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Posted by on Nov 13, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Sports Betting | 5 comments

My Dinner with Fabio Coppola (Restaurant Review: Roma Deli)

 

 

Roma Deli has been a centerpiece for traditional Italian food for as long as I’ve lived in Las Vegas.

Roma has also weathered some significant changes during this past year.  It was recently purchased by new ownership.  When a restaurant is doing just fine, as was the case before with Roma, making changes is not necessarily a good thing.  An “Under New Management”  sign is often a red flag that something’s wrong, or things are about to go downhill soon.  Sadly, when most decent restaurants are sold off as prey, new owners step-in and reduce quality in order to cut costs.  Then, they wonder why they’re empty a few months later.

I’d visited Roma perhaps 60-70 times over the past decade (ten years multiplied by an average of one visit about every two months = 60).  Every previous meal either met or exceeded my expectations.  Four dozen visits — not once did I ever leave disappointed.  Sure, the old-world decor, with tile floors and rickety chairs, was spartan.  The inside looked more like a local market than a full-fledged restaurant.  But service was always reliable and the food consistently delivered on quality, taste, value, and authenticity.

Why mess with success?  The reset button wasn’t necessary.

The identity of Roma’s new ownership wasn’t exactly a mystery.  In fact, I know the three primary investors quite well.  Fabio Coppola, Max Pescatori, and Todd Brunson (all well-known Las Vegas poker pros) combined their bankrolls and purchased a controlling interest in the flagship store located a few blocks east of the Jones-Spring Mountain intersection, on the edge of what’s known loosely as Chinatown.  There’s another Roma Deli, at Sahara and Durango which remains under old management (Note:  It’s also very good).

I have an equal dose affection and respect for Coppola, Pescatori, and Brunson.  But running a successful restaurant isn’t like pulling off a $10,000 bluff at the poker table.  It requires a completely different skill set so rarefied that about 85 percent of all new restaurants close within three years.  To be frank, I wasn’t sure what to expect the next time I visited “Roma Deli 2.0.”

Intentionally, I skipped numerous invitations to dine at Roma Deli over the past six months, offered by more than a dozen friends and associates.  I preferred to re-acquaint myself with this old culinary friend at the right time, with the proper host.  Fabio Coppola’s dinner invitation to join him on a Friday night became the perfect storm of excitement and expectation.

__________

 

If you want to really know someone, take them out to dinner.

Better yet, have them take you to dinner.  It’s cheaper.  Especially when your gracious host is the owner of the place.

The first major difference I noticed about Roma Deli from previous visits was the decor had been vastly updated.  A wooden floor had replaced the dingy old tile.  Tabletops were now glass.  The garden room had expanded, and for the first time, outdoor seating was available.  Buzzing refrigerators along the walls had been replaced by half booths and tasteful Italian-themed artwork.  RTV playing non-stop on televisions blasting Italian programming that only the staff watched was tuned to ESPN.  The new Roma looked much classier and cozier.  Roma also expanded from serving only wine and beer to a full-service bar.

Fabio reserved the best table in the house for us, located next to a well-illuminated deli counter steps away from a busy kitchen.  Dinner began with a hearty Barbaresco wine, from Italy.  Always one to display some fanfare, Fabio insisted the wine be decanted first, so as to breath and release the full bouquet of flavors.

My disdain for Italian reds is widely known.  Even Fabio knew this, as a regular reader.  But a proper dinner guest always shackles his personal biases and respects the host and his wishes.  When in Roma, err make that “when in Roma” deference to authority is the norm.  Well, what a marvelous discovery the Barbaresco turned out to be (particularly after about 30 minutes decanted).

Over the course of three hours of conversation, I learned the following things about my host, Fabio:

(1)  Fabio was born in Rimini on Italy’s east coast.  But he has three Italian hometowns — Rimini, Rome, and Naples.  He lived in all three cities as a child before immigrating to the United States.

(2)  Fabio has never considered himself a full-time poker pro with lofty aspirations of fame and fortune.  Rather, he’s used poker to earn extra money and meet lots of interesting people.  Some of those people, including Max and Todd, became business associates.

