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Las Vegas ’11 – Part 2

Continuing with part 2 of this travelogue series, we stop by to check out the famous Bellagio Botanical & Conservatory Gardens in Las Vegas, where the theme during our visit this late November time of year fit right in with both Halloween and Thanksgiving.

As with just about everything the hotels do in Vegas, Bellagio spares NO EXPENSE (thanks to your casino-fed dollars), employing expert horticulturalists who use REAL live foliage and flora to decorate their ultimate, over-the-top fantasy of an indoor garden.

Once you enter the garden’s atrium, the sights, sounds and overall ambiance feels as if you’ve been magically teleported into a scene right from a children’s story book.

Like the rest of the gardenscape, all the pumpkins here are REAL as well, not fiberglass “props”. In fact, them massive “bombucha” ones set as centerpieces can weigh in anywhere from 600 to over 800 lbs. each. Whoah!

What you’re looking at in the following “painting” is actually a collage of LIVING, growing moss, cleverly designed to look like a forest…

Of course the lobby front desk area gets the same Halloween treatment as well..

The next set of photos were taken when we returned the following day, after enjoying a breakfast buffet at the Bellagio (more on the food served there in the next post). The lighting at night is truly magical, yet during the day you can see all the incredible attention to detail put into practically every cubic inch of the atrium’s space. Amazing.

One of the highlights (really the whole PLACE is a highlight) is the garden’s “talking tree”…

The quite expressive and natural-looking sculpted latex face is animatronic, including frowning brows, blinking eyelids, side-to-side eye movement, and of course mouth movement to his programmed greetings, such as “Hello, I hope you’re having a wonderful day.”

I must admit though, the side-rolling eyes are kinda’ creepy lookin’, almost having you think it’s going to suddenly start reciting some kinda’ personal demonic ranting curse at everyone staring at and taking photos of “him”. OK, alright, I’ve been watching too many movies. LOL!

Here’s a short video clip I shot of Mr. Talking Bellagio Tree…

The Bellagio Botanical Gardens & Conservatory is located at the rear of the lobby on the ground floor (actually up a long uphill ramp from the street), just past the front desk area, in a rather spacious glass ceiling atrium. It’s open FREE to the public 24 hours a day. Next to watching their also-awesome synchronized “dancing” water show in front of the hotel, a visit to Bellagio’s Botanical Gardens is a MUST!

Next up, we have a real “fancy” lunch at In-N-Out Burger…

The In-N-Out we visited looked brand spankin’ new, located just outside the strip in a “mega” outdoor strip mall (try 560,000 square feet) called Blue Diamond Crossing, with anchor tenants being Target and Kohl’s.

My girlfriend’s mother was excited to find a Lane Bryant clothing store at this mall (another large chain that has yet to set-up shop in Hawaii), so while she spent time shopping there, we had lunch across the way in the same expansive parking lot over at In-N-Out.

For you folks on the mainland who have In-N-Out restaurants in your neck ‘o woods, just to let you know, Hawaii currently does NOT, which is why I chose to eat here at least once while we had an opportunity on this trip.

Let’s check out the menu…

Now I LIKE that. Keep it simple. In-N-Out is simply an all-American burger joint, no more, no less. Burgers, Fries ‘n Shakes and that’s it. ‘Nough said, done deal. There’s no option of adding every topping under the sun, with just the essential, back-to-basics lettuce, tomato, onion, sauce and cheese as your only options.

Or is it? Actually, those of you familiar with them, know that In-N-Out has a (not so secret) “Secret Menu“. A-ha! This includes (amongst many a folklore) the “3×3”, which is THREE burger patties and THREE slices of American Cheese, the “4×4” using the same mathematical formula of ingredients, a grilled cheese sandwich, “Protien Style”, which is the Atkins version of their burger wrapped in lettuce, sans the bun, and “Animal Style”, which has something to do with a mustard-flavored patty and a mega-dose of fixinz’. I thought they had a “veggie” (meatless) burger, but I don’t see that currently listed on their secret menu. Guess you just gotta’ ask.

