Mott 32 – Asian Fusion on a Global Scale


Palazzo’s fine dining experience is a culinary adventure worth embarking on….

What do you get when you combine the centuries-old cuisine of China with 1800’s NYC industrialism, contemporary Hong Kong’s vibrant culture and the whimsical flair of Sin City? The answer is Mott 32, a gorgeous and glorious new addition to Venetian/Palazzo‘s ever-evolving restaurant family. And this one deserves a place at the top of your must-do Vegas adventures.

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Situated on the north side of Palazzo’s casino floor (next to the popular Grand Lux Cafe), Mott 32 may be one of the most visually striking restaurants in the city. Brought to life by famed Hong Kong designer Joyce Wang, the venue is positively teeming with cultural references, subtle nods and innovative touches.

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From a film tribute to Anna Wong (Hollywood’s first Chinese-American starlet) to a giant metal abacus and artworks of stunning detail and significance, diners could easily get lost exploring the massive 11,400 square foot space. There’s even an exclusive Boom Boom Room private dining area where guests can request a special “Red Menu” designed to conjure joy, happiness and good fortune.

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The name Mott 32 is a nod to New York City’s first Chinese convenience store, which opened at 32 Mott Street in 1891. The fact that the original Hong Kong location took its name from a NYC Chinatown business demonstrates the global scope of their vision. It’s enhanced by a commitment to ethical sourcing and using organic, sustainable ingredients.

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Of course the real reason that you should visit…and will want to return…is for the food, cocktails and service. As you might imagine, all are world-class and exemplary. Recipes are primarily of Cantonese style, with influences from both Beijing and Szechaun cooking.

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After enjoying a couple of Mott 32 Mules from the lounge (more on that later), my party settled into a secluded booth beyond the main dining room. There we had the pleasure of sampling a presentation of dishes selected for us by the Chef.

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We began with a refreshing plate of Marinated Cucumber and Garlic ($9). The Starter Menu includes a wide variety of vegetables and meats like Wild Mushrooms with Black Truffle Sauce in a lettuce cup ($20), Sesame Prawn Toast with Autumn Sauce ($18) and Cubed Australian Wagyu Beef with mustard sauce ($22).

Heading over to the lengthy Dim Sum section, we sampled the unusual but stunning Hot & Sour Iberico Pork Shanghainese Soup Dumplings ($14 for 4 pieces)an absolute must. They were followed by Crispy Sugar Coated BBQ Iberico Pork Buns ($13 for 3), whose tangy flavor offered a marvelous hint of sweetness. If your taste buds long for Chinese barbecue, try BBQ Pluma Iberico Pork ($39). It’s amazingly tender and sweet thanks to a layer of Yellow Mountain honey.

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Mott 32’s astounding meat and seafood dishes are carefully prepared using generations-old cooking methods, seasonings and recipes. The house specialty is Mott Duck, a Peking duck that is air-dried in a special refrigerator, marinated then applewood-smoked in a custom oven.

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The entire preparation of Mott Duck takes two days, requiring that you order well in advance of your meal.

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Factory Kitchen Will Drive Your Taste Buds Into Overtime


New Italian trattoria brings family recipes and Downtown L.A. flair to the Venetian…

Two summers ago I penned a piece on why Palazzo Hotel Casino earned my top spot for high-end Las Vegas resorts. Since then a lot has changed, nearly all for the better. My favorite show (BAZ)) may have left, but plenty of exciting new things have opened up or been announced.

New cocktail lounges like Rosina and Electra Cocktail Club have been added to Palazzo’s entertainment line-up. The casino has been brightened with new colors and a fresh layout. And of course, the waterfall-centric atrium is a glorious, ever-changing favorite for photo ops.

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The biggest evolution, perhaps, is a more intellectual one. Venetian’s sister property has gradually been integrated into a unified operation. Palazzo is still independent and unique, but now treated more as a tower of the Venetian. The lines have also blurred with respect to their retail areas. Palazzo’s shopping esplanade has been absorbed into the Grand Canal Shoppes, allowing for greater traffic flow and clarity of identity.

