Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Blog Site

I've moved my blog over to Wordpress. You can follow me there at http://lovingvegasliving.wordpress.com/.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New Camera

My beloved camera, an Olympus SP-550UZ, has had a piece of dust on the lens for as long as I can remember. I never got it taken care of because I knew I'd have to send it in, and I didn't want to have to do without it. Finally, I decided to go to Fry's and have them send it in. Wouldn't it figure that Fry's said my 3-year extended warranty did not cover dust, and I'd have to pay Olympus $180 to have it fixed. I decided that a better use for this money would be to get a dSLR, as I've been wanted. After some research on the internet, I decided that the Olympus E-420 would give me the best value for my money.
I've been shooting in manual mode on my point-and-shoot for two years now, but a dSLR is still quite different. I'm slowly adjusting to it while continuing to use my other two Olympus cameras (the SP-550 UZ and the rugged 790 SW). I'm impressed with the crispness of the images. Here are two flowers blooming in my front yard (or "embankment," as Brad put it).
Edit: The E-420 is great, but I found the E-520 online for only $50 more, and it includes image stabilization, a larger battery, and a more substantial grip. I'm going to be testing out Amazon's return policy...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pine Creek to Bridge Mtn, 0 for 3

Two years ago, Rick, Mike, and I tried to reach Bridge Mountain from Pine Creek. Twice. We never found the route, so we never made it out of the canyon. When I saw Branch Whitney post this hike on the Meetup website, I had to try it. I started out with eight strong guys, and this was just not my day to conquer this hike. My legs felt weak and I couldn't get enough air, so at the end of the canyon I decided to turn back. It was probably a good thing because my buddy Gene said it was one of the hardest hikes he's done. The silver lining is that Fern Canyon was filled with water and flowers (and ducks, so I hear), so I was able to take my time getting back to the car and take some pictures along the way.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

UNC - National Champs!

It's March Madness, the most wonderful time of the year. My alma mater, North Carolina, reached the national championship game. So did my dad's alma mater, Michigan State. As indicated by the flag hanging outside my parent's house, my family was a bit divided on the issue.
I didn't have anyone to watch the game with, but I really wanted to share the excitement with others, preferably people who were cheering for a reason other than the betting line. Hours before tipoff, I discovered that there is a Las Vegas Carolina Club. I've been out here two and a half years, and I had no idea. I drove down to a sports bar just south of the Strip and met 12 or so other Carolina alums. I yelled, I screamed, and I cried at the end when my Tar Heels won their 5th national championship.

(Sorry Dad - I would be pulling for the Spartans in any other game. I'll be sure that the national championship t-shirt I send you doesn't show the final score.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Valley's Newest Casino - M Resort

Despite the on-going recession, which has noticeably hit Las Vegas with decreased visitor numbers and delayed construction projects, a new casino opened on the south end of the valley last week. Ron and I ventured down to the M Resort to check it out.
Our goal was a quick meal at the buffet followed by some poker. We got there at 6pm and the wait in the buffet line was said to be 45 minutes. We immediately tried plan B, which was for me to get in the long rewards card line while Ron scoped out an alternative dining spot. Ron picked Veloce Cibo, a sushi restaurant, while I got through the rewards line in 30 minutes

To our surprise, Veloce Cibo was located on top of the hotel, with the panoramic valley view that M has been praised for. We asked for the sushi bar, which turned out to be short cocktail tables with comfortable bucket seats right against the picture window.
We received both a bar menu and a dining menu, which included sushi, small plates, and large plates. M has been noted as having a more approachable price point in their restaurants, and this was evident in their top floor restaurant only having two entrees over $30 (lobster and veal, as could be expected). Off the small plates, we ordered steamed potstickers and Kobe beef sliders, which were impressively presented with a mound of crispy sweet potato fries.
The best bargain of the restaurant was their bar menu. We actually asked the waiter if the prices and description were correct because the sushi appeared to be an absolute steal. We ordered the sushi for two, which included three different rolls with four pieces each for only $16.
An even more unbelievable value was the sashimi for two, which included three slices each of three different types of tuna sashimi for only $12. That price is unheard of, and the fish was fresh and delicious.
One of the more unique parts of our dining experience was the wine selection. We wanted to order wines by the glass and were informed that the wine was self-serve and we could purchase a $25 debit card for use in the wine machine. They are obviously still working out the kinks in the system because the waiter didn't know if the card could be recharged or if it could be used at a later date, but the wine dispensing system is ingenious. A wall of wine stores a vast selection of bottles preserved using the Enomatic system. You simply put your debit card in, select the wine and amount (1-, 3-, or 5-oz pours), and stick your fresh glass under the spout as your wine is dispensed.
After dinner and soaking up the view, we checked out the pool area and the wine bar downstairs, which uses the same system to boast 120 wines by the glass (without the need to employ cocktail waitresses, cutting down overhead and speeding up the serving process). Eventually, we made it to the poker room for a short session of 4/8L. Although the table had half blinds and a half-kill (I want to play 4/8, not 6/12, thank you very much), this was the perfect game for me - loose-passive. I haven't played poker in over a year, so I was nervous about remembering how to figure odds, but the passive nature of the players allowed me to ease in without having to call many raises, and the looseness of the table let me play the hands I knew were strong. Ron made a killing at the table, but I was happy to take my $18 profit and call it a night. I know there will be many more adventures out to M. Although it was only a 25 minute drive from Summerlin, it almost makes me miss living on the south side of town.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wine and Appetizers

