David's Trip Report - Day 8

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David Berman

Dec 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/24/98
Greetings from Las Vegas. This is Day 8 of our trip report, written and
posted on a daily basis during our Dec. 15-Dec. 31 visit.

Wednesday, December 23-

This was an active and very enjoyable day for us, especially because we
spent it all in the company of our good friends, Judy and Joe
Fitzgibbons, and Joe's mother Rita. Judy and Joe are from Virginia,
having recently relocated there from New Hampshire, and Rita lives in

These friends have been staying at The Frontier (now The New Frontier)
for years, and this used to be the source of some "serious" kidding as
they continued to stay there during the long-running Frontier strike.
But it is hard to argue with the fact that almost all their stays over
the years have been comped, and the comps continue under new owner Phil

We picked up our friends at 9:30 a.m. at the New Frontier back entrance,
and off we went for their first visit to Sun City Anthem and our second
visit on this trip. Once our companions got through marveling at the
spectacular view of the Strip and downtown from the Anthem elevation, we
again went through the 14 model homes.

This was an especially helpful trip because we have started to focus on
the specific model(s) that interest us most. Our major decision will be
to either buy a larger home that might have some features we don't need
but which doesn't require much customization, vs. buying a smaller home
whose design we like and spending the difference on customizing it. At
this moment, we are inclined to buy a smaller model and then add lots of
custom features, as we don't want to maintain a larger home in
retirement than we now own.

We also learned a lot by spending time with a South Carolina couple who
had just bought a Sun City home, which they will move into next May.
They gave us much valuable information about the purchase process, and
especially about the customization options and specific costs.

I hear now and then from people thinking of retiring to Las Vegas (or
Henderson). For those who are interested, Del Webb Corp. has an
excellent Web site for Sun City Anthem, including artist renderings and
floor plans for all the models, as well as base prices. If you can't
find this information on the Web and do want to see it, just drop me a

After our Anthem visit, it was time for lunch, and I want to apprise you
of the fact that a new and eagerly awaited contender in the unofficial
sweepstakes for "best steak in town" has made its debut.

The Las Vegas branch of Smith & Wollensky, the famous New York
steakhouse, is now open on the Strip. Not much has been said or written
about S&W yet, because it had a "soft opening" in early December.
Full-scale advertising is scheduled to commence after New Year's, but
the soft opening, with virtually no advertising and very little public
fanfare, has given the staff time to work out any minor glitches and
gradually get up to speed.

Judging by our visit, no additional fine-tuning is needed. Simply
stated, it was one of the finest dining experiences we've had in Las

Details about the dinner in a moment, but first let me tell you about
the restaurant itself. It is impossible to miss S&W's free-standing,
imposing building located on the east side of the Strip, immediately
north of the Showcase parking garage and movie theaters, just a few
doors down from All-Star Café and the MGM Grand. This also places it
almost directly across the street from New York-New York and Monte

Physically, the restaurant makes a dramatic statement on Las Vegas
Boulevard, distinctive in its signature exterior colors of forest green
and white. Visitors to Smith & Wollensky, which seats about 675 for
dinner, will appreciate the fact that it has its own parking lot
directly behind the building.

The restaurant has a well-rounded menu, but it's clear from the moment
you walk through the door that steak is king here. Not just any steak,
but the finest prime beef, aged to perfection, and served in huge

The dining rooms don't open until 5 p.m., so we enjoyed our lunches in
The Grill, which is accessible directly from the street. First I'll
describe what we ate, and then I'll tell you about some of the other
menu choices.

Our meal started with complimentary servings of S&W's soft pretzel bread
sticks, accompanied by ramekins of mustard butter. We were ravenously
hungry after several hours of walking around Sun City Anthem, so we did
not object to a second serving of the bread sticks even before our food

Almost everything at S&W is a la carte, except for the day's blackboard
specials, and several of us had the specials. Rosalyn had a wonderfully
moist serving of swordfish, accompanied by an arugula salad. Rita and
Judy had filet tips au poivre, accompanied by outstanding thin onion
rings that taste like fried but are actually baked. Joe had Cajun rib
eye, a large, bone-in cut seasoned with blackened spices that were just
right and not too spicy. My choice was The Grill Sirloin, priced at
$23.50. The price for my steak might seem high, but it was an 18-ounce
boneless cut that immediately took its place as one of the most
memorable steaks I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Grilled
black-and-blue as ordered, it melted in my mouth, and I savored every
bite as I marveled over the beef's perfection.