(3)  Fabio conveyed that voted for Donald Trump, but also expressed objections to many of his actions and policies.  Oddly enough, this past year Fabio’s first choice for president was Bernie Sanders.  Reflecting a paternalistic view of politics which is quite common among native-born Italians (based on my experiences), Fabio declared, “What America really needs right now is a grandfather everyone can look up to….someone to take care of a large family with a lot of internal arguments and conflict.  That’s the way I see it.”

(4)  Sometime soon, Fabio expects to open up a chain of Italian coffee shops around Las Vegas, serving genuine pastries and lunch fare.  He’s already picked out a few locations.

(5)  One of the most interesting topics of our detailed discussion was a debate about having children.  Most manly conversations don’t include this topic (I don’t recall ever discussing this subject before).  However, given that I’m now age 55 and Fabio is 42, he was innately curious to know from someone older and who’s been married many years about having children.  He wanted to know if I/we had regrets about deciding not to do this.  I shared my perspectives with him (which will remain private for now).  He noted that when he asked people the same question about having kids — when they were able to speak honestly — the majority stated they would have chosen instead NOT to have children.  This was perhaps the most interesting topic of the night, aside from the wine and dinner.

Update:  Oh one more thing, I almost forgot!  Fabio is a distant relative of famed movie director Francis Ford Coppola, who shares the same last name.

__________

 

One of the many delights of my dining experience was meeting Leo, now the head chef at Roma.  Leo came out of the kitchen and spent considerable time with us.  I learned that Leo had previously been the chef at the famed “1212” restaurant in Santa Monica (Los Angeles).  Fabio and the Roma Deli ownership team coaxed him into moving to Las Vegas and trying a new culinary venture.

Smart move.

The staple of all Italian cooking is the house sauce.  It’s the foundation.  Without a good sauce, everything else crumbles.  If the house tomato sauce misses, nothing else can make up for the disappointment.  Every Italian restaurant (and chef’s) sauce is different.  In a sense, a sauce is like wine.  No two are the same.

I’m outraged by how bad (and mostly bland) most house sauces are at many Italian restaurants, not just in Las Vegas but all over the country.  It’s like these fake Italian places open up a giant can of Hunt’s Tomato Sauce and presto!  That’s it.  I can’t fathom how some Italian restaurants take any pride in what they’re doing.  This is an abominable culinary crisis and gives Italian cooking a bad name.  By the way, don’t even get me started on how many lousy overrated Italian restaurants serving bland sauce exist in the phony meccas of Italian cooking like New York and Philadelphia.  I won’t go there.  A different topic and rant for another day.

Roma gets it right.  It serves a house sauce that’s almost blood orange in color, with the perfect consistency and taste.  Not too acidy (the sure sign of a cheap sauce) but rather filled with a progression of savory tastes depending on the pairing.

In the past, I’ve tried about two-thirds of Roma’s menu choices, which are quite extensive.  On this night, I enjoyed two appetizers (antipasti plate — with sauteed red peppers, fresh eggplant, black olives, sliced prosciutto, and an assortment of cheeses) and some delicious arancini (best described as stuffed rice balls with ground beef).

Determined to continue my flirtation with trying to go vegetarian (I eat meat only a few times a week — trying slowly to phase out animal products from my diet), I ordered a specialty primavera item that was custom made just for me.  I’d had this garlic/broccoli/olive oil/capellini dish made al dente by the cook many times previously, and Leo was happy to tackle the latest challenge of pleasing Las Vegas’ most demanding amateur reviewer.

My custom dish was outstanding.  Roma is willing to make any dish upon request.  Try that next time you dine at Olive Garden.  Carnevino sure won’t do that.  This is why I love places like Roma.

My “going vegetarian” aspirations were sabotaged when Fabio totally surprised me with our main course, which I learned was to be shared.  A heaping stack of fresh lamb chops, perfectly seasoned and scrumptious, were put on display in the center of our table.  I temporarily ditched the vegan experiment and morphed into a caveman beast, clutching the rib of a dead animal in my right hand as I licked juicy meat like a starving wolf in the wild.

The lamb chops were accompanied by a platter of sliced whole potatoes, perfectly sauteed in butter.  Snappy carrots braised in olive oil topped with a dash of parsley minimally redeemed my good standing as a pseudo-vegetarian.  Question:  If I eat double the carrots, is all forgiven about me devouring the lamb?

