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Tally's Vegas Birthday trip report + Idol review 
 The girl knows how to have fun


I decided several years ago, that I will never work on my Birthday again (unless it's a well-paid union acting gig.) 
I will also have a massage, and Champagne. I'd prefer to do it out of town as well.

Las Vegas has been the destination of choice for many years, simply because it's close, (I can get there in 3.5 hours 
because I am She Who Drives Like The Wind), there are great deals to be had, amazing restaurants (did you know 
there are more sommeliers in Vegas than anywhere else in the country?), and IT'S FUN. 

Last year was my GODDESS birthday, and I wanted to do something different. We got six of us together and put 
a deposit down on a gorgeous condo in Cabo San Lucas for a week. All was well until the drug cartels blew up 
the cop car in Zihuatanejo in the middle of the day, killing four policemen. My friends all decided they didn't want
to die for me, and rightly so. We ended up canceling and going to Vegas instead. Oh well.

We used to fly Southwest from Burbank to Vegas when there were $19 one-way fares, but those days are gone, 
and I now have a Prius.  It's $35 round trip. 

We hit the road at 10:30am, and drive through a cloud-free Mojave. I love the desert. The five minutes I lived in 
New England, the desert was what I missed most, second only to real Mexican food. (After all, I'm a native Californian, 
and California, which everyone (who has any historical factual knowledge) knows is Mexico - that is until the Europeans 
and Americans stole it.)

We exit the 15 onto Tropicana and head up Las Vegas Blvd. As we pass the MGM Grand, we notice a ton of people 
dressed in costumes. From really bad homemade Woody and Buzz Lightyear costumes to two Johhny Depp looking Pirates.
They're posing for photos with tourists for tips. When did The Strip becomes Hollywood Blvd? (Apparently this started 
a few months ago according to the locals.) Wacky.

City Center still isn't finished.

We pull in to the Paris at 2pm, after one bathroom stop at the outlet mall just outside of Barstow. 
(Why can't men make it more than an hour and a half without having to pee?) 

The reservation is for THREE FREE NIGHTS. I ask the desk, "Do you have any wonderful upgrades for me since 
I have to be old tomorrow?" She first offered a suite for an extra $150 per night. No thanks. Then she offered either 
a mini suite for $70 per night, or a room on the remodeled floor for $40 per night. We asked about the remodel. 

"Pillow-top mattress, flat screen tv, modern decor," (still small room.) Nope. I then asked about the mini-suite. 
"Double the size of a normal room, wet bar, sitting area, giant jacuzzi tub, no view." I asked if it was over some 
weird construction, and was told no. THAT PLEASE. I'd much rather not have a "view" room at the Paris, 
since that would mean hearing the Bellagio fountains for 12 hours a day. While gorgeous, I don't want to hear 
the water cannons and Sarah Brightman singing when I want to sleep.

We take the elevator up to the 23rd floor, and our room is the first one down one of the hallways. That's a nice change
- not having to walk to the end of a corridor. The room is large. The bathroom is almost the size of a regular hotel room,
and there is a large jacuzzi tub for two, and separate shower. There is also a separate toilet room complete with bidet.
(Hilarity is always had when someone who has never used one, attempts to see "what it's all about", and gets a face full 
of water.) The view faces northeast, so we can see part of the runway at Maccarran, and the room will get very little sun 
(heat), which is good news. It's also very quiet. YAY!

We unpack, and head down to my favorite Vegas eatery, Mon Ami Gabi. There are many reasons I love this restaurant. 
A patio that overlooks the Bellagio Fountains (which we never sit on, since there is always a long wait, and it's full of tourists 
who've mostly never been to Vegas before, plus it's Vegas, so even if you sit on the no-smoking side, there are people 
walking up and down the sidewalk and for some reason people feel obligated to smoke cigars near and inside casinos.) 
Superb food, wonderful staff, great ambiance, and it's AFFORDABLE. No, seriously, it is. It's also owned by Lettuce 
Entertain You, which gives you a free membership card to earn frequent dining points at all of their restaurants (which are 
mostly in Chicago, but they have them all over the country.) There are 5 Luttuce restaurants in Vegas, including Mon Ami, 
Eiffel Tower, and Joe's Stone Crab. We earned $30 in three days that we could apply to our bill, and they had sent us 
each a $15 off birthday gift card which they give out every year. FREE FOOD TOO!! 

Mon Ami's menu is French cuisine that's not heavy on the sauces. Lots of steaks, fresh fish, salads, etc... and a wine cart. 
They also have a shellfish bar. The moment you sit they bring you a baguette of warm French bread right out of the oven, 
and a ramekin of sweet butter. We normally split of bottle of Louis Latour Grand Ardeche Chardonnay (at $7 per glass, 
$28 per bottle, it's one of the best bargains on The Strip.) I have the special sandwich du jour which is like a grilled cheese 
with a rich French artisan cheese, black olive tapenade, arugula, red onion, and roasted red pepper, served with their 
amazing fries. They overhear we're there to celebrate my birthday and bring over a profiterole with a candle on it.

