Thursday, December 8, 2011

Las Vegas Trip - November 11-15, 2011

We left MSP on a late flight out…departed at 9:55pm. Let’s just say that last day at work was a long and painful day! We use Park n Fly in MSP and as always it was a great experience. (Love to use it because of the Entertainment Book discount too.) It is cheaper than airport parking and they will help you with your bags and they drop you off at the front door of the airport basically. The airport security lines were non-existent and we breezed right through. Our time at the airport was spent first at Ike’s for a drink, then Rock Bottom for one and then at Chili’s by our gate for one last beer. The time at the airport went quickly and our flight left right on time. Way to go Delta! We both used frequent flyer miles to book our flights; so free flights AND free bags! Yay! (We would have liked to have gone a couple weeks earlier for my birthday, but that was quarter-end at work and I could not take PTO. However, by going later, we got 2 free flights, so win!)
The flight was uneventful and we landed right on time, maybe even a few minutes early. We had booked a Town car through Presidential Limo and she was waiting for us at our baggage claim. Found her no problem. It was our first time using transportation other than a taxi. We got out of the airport pretty quickly and we were off. The car was very nice; much cleaner than a taxi! We were chatting with the driver and she was very nice. However, as we were nearing the strip the driver was in the turn lane onto Las Vegas Blvd. I told her we had been here lots of times before and she could take the highway. She said something about traffic and turned onto the strip. Are you kidding me? Really?!! I said we wanted to get to our hotel as soon as possible, we did not care about seeing the strip. So she turned as soon as she could. It was late, after 12am so I do not understand why she thought there would be traffic on the highway to downtown. So we got to the Golden Nugget eventually, around 12:30am I think. Not sure I would use a Town car service again. I did not think it was all that much faster, especially since I felt like she kinda tried to long haul us!
At the Golden Nugget the check in line was fairly short. We ended up in the Carson Tower in a room with 2 double beds on the 19th floor as that was all that was left. Apparently 11-11-11 was a busy day in Las Vegas so some places were booked up and prices for Friday and Saturday night were high all over town. We were not too thrilled about the Carson Tower, but took it because we knew they were booked solid and ran our stuff up to the room as quickly as we could. Our first stop was the Golden Gate to play blackjack, but all of the tables were at least a $10 minimum. What the heck! We went over to the Vegas Club and found a $5 table there. I hate the Vegas Club, it smells terrible, but it was good enough for a bit of blackjack and some Coronas. After awhile we went back over to the Golden Gate and they had switched a bunch of tables to $5 now. So we played there for awhile longer. I think I lost a bit at the Vegas Club and broke even at GG. I spotted a Hangover slot on the way out of the GG and we played that for awhile. We got tons on fun bonuses and I know we won some money, but I have no idea how much. I think we stayed up until 4:30am. Ouch. I realized on the way to the room I had gotten up at 6:30am central time and it was now that time again. Time to CRASH!
We were up rather early Saturday though, at 10am. We decided to go to Magnolia’s at the Four Queens for breakfast. I used a Fremont Street Magnolia’s coupon so we got breakfast 2 for 1. Good deal and decent food as always.

After breakfast we stopped at the front desk of the Golden Nugget and asked about switching rooms. Basically we could not switch to an upgraded room for free, but we could for an extra fee. We decided to switch to the Gold Tower for an extra $100 total. The room was pretty much the same as the Carson Tower rooms, but the rooms are located right off the casino, so they are much more convenient. However, the room had a noisy heat/air conditioner that woke us both up at night. Not sure I’d go for a Gold Tower room again. Probably should have complained about the A/C noise  to management, but we did not.

New Ice Bar at the Golden Nugget, near lobby
We spent most of Saturday wandering Fremont Street. We made a run to the ABC store for pop and water, very handy. Love the ABC!! We played slots at Vegas Club (ACG free play used), Main Street and also had lunch at 777 pub at Main Street.

We made a pint on this trip to not skip so many meals and to really try to eat three meals a day. Sometimes when we gamble a bunch I think we forget to stop and eat! We even set an alarm on John’s phone for daily happy hour at 4:30pm each day, so we would take notice of the time and then think about where we could go for happy hour food and beverage.