Speaking of butter, this is another of my odd proclivities.  Any (northern) Italian restaurant that doesn’t serve real butter with bread should be shut down and burned to the ground.  I’m all for the faux-olive oil and vinegar thing you now see so frequently.  But any real Italian place serving primarily American clientele must make butter an easy option.  Real butter.  Not shit margarine.  And not olive oil pouring college students with accents from Indiana.

Without asking, Roma served up piping hot bread, topped with a dusting of flour, like it had come out of the oven five minutes earlier.  Bread was served in a basket wrapped in a white tablecloth.  And the butter.  La vita e bella.  Life is beautiful.

Dinner was topped off with a slice of fresh homemade ricotta cheesecake, accompanied by shots of double expresso.  Boring predictable cheesecake is a plentiful dime a dozen in this town, but fresh ricotta is much a rarer find.  Consistent with an extensive in-house bakery that displays an assortment of pastries, cakes, and cookies (the house specialty), Roma nailed the dessert to perfection.

__________

 

Fabio told me one of the things he respects most about my writings is the brutal honesty I usually deliver.

He’s about to get more of that now.

If there’s one serious concern I have with Roma, it’s the pricing which is slightly higher than most off-the-Strip Italian-themed restaurants.  Yes, I know better-quality ingredients and talented kitchen staff costs money.  The prices must be higher.  But I worry this could inhibit growing a successful business in a fickle city that’s highly-competitive when it comes to restaurants, especially with so many ex-pat Italians and their resident descendants.

Then again, Roma is not going for the crowd that thinks Olive Garden is real Italian food.  At Roma, most pasta dishes are priced close to $20.  The higher-end steaks and cuts range from $30-40.  Formal dining joints with white tablecloths can get away with charging high prices.  But Roma remains a neighborhood deli, and despite all the upgrades and best intentions remains a deli, and so one minor criticism some could have upon a quick inspection of the menu are the prices.  A decent meal here for two, when done right, will run about $100.  To be fair, Roma also offers lunch specials which are much cheaper and still just as good.

Judging by the crowds I witnessed, Roma is doing just fine though — and for the time being perhaps my concerns with the pricing are in the minority  I’m thrilled to be wrong about this.  Fabio stated he’s trying to expand his night business and might soon introduce a late-night happy hour (reverse happy hour) with specials after a certain hour.  This is all in the works.  Las Vegas could certainly use a great late-night restaurant that isn’t Chinese or a coffee shop.

Roma appears to be trying to compete with Nora’s which is nearby and probably the best-known upscale Italian restaurant on the west side.  Nora’s offers a much fancier atmosphere.  But the service is far better at Roma.  Based on my visits to both, Roma’s food is better, also.

When making comparisons, Roma is far superior in value than any of the outrageously expensive and overrated so-called “Italian restaurants” tempting tourists on The Strip, most notably the abomination known as Carnevino anchored at the Venetian.  Why anyone would subject themselves to snooty servers, bastardized Italian fare, crowds of conventioneers, and double the rip-off prices is totally beyond me.  Some advice:  Skip the likes of Carnevino, and try out a real authentic family-owned business run by hands-on people who care about their food — and that’s Roma Deli.

My conclusion:  Roma Deli is one of the very few Italian restaurants I’ve visited which successfully bridges both northern and traditional southern fare, blended into the farm-to-table techniques of Tuscany, combined with the culinary sophistication of Rome.  Add a market with ample desserts, meats, and cheeses, with a full bar, and that makes for the perfect refuge.

Thanks, Fabio.  The food was surpassed only by the host and company.

A final word:  At dinner, we both did many movie impersonations.  This is me doing my best/worst Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter from “Silence of the Lambs.”

“Ah, Clarice….a census taker once tried to test me.  I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.  Sssss….ssssss…..sssssss.”

 

 

VISIT ROMA DELI’S WEBSITE HERE

 

Writer’s Note:  During this visit, I did not take notes.  Fabio was not expecting me to write a restaurant review.  I think most of the details here are correct and will update any errors pointed out to me.

Correction:  An earlier version of this article used the word “vegan.”  This has been corrected to “vegetarian.”

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Posted by on Oct 24, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics | 4 comments

When Terms of Endearment Get Politically Incorrect

 

 

A recent Facebook discussion sparked curiosity and heightened my awareness about the ways we commonly address each other in public.

My discovery came as a surprise.  The lesson I learned was this:  I’m guilty of making spurious assumptions about what’s acceptable in the ways I address other people.