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With all of these updates, I was overdue to start exploring some of Venetian/Palazzo’s updates. My first stop was Factory Kitchen, an Italian eatery in the famed Restaurant Row. This is only their second location in the country. The original opened in Los Angeles Arts District in 2013 and was an immediate success.

Factory Kitchen is a collaboration between restaurateur Matteo Ferdinandi and his longtime friend Chef Angelo Auriana. Their shared passion for Italian heritage, hospitality and traditional recipes is what makes Factory Kitchen so special.

Factory Kitchen Venetian

While details like that might not enter into your decisions on where to eat, consider this…the premiere Italian-themed resort in Las Vegas only welcomes the best…and Ferdinandi and Chef Auriana could have opened their second eatery anywhere they wished. The fact that these two powerful entities decided to team up suggests a match made in culinary Heaven.

Factory Kitchen Venetian

Heaven is indeed what you’ll be feeling when you encounter the wafting aromas from Factory Kitchen’s open, er…kitchen. Influences from their flagship inside a repurposed factory building can be felt here, albeit with designer touches and Vegas flair. Rustic colors, art-deco lighting, an industrial-style ceiling and reclaimed wood offer a masculine and inviting atmosphere to compliment distinctive family-inspired recipes.

Factory Kitchen Venetian

My companion and I arrived at noon for weekday lunch. After a cocktail in the sleek lounge, we were escorted to a table in the heart of the dining room. The server was extremely knowledgeable with their extensive menu, ingredients and preparation…and had plenty of favorites to suggest.

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We began by ordering a couple of fresh, light salads. I opted for a Cortolana ($14) with field greens, watermelon radish, white onion, dates and goat cheese topped with champagne vinaigrette. On the right is the Cremosella ($15), which features creamy mozzarella, watercress, extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.

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The next round threw my keto diet right out the window, but it was bound to happen when the Focaccina Calda al Formaggio (Cheese Focaccia) at an adjacent table looked and smelled so tempting. We shared a crisp, creamy Tradizionale ($19) made from imported crescenza cheese, baby wild arugula and Ligurian olive oil. There’s also a Pizatta ($21) with capers and anchovies and the Tirolese ($23) with Italian-cured smoked ham and peppercress.

Factory Kitchen Venetian

Pasta was on both of our minds for the main course, and why not? With the live pasta station making family recipes fresh on site, my mouth was watering before the plates even arrived. My companion chose Casonzei ($22), a pork sausage & veal ravioli prepared with cured pork belly, sage brown butter and reggiano cheese. Exquisite!

I had to go with what could be considered Factory Kitchen’s signature dish – Mandilli di Seta ($20). This unforgettable delight is a unique “handkerchief pasta”, thin sheets of egg dough tossed with a Ligurian almond basil pesto sauce. One bite (and a few moans later) and it was easy to see why this dish has been a longtime favorite.

While the pasta section of the menu might be a mid-point for some, our appetites were already satiated. I’ll have to return to indulge in Factory Kitchen’s great selection of entrees. Dishes such as Gamberoni ($26 – sautéed white shrimp, sun choke purée, roasted romanesco, vermentino, saffron), Polpettone ($19 – oven-roasted turkey meatloaf, san marzano peperonata, caramelized onion, fresh oregano and seasonal vegetables) and Tagliata ($29 – prime flat iron steak, sautéed winter greens, roasted pepper bagna cauda) along with a list of daily specials should satisfy every voracious carnivore and discerning appetite at your table.

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Despite being full, my companion and I had to, at the very least, dip our spoons into a few sweets from the desert menu. Once again we stuck to traditional favorites by requesting a sumptuous Cannoli ($13) filled with ricotta, orange marmalade and rolled in pistachio. Somehow an order of Panna Cotta ($11 – served with a pair of soft ovis mollis cookies) showed up at our table, too. Of course we had to try it…just to be polite!

Along with your meal, feel free to indulge in a selection from Factory Kitchen’s carefully-crafted wine list. It focuses on Italian varieties along with many other European choices. Several signature cocktails boasting whimsical names like Private Eye, Big Swifty, Afraid of the Dark and The Ugly should make for interesting conversation. Check out the beverage and wine list by clicking HERE.