Most side orders cost $6.75 at lunch, a bit more at dinner, and the
entrees cost more at dinner also. Side orders, again, are not as
over-priced as they might seem, as they are generous enough to serve at
least two and perhaps three. We shared side orders of the delicious
baked onion rings and S&W's famous hash browns, and both dishes were

Our waiter was efficient and friendly, setting an informal tone that
made the experience all the more enjoyable. He also gave us a tour of
the restaurant, which includes two upper floors featuring additional
dining areas and a number of private dining suites, along with views of
the extensive glass-enclosed wine cellar. An additional Smith &
Wollensky trademark is the special glass-walled private dining rooms
that look directly into the kitchen. It must be, at first, an eerie
sensation to be dining while seemingly part of the kitchen activity, but
it has to be quite a novel experience, one that you'd remember for a
long time. - These glass-walled dining rooms are available to anyone at
no extra charge, simply by calling ahead and reserving.

The decor of the restaurant features lots of white tablecloths and dark
woods, but no enclosed booths as you'd see at The Palm. This results in
an atmosphere that is airier and seemingly more casual than at The Palm.

The total cost for our five lunches, with gratuity, was $150, and I know
each of us will not hesitate at the opportunity to dine again at Smith &

Here are some of the other items on the S&W lunch menu. Remember that
dinner prices for the same items are higher (for instance, many steaks
at dinner are $29.75): Split pea soup or soup du jour, $4.75; tomato and
onion salad, $5.50; Caesar salad, $6.25; mixed greens salad, $5.25;
shrimp cocktail, $11.75; Lobster cocktail, $12.75. Filet mignon, $21.75;
English cut prime rib, $19.75; roast beef hash, $14.75; veal chop,
$21.50. Thin crust pizza, $9.75; Wollensky's Burger, $9.75; grilled
chicken BLT, $10.75; sliced filet steak sandwich, $16.25; lemon pepper
chicken, $15.75; Mrs. Smith's crabcakes, $19.75; mustard crusted tuna,
$18.75; grilled salmon, $17.50; Wollensky's special salad with chicken,
$10.75; lemon pepper tuna salad, $14.50; Cobb salad, $13.75; fish of the
day, $16.50-19.75. Homemade desserts, including coconut layer cake,
cheesecakes, creme brulee, carrot cake, chocolate cake, warm apple crumb
tart, fresh fruits and berries, etc., are each priced at $7.50.

An especially unique dish is Crackling Pork Shank, which has been
labeled by USA Today as its #1 Dish in America. The shank is enveloped
in a crunchy fried coating of pork, which makes the normally tough shank
very tender. The dish is served with Firecracker Applesauce, which
contains jalapeno chilies.

Move over, Morton's, Ruth's Chris, Golden Steer, CC Steak House, etc.
You've got competition!

After lunch, we took a little walk through the M&M store, marveling at
just how far one can go in getting the public to buy into blatant
commercialism. We would have liked to see the new M&M 3-D movie, but it
is closed for some reason for the next few days. We watched some really
young kids trying to scale the climbing wall at Gameworks next door, and
then we drove our friends back to the New Frontier so they could freshen
up and we could see what changes have occurred under Phil Ruffin's

New Frontier is definitely a work in progress. Some upgrading of the
public areas has been done, but other areas are unused or roped off,
waiting for whatever changes are coming. The Las Vegas version of
Gilley's western dancehall and BBQ emporium looks like it has potential
as a themed anchor for the hotel, with its electronic bucking bronco,
concrete warehouse-style floor and projected country-music videos in
front of a large dance floor possibly developing into a magnet for local
and visiting cowboys and cowgirls.