This self-reflection began yesterday when Terrell Johnson, a Facebook friend, posted the following message:

 

 

I thought about this post for a while.  I admit being guilty of the act described by Mr. Johnson as “dumb weird.”  Yes, I’ve called Black males “brother” plenty of times, even when I didn’t know them and I wasn’t entitled to that instant salutation of familiarity.  Of course, I didn’t mean anything harmful by it.  But, the salutation remains indomitably tinged with presumptions based on race.

“Hey, brother — how’s it going?”

Sounds innocent, enough.  But I’d probably never say it to a White guy.  Only a Black man.  That makes it racial — and inappropriate.

“Man” is another common term that’s been around for decades.  “Man” has been spoken across racial lines for as long as I’ve been alive.  Before 1960’s counterculture co-opted “man” as common slang between rockers and hippies, the term was deeply rooted in Black male self-empowerment.  It was even a quiet means of protest.  Indeed, “man” was the typical greeting Black jazz musicians often used to address each other during the Klan-clawed 1920’s when most of America was undergoing an ugly resurgence of bigotry and mass discrimination.  In many places, Black men, including old Black men who deserved respect were instead still called “boy” — often straight to their faces.  Millions of Black men were forced to stand there and swallow the degradation because to do otherwise would have been life-threatening.  And so, “man” became a small yet significant means of defiance against this cultural belittlement.

“Hey, man.”

I still use “man” quite frequently.  It’s just a common figure of speech for those who came of age during a certain era.  You might say it’s part of our linguistic DNA.  I see no reason to stop using “man,” because no one is offended and there are no racial connotations to its usage.

Meanwhile, younger people have created their own expressive lingo, using common salutations like “dude.”  Call it a “get off my lawn” seizure, but I don’t like this one bit.  Hey, man —  I’m not a “dude.”  No one calls me “dude.”  If I offended easily, I’d take issue if someone whom I did not know addressed me in that way, unless, of course, I was somehow cast in the movie remake of “The Big Lebowski.”  Then, calling me “dude” would be okay and besides I’d be collecting a fat paycheck for my willingness to lower myself to the depths of thinking of myself as a “dude.”

Whew.  I feel much better now.

Salutations between the sexes are equally as sensitive these days, and perhaps even more so given the alarming rise in reports of sexual harassment that have been in the news.  Most of these misunderstandings about everyday interaction can be solved by a healthy dose of common sense.  But I must also admit not knowing exactly where to draw some lines.

Though I was born and grew up mostly in the South, I’ve never fallen prone to its regional colloquialisms, particularly when it comes of informality.  For instance, “honey” is a term I’ve never used when addressing females.  I think it’s wrong, or perhaps it just doesn’t fit my manner of speaking.

Nonetheless, “honey” remains a very common expression in many areas of the country to this day.  It’s so common that most people probably don’t even consider it offensive.  Then again, I’ve never seen any actual studies on this — so, who knows?  Perhaps waitresses who get called “honey” all the time by their customers are quietly boiling deep down inside.  I don’t know.  Hence, it’s better not to use it at all is my policy.

About ten years ago, I started using “darling” a lot when addressing females — mostly when around co-workers, waitresses, and so forth.  Many people probably think of it as another way of saying “honey.”  I picked up this cutesy means of expression from the late writer Christopher Hitchens, who used it all the time and sounded downright suave and gentlemanly, which was quite endearing.  Then again, perhaps the English accent combined with his masterful use of prose that made “darling” acceptable within elite circles.  I’m not nearly so talented nor as lucky.  In my circles, “darling” probably raises some eyebrows.  And so, barring the occasional slip up from now on based purely on a bad habit, I won’t be using it any longer.

While I’m perfectly willing to alter (and even cease) my use of language based on changing times and cultural sensibilities, my best guess is that others will not be nearly so flexible.  Most people are deeply rooted in their ways of speaking and behaving and thinking.  They are utterly unaware, and if made aware by chance, they usually don’t care if others take offense to words and phrases they’ve considered “normal” all their lives.

Of course, playing the common sense card — we should probably be willing to forgive and dismiss the typical mutterings of the very aged, to which the rules of political correctness will never apply.  Old people who call someone “honey” might as well be speaking a different language from another time.  Occasionally, I still hear some old people refer to Blacks as “Negroes.”