Just last month, Chef Auriana debuted a weekend brunch menu, served from 11 am through 5 pm. Offerings include Ricotta Pancakes ($15) with kumquats, mascarpone crema, lemon zest and maple syrup, Egg Raviolo ($18) with braised greens & organic egg filled pasta, pancetta and brown butter. There’s also a scrumptious Steak Amore for $28 – pancetta-wrapped fillet mignon medallions with mushrooms and parsley. Brunch guests through 2:30 pm can add bottomless Mimosas, White Peach Bellinis and Bloody Mary’s for an additional $28.

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So the next time you’re strolling through the Venetian/Palazzo Resort and the songs of those famous gondoliers whet your appetite for superior Italian cuisine, head to Restaurant Row. Discover the joys of the new Factory Kitchen. Just tell them that Sam from Vegas Unfiltered sent you.

Factory Kitchen is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm. For reservations or more info call 702.414.1222.

Photos: Sam Novak, Factory Kitchen

 

 

 

 

Best Spots for Pub Grub in Las Vegas


If you’ve been to the Venetian/Palazzo recently, you may have noticed something called the “Cocktail Collective”. It’s a trio of new lounges that offer handcrafted superior cocktails in lush, unique surroundings. The Dorsey, Rosina and Electra are each distinctive and set new standards for a classy evening out.

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As wonderful as fancy cocktail lounges are, sometimes you just want to head out for some live music, cheap liquor and rib-sticking grub. At times like this, it’s best to travel off-Strip and hang out where the locals go. Of course, you’ll want to employ the services of LYFT or UBER if you plan to imbibe, but the price of a ride is nothing compared to all you’ll save.

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The Many Sides of Savannah Cross


Palazzo’s infectious dancer brings razzle-dazzle to BAZ: A Musical Mash-up

Ever since its humble beginnings inside a small Los Angeles nightspot, BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has boasted a fluid cast. Performers and celebrity guests regularly step into and out of six iconic and several supporting roles. They often swap characters and lines…sometimes within the same performance, making each night a unique experience.

The genre-bending BAZ musical, a creation by LA-based For The Record, recently celebrated its 500th performance inside a custom-designed venue at Palazzo Resort. Although its tradition of rotating casts continues, one performer has been there through four different dance partners. Her name is Savannah Cross…and she’s someone you’ll want to experience on your next trip to the Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah grew up in Sandy, Utah, just south of Great Salt Lake. She spent her earliest years learning to dance at several studios around her home state.

I started dancing at the age of 6.  Watching my older cousin compete is really what drew me into dance.  I remember thinking to myself, this is it, this is what I want to do.  From the time I started training at 6, I just never stopped and got even more immersed into dance.

During my first couple years of dancing, I saw the movie Center Stage and fell in love.  I loved the idea that dance was something I could make a career out of and watching this movie made it all even more real.  I also loved the work, energy and sacrifice that the dancers in the movie put into this crazy art form.

During high school, the ambitious teen traveled around the country with Hollywood Connection, a company dedicated to preparing dancers for their commercial careers. Despite her young age, Savannah performed in a variety of productions that displayed skills in hip-hop, contemporary and ballroom styles.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After graduating from high school, the dynamic young lady enrolled at the University of Utah‘s College of Fine Arts. While there, Savannah was member of their Performing Dance Company, which gave her the opportunity to work with several famed choreographers. As a result of her hard work and the enormous potential she displayed, Savannah received the prestigious Dizzy Feet Foundation Scholarship for her 2014-2015 year.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

While less ambitious college students were spending their summers sipping margaritas on Mexican beaches, Ms. Cross was in Leeds, England, receiving intensive training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. And somewhere in those college years she managed to become a finalist on Paula Abdul‘s Live To Dance and appeared in a music video for singer Shaun Barrowes.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Modern Dance, Savannah became an instructor at Utah’s Elite Academy, a unique dance studio that teaches children as young as preschool age.  There she inspired other up-and-coming dancers and shared the knowledge she’d gained from an already extensive background.

Aside from dancing, I have really found a passion in teaching.  I started teaching dance when I was 18 and instantly fell in love. I was so lucky to have such incredible and diverse teachers growing up and because of this I felt very informed when I first started teaching.

