Sunday, January 12, 2014

Two Bedroom Penthouse Suite @ The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV

This trip to Vegas was slightly different from our previous trips; namely, getting to the destination was quite different. We had left on Thursday, hoping to beat the weekend traffic rush. Instead, we hit three major traffic jams, caused by interesting asphalt machines that were a cool sight when switching to the 15 freeway, one minor traffic accident, and one to stare at Nevada's "No Tolerance" signs at Primm (meaning, no driving over 70 miles per hour). Only to soothe us during our first traffic jam was a call from the Mirage-- a worried VIP concierge wondering about our transportation plans to Vegas, for the Mirage offers complimentary limousine rides from the Las Vegas McCarran Airport as part of the Suite Life Package. But we said no, and she ended the call stating: we'll see you here soon!

Soon was three hours later than we had anticipated (making for a seven hour drive, including a one hour lunch break). After all the driving, difficulty in finding a spot in the self-parking garage, and a stop at the VIP Lounge, it was finally time to see the suite.

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
Penthouse Suite @ The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
(A-E = 26-30th floors respectively)

With the black colored "The Suite Life" keys, we were able to access our elevator to go up to our rooms. This key also serves as VIP passes to different dining establishments at the Mirage, so it holds quite some value!

Penthouse Suite @ The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
Penthouse Suite @ The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
Penthouse Suite @ The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV

Down the blue themed hallway (matching one of the Penthouse Suite themes featured on the Mirage website), we finally reached our suite. There were two entries: a main double door entry to the living room, and a secondary entry to the second bedroom. Our keys allowed us to gain entry to both entrances.

Monday, January 6, 2014

VIP Lounge (The Mirage Hotel and Casino)- Las Vegas, NV

VIP Lounge @ The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV: Exterior

In a a wall of frosted glass and an exterior from the Mirage's French Polynesian theme (now being transformed to a simple, modern feel with dark colors and pinks) sits the Mirage's VIP lounge, situated between the check in area and the main port cochere's entrance into the hotel.

Like the Bellagio's VIP lounge, it sits unadorned with any signage outside, but unlike the Bellagio, is marked on the hotel maps with VIP. And after closing time (approximately 9pm), there is a sign stating that the VIP lounge is closed.

VIP Lounge @ The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV: Interior Panorama

The inside of the Mirage VIP lounge is small and intimate. The check in area, encased in white marble and topped with chandeliers, dominates as one walks inside to the lounge. This aspect--brought due to the smaller square footage of the lounge--however, detriments people from actually staying inside the lounge during their stay, for throughout the day, the check in area is busy with people checking in, only to be a small distance away from the rest of the lounge. Furthermore, after the first visit, one is frequently asked to present their special room keys before sitting down in the lounge.

For those checking in/out, this sitting area provides a sense of arrival-- a convenience to sit down and enjoy a few beverages before heading elsewhere. For us, we were able to check-in through the Mirage's Suite Life package, but those with adequate MLife (MGM Resort International's players card) ranking can also access the lounge. We overheard quite a number of people who had their rooms complimentary!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV: Public Spaces

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, 
Exterior: New LOVE Banners

The Mirage Hotel and Casino recently celebrated its 24th anniversary, and with its anniversary came additional tinkering to the hotel's public spaces. Here's a look at changes we noticed on our last visit to the Mirage.

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV

Outside, many of the elements that were with the hotel when it opened have stayed, like the Mirage Volcano and the many water and landscaping elements. A people mover to Las Vegas Boulevard, however, has been removed, and replaced with just a modern walkway with simple railings. Also, the LOVE banner has been updated to feature the Beatles more so. Ironically, a 3D rendering of the Mirage for advertising doesn't feature this banner, however.

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV: Check In

Inside, check-in and check-out has finally been changed to a single line queue, which is much more efficient than the previous system. It's quite surprising though, how big this line was during check-out (mornings)--it was filled to the queue entrance!

Also note the holiday decorations (white flowers, apparently are in), as well as new carpet, which was also recently installed.

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV

Sigfried and Roy still maintains a small presence at the Mirage. The free white tiger exhibit has been replaced with BLT Burger, while the Sigfried and Roy Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat remains.

