Wednesday, August 31, 2011

July Round-Up - 2011

July July July. Oh, how I miss July, mainly because I spent a week of it in Palm Springs, and I am still pining for it.

So let's look back on that magic month, shall we?

Movies Seen: Six, with two in a theater. Click through to read my reviews of "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Crazy, Stupid, Love." (You might be surprised to find out which one I liked more.)

The best DVD viewing of the month was definitely "Source Code." Why wasn't that movie a bigger hit?

Books Read: Nine. I wanted to get one more "Little House" under my belt before departing for the desert, and it ended up being "The Long Winter," which is the total opposite of a summer read. Although, I suppose it could help to cool you off by reading about months of relentless snow...

My first poolside read was "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" by Janelle Brown, which was really silly, but a perfect thing to read by the pool. It kind of reminded me a bit of "Valley of the Dolls," both because of it's kinda bad writing, and because of its subject matter (rich white ladies with drug problems).

Of course, a trip to Palm Springs would not be complete with reading at least one Sookie Stackhouse book, which I did: "Dead In the Family." And if you were to ask my right now what the story was this time around, I would not be able to tell you! Memorable!

Once I got back from my vacation, I just had to check out "Bedtime Stories of the Legendary Ingleside Inn" by Mel Haber from the library since we had a memorable couple of nights in his restaurant. The book is a hoot, mainly because most of the stories he tells are about how he's an easily conned rube.

I actually ended up reading more books after my vacation than on, probably because I just didn't want to leave the house and face the reality of being back home! So, add "The Psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson to the list. I sat down to read the first few pages as I was getting to bed one night, just to decide on what to read next, and I ended up reading it for the next 30 minutes, it was that engrossing.

"The Illumination" by Kevin Brockmeier, was a little less engrossing, and some of the stories within (as it is more a series of stories than a novel) were better than others. Still, I just didn't really think the whole "illumination" conceit worked, or at least, was I wasn't able to get why it needed to be in there at all...

I had been meaning to read "Starting Out In the Evening," by Brian Morton, ever since I saw the movie, and for whatever reason, finally got around to it. It was probably the best book I read in July.

"Ant Farm" by Simon Rich is a series of comedic vignettes, some very, very short, and some funnier than others. Kind of reminded me of Steve Martin's first book, "Cruel Shoes."

And finally, I ended the month with another "Little House" book, this time "Little Town on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I've only got two more left, and I think I am going to savor them...

Fancy Dinners Out: Five, and most of those dinners were in Palm Springs.

Once again we ventured to Las Casuelas Terraza, not once but twice. I wish I could find somewhere around here that does a chicken ranchero like theirs!

On our second night in town, we ventured to Melvyn's at the Ingleside Inn. Now, I know we had talked about going there in years past, but we never really knew where it was, and never really bothered to look. Turns out, it's a five minute walk from where we stay every year, and it's worth the walk. Totally old school, with great service, tableside prep of things like steak Diane, and crepes suzette, a bar straight out of the 70's, complete with a piano player and a dance floor. We went back two more times (to the bar) and will definitely make it a regular stop on all Palm Springs trips.

We also went to Citron again, where the drinks are always a little better than the food, and the Falls, which also has great (smoking) martinis, and steaks.

The San Francisco dinner was at Zuni where we had the awesome roasted chicken with bread salad. Da-ROOL.

Live Shows Seen: Two! One was at Kimo's to see a friend's band called Complaints and the other was...Dolly Parton! DOLLY PARTON! Enough said.

Shoes Bought: I think only one pair, these espadrille wedges by Calypso for Target, which I found at the Target in Palm Springs, the last in my size, for only nine bucks. See! Palm Springs really is magic!

Monday, August 29, 2011

What I Learned on My Las Vegas Vacation

I took a (relatively) spur-of-the-moment trip to Las Vegas last week with Michele, so we could, once again, bask in the blistering heat of the desert. And blistering it was: It averaged about 105ยบ when we were there, which was pretty awesome, because when it's that hot, you don't even sweat.

I didn't actually learn that much while there--Vegas is for playin', not learnin'--but it did leave me with a few thoughts worth bullet-pointing.

* The Paris Hotel and Casino has the French thing down pat, but not in the way they probably want. The service is rude and sucky--just like in the real Paris! When we arrived at the hotel, they had a line for check-out, but didn't have anyone checking people in. Granted, we were there in the morning, before the official check-in time, but jeeze. You're a hotel. Get your shit together! So we, and about a dozen other people, had to wait, and wait, and wait until ONE person opened up a check-in counter.

The Paris also advertises that they don't charge a "resort" fee, thus making you believe their rates are good. Thing is, they charge for EVERYTHING aside from the room, so, essentially, you have to pay that "fee" anyway. The gym costs 25 bucks a day. Want to use the Internet? No such thing as free wifi there! They charge 15 bucks a DAY for in room Internet only. Meanwhile, across the street at the new Cosmopolitan, they have free wifi in the entire freakin' casino. (Also, upon check out, we saw they tried to charge us twice for that Internet, and then when I got home, I saw that they charged my credit card AND Michele's for it. OMFG!)

The night before we were leaving, I called and requested a later check-out, which they granted, giving us till 1pm. That didn't stop the maid from pounding on our door 12:15pm telling us we were supposed to be out of our room. There went her tip!

In the past, I've had a fine time staying there, and being able to sunbathe under the Eiffel Tower is still a hoot. But I can't see myself staying there ever again.

* If you want good service, you need to get the hell off the Strip and head to Fremont Street, or other parts of old Vegas. The Strip is never going to lack in customers, so they don't have to bother with things like "fast" or "friendly" service.

For our first dinner, we went to Hugo's Cellar in the Four Queens on Fremont. This place is seriously old school. They give roses to all the female guests, prepare salads table side, give you a palate cleansing sorbet between courses, and complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries with a bowl of whipped cream for dessert. The cocktails are also huge. It's pricey, but worth it!

Our second dinner was at the Golden Steer, an old steakhouse off the strip on Sahara. It was kind of dead the night we were there--which I certainly don't mind!--but I can imagine the place would be a ball when the bar's hoppin' and the piano is being played. It's your standard steakhouse, but we did get another flaming dessert, the preparation of which you can see below!

* Everything in Las Vegas costs money, even the free stuff.

* Las Vegas is a mixed bag. It's always a hoot, and I will never turn down a trip there. But it's not really a place to relax, so Palm Springs will remain my go-to-desert destination.