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It was obvious that the girl from a small town in Utah was destined to accomplish great things. With the unending support of her loving mom…and her father as a faithful companion/escort to countless auditions, Savannah’s determination would soon pay off.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have the most amazing support system and especially wouldn’t be where I am today without my mom and dad. They sacrificed so much to let me follow my dreams.  Every vacation we ever took as a family was always for dance.  A large part of me sticking with this art that can be so hard and grueling is because of those two.  They never gave up on me and every second of everyday, they believed in me.

I have one sibling, a 12 year old sister named Dylann.  She is now starting to dance and train heavily and it makes my heart so happy.  Watching her flourish makes me want to be the absolute best version of myself each day.

As with so many other promising artists, Savannah Cross decided to try her luck in New York City. Although she had success there, a turn of luck would lead her to the bright lights and neon of the Las Vegas Strip.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The innovative Los Angeles-based cabaret troupe For The Record Live was catching on like wildfire. Their musical interpretations of the film works from directors  Quentin Tarantino and John Hughes were drawing raves…and crowds. Their biggest hit so far was For the Record: BAZ, built around the scenes and music of avante-garde Aussie filmmaker Baz Luhrmann.

The production, interweaving love stories from Luhrmann’s contemporary re-imaginings of The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet was given a short stint at Mandalay Bay’s LIGHT Nightclub. Plagued by problems with the venue and its relationship with Cirque du Soleil, BAZ closed prematurely…but refused to die.

In 2016, Palazzo Resort announced a relaunch of the newly-named BAZ: Star Crossed Love. Cirque was now out of the picture and Venetian/Palazzo pledged full support of the acclaimed musical. This latest version of the long-evolving production would open with a mostly-new cast, a reworking of songs and scenes and a custom theater designed to showcase its cabaret-style roots.

What would eventually become my 2017 Best Production Show in Las Vegas was about to gain a brand-new ballroom star. This time, Savannah would be required to sing, act and play characters in addition to swirling around the stage. Here’s how she became a part of BAZ…in her own words:

I really never imagined I would be a part of a show like BAZ. Before I joined the cast, I was dancing for two contemporary companies in New York and I really thought that was my path. When I initially joined the show, I was somewhat hesitant having to sing and act, but now have come to realize that I have such a passion for the two. I do strongly believe that my background in dance and immense training that I did all over the world and in different styles, informed and directed me as a strong actor.  

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

My initial start into the show was such a whirlwind! I received a phone call from a fellow dancer/friend who I hadn’t heard from in years. She started the conversation totally casual, and a few minutes into the conversation asked me if I would be interested in BAZ. I fell in love with the structure of the show and the incredible talent she described to me. Within days, I got a phone call that I was chosen for the role of Fran! I felt so incredibility lucky to be cast in the show without For the Record and the management team ever seeing me in person.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Everything happened so quickly, with only 3 days to learn the entire show, I became the first new cast member to come into BAZ. I instantly knew that I was meant to be here doing this amazing show. As of now, Scorsese: American Crime Requiem (based on the mafia films of Martin Scorcese) is the only other For the Record show I have seen, but it absolutely blew me away!!! I saw the show in Los Angeles with some others members of BAZ and I sat there thinking to myself, how lucky am I to be part of such an insanely talented family.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

I have now had four different partners in the show and I will say that I have really been lucky with each boy. Two of the four partners are also from Utah and we actually grew up dancing together, which made the transition pretty simple. But I will say that there is an emotional toll when a partner leaves.

You end up building such a connection and relationship with each other in which you fully trust each other. I do think that it often feels like a “break up” to some extent and can take a minute to rebuild an entirely new connection with someone else.

Being able to build a connection between herself and others is definitely one of Savannah’s gifts. Whether it’s with her fellow performers, the people in the audience or her own students, Miss Cross is magnetic, energetic and completely mesmerizing.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

This writer was fortunate enough to have once been Savannah’s student…for a day. As a member of the media, I was invited to participate in BAZ Boot Camp last summer, an event that allowed members of the press to live a day as a performer at the Palazzo Theater.