From the look of these orders (taken while waiting for our order), it appears you can totally have it your way, requesting more of this, or none of that with the fixinz’ (notice one burger has 2 slices of fresh tomato in it).

After a reasonably short approximately 7 minute wait, out comes our order…

Oooooohhh…aaaaahhhhh.

Let’s check out their fresh-cut fries…

Unlike most fast-food restaurants that serve fries cooked from pre-cut, packed and frozen, In-N-Out HAND-CUTS FRESH potatoes throughout the day using a press machine that feed the whole spuds through a die that cuts them into fries.

OK, let’s get a good grip and get ready to have a bite of my In-N-Out “whopper” of a Double-Double (can I say that without getting into trouble? lol)….

Diggin’ the nicely toasted, supple-looking bun, however one thing noticeably absent are sesame seeds on the bun, which would totally complete the deal.

The “hand-leafed” crispy-fresh iceberg lettuce is also appreciated, vs. say, you-know-who’s chopped-up into soggy oblivion take on it. An evenly sliced whole cross section of fresh white round onion and tomato, as well as a couple dill pickle wedges round out In-N-Out’s complete burger fixinz’ roster. Looking for, oh say mushrooms, chili peppers or pineapple and teriyaki sauce to add on it? Sorry, you’re not findin’ any o’ that here, yet that certainly isn’t an issue with the legions of In-N-Out fans out there who wouldn’t want them to change a thing.

OK, let’s do this. After several mouth-stretching bites…

How is it? Try wait yeah, let me whack a couple more bites…

First thing I take notice to is the Thousand Islands-like “spread” (what In-N-Out calls their sauce), which certainly gives their burger that classic old school drive-in taste. The 2-tiered ground chuck all-beef burger patties were certainly tasty, being well-seasoned and thoroughly crusted. They were cooked (on a flattop) exactly to medium, being still reasonably juicy even at that stage of doneness, where I’d put it at 3 napkins out of 5 on the “drippin’ juicy burger” scale. Of course, adding to the “drip factor” were some of the melted cheese, softened tomato pulp (water) and “spread” as I squeezed the gigantic Double-Double to take each bite.

Summing it up, I give In-N-Out’s Double-Double Burger a very solid and satisfying 3 SPAM Musubi. At $3.20 for the burger by itself and $6.15 for the combo meal, it’s no question an exceptional value for what you can tell the company prides itself on a consistent quality food product.

Speaking of quality, as noted earlier, they also go the extra step of preparing their fries from scratch from the very first step. As in kitchen staff who peel and slice potatoes using special equipment when preparing every batch of fries that gets a water soak then goes into the fryers throughout the day.

While that sounds impressive on paper, I wasn’t really “blown away” by In-N-Out’s fries, not thinking they had any more superior taste and texture to the majority of the competition who uses prepacked frozen fries. I’m SO not a fan of the Golden Arch’s hamburgers, but when it comes to fries, in my opinion they’re still the best and the ones to beat in the epic and ongoing “Battle of the Big American Burger Joints”.

I will give a thumbs-up to the medium-sized thickness of In-N-Out’s fresh-cut fries, as well as the amount of salt seasoning evenly sprinkled on by default, which as you know the latter can really either be a key deal maker or breaker.

Summing it up, while not “blown-away” GREAT, In-N-Out’s fresh-cut fries still deserve another solid 3-SPAM Musubi rating.

Service at this In-N-Out was quick, with the staff I interacted with being very friendly and courteous. In fact, one older gentleman who works there even went out his way to give me complimentary In-N-Out paper work hats and stickers that I could take home as souvenir gifts, so big mahalo to him for that! The restaurant was new, so of course it was spotless clean, yet I understand all In-N-Out restaurants are known for good housekeeping.

I understand the family that founded In-N-Out vacations regularly on the island of Maui. which is why Hawaii is out of their expansion goals at the moment, as the family’s philosophy is that they don’t want to mix business with pleasure. However I hear Hawaii has been brought to the In-N-Out table recently.  With a coconut tree as part of their restaurant’s graphical treatment, Hawaii seems to be inevitable for them, but we’ll see.