I took advantage of my parents' visit to finally have a group of people over to my house. I thought of it as a sort of house-warming, so I had the crazy idea to prepare all of the food myself. The heavy-appetizer menu included tarragon deviled eggs, walnut Gorgonzola in endive, prosciutto mushroom sautée in phyllo shells, mini onion tarts, bruschetta, lime cheesecake in Oreo shells, chocolate-covered strawberries, and mini lemon meringues. I prepped for two days with help from Mom and Dad.

There were eleven people total, and we all fit comfortably around my new extended island. My stools had just arrived, so there was plenty of seating and way too much food (though we had no problem emptying the wine). I ate the baked brie and asiago onion bread brought by guests for breakfast for several days. Although game night is now defunct (L&B, please come back!), I hope this group can start a monthly wine and app get-together.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Great Kitchen Remodel

I love, love, love my house. But the one thing I disliked about it when I bought it is the kitchen counters. They are white tile with a lip to the edge, which makes them impossible to clean. I decided for my 30th birthday, I would treat myself to the long-lasting present of a kitchen remodel.

I started out by getting quotes for granite counters at Lowe's and Home Depot. Then I hooked up with a talented interior designer friend of Brad's, who connected me with a granite installer, granite warehouse, and a carpenter. I found that going through these individuals rather than a big box store was much cheaper and much higher quality. I couldn't believe the granite selection I had to choose from compared to the boring colors available at the box stores. It was also a super fast process. They did the tile removal and granite installation in one day and the backsplash on the second day. The results are amazing and worth every penny.

My kitchen when I bought the house. Notice the breakfast nook to the right of the island. I knew I would never put a table there, so why not extend the island and turn it into usable space?
My kitchen with the new counters and backsplash, including the extended island. Once I get stools, I will be able to have guests sit and enjoy wine and appetizers while I am cooking (the island also serves as a nice barrier for my cooking space). It can even be used as an eat-in kitchen, and I could probably get 10 people around the island.
Detail of the island and the granite. I am so happy with my selection. It is light enough that it doesn't take over the kitchen, but it is unique with its movement and color variations throughout.
Detail of the sink. I had not factored the sink, faucet, and plumbing into my budget, so this is where I blew my budget. But I'm happy with the money I invested into it. The right basin is twice as big and twice as deep as a regular sink, which will make cleaning pots and pans much easier.
Detail of the granite backsplash behind the stove and the stone backsplash behind the rest of the counter. The stone might be my favorite part of the kitchen. The opposite wall in the living room has similar stone tiles (but darker and bigger), so it brings the whole great room together.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

French Brasserie

While I was in RTP, a group of co-workers and I checked out Coquette Brasserie at North Hills in Raleigh. The decor looked just like a bistro in France, without the cloud of cigarette smoke. I've been to French restaurants where the waitstaff is fluent in French (Bonjour Bistro) or is taught a handful of French words (Mon Ami Gabi), but this was not one of those restaurants. I really wanted steak au poive, but didn't want something that heavy, so I ordered moules frîtes. The mussels were fine, though I sort of lost my appetite for mollusks after watching the guys eat raw oysters. The fries were wonderful, thin and soft with a slight crispness. If I lived nearby, I would go again for a drink and an appetizer or dessert, but I think there are better French restaurants in the area to try.
Not related to the French dinner, of course, I flew back to Las Vegas through Phoenix and took this picture of the mountains to the east of Phoenix. This looks like a beautiful area and I'd love to visit it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"It's hard to speak after seven wines"