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Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

  Savannah (center, rear) keeps a watchful eye on yours truly during rehearsal…

Despite my having two left feet and a pair of wobbly legs, Savannah and her dance partner Marcquet Hill rallied and turned us into dancers in a few short hours. Savannah’s positive reinforcement and patience were especially memorable.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

Fortunately, the next round of students Savannah and cast mate Patrick Ortiz shared the BAZ experience with were fledgling local youth performers. During the past two years, the show’s team has partnered with Positively Arts Foundation to provide mentorship, collaboration and inspiration for students intent on pursuing a career in performance.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

The cast of BAZ also put on the Positively Arts Holiday Spectacular at the Palazzo Theater last December. Featuring more than sixty Positively Arts students, the show brought performances of seasonal songs like “Silent Night,” “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “This Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” to the stage with all proceeds benefiting the Foundation. For Savannah, teaching and performing on the same stage is something she will no doubt always relish:

I think its beyond amazing that I get to share something I love so dearly with others and help them find their own passion within the art.  Watching my students grow is the most inspiring and informative lesson for myself.

Now that BAZ: A Musical Mash-up has surpasseded the 500th-performance mark and is about to celebrate its two-year anniversary on the Strip, it’s clear that something special is going on inside the Palazzo Theater. With people like Savannah Cross to teach, inspire and entertain, here’s hoping that she and the cast of BAZ reach for the stars with five hundred more…and beyond.

Savannah Cross BAZ Dancer Palazzo

BAZ: A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 pm. Tickets start at $64 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. VegasFool is currently offering discounted seats starting at $39(plus taxes/fees). Access that offer by clicking here.

Photos: Whitney Lauren Photography, Richard Brusky, Post Productions Photography, Marc Reynolds, Abe Larmas Photography, Erik Kabik, KTNV Morning Blend, Sands Corp.

Palazzo Surprises Guests On “National Plan For Vacation Day”


Movement encourages Americans to schedule their vacations and enjoy well-deserved fun…

Yes, I know what you’re thinking – “Sammasseur really loves Palazzo Resort. Blah blah blah”. And you’d be fair to say so. It’s true that I continue to crow about Palazzo‘s virtues (like Best Luxury Resort and Best Overall ShowBAZ Musical Mash-up). But since we’re in a time when so many Vegas properties continually find new ways to stick it to their customers, Venetian’s sister hotel does the opposite by giving back.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Earlier this week, BAZ star Ruby Lewis posted a cute and clever video wherein she surprised Rosina Lounge bartender Sarah by taking over her shift. She then shocked two of Sarah’s guests with a complete Vegas vacation package.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

The unexpected award included round-trip airfare via Allegiant Air, a suite at Palazzo, tickets to BAZ Musical Mash-up and cocktails at Rosina Lounge. While the beginning of the clip seems somewhat scripted, the facial expressions of the recipients are anything but…

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

The purpose of this clip…and the “holiday” that inspired it…is to bring attention to an growing trend among Americans. And that is the wasting of paid vacation time…an estimated 659 million days each year. An alarming 54 percent of us don’t collect on the R & R we’re entitled to, and that’s harmful in more ways than you’d think.

In today’s uncertain economy, many workers are hesitant to take time off, perhaps fearful that the well-entitled indulgence will cost them more than it’s worth. Sadly, that decision backfires in many ways. Not only does work fatigue damage both productivity and morale, but the economy loses approximately $236 billion each year in vacation spending.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

That’s why the organization Project: Time Off was created. They’re spearheading a movement to address this silent epidemic of self-neglect, as so eloquently stated on their “About Us” page:

We aim to shift culture so that taking time off is understood as essential to personal well-being, professional success, business performance, and economic expansion.​

To that end, January 30th has been declared National Plan For Vacation Day. It has been shown that workers who actively and deliberately schedule upcoming vacations in advance are less likely to make excuses for skipping them. 2017’s NPFV Day was the very first, yet more than 600 organizations in all 50 states participated.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

This year’s NPFV Day was even larger with major players in the tourist industry hopping on board. Naturally, everyone wants a piece of the pie, but what better place to let off some steam than Las Vegas?

