Vetri Cucina at the Palms – Las Vegas, NV
I have a strange life, as many of you know. The circumstances that lead to this meal are a prime example of how strange that life can be:
How the hell did you wind up in Las Vegas for just FIVE HOURS, Steven?
I got an email back in May telling me that Delta was launching a program for some of their elite flyers who lose their status due to a life event in which they are eligible to challenge back for their status, much in the way United offered me a chance to challenge for 2019 status. This meant that if I met these thresholds, I'd be able to keep my Delta Platinum status through January 2021, and would hopefully be traveling frequently enough again to earn status organically in through 2022 and beyond.
In the last weeks of the program back in August, I found myself about 2,500 miles short of the threshold, but it just so happened I would be driving from Austin to Iowa that same time period, so I could book a mileage-run round trip out of, well, any airport along the way, giving me plenty of cheap options to accrue the necessary miles.
The best option was a roundtrip from Dallas to Vegas, which is how I came to be staying in Dallas briefly on my way back from Austin (read about my Dallas meal here!). I didn't really want to go to Vegas in August for reasons that should be obvious, and I didn't have the capital to actually thoroughly enjoy a Vegas trip, but there was an option that allowed me to fly out of Dallas in the late morning and then leave Vegas on a redeye the same night, getting me back to Dallas about 18 hours later than I left. This flight was cheap and would allow me the opportunity to have a nice dinner in LV and to play a little light blackjack without having to pay for a hotel, and when I got back to Dallas I'd hit the road on the way to Iowa. Yes, I know. I am insane.
The other cool perk about this: I'd get to sample Delta's newest aircraft, the CS100 (or A220-100, as I hate to call it). Both of my loyal readers may remember that I got my first C-Series flight on Swiss back in June from Venice to Zurich. Why was I so excited? Check out the footnote,* so I won't bore those who are uninterested in plane nerd-ness.
I boarded the brand-new bird bound for my connection in Salt Lake City and took my seat, 3D. The plane SO was beautiful, less than two months old, but I will say that the first class seats were a shade tight despite the better economy cabin.
Of course, I had to sit on the right side of the aircraft for the always-magnificent views of the Wasatch Front on the classic descent into SLC.
A jump from SLC to Vegas with a gorgeous evening approach over Lake Mead put me into Las Vegas with plenty of time to get to my reservation.
I've been to Vegas many, many times and always am on the hunt for new spots to try, especially the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between places of serious culinary value and overhyped commercial ventures (see my discussion of the Vegas restaurant scene here). My friend Carson, who joined me at Rooster & Owl in DC just a few days prior, recommended that I check out the new outpost of Philly's celebrity chef Marc Vetri in Las Vegas. Carson is not the first to speak highly of Vetri––many of my friends from Philly or environs have told me how exceptional his flagship restaurant in Philly is, and since I didn't have any better ideas, I snagged a reservation at Vetri's new spot that now occupies the top of the Palms to the west of the Strip. The view is absolutely unparalleled––you get a panorama of the strip from the massive floor-to-ceiling windows pointing east, and the rest of the restaurant gives you views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. Another perk: there was something appealing about steering clear of the strip this time around; it felt consistent with my "touch and go" approach to the entire trip. In Vegas, but not IN Vegas, if you will.
I arrived at the Palms a good twenty minutes before my reservation, and I have to say that the Palms impressed me for being a property I generally treat as a third or fourth thought (if that) when I stay in Vegas. I made my way to a hostess stand by the elevator, where I gave my name to be taken up to the restaurant. The girl was so kind and friendly, and noted with heartfelt congratulations that I had put on my reservation that I'd be celebrating graduating with my doctorate. I have been milking this excuse all of 2019 in an attempt to get a free glass of Champagne from someone. So far: zero free glasses of Champagne.
I was dismayed to see that all the tables directly in front of the panoramic windows were full, but I took a spot with an unobstructed view to the north and east, and was still able to see much of the strip as the sun set and those classic Vegas lights began to sparkle and shine. It was quiet in my corner, which I appreciated, and I enjoyed taking in the view of the vibrant and whimsical dining space. I particularly enjoyed all the bright-colored glassware.
I was greeted with more congratulations by my server, who recommended a cocktail to start, and I gladly ordered the old fashioned she recommended. Some incredible house-made bread followed. I also asked for recommendations for food, and placed an order for what she called their "most popular" dish: foie gras "pastrami" on brioche toast. Here Vetri puts little "veins" of pastrami spice into slices of foie and places them on brioche toasts with a bit of mostarda atop. A true Philly twist on foie, this was delightful and unique, although WAY too much foie for just little ol' me to eat on my own (except yes I definitely did eat it all...)