East Fremont neon
We stopped in the room to freshen up and headed to the El Cortez for martini happy hour. We had a round there and played a few slots there as well. John made a few sports bets there too. We played some blackjack at the Golden Gate and then met some friends from MN who happened to be in Las Vegas for the weekend as well for a dental convention. Took awhile to find them and there was a large group and some went on the zipline and said it was really fun. We had talked about doing the zipline, but it looked much higher than I remembered it being last spring. I chickened out! We watched a band and a couple light shows outside Four Queens with them for a few hours. Very fun to just hang out! At one point they decided to see what the canopy looked like from the ground. It was hilarious to see my lifelong friend who is a huge germ-phobe laying on the ground on Fremont Street! I did not join them!

Had the shrimp cocktail at Golden Gate finally!
After our friends headed back to the strip (Planet Hollywood) we headed off to play more blackjack. The Golden Gate had $10 tables again so we passed and went to the Plaza for a bit. We lost badly there and then went to the California. Had better luck there and played for some time. After awhile we decided we were starving so we went to DuPar’s for a later supper and/or an early breakfast. Good as always. It was pretty busy too. 

Yeah we were hungry and forgot to take pics right when the food arrived!

We turned in after breakfast as it was now 4am. Another marathon day in Las Vegas! Whoo Hoo!
On Sunday, we woke up fairly late, maybe 11ish and we to try the buffet at the Fremont. A few people on the Trip Advisor forum had said recently that it was quite good and we had a coupon so we gave it a try. It was pretty good overall. Rather inexpensive and a good selection to choose from. Everything looked and tasted pretty good too.  Very sparkly room too! Reminds me to the Peppermill kinda.

Not sure what we did after lunch. I think we played slots for awhile. Oh I remember now! I went to the outlet mall, the Premium Outlets close to downtown. John stayed downtown and watched football and played video poker and slots. I took a taxi to and from the outlet mall and it was only $6 or $7 each way. Not bad. I found some goodies at the Coach store too! After the mall, we decided to get ready and go to the strip for happy hour. We took a cab to the Palazzo for drinks and appetizers at Sushisamba.


We wandered through the Palazzo and Venetian and did not see anything we really wanted to play. We walked the strip and stopped at Casino Royale for a beer and some slots. No big wins here. We stopped at Margaritaville for a Loaded Landshark which is a bit of a tradition and we checked out Margaritaville casino area, played some slots there, and in the rest of the Flamingo. 
Had a few minor wins from some goofy slot called More Chili. 

We walked through Caesar’s, played Batman and a couple others there, and wandered through the mall. 

We decided to go to the Mirage and as we were walking around their casino not finding anything to play, I remembered I really don’t care for that casino. Oh well. We decided to eat at BLT burger. We ate here a few years ago when we stayed at the Mirage and it was still pretty good. It’s maybe a bit on the expensive side, but not too bad.  

To wrap up the night we took a cab from the Mirage to the Golden Gate for some blackjack. Yes, we really like to play blackjack at the Golden Gate!! The dealers are super fun and the drink service is exceptional! I think we only stayed up until 2am or so. Could not manage another 4am night.
Oh crap. It is our last full day in Las Vegas. The realization always brings a sense of dread like Sunday nights before you have to go back to work on Monday. I’m not sure what time we were up. I knew it was Monday and I did not have to go to work, so that was good! We had a certificate for breakfast at Hash House a GoGo.  We went to the new location at the Plaza. It was nice, decorated like the other locations and the food was tasty and very filling as always.  

Next we decided to finally stop at the World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn shop from Pawn Stars. We took a cab and it was not too far from downtown. I think the fare was maybe $7 or so. The shop was pretty busy with tourists and we heard from an employee that they guys were there, but in the back room and they only came out to film spots now and then. It was kinda cool to see some of the stuff we’ve seen on the show.

Next we stopped by the Hilton and wandered around a bit and checked out the sports book. It was nice and really huge. We decided to take the monorail to strip. I’m surprised that thing is still running. It was pretty empty. 
I wonder what this sign will say next time we are in Las Vegas?

After the monorail, we walked thru Bally’s, played giant slot machine, went through the mall between Bally’s and Paris. Next, we went to the Cosmopolitan and joined slot club. We both spun the wheel, JS won a free buffet and I got $10 in slot play. We looked for this Mars game I won on last time, could not find it, it must be gone. JS even used their slot finder. So since we won the free buffet we decided to stick around until the buffet opened at 5pm to use it. (Can’t believe their buffet actually closes for a few hours, but it does.) We played slots at the Cosmo but we did not have much luck. We decided to wander over to the Monte Carlo Pub for beers, since we had an ACG coupon. After that we played some slots at Monte Carlo, and got great drink service there while playing this Happy Days machine that was really fun with lots of bonuses.  
It was finally 5pm so we went back to find the Cosmo buffet, The Wicked Spoon. I was excited we won the buffet since I’d heard a lot about it on Trip Advisor. It was really good, but we had a terrible waiter. He never brought us drinks, another waitress actually did and he never came back for refills. Other than the bad server, everything was good. The food was amazing; there was a huge selection and lots of high quality items to choose from. I like the small portions of food, I think they cook in smaller batches this way, so the food seems fresher.

