Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WPBT Holiday Classic Part I: Craftsteak and Cowboydonks

There's something about pulling up to valet parking at the Bellagio that makes me smile. Correction... there's something about pulling up to valet parking at the Bellagio in a car that does not look like it could explode at any given moment. No raised eyebrows from the valet, no sideways glances that say "uhhh... what the fuck do you think you're doing here, filth, you peasant!" Just a smile, a friendly welcome and one simple question.

"Checking in?"

As a matter of fact I was.

Last April, while covering the WPT Championships at Bellagio for Poker News, I lucksacked my way to winning the media freeroll. There used to be one of these things at every stop on the tour. Basically, it's a four-table SNG with a shockingly fast structure designed to get the whole thing over with inside a couple of hours while providing a little friendly competition for all the writers and photographers covering the event. And since this was back in the days before the WPT sold out the exclusive rights to cover their tournaments to a certain poker publication owned by the Shulman family in a no-bid contract of questionable legality, journalists from all the different media outlets (Poker Pages, PokerWire, Poker Listings, various European publications, etc.) got to come together, have some fun and donk around before we all got down to business. Somehow I ended up winning the thing and received a complimentary two-night stay at Bellagio as well as dinner for two at any MGM/Mirage property restaurant for my efforts. Ship it!

Pauly and I drove out to Vegas on Wednesday morning to enjoy my prize before the masses descended upon Sin City for the WPBT Holiday Classic. I'd never stayed at Bellagio before and was all wide-eyed and ga-ga over our luxury room, complete with fluffy king bed, a marble hallway, and a studio apartment-sized bathroom. Best of all, Bellagio provides their guests with fluffy white bathrobes. I seriously dug the bathrobes and changed into one almost immediately.

That night, we redeemed the fine dining portion of my prize. I'd pored over the restaurant choices for months. Le Cirque? Prime? Picasso? Michael Mina? The possibilities were endless, yet all of those seemed too frou-frou for my beloved. I didn't exactly see him enjoying a caviar parfait or medallions of rare ahi served with seared foie gras and a pinot noir reduction. Ergo, being the Top Chef fan that I am, I decided on Tom Collichio's Craftsteak over at the MGM Grand. Craftsteak focuses on single-ingredient preparation done exquisitely well. I had a yellowfin tuna appetizer-- the fish was sliced three different ways and served with just a bit of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. It was fresh, velvety, and melted in my mouth. For our main course, we both chose the 10 oz. Wagyu filet mignon. Pauly said it was one of the best steaks he ever had, and for me, it rivaled even the Wagyu we enjoyed at Nobu in Melbourne. I savored every bite and we washed it down with a bottle of 2002 Killikanoon Oracle Shiraz. On the side we enjoyed a medley of mushrooms (Chanterelle, Shiitake, and Hen of the Woods) and a potato-leek gratin. For dessert Pauly went with a chocolate souffle while I feasted on cinnamon monkey bread that came with a caramel dipping sauce. Heaven.

Thursday morning we met Gracie, Sweet Sweet Pablo, and Maudie for breakfast at Cafe Bellagio. Pauly won his first prop bet of the weekend when he ate a broccoli-laden bite of Gracie's omelet for $20, making some exquisite faces as he struggled to get it down. After our meal, AlCantHang and Derek met up with us at Bellagio and checked out our swanky room before we all headed across the bridge to Caesar's Palace to greet the G-Vegas crew, who were all about to play the afternoon tournament. When they left to go sling some chips, we adjoined to a nearby bar for a cocktail before heading over to the IP to enjoy some cheaper libations at the Geisha Bar while greeting the arriving bloggers. I ended up sitting at a $1-2 NL table with Sweet Sweet Pablo, Karol, Johnny Hughes, and a bunch of donktastic cowboys. Though I won a few pots early, I quit when I was even to go have dinner with the McGrupp brothers, Poker Prof, and Flipchip at Trevi in Caesar's Palace.

When we got back to the IP, Al was sitting in the same spot we had left him at the Geisha bar, only the single tower of empty shotglasses in front of him had grown threefold. I started hitting the sauce and had random conversations with a slew of bloggers and fans including hacker59, The Fat Guy, Irish Jim, Mean Gene, StB, Betty Underground, and Pokerpeaker. I played Pai Gow and blackjack at some point-- I think I lost at both.

Somewhere along the way, Derek was propositioned by a working girl at the Geisha Bar. She was wearing a midriff top that showed off a large "tramp stamp" on her lower back. She claimed it was a tattoo of her mother's name. It's always the mother with these whores...

Pauly and I stumbled back to Bellagio in the wee hours, ready to do it all over again the next day.

* * * * *

Sadly, Friday morning brought the end of our stay at Bellagio. I could hardly bear to leave. Fortunately, Pauly stumbled upon some sort of deal that got us one of the IP's holla-balla suites for only a few bucks more than a regular room. It had a living room, two balconies, a mirror over the king-sized bed and a super-sized bathtub that could fit at least three. After checking in and dropping off our stuff, we went downstairs to play some cards. I sat down at a $1-2 NL table with Pauly, Johnny Hughes, VinNay, StB and several cowboys. Poor VinNay lost a huge pot with bottom set against Pauly's middle set on an 8-4-2 flop. He fired out $60 on the flop, the cowboydonk on my right moved all in for $71, and I folded my K-8 only to see Pauly move all in for the remainder of his stack. VinNay somewhat reluctantly called and showed his 2-2, while the cowboydonk turned up... K-8.

"I had your hand" I quipped to the steaming cowboy as his chips were shipped across the table. He rebought short and I felted him a short while later when he fired three bullets with complete air and I called him down. I love cowboydonks. Did I mention that? I quit the game up a little over $100 to go change for what would be another epic gourmet dinner.

To be continued...


Henk said...
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Unknown said...

I'm glad I got to tell you in person how good your writing is. I thought I would leave it at that this time. Maybe we'll get a chance to talk for a few next year.

All that food talk is making me hungry. The best meal I had that weekend was at Harrah's buffet, which tells you two things. One, I'm not picky about my food, and too, I was a lot more hungry for poker and not meals. Next time I need to make sure I at least have one nice meal.

The Harrah's buffet WAS actually pretty good!

StB said...

We played at the same table?

Derek McG said...

I love what you're doing over here.

Unknown said...

I frickin' loooove Craftsteak. We eat there every trip. But now you've shared one of the best secrets of Vegas!!!!