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV

The casino also sports the new carpet, creating a modern floral feel that is furthered by the existing modern lighting fixtures atop. Now what's left to completely change the look are the ceiling tiles!

The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV: Atrium Dome
The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV: Holiday Decorations
The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV
The Mirage Hotel and Casino- Las Vegas, NV

The Mirage had some nice floral arrangements and holiday decorations during December. Every floral sculpture--like the dolphins--presented popular photography opportunities for travellers. However, all of these holiday decorations were taken down by the time we left--it wasn't even New Year's Eve yet! 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage Hotel and Casino)- Las Vegas, NV

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Exterior Signage

We happened to visit Las Vegas recently to update ourselves in all the changes that have been made over the recent years. After arriving at The Mirage and completing our check-in process, we headed for dinner, only to find limited choices, for many of the fine fining establishments were closed. So, we looked to the Cravings Buffet, a place we had visited five years ago.

What's changed so far with Cravings? Many Las Vegas hotel dining establishments (including Cravings) now have electronic touchscreen monitors featuring information about the restaurant, as well as menus, at the entrance. With enticing items like osso buco, eel and tuna nigiri, and brown butter salmon, we went into the queue. (Unfortunately, as we would find out later in the meal, the digital menu isn't 100% accurate)

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Line Displays
Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Line Displays 2

Though we did happen to have VIP access to the line, the regular line happened to be shorter, being 8PM when we visited. Yet, even with the shorter lines, it still took ten minutes until we were able to pay the entrance price--28.99 USD per person--to get in. Not a big price increase, and in the mid range in terms of buffet pricing. In contrast, the Cosmopolitan's Wicked Spoon and Caesars Palace's Bacchanal Buffets are closer to 50 USD a person--upping the previous premium buffets (Wynn and Bellagio) by a whole 10-15 USD. Surprise, surprise!

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Interior Panorama
 (taken at past closing time--approx 9:30pm, when they start to clean up the food) 

While we were nicely brought into the restaurant with enthusiasm, the person who took charge of our table had quite the attitude. Asking us how many people we had in our party, he threw the respective number of straws onto the table, as if we owed him a favor.

As for beverages, our orange juices were from concentrate, while hot water was provided in a large pot. Requested honey and lemon (to go with the hot water) were quite plentiful.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Interior Details
Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Interior Details

Interiorwise, not much has really changed. There are still the same food sections--like rotisserie, latin, italian, carving, raw bar, noodles, asian, salad, deli, and dessert--with some slight presentation differences. The clientele, on the other hand, now sport smartphones while eating/ taking a break from the food. Thanks, technology!

Food was quite openly available past closing time until 9:30pm, which was the last call time for the buffet. Still then, there was plenty of food out, though it may have not been as fresh.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Chinese Section
Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Chinese Section
Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Sushi Section

I liked the themed approaches to plating the food, in contrast to just regular hotel pans. The soups, especially, were nicely presented in large white rounded bowls. The hand rolls were quite unique with their colored wrappings, but it was also for this reason that I chose not to try them out.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, 
NV: Noodles Section

The noodles section also features steamed buns, potstickers, and the like, in addition to a make to order noodle soup area. Plus points for offering many traditional condiments like chili sauce, red vinegar, green onions, and fried garlic!

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Deli Section
Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Salad Display

The make to order salad and delicatessen sections are quite nicely done and very well featured, with many different types of meats, vegetables, breads, and condiments available. Already prepared salads can also be found in different sections of the buffet. The gyros at the deli section, however, seemed to have closed by the time we visited (or no longer exists), though plenty of mediterranean toppings, like tzatziki, hummus and tabbouleh, were still available.

Not pictured, but the Italian section offered some pretty nice looking pizzas, formed into a rectangle shape instead of the standard circle, and topped with some quality ingredients. I didn't try any, for I wanted to save stomach space for other items.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Snow Crab Legs, Ceviche, Shrimp Cocktail, Kale Salad, Sushi, Egg Drop Soup

My first plate of food consisted of snow crab legs, ceviche (I had to after mistaking it last time), shrimp cocktail, guacamole, a massaged kale salad (from the rotisserie section, not the salad section), middle eastern hummus and prosciutto, 2 tuna nigiri and a Mirage Volcano roll, and an egg roll. On the side is a bowl of corn and egg drop soup.