After dinner, we headed back downtown. The Vikings were playing in Monday night football, but they were losing, so we kinda watched it while playing blackjack at the Golden Gate. I did not do too well on blackjack so we went to Fitzgerald’s to the Vue bar for awhile, since we had a coupon. We watched a light show and pondered the zipline a bit more. Still looked way too scary. John decided he was hungry again so we ate late at Magnolias with a coupon again. 
Light show from the Vue Bar.

We turned in after that, I think around 2am again. It seemed like an early night, but we did a lot that day! No wonder we were tired!  
On Tuesday morning we slept in until 10am or so. Then we realized checkout was at 11am. Shoot. Called and asked for late checkout and they gave us until noon. We headed off to the Main Street buffet for breakfast/lunch thinking it would be fast. However, we got there right at 11 as they were switching to lunch and they did not let anyone in until it was changed over. The buffet was ok. I kind of prefer Main Street Buffet for breakfast I guess. 

We made a stop at the ABC store for souvenirs; I needed a Hawaii calendar for work, can’t beat the $1.99 price! We raced back to the hotel, packed, and checked our bags for a couple hours since we did not have to leave for the airport until 2pm. We wandered and played a bit more blackjack at Golden Gate. I won back my losses from the night before at least.  We sat by pool for a bit and took a taxi to airport. 
Our flights home were good, we arrived 30 minutes early even, plus our bags came out really fast, so we were home by 10pm.
Overall, this was a great trip. The weather was a bit chilly, but still warmer than it was at home in Minneapolis. We had pretty decent luck, but no huge wins. (Not that I ever win really big anyway. I’ve never won a big jackpot. Ever.) But no huge losses either. I felt we were really lucky to be able to go on a second trip this year! Thank goodness for the frequent flyer miles we won on Twitter earlier this year! The Golden Nugget was fine as always and we will be back. It is cheaper than the strip (even though rates were a bit high due to 11-11) and we really prefer the gaming downtown over the strip. It seemed like we went to the strip more on this trip than our last two trips for some reason. Hopefully, we will be able to return in the spring for another trip! Can’t wait!

Friday, November 18, 2011


We visited Oceanaire for my birthday on October 31st. We had not been here in a couple years and I wondered if it was still good since I heard Landry's bought the chain awhile ago. 

Our drink orders were taken right away and we were told about the daily specials. I think I had some sort of pomegranate martini and John had the Oceanaire martini, both very good. We placed our orders and bread and the vegetable plate arrived quickly. I think they used to have some sort of pickled fish on the vegetable plate, and I noticed that was no longer included. I don't care for it anyway, so not a bad change if you ask me.

John ordered a variety of 3 oysters to start with: kumamoto, blue point and fisher's island. The waiter gave us a great explanation of where each oyster was from and an overview of the taste. I like the blue point the best and John liked the kumamoto oysters so much he ordered three more of them. I tried a kumamoto and they were a bit strong for me. I actually liked the blue point oyster though.

My appetizer choice was the tuna poke. It was delicious; the tuna was like butter. The sauce had a bit of spice to it, but nothing overpowering. I'm new to eating tuna and fresh finsh in general and I wish someone would have told me years ago that fresh tuna is nothing like canned tuna. I don't think I could eat canned tuna since the smell is so awful! 

I ordered the carb cake entree. The Oceanaire crab cakes are basically the standard to which I compare all other crab cakes. These were still as good as I remembered them. There is a ton of crab in them and I love the mustard mayonnaise. It is like ordering crab legs, but much less work! My only gripe is that they were maybe a tad too crispy on top, maybe they stayed in the broiler just a little too long. And I noticed when the entrees arrived, another server delivered them and he had to ask who had what. I guess at a place like this I expect them to know the answer to that question without asking. 