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Palazzo and Venetian have a long history of community service efforts and often show support for worthy causes. You’ll frequently see the colors of their signage and marquees changed to support awareness (World Heart Day, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Awareness) or darkened altogether for the annual World Wildlife Fund Earth Hour.

Venetian/Palazzo team members also do their part to help the world’s communities. To date they have assembled and shipped out about a half-million hygiene kits to support Clean the World. That organization’s mission is to promote good health and well-being around the globe through improved access to soap and other hygiene products.

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Myself with BAZ star Ron Remke and “Morning Blend” host Jennifer Jean Snyder…

That cast of BAZ: A Musical Mash-up reaches out to the community through the magic of song and dance. In addition to giving performance lessons to members of the media and clumsy bloggers like myself (BAZ Boot Camp), they’ve welcomed local children to participate in a day with the cast. The event is part of the Positively Arts Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to using the arts to empower, inspire and heal.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

  BAZ stars Savannah Cross and Patrick Ortiz put children through the paces…

Ruby Lewis, the show’s resident “Daisy”, released a holiday single to raise funds for Alzheimers research. In October, she and her fellow cast mates formed “Team BAZ” for the Las Vegas Walk to End Alzheimers. It’s the largest such event dedicated to fighting the dreaded disease. Each performer dedicated their efforts to someone…for Ruby, it was her grandmother.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

In December, my best friend and I were lucky enough to be in attendance at BAZ when they were collecting donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Our donation nabbed us a couple of autographed posters and photos with some of the cast. Overall donations exceeded $11,000.00 in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

As you can tell, I’m extremely enamored of the people in front of and behind the scenes…those who tirelessly work, create, support and go beyond to make Palazzo a very special place.

As other hotel casinos on the Strip find new ways to gouge their guests and claw every last cent out of your wallet, the team at Venetian/Palazzo go down a very different path. This is one of the many reasons why I consider Palazzo to be the “Best Luxury Resort” in Las Vegas. You can read more about the how’s and why’s by clicking here.

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

And don’t forget to schedule your vacation soon. If you don’t, Ruby Lewis just might show up at your workplace to remind you…and maybe even give you the night off…

Palazzo National Plan For Vacation Day

BAZ: A Musical Mash-up performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm. Tickets are available here.

Photos: Sammasseur, Venetian/Palazzo, Ryan Lyons

2017 In Review – Ranking The Resorts


There’s something for everyone when choosing a hotel. But not all of them deserve your business…

Best Luxury ResortPalazzo

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The Venetian‘s more contemporary sister property has what it takes to satisfy your luxury needs without overt attempts at “hipness” (Cosmopolitan) or coasting on a previously-established reputation (Bellagio).

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The Palazzo offers easy access from Las Vegas Boulevard, free parking, spacious rooms, flawless service, gorgeous common areas, lush pools and an airy, high-ceiling casino. Visitors can indulge in top-notch lounges (check out my write-up of the new Rosina Cocktail Lounge), restaurants, shops, the famous Canyon Ranch Spa and the Best Overall Show in Vegas (BAZ: A Musical Mash-up). You can learn more by visiting my full write-up here.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Palazzo is easily my choice for best five-star accommodations in Las Vegas.

Most Improved ResortWestgate Las Vegas

My relationship with Westgate (aka the former Las Vegas Hilton) began three years ago….and was rocky to say the least. An unflattering article I had penned for VegasChatter.com got a very professional response from a member of the team in charge of transforming the aging off-Strip giant into a newly-born destination.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

“Give us another chance. We’ve got great things happening here”. That was the message, in essence, of the Westgate Las Vegas representative. And he wasn’t just tossing some pretty words and glitter in my direction. Promises were kept…and I’ve been back many many times since.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

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The current state of Westgate is one of gloriously-restored elegance. Brass has been polished, gorgeous chandeliers have been restored, the marble flooring is immaculate and guest rooms are all modern and sleek.

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The property has recruited some of the finest chefs in the city to operate an admirable line-up of new restaurants (see my monthly series of profiles to learn more about the people behind the dishes). Then there’s the glorious new Serenity Spa, an extension of Westgate’s acclaimed facility in Park City, Utah (you can see my detailed experiences at Serenity Spa here).