My struggle when dining with just one person is how to get a bite of several different things so that I know what a restaurant is more holistically than can be gleaned from just an appetizer and entrée. This is the reason that tasting menus are so appealing, and to a lesser extent small-plates places. Unfortunately, only Vetri in Philly does a tasting menu, and the Vegas-sized portions at the Palms outpost were too big to accomplish that, and I didn't have the resources to invest in a bunch of dishes. There was comforting and nostalgic something calling to me about their pasta (ahem: carbs) menu, however, and I decided to order two selections––one classic and one unique.
Before the pasta emerged, I ordered a bottle of Italian white. The som immediately pointed me to far-too-expensive bottles, so I asked him to find something excellent and unusual and gave him a price range and set him free to find something. He returned with a bottle of a grape called nascetta, which I'd never tasted. This white wine was beautifully floral and complex, with a nuttiness that contributed to its puzzling and wonderful feel on the palate. An excellent wine with my forthcoming pasta.
The traditional pasta was the one that I missed during my visit to Rome: Cacio e pepe. Literally just meaning "cheese and pepper," this dish is quite simply that––pecorino cheese and fresh cracked black pepper. The sauce is formed from vigorously whisking the pasta with grated cheese and cracked pepper into the heat of a bit of the pasta water. It's transparent, pungent, creamy but not overpowering. It's an adult fettuccine Alfredo. Since I missed out on this dish in Rome, I am glad I got to try Vetri's version, which was excellent, and inspired me to learn how to make my own. It's now a staple when I want a nice helping of carbs. So... ya know, every day.
The second dish was a dainty stuffed pasta called agnolotti, this time stuffed with sweet corn (seasonal in August, said the Iowan in me!) with some pickled blueberry. The corn was oh-so-sweet, getting my palate well-prepared for the sweet corn season I was returning to in Iowa, while the sauce was creamy and the blueberries tangy. A perfectly balanced and very interesting dish, though not very artfully assembled.
I was served a selection of dessert bonbons, truffles, macarons, etc. by the helpful server, who even gave me an extra choice off the cart to celebrate the DMA. How thoughtful.
I followed up with a couple break-even hours of $10 blackjack. Let me tell ya, folks, blackjack is just a whole other level when you have an absolutely awesome dealer. Murphy, my dealer, was from the midwest, and also a musician, with a wicked sense of humor, and we spent our time cackling and chatting and attempting to teach some confused Germans how to properly play the game. An amazing blackjack dealer is just the best thing ever in Vegas.
I got to McCarran with 25 minutes before my flight after losing track of time playing blackjack (oops) and settled in to my seat, almost immediately falling asleep for the 3-hour red-eye journey to Cincinnati. A hop to Dallas the next morning and I'd be Delta Platinum Medallion once again until January 2021.
I enjoyed Vetri, but (as is true with Vegas in general) this is a place you should go when you have a big paycheck to burn, and is best enjoyed with someone else. As with many great chefs that deploy outposts in Vegas, I felt like this was likely a pretty watered-down version of what he offers at his flagship in Philly. Perhaps when I visit Philly in February, I'll stop by Marc's place and really dive in to what everyone has been so jazzed about since 1998.
* * *
Ok, now the footnote about the C-Series and why I'll never call it the A220:
*The C-Series, a project by Bombardier, the same company that makes the Canadair series, was years and years in the making, but having a hard time getting going because of delays and sluggish orders. Delta revived the C-Series program when they committed to purchasing dozens of the jet in an effort to retire their aging MD-88 and MD-90 fleet. Bombardier started work on the order, and the C-Series survived because of it. Then, the Trump administration decided to fellate their buddies at Boeing and slap a 300% tariff on aircraft from Canada, effectively killing the deal. Womp.
Enter Airbus, who has a plant in Mobile, AL, who agreed to purchase a majority stake in the C-Series project and manufacture the aircraft at their Mobile plant. Part of the deal, however, was to rename the bird the A220. So, I view "A220" and the need for it as a sign of the Trump administration's unethical dealings with Boeing (and COUNTLESS other people!)
WHEW, anyway––as I wrote about before, the C-Series is a revolutionary aircraft in so many ways, but most important to passengers is obviously the cabin experience. The fuselage is sort of shaped like an inverted egg, so the cabin itself is much wider. Delta uses a 2-3 config in economy, with seats that are 18.5"+ in width, which is without a doubt an industry leader. As I wrote, I can confirm that economy on the C-Series is a completely different experience than on other narrowbody aircraft. Add to this the massive windows and you've got a recipe for a fantastic passenger experience.