C’est la vie.  I mean, what can you say?

I think the common bond on what’s truly offensive — be it everyday language or much worse, actions which lead to overt racism and/or sexual harassment — is very much rooted in the subservient role of the victim.  An older woman waiting tables who addresses me as “honey” is entitled to that latitude whereas I should not be able to get away with it.  After all, if I don’t like being called “honey,” I can get up and leave.  If she doesn’t like being called “honey,” well then, tough shit.  She pretty much has to suck it up and take it — because that’s her job.

By the way, it’s okay to call me “honey.”

When it comes to common expressions we use, what’s normal is no excuse.  Tradition is no justification.  At one time in America, the denigration of women and minorities was quite normal, acceptable and even encouraged within power circles.  It was a tradition.  Then, we gradually realized how hurtful the small things were and how those seemingly insignificant details buttressed a faux fever of racial, cultural, and gender superiority.  Changes in the way we address each other are gradual and slow, but they are certain, and that’s a good thing.

In short, just because you’ve been doing something the same way all your life, doesn’t make it right.  Just because it’s an old habit that’s comfortable to you, doesn’t make it right.  Just because you don’t think you’re not offending anybody, doesn’t make it right.

Times change.

We must also change with them.

 

Note:  Thanks to Terrell Johnson for sparking the idea for this column on Facebook.

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Posted by on Oct 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Politics | 3 comments

A Wine Dinner Worth Remembering

 

 

A WINE DINNER WORTH REMEMBERING

Take a look at this photo (above).  Tell me where you think it’s from.  No cheating.  I’ll provide the answer at the conclusion of the column.

__________

Earlier tonight, Marieta and I had the great pleasure of attending a special four-course wine dinner at a local restaurant here in Las Vegas.  But this wasn’t a wine dinner like all the rest.  We were seated with a couple, aged in their late 60s.

The gentleman and I got to chatting.  Somehow, the topic of the Vietnam War came up.  We engaged in a spirited conversation about the masterful Vietnam War television series, produced by Ken Burns, on PBS.  By the way, this is must-see television for anyone who has not seen it yet.

During the course of our friendly conversation, the man revealed that he served two tours of duty in Vietnam.  He was stationed at Da Nang in 1968 and returned again in 1971.  He was assigned to a U.S. Air Force unit that provided routine maintenance on fighter jets.

Initially, the man was somewhat reluctant to talk about his memories of the war. But inquisitive (nosy) as I am, I was riveted by this moment — what amounted to a front-row, first-person account of one of the most transformative events in all of American history.  How fortunate I was to have this rare opportunity.  I wasn’t about to let this chance to learn more pass me by.  And so, I pressed on.

The man stated that he arrived in Da Nang in early 1968 at the tender age of 18.  He had lied about his age and joined the Air Force at age 17.  His very first night in Vietnam was the Tet Offensive.  For those unfamiliar with Vietnam War history, the Tet Offensive was a surprise attack that caught the American military totally off-guard and was arguably the shocking turning point of the war.

I listened intently over the next two hours, privileged to be given this, such a rare gift.  As we talked, or I should say — as he talked and I listened — the man became increasingly more open and willing to talk about the many experiences that had haunted him for nearly half a century.  It will take me some time to digest all the perspectives he shared with me, some of which were very troubling to hear.  Perhaps I shall write about them later, if appropriate.  I don’t know.  Perhaps some things are best left unsaid.

But what really struck me at one point during our conversation was when I sought to give the man an “out,” allowing him to escape my inquisitive and perhaps annoying curiosity and enjoy the evening with the rest of the 30 or people assembled in the room sipping on Pinot, Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Sangiovese.  Indeed, I casually tried to change the subject at this point, thinking my captive might leap at the chance to leave those painful memories of Vietnam behind.  But instead of taking the easy bait, the man wanted to talk — more.

I have a tear in my eye and a tremble in my wrists as I write this now, a few hours later thinking about the next thing the man revealed to me.

“No one ever asks me about my time over there.  It feels good to talk about it.”

Wow.  Just, fucking wow.

Here I was, thinking I was blessed to be able to gain a new perspective from his insight, and yet he was on the opposite side of the table, convinced that my empathy was in some small manner — therapeutic.  He thought I was doing him the favor.  I’m having trouble writing now.