Serenity Spa Westgate

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Every Westgate staffer from valet to reservations to the hostess at Sid’s Cafe will offer their name and ask you for yours. There’s a vibe throughout the casino that’s palpable and contagious. You’ll feel that your patronage and presence are appreciated…and you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

You can expect lots of new entertainment offerings to take up residence at Westgate this year (Barry Manilow is coming back!) and you can continue to enjoy free parking as a hotel/casino guest.

By the way…don’t be put off by the off-Strip location. A convenient monorail station at the FRONT of the hotel (not far in the rear like everywhere else) can get you from your room to center Strip in a matter of minutes.

Re-think your ideas of how a 2018 visit to Las Vegas should be. Give Westgate a try…and prepare to be wowed.

Steepest DeclineRio Las Vegas

Best Worst Vegas 2017

A short decade ago, the Rio was one of my favorite places to stay and play. There was a vibrance throughout the resort that made it worth the visit. These days, it’s just a sad red-and-blue stepchild of the Caesars family, mostly forgotten and seemingly just hanging on.

The restaurants are nothing to brag about, Masquerade Village is still a giant echo chamber, Kiss by Monster Mini Golf turned out to be a dud and the once-legendary Carnival World Buffet now operates on limited hours. At least there’s still the wonderful Chippendales and new WOW – World of Wonder to keep me stopping by for a few hours.

Miniature stages throughout the gaming floor used to light up regularly for songs and dances by “Bever-tainers”. Now those performance spaces sit empty and ignored (a current cocktail server told me that “most of them are broken and just don’t work anymore”). The stage and overhead tracks for once-popular Rio Show In The Sky also remain, dusty and forgotten.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

An unpleasant odor permeates certain areas of this hotel, uncomfortable reminders of the Legionnaire’s Disease incident that affected numerous visitors last year. Guest rooms and common areas are maintained with indifference. The conditions of the fitness facilities and spa areas have badly deteriorated as well.

There are better places to choose than Rio Las Vegas…and the ever-rising mandatory resort fee (currently $34.01 per day, up from $18.99 plus tax in 2016) does nothing to make me want to book there again. After a lackluster stay in mid-December resulted in my complaining via email and phone to the manager, I cancelled my next visit (which was scheduled for the very next week).

Staffers at Rio seem to be going through the motions of their chores across the board, much like the team at Sahara did in the years leading up to its closure. Which brings us to…

In The Throes of DeathSLS (the former Sahara)

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Driving towards the north Strip property once know as Sahara, you’d be hard-pressed to know exactly what the name is. The sign reads SLS at the bottom and a giant twinkling W at the top. Why, exactly? Because this is a property with an identity crisis…and no good reason for existing in its current state.

SLS Las Vegas answers a question that nobody in their right mind would ask: “What would happen if you whitewashed (literally and figuratively) a heavily themed historic property, filled it with Vegas-lite duplicates of Los Angeles dining/nightclub favorites, then tried to lure the L.A. millenials over the state line?”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The answer is “not much”. There’s no reason for the hip L.A. crowd to come to Vegas for inferior copies of what they already have. Nevertheless, the combined arrogance of Sam Nazarian and SBE led to betting heavily…and losing…on a proposition that was never going to work.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

All seven Fred Segal stores were shuttered, along with LIFE Nightclub and an excellent buffet that lasted all of three months. SLS promised to reopen the buffet in early 2015. I’m still waiting.

If only SBE has taken a cue from Westgate and honored the Sahara‘s legacy with a little updating instead of throwing it out the back door, they’d probably be sharing a different place on this list.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Someday, logical will prevail and SLS (which sold off a portion of the resort to the W hotel chain…that tower now operates as a separate entity) will be reborn once more as “The New Sahara”. Until that time, you can consider SLS to be as good as….

DeadLucky Dragon

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Here’s another resort with no good reason for existing. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing worthwhile to offer guests, the Lucky Dragon announced the closure of its casino and restaurants just yesterday.

This has got to be some kind of record. After only 13 months and one day of operations, a brand-new casino resort has shut down everything but the tiny little hotel. Employees have been sent packing only four days into the new year…a sad start for them and a bad omen for any hope of Resorts World actually making an impact on the north end of the Strip.