John ordered the Hawaiian coral cod grilled and it was excellent. The fish was light, flaky and buttery tasting; perfectly cooked. It was not fishy tasting at all. It was also a very large serving. Where have they been hiding all of this delicious fish my whole life? In Hawaii I guess. 

Since it was my birthday we were treated to the baked alaska. It had pumpkin ice cream inside and was delicious. The merengue on the outside had a bit of crunch to it to due to the flames. I enjoyed the showmanship most of all, but I have a thing for foods prepared or finished table side! 

This was a wonderful birthday dinner overall. The service here is always great and tonight was no exception. Our server was friendly, funny and very knowledgeable. I don't think too many things have changed with the Landry's buyout that I could detect. They still fly the fish in daily and quality and service continues to be excellent. 

Oceanaire will be moving at the end of the year to the old M & S Grill location on Nicollet Mall. Hopefully, the new location will be a good thing and revive the brand a bit much like Manny's move did for them. 

Discounts: Not much in the way of discounts here. I did notice they have a daily happy hour from 5-7 pm with  food specials starting at $5 and $3 tap beers and $4 glasses of wine. Check out their website for a current menu. They also offer a 10% discount to AAA members. 

The Oceanaire Seafood Room
Hyatt Regency Hotel
1300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Phone: 612-333-2277

Monday, November 14, 2011


We visited Rinata on Sunday, October 30th. I had been wanting to visit for awhile since they are listed in the Entertainment dining book and it was a new addition for 2011. They are also in the 2012 Entertainment book. 

We arrived on time for our reservation and were seated promptly. They had a four course dinner special for $20 per person, which sounded great. Apparently this is a Sunday special they offer every week. It took awhile before our server stopped by to greet us and take our drink order. In the meantime, someone else poured our water. Once the waiter appeared to take our drink orders were asked a few questions. When he delivered our drinks we placed our food orders. Then, the waiting started. The waiter said he was going to bring us bread and we waited 15 minutes and it had not arrived, so I asked for it. Then it was another 20 minutes before our first course arrived, which was bruschetta with white beans and pesto. It was very tasty, maybe a bit bland and at this point we were very hungry. 

The next course was the salads, and we waited another 20 minutes for them to arrive after the appetizer dishes were removed. I forgot to take a picture, because I was so hungry. This happens to me a lot. I'd blog about more places if I remembered to take more photos. We both ordered Caesar salads and they were quite good with a caesar dressing that tasted like it was made from scratch. I wondered if there were anchovies in the dressing. Hopefully, because I think authentic caesar is supposed to have anchovies in it. 

There was more of a delay after the salad plates were removed, but I do not recall exactly how long. I had the butternut squash ravioli. This was a great dish. The ravioli was fresh and cooked perfectly. I liked the brown butter sauce as well. I'd been craving butternut squash ravioli and this hit the spot. I had looked at their menu online in advance and planned on ordering it all along. I was lucky it was included as a choice on the $20 special. This was worth the long wait. 

John had the fettuccine puttanesca with shrimp which was spicy due to chili flakes in the tomato sauce. It was delicious and had just the right amount of spice. I was impressed with the large number of shrimp in the dish, I think there were at least seven or eight in the serving. Overall, both pasta dishes were really good. Fresh pasta, fresh ingredients. Worth all the waiting? I'm not sure. Either way, the pasta was way better than anything you'd get at a chain in the suburbs. 

The tiramisu was excellent. It was cool, but not cold, the cake was very light and fluffy and the cream was light and rich. I'm not usually big on dessert, but this was really good. 

I really liked the food at Rinata, but the service was extremely slow on our visit. It took over two hours for the four course meal. I was not expecting to be in and out of there in an hour, but I think two hours was excessive. I saw tables that arrived after us, leave before us and they had the four course meal as well. I'm not sure what happened to our orders; we were told the kitchen was backed up while we were waiting for our salads and no explanations were offered after that. The server offered me a complimentary glass of wine with my entree due to the wait, which was nice. I was still hungry, but I was in a better mood at least! I'd like to give Rinata another chance, but it may not be anytime soon. But for a place listed in the Entertainment book, it was good since some of the places in there can be very hit or miss. 

Discounts: Rinata is in the Entertainment book and we received $14 off our bill, in addition to the $20 four course special. It was a great value. The four course meal for $20 is a great value in itself. They also offer half price bottles of wine on Sundays until 6:30pm. 

2451 Hennepin Ave 
Minneapolis, MN 55405-2605
P: (612) 374-8998