A note about profiteroles - I'm not a big fan. I love the fresh vanilla bean ice cream they serve inside it, and the rich warm 
dark chocolate sauce they pour all over it, but the baked ball of dough itself? Not so much. If I'm going to eat wheat, 
then I want something far more yummy. However, no complaining for me, it's free!

We gamble a little, mostly at a bar with video poker so we can play longer and have access to water or more alcohol, 
and it's fast and free. Then we head upstairs to recharge for the evening. 

My best friend, who has been calling me all week to see what our plans are so she could send a bottle of champagne to us 
at some point, calls to check on us. This is the first trip in a while where the only plan we have is my 11am birthday massage 
on Monday morning. No shows, no dinner reservations, nothing. She and her husband usually come to Vegas for my birthday, 
but this year everyone is broke from the continuing aftershocks of the shitty Bush economy.

I answer the phone and she's somewhere loud. 
ME: "You two are here aren't you?"
HER: "Yup!"

They're eating dinner at Zefferino's at The Venetian, but agree to come over to see our mini-suite, then join us at Mon Ami
and have dessert while we have a little light dinner. (It's a different menu at night, with more steaks.)

They love Mon Ami as well, and instead of dessert, they order a cheese plate. I have the butter lettuce salad with honey 
crisp apple, roasted beets, and goat cheese, with a light lemon dressing. One of my favorite salads ever. Thinking about 
their cheese tray I'm an idiot and also order their baked cheese appetizer which is amazing in this tomato and herb sauce, 
but a LOT OF FOOD. We split a bottle of Latour Pinto Noir. Again, $7 per glass, $28 per bottle. Then it's on to real dessert.
(What? More food???) They split the Chocolate Tarte which is one big pile of dark chocolate awesomeness, and we have 
the Bananas Foster Crepe. mmmmm. They bring me another profiterole with candle. Happy Birthday to me. 

After dinner, our friends head to their hotel, but I decide I want to do a little more gambling, since I've mostly been donating 
to Clark County today, and need a little return on my investment. I put a $20 in a $1 "Triple Double Wild Cherry" machine, 
and in two rolls I have $256. Time for bed.

Monday, BIRTHDAY!!! My well-trained man brings me a latte in bed and I have a nice hour of mindless channel surfing. 
I then head down to the spa about 30min early to go hang out in the steam room before a shower and my massage, which is 
outstanding as always. After massage, more steam, then upstairs to shower and dress for lunch at - MON AMI!!! (Yes, this is 
meal #3 there. Hey, shut up. It's MY BIRTHDAY!!) 

Our friends meet us there, and we get a nice table in the conservatory. Today we have a bottle of champagne, and I start with 
a plate of Washington State cold water oysters. Yes, I know it's May, but they're AWESOME. Then the yummy sandwich 
special again. One more bottle of champagne, and oh look! A profiterole with a candle.

On to gambling, then we all go off for a quick rest, and try to figure out what to do that evening. We surf the web looking at 
what new restaurants are over at City Center, but there are no menus with prices and they all look as though they'd be rather 
expensive. We decide on Todd English's Olives at The Bellagio. We get there, and everyone is still a bit full from lunch, and 
though we're all tired of Mon Ami, Olives is twice as much. We snack, and I'm the only one who orders a glass of wine. 
It's a lovely Malbec for $12 per glass. They had a Chianti Classico for $17 a glass, but when I can get 3 bottles for that price 
at home, I just can't order it out of principal. We split a Caesar, and the Veal Agnolotti Al Plin - slow braised osso buco, 
fontina cheese agnolotti, truffle butter. My friend has the Greek salad, and hr hubby has the Caesar, then she has Ricotta 
& Black Olive Gnocchi - mascarpone créma, yellow tomato ragu, basil oil, pecorino cracker. All food is absolutely superb. 
They brought me a Happy Birthday dessert bite plate with three small yummy balls on it with a candle. Dark chocolate with 
coffee, Key Lime, and one that was very much like a profiterole. Free birthday desserts = win.

Back to Paris for a little more gambling, then bed.

Tuesday morning our friends head home, and we decide to take a walk and check out Aria and City Center. Even though it's 
across the street, it's a long walk. We get across the sky bridge at Planet Hollywood, and cross over. Then we're forced through 
a mall that is only one-quarter finished, with only once side (the long way) open to foot traffic in order to finally get to the casino, 
which is at the far back of the eventual 3-resort, 3-residence, shopping complex. It's pretty, but dark, and soul-free. It's also what
everyone said Bellagio would be, but wasn't: very few 25 cent machines, in fact, all the bars with video poker start at $1. We didn't stay long. 