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It was clear after a highly-touted early opening that just a few months into the year, Lucky Dragon was anything but lucky. Restaurants Pearl Ocean and Dragon Alley were reworked along with the high-limit areas of the gaming floor. The excitement of a brand-new hotel casino had completely fizzled, and by the time I visited in late mid October, at least one restaurant was shuttered and the entire complex was virtually empty.

Dragon2

Dragon1

As the financials are reworked and optimistic press releases tout a full reopening of Lucky Dragon, expect the northern face of the famous Las Vegas Strip to continue fighting some really persistent blemishes. And one big blue tumor.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Abandoned Fontainebleau Resort                         

 

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 In Review Part 4 – Performances and Shows, Highs and Lows


Best Overall Show – BAZ: A Musical Mash-up

All of the dozens of shows around the Valley tend to fall into just a few categories. Then there’s BAZ: A Musical Mash-up. A song-and-dance unlike anything Vegas has ever seen, it’s hard to describe…and an experience you will never forget.

That’s why, after two consecutive years as “Best New Show” (new name, location and cast allowed it to qualify twice), BAZ: A Musical Mash-up gets my award for “Best Overall Show”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

With three universally-renowned tragic love stories interwoven through a tapestry of contemporary hits, BAZ will have you dancing, crying, laughing and singing…all while rediscovering your love for musical theater.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

With the most talented cast in the city, BAZ: A Musical Mash-up is one show that demands to be experienced and shared. Kudos to Palazzo for their continued support of this amazing achievement.

Worst Overall Show – Black Magic Live aka Vivica’s Black Magic

This one started out with an ugly anti-gay controversy and ended up as a sloppy assault on the senses. An unbearable amateurish concoction with no rhyme or reason, an indifferent cast and an emcee (D-list movie director Jean-Claude LaMarre) who argues with and badgers an audience he’s ill-equipped to handle, Black Magic Live is one reality-show baby that was delivered stillborn.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Audience abuse works fine if it’s meant to be comically shocking a la Absinthe. But at Black Magic Live, the insults are hurled without a single bit of tongue-in-cheek. “Don’t be touching my jacket with your greasy hands, lady. I don’t know you!”. Or how about “Sit down and shut the Hell up or you’re out of here!”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

After 60 minutes of this nonsense and at least four instances of audience members rushing the stage and stopping the show, I was out of there, too. Save your money and time. Turn your back on Black Magic Live.

Best Performance – Ruby Lewis (BAZ – A Musical Mash-up)

It’s almost unfair to select one individual from the best line-up on a Vegas stage. Alas, choosing a “Best Performance” winner must be done, if for nothing else than to provide counterpoint to the absolute worst.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Of all the amazing and gifted individuals who make BAZ the best show on the Strip, Ruby Lewis gets my choice for best performance. After a landmark performance on Broadway in PARAMOUR, Lewis returned to the For The Record Live family…and the Palazzo Theater…this summer.

Ruby’s jaw-dropping and emotional finale (Over The Love from The Great Gatsby) will have you gasping, wiping away tears and rising to your feet in applause. It’s the must-see moment on the Strip.

Worst Performance – Sammasseur  (BAZ – A Musical Mash-up)

“Wooden”. “Uninspired”. “As nervous as a long-tailed cat in a rocking chair factory”. Those are some of the reviews that would have been deservedly slung at this writer had I been an actual cast member of BAZ – A Musical Mash-up. Fortunately, my participation was limited to an exciting and brilliantly-conceived “boot camp” experience for members of the media (you can read all about it here).

Best Worst Vegas 2017

As an invited guest, I was privileged to go through the paces of a performer from choreography to costuming and make-up. Then an actual number in front of a selected (and very kind) audience of Venetian/Palazzo team members. I’m proud to say that nobody was hit when my shoe went sailing through the air during a kick….and I’ll leave it at that.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

    Myself with Ruby Lewis, Savannah Cross, Anne Martinez and Ron Remke…

Photos and Video: Sammasseur with additional courtesy of Palazzo Resort