For another 90 minutes or so, I heard stories and memories and events and perspectives that opened my eyes and broadened my knowledge about what thousands of good men (and women) went through — both over there then and back here later.

I won’t give the man’s name because he insists he’s a private person.  But I suspect there are many, many more veterans like him harboring memories that deserve and must and demand to be shared, real pain and emotional conflict that merits the soothing salve of a kindly ear, a gentle nod at the right instant, and a genuine but simple expression of gratitude.

I wonder how many others are out there now, tight-lipped, sitting in silence.  How many others of this war and that war and all the wars we’ve fought and continue to fight didn’t get the chance to sit down at a wine dinner and speak about what they saw and what they endured and how they survived the madness.  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Tens of thousands?  Why don’t we ask questions and why aren’t we listening?

Yes, the wine dinner was exceptional, but then most of my wine dinners are great.  But this one was of Grand Cru of an exceptional vintage, two souls de-cantered into one.

How blessed I was to have the opportunity to share a dinner with a Vietnam vet, and listen and learn.

__________

Finally, the answer to the question posed in the opening paragraph is — the photograph shows Da Nang, Vietnam.  This is a photograph of Da Nang, formally one of the largest American military installations in South Vietnam, as it looks today.

Times do change.  Places change also.  What should not and must not ever change is our curiosity for history and insatiable compassion for others, even strangers.

This was an evening I shall not soon forget.

 

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Posted by on Oct 7, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal | 6 comments

The $300 Lemon

 

 

Marieta screamed in the backyard this morning.

That’s the first thing I remember from the haze of my mental fog after crashing at 4 am last night and slumbering for five unsatisfying crusty-eyed hours.

Startled by her scream (or screams — perhaps I slept through the first few), I did seriously contemplate rolling over and going back into my slumber because — truth be told — we aren’t nice human beings when wmindlessly wrapped in a blanket tucked into the fetal position.  Somehow selfless humanity prevailed over selfish instinct, and I mustered up enough manhood to slink out of a cozy bed and wobble downstairs in response to the echo of alarm.

Huh?  What was that?  Where was she?  What happened?  Did the dumb cat finally get run over?  Who am I?  Why am I here?

There before me was the sight of ecstasy.  Marieta was standing out in the backyard on a perfectly glorious 78-degree blue skied Saturday morning gazing at our tiny lemon tree like Johnny Pitt and Brad Depp had morphed into a single love lust and had entered our home confessing some deep seeded passion; only the subject that leering wasn’t a person but rather a plant, or make that — a tree.  Our tiny adorable worthless fucking lemon tree, that scattercluck of a useless vine that had cost me $17.95 at the plant nursery a distant 13 years ago, that I non-producing fake-ass fruit tree I wanted to chop down with a sledgehammer 900 times since then, had finally….GIVEN BIRTH.

Look!  A lemon!

Well, screw me silly.  It was a lemon!  Or so it seemed.  I wasn’t so sure.

This stupid stick of a sick angst-instilling plant hasn’t grown an inch since we first bought her when we moved into this house back in 2004.  No one damn inch.  No lemons.  No fruit.  It has produced nothing, this despite regular multi-weekly watering which I estimate has probably cost well over a couple of hundred dollars (4x per week multiplied by 660 weeks, which is like 2,500 waterings, plus an $18 bag of fertilizer every few years, plus the irrigation system being serviced annually, plus all the personal wear and tear of standing outside with a water hose in my hand quenching the thirst of this worthless cocksucker of a plant or tree that’s sapping me of my money and my sanity.

When I see that stupid plant, I don’t see a lemon tree.  I see a middle finger.

But — it’s a lemon!!!

So.  Persistence paid off.  Yeah, you may not be able to get blood from a stone.  But you can get a lemon in the Las Vegas desert.  Provided you’re willing to invest $300 or so and wait 13 fucking years.

Wait.  Something’s wrong with this picture.  Aren’t lemons yellow?  Why is the fruit green?

Did we buy a lime tree instead and get taken?

I’d go back to the store and demand my money back.  But the plant nursery that sold us this “lemon tree” went out of business in the Great Recession of 2008 and is now a proctologist’s office.

When life deals you a lemon, make limeade.