After playing a little winning video poker, we took a look at our
friends' room, which would be more than adequate if you need a decent
room at a fair price, and then we all piled into the car for our next

For the third straight year, Roz and I paid a visit to the Magical
Forest operated by Opportunity Village at its headquarters property on
West Oakey. Opportunity Village, one of the major charitable
organizations in the area, provides training and vocational
opportunities to the retarded and disabled, and this is their most
important fund-raising event. It is a delightful attraction for anyone
visiting with children or who just wants to get a large dose of
Christmas spirit.

Admission to the Magical Forest is $3.00 for adults, $2.00 for children.
The attraction includes an indoor crafts fair, with everything on
display available for purchase, and a wonderfully creative collection of
gingerbread houses constructed mostly by pastry chefs from the area's
hotels and colleges.

Back outside, a number of food vendors were selling such delights as
barbecued chicken and ribs, funnel cakes, hot dogs, coffee, etc. And it
was quite cold, so a welcome feature was the portable gas heaters on
tall poles, surrounded by bales of hay to sit on and enjoy the heat.

The Magical Forest itself is amazing, a circuitous pathway lined with
hundreds of trees, each decorated by local people and organizations who
purchased the right to set up displays and decorate trees by making
donations to Opportunity Village. As visitors wind through the pathways,
it is easy to get lost in the fantasy and forget that Las Vegas and the
traffic on Oakey is just outside the enclosure. Many of the trees
reflect themes associated with their sponsors. For example, a hair salon
decorated its tree with gold-toned combs and brushes, which made for a
lovely effect. Another tree, sponsored by a local Porsche owners
association, is hung with dozens of miniature automobiles. For an extra
fee, kids and adults alike can take a ride on a miniature train that
winds around and through the Forest, and of course, Santa Claus awaits
little kids who sit on his lap to have photos taken.

Our friends were as delighted as we were with the Magical Forest, and we
all welcomed this chance to feel part of the holiday season while so far
from home.

It was now nearly 7 p.m., time to motor down to the Strip for our next
activity. Arriving at The Sahara, we purchased tickets ($32.95 each with
tax) for the show labeled "A Christmas Spectacular" in the Congo
Showroom. It was not really "spectacular," but it definitely was an
entertaining blast from the past, featuring three groups that folks from
our generation can appreciate: The Coasters, The Marvelettes, and The
Drifters. Most of the performers who collectively comprise the personnel
of these groups are not the originals, of course, but that never bothers
us as long as the sound is there. In this case, the sound definitely was
there, and the three-quarters-filled house clearly got a full measure of
enjoyment out of it. It was a treat to see, hear and sing along with
such classics as "Charlie Brown," "Yackety-Yack," "Don't Mess With
Bill," "Under the Boardwalk," and so many others. The 90-minute show
opened with the three ensembles singing "Jingle Bell Rock," then each
group did about 25 minutes of their own stuff, followed by all the
performers doing a medley of Christmas songs that concluded with a
rousing gospel version of "Silent Night."

All the performers greeted audience members outside the theater after
the show, chatting with them, signing autographs, and selling CDs and

It was a very entertaining show, well worth the money. The only thing
I'd change is to tone down some of the forced gaiety by allowing each
act to tell the audience to "put your hands together" only once per set.
The natural joy of enjoying all these classic oldies provides enough
audience dynamic and momentum on its own.

No drinks were included in the price of the show, but we did receive
coupons for free drinks at the casino bars after the show ended. So,
after the show, Joe, Judy and I sat at a bar playing 25-cent 9/6 jacks
or better, and I added another small win to our VP win of earlier in the

Then we returned our friends to their hotel and drove down the Strip to
Carrow's Restaurant, between Monte Carlo and NY-NY, for late-night
supper. This was the first time we'd tried Carrow's. It was just OK, but
did the trick for what we needed at that hour. Roz had a grilled chicken
sandwich with coleslaw, and I had a breakfast plate of eggs, pancakes,
sausage, bacon and English muffin. Total bill was about $16.

Then it was back to The Rio, and the end of Day 8.

--Happy holidays from David ...in Las Vegas

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