There was quite a line for the raw bar section-- mainly for the snow crab legs. The ceviche, shrimp cocktail (traditional + a bay shrimp version), on the other hand, gathered little interest. Unfortunately, none of the items were very good. Though I happened to grab all the snow crab pieces with more meat--most were simply thin leg pieces--they were not very fresh and were almost flavorless. The ceviche had plenty of lime and tomato flavor, but only bay shrimp for the seafood. And the regular shrimp cocktail was fine, if a tad overcooked and not very flavorful (yet again).

More impressive were the guacamole, which was freshly made, as demonstrated by the varied textures, and the massaged kale salad, which was mixed with plenty of nuts and other ingredients. Cravings definitely does a great job in making sure all their condiments and salads are delicious! The prosciutto and smooth hummus were both competent renditions.

No eel nigiri was to be found, to my dismay, but the tuna nigiri, which was lightly seared and encrusted with sesame seed, was fine. The rice may have been overpacked slightly so and a tad cold, but the tuna was decent. On the other hand, the Mirage Volcano Roll was forgettable. The egg roll was standard-- crisp on the outside, veggies on the inside. Extra points to Cravings for featuring chinese hot mustard sauce as a condiment, though!

The egg drop soup with corn was a typical rendition, but was not very thickened. I really should have tried something fancier, like the lobster bisque, though! One companion tried the sweet potato bisque and was quite pleased. There's miso soup, hot and sour soup, chicken noodle soup, amongst other offerings.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Brown Butter Salmon

Following the footsteps of the Cosmopolitan Wicked Spoon Buffet's individual portions, the Mirage also features a individualized fish plate. For this dinner, it was the brown butter salmon with grapes and walnuts. This was quite exceptional, for the salmon was very tender, flaky, and smooth on the inside, with the walnuts providing some crunch and grapes providing some brightness.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Prime Rib, Sauteed Vegetables, Mussels, Roasted Duck

For my second plate, I headed for a piece of prime rib, sauteed veggies from the asian section, steamed mussels and clams (mussels were only apparent in the serving dish, however), and some roast duck from the noodles section.
Everything in this plate except for the roast duck was quite tasty. The roast duck was inconsistent, for the pieces I received were quite horrible--just see how dried out it is! However, my companion got some fresh pieces of roast duck, and those were quite on point: crisp skin and juicy meat.

As for the prime rib (which I requested medium), it was quite tender and flavorful on the edges with a black peppercorn rub, while the center was slightly tougher. The auj jus, like my last visit, was flavorful and made on site. The vegetables were standard-- nicely cooked and not too crunchy. I did like that there was plenty of broccoli to be found, as well as cherry tomatoes.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Wonton Noodle Soup, Osso Bucco, Char Siu Bao

Cravings' noodle section is quite exceptional, as seen by the char siu bao and wonton noodle soup that I had. The char siu bao was on par with what I've had in the San Gabriel Valley, and featured a fresh, balanced, savory and sweet char siu filling in the middle and a soft, sweet exterior. The wonton soup noodle soup was assembled by a chef from China who has spent more than 12 years working in Las Vegas! My companions and I liked the light and balanced broth, toothsome noodles, and

On the other hand, the osso buco on the top right was dry, and not worth eating at all. The italian section really needs more foot traffic!

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Gingerbread House (for display)
(Gingerbread houses on display for the holiday season)

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Dessert Display
Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Dessert Display
Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Dessert Display
(refrigerated section: multiple selections of barks, cupcakes, cakes, mousses, creme brulees, muffins, and sugar free desserts)

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, 
NV: Dessert Display
(a center section involving fruit, yogurt, hot desserts like bread pudding and crumbles, and baked goods like macaroons, cookies, rice crispies, etc.)

The desserts section at Cravings has always been strong, and to me this time, seemed to feature even more appealing desserts than five years ago.  Amiss, however, was the large tub of fresh whipped cream, swapped instead for more cut fresh fruit and yogurt.