 

 

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Posted by on Oct 5, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 5 comments

Living Las Vegas: Last Night at the Golden Steer

 

 

Walking into the Golden Steer is like visiting the ghosts of Las Vegas pasts.

If these walls could talk, just imagine the stories they could tell.

Last night’s motley crew guest list included Andy Rich (Golden Nugget Poker Manager), Todd Anderson (Creator of television show Poker Night in America), Vin Narayanan (who’s doing some lucrative deal in Hong Kong that’s succeeding despite making no logical sense whatsoever) and yours truly.  Our frightening foursome plopped down in a red-leather booth.  Almost instantly, we had appetizer cocktails in one hand and dinner menus in the other.

Now, that’s service.

The Golden Steer has been in business for like — forever.  It’s a really weird location, helplessly bookended into a seedy strip mall right off Las Vegas Blvd., on Sahara.  A few doors down there’s a busy cigar bar that you can smell from a block away.  The restaurant, in the shadow of the new Lucky Dragon casino, is bordered by ghetto apartments.  Fortunately, there’s a spindle of rusted barbed wire atop a cinder block wall separating the slums from the Golden Steer.  That way, we can all feel safe while feasting on dead animals.

If these directions don’t make any sense, then try this:  Look for the giant sign with the fat cow out in front.  Everyone in town knows the fat cow.  Err, steer — whatever.

Years ago, the Golden Steer was the favorite hangout of the Rat Pack.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. and company used to dine here regularly.  The trio of crooners even had their own private booths (each still in place and memorialized with plaques).

The Golden Steer has undergone a sparkling facelift since my last visit a few years ago when it seemed the old cow’s best days were way behind her.  While the inner decor has been updated, it still screams “Old Las Vegas.”  You don’t see places like this around anymore because they’ve all been bulldozed and paved over by an all-too-crowded kitchen of celebrity chefs.

Now that you know a little something about the Golden Steer, here’s where the story really gets good.

While Andy, Todd, Vin, and I were solving the world’s problems last night while trying to get away from our own, the scene across from us in the opposite red leather booth caught our attention and kept us captivated nearly to the point of becoming a distraction.  About 15 feet away, a scruffy bearded man wearing a brown western hat dined with a young lady.  The man’s coat looked disgustingly filthy.  His hat was bent out of shape and wouldn’t fetch $2 at a garage sale.  If you examined this scene for no more than five seconds, you’d have made a reasonable guess the man was homeless.

No big deal, really.  This is Las Vegas.  You see a lot of weirdness in Las Vegas.

At some point, the scruffy man asked the waiter to remove a portrait from the restaurant wall (yes, I’m serious).  Then, he requested the portrait be positioned next to him and his lady friend, in the booth.  If the scruffy man wasn’t a curious sideshow to watch before based on appearances, well now he had our full attention — at least as much attention you could muster without turning into a gawker.

So, the large framed portrait of a movie star was nestled into the booth while the scruffy man feasted on supper.  It was hard to tell who this was exactly in the picture, but after some artful eye-dodging, someone in our party finally recognized the portrait was of the late actor Charles Bronson.

The scruffy man, the lady friend, and Charles Bronson’s portrait all seemed to be quietly enjoying themselves, although Bronson didn’t say much.  Bronson also didn’t eat or drink anything.  Those delicious delights were left to the other two, who emptied at least one bottle of expensive wine followed by a bottle of champagne.  I tried to catch a glimpse of the labels to see what they were drinking, but I didn’t want to seem too nosy.  One can only gawk so much without causing a scene.

Of course, we had to play the whispering game of speculation.  Who in the hell is this guy?  He sure looks like a pauper, but he’s dining in a fancy restaurant, guzzling down wine and champagne.  Who could make such a wild request to have a portrait removed from the wall — and then have that request honored by the staff?  And the woman really seems to dig him!

An eccentric billionaire?

The owner of the restaurant?

A perverted Charles Bronson fanatic?

Who was he?

Just as we were preparing to leave, the scruffy man and his friend got up also.  They made a swift bee-line for the front door, hopefully not leaving stoic and speechless Charles Bronson to pay the bill.

Consumed by curiosity, we stopped the waiter in mid-stride cold in his tracks.

“Who in the hell was that scruffy guy in the hat?  Do you know him?” we asked.

“Oh, that was Nicolas Cage.  He’s a regular here.  He comes in all the time.”

 

 

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