Moving on, exploring some of the other tenants while here at the expansive Blue Diamond Crossing “mega” outdoor mall, I came across this place called Ohana Hawaiian BBQ…

An L&L “Hawaiian BBQ” knock-off perhaps?

Whatever the case, as you know, they call Vegas Hawaii’s “9th Island”, and it’s always intriguing, if not sort of odd to come across local style plate lunch joints such as this in and around the outskirts of the strip, which there’s more around than you might expect!

Check out Ohana Hawaiian BBQ’s menu..

Not surprisingly, upon asking, not one of the staff working there was from Hawaii (nor did they care that I was a visiting Kama’aina), but I must say, the place was filled with patrons. I didn’t eat there, but if you’re interested, read what others have to say about the place here on Yelp.

In part 3 of this travelogue series, breakfast buffet at the Bellagio, a walk across the recently completed Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge overlooking Hoover Dam, and Dinner at Camelot Steakhouse in the Excalibur.

11 thoughts on “Las Vegas ’11 – Part 2

  • November 22, 2011 at 9:58 am
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    Pomai, I am still die hard on BurgerKing burgers due to it flame broiled taste that make the different to just grill burgers. I heard someone from Hawaii is going to have Hawaiian style grilled food in Taipei like L&L style (maybe it one of my family memeber) heh heh.

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  • November 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm
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    I respectfully disagree about the fries — while I do love me some Mickey D’s fries, what struck me about the In-N-Out fries was that they actually tasted like potato. Shocker, I know. I do recall not being blown away by their texture.

    Have you tried Five Guys yet?

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  • November 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm
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    Next time you’re at In-N-Out, ask for the fries well done. They double-fry them, although this adds a few minutes to the preparation of your order, and they’re somewhat greasy, but extra crispy. When I was living in CA, I’d like to get my burger animal style – mustard-cooked burger, grilled onions, pickle and extra sauce. You can get your fries animal style as well (sauce, cheese, grilled onions), but I found that they put too much of the sauce on the fries so we’d ask for it on the side. The neopolitan shake was interesting, a different flavor in each gulp.

    I recently found out that you can get chopped peppers on your burger or you can even get a little pack of whole peppers if so inclined.

    Man, do we miss In-N-Out. So every time we head back to the mainland, we make sure to stop by.

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  • November 22, 2011 at 4:45 pm
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    We’ve not been to Vegas in 35 years. Looks like it’s changed a lot!

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  • November 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm
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    No shortage of decent Hawaiian plate lunch places in “Da 9th Island”. Next time you come back to Vegas you should try out Island Style… a true hole-in-the wall plate lunch place!

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  • November 22, 2011 at 6:22 pm
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    I truly enjoy reading everything you share here. Thanks for sharing pictures of the Bellagio’s holiday display. Saves me a trip to the strip. As one who lives here, I don’t go out to the hotels much unless I have friends/family in town. Side note: one Chinese New Year the good luck banners were hung upside down in the conservatory. Luckily it was corrected quickly.
    As for plate lunch – we like Aloha Hawaiian BBQ – chicken katsu and short ribs are ono.
    I see you had your In-N-Out fix. Another family fave of ours. Son enjoys fries animal style. Other burger places to try next time: Smashburger (there’s one next to In-N-Out near UNLV), Create Gourmet Burgers, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Bachi Burger (Asian fusion gourmet).
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

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  • November 23, 2011 at 8:40 am
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    In N Out >>> McDonalds

    Ask for well done if you like it crispy. I’d rather not digest all that preservatives from MickyDs

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  • November 24, 2011 at 8:23 am
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    Aloha Folks,

    Read all your insightful and cool comments, which as always, is very much appreciated. Will reply individually to each of you later when I’ve got more free time.

    Doing my part to contribute to today’s family FEAST, I’ll be very busy today (like starting NOW) being “da’ cook”, cookin’ up a roast turkey (brined, of course!), a maple and pineapple glazed ham, and my cousin Chuckie’s AWESOME Crab & Shiitake Mushroom Sushi Casserole. <<<---Yum!Just want to wish you, your ohana and friends a very safe and joyful Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!:-)

    Reply
  • November 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm
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    What a blast Vegas, have to do it again next year.

    Reply

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