Not photographed, but my companions really enjoyed the macaroons--crunchy on the outside, soft and tender with plenty of coconut in the middle--and muffins. Desserts are one of Cravings' strong suits!

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Tiramisu, Pistachio/Butter Pecan Gelato, Creme Brulee, Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

First round of dessert for featured vanilla bean cheesecake, a regular creme brulee (chocolate was also on offer),  generous scoops of butter pecan and pistachio gelato, and a tiramisu.

Though the cheesecake was featured as vanilla bean, the sour cream and cheese flavors were extremely strong in the cheesecake--pretty unique. It was also quite rich and dense in texture--not fluffy. I liked the wintry white chocolate decoration.

The creme brulee was not as strong as the cheesecake, for the caramelized sugar top was not apparent other than in looks. I could not crack the top at all, for it was way too thin and moist. The custard was slightly on the thicker side and was a bit overboard in vanilla flavor, but still decent.

Like last time, Cravings' gelatos were quite scrumptious, smooth, and not too heavy on the palate. The pistachio was very nicely flavored with some almond notes and was studded with pistachio. Same for the butter pecan: plenty of pecan, while being restrained with the butter flavor.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: Tiramisu

The tiramisu was plated in a single serve dark chocolate cup, and featured a dark chocolate covered espresso bean, some whipped topping (which I put aside), marscapone cheese filling, and a little bit of espresso soaked cake on the bottom. I would have liked more espresso layers in the tiramisu and a lighter filling (this was quite thick, and didn't feature enough cheese flavor), but with so many individual tiramisus to make, creating those traditional layers is a bit more difficult!

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: White Chocolate Mousse

The white chocolate mousse was expected--smooth, with plenty of white chocolate flavor. The fruit layers provided some excitement to the creamy white chocolate.

Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)- Las Vegas, NV: The Mirage Bread Pudding, Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding, Mixed Fruits

It happened to be 9:30pm, and another waitress informed us that they would be closing down. So, I decided to get another plate of dessert-- some mixed fruit, and both of the bread puddings, for one was called the Mirage bread pudding. With the hotel's namesake on it, it should be tasty.

And it was! The custard at the bottom of the pudding reminded me of an egg custard tart-- plenty of egg flavor, creamy, and not too sweet, while the top wasn't too dense and retained some bread texture. The chocolate croissant pudding likewise had plenty of bread texture, with the top having a few crunchy croissant layers and mini chocolate chips. It's no surprise why both bread puddings been standbys for all these years.

The cut fruit-- cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple-- were all fine, other than the pieces I got were pretty much the leftovers at the bottom of each serving tray.

Go to Cravings if you're not looking to spend too much on a buffet, and also primarily enjoy salads, carved meats, traditional American foods, noodles and dumplings/buns, soups, and desserts. There is quite a spread, with plenty of everything-- vegetables, noodles, seafood, et cetera-- on offer, though you should be vigilant to see what will most likely be fresher and tastier. Do try to eat earlier, when there is a greater turnover rate. If you do happen to arrive late like we did, do note that they stop admitting people by 9pm, but really start to take away the food items at 9:30pm.

Cravings' food is cooked well, presented pleasantly, and suits the price range, but hopefully service will improve!

Cravings Buffet- inside the The Mirage Hotel & Casino
3400 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Tel: (702) 791-7111

Rates during our visit:
Brunch $26.99 (8am-3pm)
Dinner $28.99 (3-9pm) 

Regular rates (subject to change):
Breakfast: $16.99
Lunch: $21.99
Dinner: $28.99

Cravings on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 3, 2014

Osawa- Pasadena, CA

Osawa- Pasadena, CA: Exterior Signage

We wanted to visit Shaab Japanese Cuisine in Pasadena, CA again recently, but at the entrance stood a different restaurant: Osawa. Quite confusing, considering Shaab has existed for so many years in Pasadena! (consequently, photos taken with my phone, a Nokia Lumia 920)

Osawa- Pasadena, CA: Lunch Specials
Osawa- Pasadena, CA: Winter Specials

Though we were about to change course, we had to first do some analysis of the lunch specials and  winter specials--which vary upon the day--as well as the regular lunch menu. All of the menus expressed quality ingredients, and with that thought, we walked in.