker so I had the lion's share of the sake and I'm a little tipsy. I'm looking forward to a nice, deep, 8-hour sleep to get me back on track.

Rumour has it that Cameron can get us tickets to see Blue Man Group. Neither of us has seen it before, so hopefully it'll work out. We also want to walk up the strip and check out all the other big hotels. Jeff came here last year and he says that I haven't seen anything yet. I'm looking forward to it. Vegas is fun. Goodnight everyone.