48 Hours In Vegas

The Big Rig Jig sculpture by artist Mike Ross on display in downtown Las Vegas.
The Big Rig Jig sculpture by artist Mike Ross on display in downtown Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS, NV — In the city that never sleeps, one can do major damage even if it’s only a 48-hour trip, and ostensibly to take in a Lady Gaga show. But one still has to eat, right? And boy, did my husband and I do just that.

Flock & Fowl

If you’ve never ventured beyond The Strip, you owe it to yourself to take a trek downtown. It’s arguably the city’s hippest neighborhood, with bold murals spanning two to three stories high on the sides of buildings, tongue-in-cheek sayings adorning old motel marquees, and a range of show-stopping public arts pieces.

Wit and wonder downtown.
Wit and wonder downtown.

Case in point, the Big Rig Jig at the Fergusons Downtown, an old motel that has been transformed into a venue of small local boutiques and eateries. The Big Rig Jig looks like something straight out of a “Transformers” movie. Composed of two massive tanker trucks bent and curved into an inexplicable “S,” it’s confounding, perplexing, and just plain amazing.

After coming back down to earth from seeing this gravity-defying spectacle, do take a stroll around the Fergusons Downtown. The old motel holds a trove of finds. At the very least, peek inside one of the public restrooms to see it refurbished in Art Deco glory.

The faucet in the restroom at Fergusons Downtown.
The faucet in the restroom at Fergusons Downtown.

A short stroll away is the Downtown Container Park. Yes, the outdoor venue is made of repurposed shipping containers now transformed into trendy clothing boutiques, casual eateries, and a live entertainment venue. If you visit at night, don’t miss the 40-foot-tall metal preying mantis sculpture that shoots 6-story-high flames. It was created by aerospace engineer Kirk Jellum as a gift to his wife on their first wedding anniversary. Now, that’s red-hot love.

Fire-breathing mantis.
Fire-breathing mantis.

If all that wandering has worked up an appetite, stop in at Flock & Fowl for their specialty of chicken rice.

Chef Sheridan Su trained at the Culinary Institute of America before becoming a member of the opening teams of Joel Robuchon and Comme Ca in Vegas.

Part retro, part modern -- the dining room at Flock & Fowl.
Part retro, part modern — the dining room at Flock & Fowl.
Glorious chicken and rice at Flock & Fowl.
Glorious chicken and rice at Flock & Fowl.

As such, his take on Hainan chicken ($13.50) is decidedly levels above that at your average mom-and-pop whole-in-the-wall joint. Choose traditional (poached) or roasted. I went with the former, a succulent mound of boned chicken arranged on a neat tray with a scoop of rice cooked in chicken fat, a bowl of broth that the chicken cooked in, and ginger-scallion, soy, and chili sauces to apply however you wish. It’s pure comfort food done so right.

Fried chicken bun.
Fried chicken bun.
Pork belly bun.
Pork belly bun.

The pork belly bao and buttermilk fried chicken bao ($3.99) are also delights. The former is filled with rich, juicy, tender pork; the latter stuffed with ultra crunchy fried chicken.

Bellagio Patisserie

One does a lot of walking in Vegas. Enough to justify a sweet or two. When the craving hits, head to the Bellagio Patisserie. Here, you’ll be tempted by all manner of gelatos, macarons, bonbons, and pastries.

What seduced me was something called a Nutella bun. It sported a neat cap of Nutella-flavored pastry baked onto the top. But what I didn’t know until I bit into it was that the center held a molten geyser of the rich hazelnut spread. So much that it gushed out with abandon with every subsequent bite.

If you love Nutella or chocolate, you need at least one of these in your life.

The innocent looking Nutella bun.
The innocent looking Nutella bun.

Lip Smacking Foodie Tours

For a convenient, succinct way to sample a lot of the best eats that Vegas has to offer in one full swoop, look no further than Lip Smacking Foodie Tours.

Escargot in puff pastry at Bardot Brasserie.
Escargot in puff pastry at Bardot Brasserie.