I flew into NC to spend a couple of days in the office. The great thing about going into the office is that it's a great excuse to catch up with my UNC friends. Stephanie offered to host me this weekend, and she went all out by inviting the crew to a blind wine tasting. Everyone brought a bottle of wine and covered it up - the goal was for us to guess the grape and origin of each wine. I enjoyed each wine, but I was horrible at identifying the wine's details. I missed every single grape (there were two zinfandels, which are my favorite, and I misidentified them), and I only got two origins (when in doubt, California is a safe guess). Of course, you can't expect much after one wine with dinner, seven wines to guess, and a port to finish it off!
The wine gang
Kona enjoyed her squirrel while we were sampling wine

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Grand Staircase in Calico Basin

It's the middle of January and the temperatures are in the 60s. This is why I live in Las Vegas. The Meetup group scheduled a short hour and a half hike up Grand Staircase in Calico Basin at 9:30am, which gave me enough time to hike before my golf lesson. It was warm enough for people to be in sleeveless shirts and shorts (though I'm still a wimpy Floridian and had on long sleeves and pants), and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Some of the 44 people on the hike starting up.
There's still some snow on Bridge Mountain. It was great hiking with Rick again after a several month break.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Stone Temple Pilots

Jen and I went to see Stone Temple Pilots in San Diego last summer, and the show was phenomenal. When I heard they were coming to the Pearl at the Palms, I immediately bought two tickets to see them again. Leigh and I went together, and the show was again great (though the lighting wasn't as impressive as at the San Diego show). The Pearl is an intimate concert venue with great acoustics and no bad seat in the house. I managed to take some decent photos with my iPhone.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Brad and I enjoyed a quiet New Year's Eve at home with three pounds of Alaskan King Crab, the best rosé champagne I've ever tasted, and the dogs who were quite interested in the crab. We had enough left over to have a second round of crab and chamapgne on New Year's day. Quite a nice way to start 2009.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas in Florida

Brad and I fled the "cold" Nevada temperatures for warm sunny Florida for Christmas. We stayed with my family and enjoyed a quiet and relaxing vacation filled with good food, story telling, and laughter.

We golfed at Bardmoor for 3 days. Brad got to try out his new wedges, and I got to use my new driver (how did I ever live without this club in my bag?). The course was extremely challenging, though it was hard to get too frustrated golfing in 70-degree weather in shorts on Christmas day.

On Saturday night, we drove across the bay to Tampa to eat at Bern's Steakhouse. We stayed at the Sheraton downtown which overlooked the Hillsborough river and the University of Tampa and its spires (which were unfortunately not lit up).

Bern's is a legendary steakhouse in Tampa (Wine Spectator Grand Award winner for every year they've handed out the award). The inside looks like a bordello, but that adds to the history and character of the place. We split a delicious porterhouse that was cooked just perfectly. We also had an amazing Bordeaux at an unbeatable price. This restaurant is a gem if you can focus on the steak and wine and overlook the rest of the food (bland French onion soup, julienned carrots of a questionable fragrance, uncooked soufflé).

Bern's is known for its extensive wine collection with 6,800 labels and 500,000 bottles (largest in the world?), and a tour through the wine cellar did not disappoint.

Only in Florida...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Lights

In the spirit of the holidays, I requested that our game night group take a field trip to visit Christmas lights decorations. We started out at the Clark County Museum, where the restored historical homes from the early 20th century were said to have Christmas decorations specific to the year of the house. We got there too late to go inside, but we were able to enjoy the houses from the outside in the snow. This picture looks like it was taken in the midwest rather than in Las Vegas.

We had more luck at Ethel's Chocolates, where their cactus garden is lit in Christmas lights throughout the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Red Rock Snow

I opened my blinds this morning to see that the sun had come out and all of the mountains were covered in snow. As soon as I had a free minute, I drove over to Red Rock. The views were simply stunning. I'm not sure if I've ever seen anything so beautiful. The sun was making the snow glow, and bits of red were peeking out of the rocks. It was quite crowded with people taking pictures everywhere. Here are some of my favorites, plus a video. More pictures here.