We end up back at Mon Ami for wonderful, reasonably priced food. More oysters for me, chardonnay, and the butter lettuce 
and beet salad. My man has a cheeseburger, that I eat half of. Another profiterole with candle ends up in front of me.

We head to the main bar at Ballys and play video poker for a few hours, then head to the pool around 5pm. 
It's a warm, lovely afternoon but not hot, so it's very relaxing in the shade.

Back upstairs to relax before we head back for more gambling and eventual dinner at..... Mon Ami. (Hey, we have earned 
free money there!) I manage to hit a nice $100 payout on a penny Money Storm machine on the way. We split a bottle of 
the Latour Pinot, and I have MORE OYSTERS, my regular salad and a whole cheeseburger since I will be starving myself
for all eternity (at least until Thanksgiving), starting the next day. We pass on dessert, but somehow another profiterole with 
candle magically appears in front of me.

Wednesday morning we hit the road at 10am, and make Burbank by 1:30pm. Easy. But I'm hungry, and sadly, there is nothing 
remotely like Mon Ami Gabi here. There used to be French 75, but the owners got greedy, fired the jazz trio, installed flat screens 
and tried to turn a lovely French bistro with a following into a sports bar. When that failed, they changed the concept to a high-end 
cajun restaurant. Unfortunately a few blocks away is a much better, less expensive cajun restaurant with a New Orleans chef who 
makes the best gumbo this side of Metairie. They closed two months later. 


Thanks be to the TIVO.
So glad I didn't waste any valuable gambling time watching this hideously boring episode in Vegas where 
I'd also have to sit through commercials. The entire hour was one big KISS LEE'S ASS Manipulation Fest. 
Seriously. It was the worst top-three show in the five years I've been watching.

They take each contestant to their home town and do a photo-op in front of an AT&T store. WTF? It was strip-mall hell. 
There is apparently no AT&T store in Lee's hometown, so we got footage of him in his own private jet instead. 
More not-so subtle LOOK LEE IS A ROCK STAR beaten into our heads programming.

Casey picks the 2nd most boring song in history and slows it down. The judges do everything but escort him offstage. 
He's very pretty, has a voice and can play guitar really well. He will have a career when he's actually allowed to sing 
and record his own songs. At this point, Idol is probably the worst thing for him.

Crystal picks Come to My Window. I would have preferred her to do some Joplin, but maybe she's saving that for the final. 
The sound mixer needs to be shot. The instruments should NEVER over power the vocals. They know how she sings by now. 
She does very nice soft moments, and she belts. There are level adjusters on that board, Sparky - USE THEM. Your job is not
to program the board for the entire number and go have a smoke. You had a rehearsal, REMEMBER?? 

Lee picks some Lynard Skynyrd song and it's ok. The judges see Jesus return to earth. It's almost embarrassing. I remember this
from last year when they were prematurely crowning Adam Lambert and packing Chris Allen's bags. That didn't work out so 
well for them. Could Lee beat Crystal? Sure, anything is possible, but the over-praise is ridiculous, especially how they were 
all so put off by the bagpipe a few weeks ago, which I loved.

Randy and Kara pick the most boring song on earth for Casey J and his journey under the bus is complete. 
He slows it down too, attempting to do ANYTHING with it, and the biggest moment is a guitar solo. 
Simon is the only one who holds them responsible for giving Casey nothing beyond five seconds of guitar. 
Still, he's gracious when he should be fuming. I hope his bank account has the last laugh eventually.

Ellen picks Maybe I'm Amazed so she can fantasize about Crystal being a lesbian. Why didn't she just pick Bad to the Bone 
if she wanted Crystal to sing about women? And is there some rule about not being able to gender change McCartney lyrics? 
Maybe I'm a gal, maybe I'm a lonely gal....
...Baby I'm a gal, and maybe you're the only man 
who could ever help me....

I wonder why she didn't do that? It scans for timing just fine.

Crystal nails it, but because she not a 25 year old Paul McCartney, it's only good in the eyes of the judges.

Simon has picked Hallelujah for Lee. How many times have we heard this song on this show, this season? 
(I think this is the third.) Lee chooses to do the Leonard Cohen version instead of the Jeff Buckley (much better) version. 
It allows for a choir to come out and back him, thus creating the one LOUD moment of the night, and the judges see the 
face of God. I have no idea why. It was nice, but it was nothing special. It was loud, but emotion free. Even if it had kept 
the entire night low-key, Lee would have been better served by doing the Buckley version with just an acoustic guitar. 

I wonder if the final week will be just as boring? Or if we'll finally get a watch-again moment or two?

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