It’s an award-winning culinary walking tour, in which guests are led by a guide to as many as four top restaurants to try three or four signature dishes at each venue. You don’t have to bother with making your own restaurant reservations or waiting in long lines to get into a hot spot. Instead, you get whisked past the host stand and immediately seated at a table, as if you were a big-name celebrity guest. Talk about an ego boost.

Full disclosure, Lip Smacking Foodie Tours has been a client of mine since its inception in 2014, and I couldn’t feel prouder about how Founder Donald Contursi took his idea and ran with it, creating a thoughtful, smart and successful business.

The impressive bar at Bardot Brasserie.
The impressive bar at Bardot Brasserie.

Contursi invited me as his guest to try one of his tours gratis. My husband and I chose the “Savors of The Strip,” a night-time experience that got us in and out of four restaurants in just three hours.

You get a chance to stretch your legs and digest along the way with a fun stroll between stops to admire noteworthy artwork that we honestly would have walked right past with blinders on had Contursi not pointed out what made each of them special.

The Glacia sculpture at The Shops at Crystals. Would you believe these are pillars of carved ice? Over time, they do melt and need to be replaced, but they are kept at minus 5-degrees F.
The Glacia sculpture at The Shops at Crystals. Would you believe these are pillars of carved ice? Over time, they do melt and need to be replaced, but they are kept at minus 5-degrees F.

The exact restaurants and dishes you enjoy on this tour are kept a secret from you ahead of time for added suspense. So, hopefully, I won’t ruin it too much if I include a few photos of some of the eats we enjoyed.

Just some of the noshes enjoyed at Julian Serrano Tapas.
Just some of the noshes enjoyed at Julian Serrano Tapas.
Fried zucchini and eggplant tower at Estiatario Milos.
Fried zucchini and eggplant tower at Estiatario Milos.
Grilled octopus at Estiatario Milos.
Grilled octopus at Estiatario Milos.

Suffice to say, there is always a surprise stop or addition on every tour. I’ll stay mum on what it was for this particular tour. But like the Lip Smacking Foodie Tour itself, it was entertaining, eye-opening and a pure blast.

A personalized array of desserts at Cucina by Wolfgang Puck.
A personalized array of desserts at Cucina by Wolfgang Puck.

Jaleo

It’s the rare chef — and person — who is renowned not just for culinary chops but pioneering humanitarian efforts.

Pans at the ready at Jaleo.
Pans at the ready at Jaleo.

Jose Andres embodies all of that. I patronize his restaurants because the food is always stellar and because I want to support someone who goes out of his way to do so much good in the world.

It’s not hard to love his Jaleo restaurant. I mean, how many restaurants feature an open-air fire pit with blazing pans of paella cooking right before your eyes in the dining room?

But its not all about spectacle here. It’s also about refined Spanish fare. Start with salmon crudo cones with smoked trout roe ($5 each), similar to the iconic French Laundry salmon tartare cornets, and just as fun to eat.

Salmon crudo cones.
Salmon crudo cones.
Can you tell which are the real olives and which are spherification creations?
Can you tell which are the real olives and which are spherification creations?

Follow that up with “Aceitunas rellenas y aceitunas ‘Ferran Adrià’ ” ($14.50). It’s a fun trompe l’oeil dish of olives two ways. First, classic ones stuffed with anchovy and piquillo peppers. Second, the molecular gastronomy slight-of-hand ones originated by Ferran Adria — green jiggly spheres that look like olives, but are actually completely liquid within their thin membranes. They burst in your mouth, sending out a cascade of olive juice bathed in olive oil. They are magical.

Chicken paella.
Chicken paella.

Each day at lunch features one special paella. That afternoon it was a chicken one. It arrives at the table already portioned on a serving plate for two. This is a very rich paella, redolent of saffron, with the rice grains plump yet toothsome. A thick, creamy swoosh of aioli lined one side of the plate to add even more gusto.

Catalan flan.
Catalan flan.

Normally, I don’t indulge in dessert at lunch time. I know, I know, hard to believe. But of course, I made an exception here. I’m so glad I did, too, because the flan ($13) is one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s utterly smooth, incredibly creamy, dense in structure yet still soft as a caress. It’s garnished with Catalan cream and oranges, lending it the haunting taste of a Spanish Creamsicle.

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