Stuck at dinner

My wife insists–and only because I think she is a little jealous–that I have a man-crush on Absinthe. It’s rare for me to pick up new friends, and when I came home from Vegas last summer talking about this guy, the wife eventually started looking at me like she did when I started wearing pleatless pants and drinking dirty martinis. When I mentioned all of this to Absinthe, who incidentally is married with a child on the way, he replied laconically, “If that’s the case, the crush will go unrequited.”

All of the above makes it even more frustrating to explain to the wife how Absinthe’s last text message of the weekend is not at all homoerotic, despite reading “If I tell you to put something in your mouth, you had best do it.


For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was not hungover after my first night in Vegas. I’d been playing cards all day in an extremely fun and potentially profitable game. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I left such a game without being forced to.

In gambler’s terms, being “stuck” means to be in the hole, to have lost money, to be down. Though I would end the trip with a modest profit, I was stuck heading into this particular game. I’d hoped to leave the game unstuck, but there just wasn’t time before following Absinthe to dinner.

Now, normally, when I’m in Vegas, I don’t spend a lot of time away from the poker table. Most places will deliver food right to your chair for no more than a small tip to the waitress. It’s really the best of both worlds. Unless, of course, you live in Absinthe’s world.

Which is different.


I was wearing no-pleat pants, and that doesn’t make me gay. If I had worn the shiny black shirt (the one that would’ve made me look like Johnny Cash does the Village People), there might have been some merit to the arugment. Instead, I wore a toned down, less shiny, certainly not gay shirt.

There were six of us at dinner. As the accented man led us to a cozy table, I surveyed our group and found two attorneys, a doctor, a journalist, Absinthe, and myself.

Six months earlier, Absinthe had taken some friends and me to dinner at another nice place as a “thank you” for sweating him through the World Series of Poker. It was a nice and unnecessary gesture. Still, it had re-awakened my tastebuds and I was hankering for another good meal.

The result was Michael Mina, nestled in the back of the Bellagio Conservatory, wherein I would find myself only barely able to answer this question, as posed by a drunk guy: “Is it outside in here?”


As I am no genius in the ways of fine dining, I won’t pretend to offer a review of my meal, except to say that at point I remarked, “If I ever brought my wife here, there would never again be a need for foreplay.”

Over the course of two hours, a small platoon of the restaurant’s staff served us the following:

* Pumpkin soup
* Tartare of ahi tuna, seasoned with sesame oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, chiffonade of mint, with crusts of toast
* Maine Lobster Pot Pie with baby carrots, fingerling potatoes, and black truffles
* Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass with Mushroom Consomme, Shrimp and Scallop Ravioli
* Trio of American Kobe Ribeye with Horseradish, Classic Bearnaise, Foie Gras Emulsion
* Warm Chocolate Cake, Coconut Panna Cotta, Mini Root Beer Float, warm pecan cookies

For those not familiar with such a rundown, it comes courtesy of Michael Mina’s cookbook tasting menu, a sampling of his finest dishes, all served in one meal. And by sampling, they bascially mean, “we’re going to give you enought to fill you up until Christmas, no matter what time of year you eat.”

I ate it all…with the exception of the sea bass’ bed of bok choy (er…choi?), which was a little too limp for my taste.

Yeah, I ate the lot. And then wondered if I should’ve worn the shiny shirt.


The past couple years of my life have afforded me the luxury of meeting people who could satisfy nearly every vice I have, not to mention many vices I don’t have. Pick a vice–booze, strippers, drugs, cigars, etc.–and I know an expert on the subject. Fortunately, I stick to vices that keep me married and not afoul of the law. And, also fortunately, food is one of those vices. And, damn it, if Absinthe isn’t my hook-up.

Vice? Food is a vice? Well, it’s not if you’re eating the over-cooked prime rib sandwich at the poker tables at Caesar’s It is, however, if you spend too much time eating at joints like Michael Mina.

Rather than itemize the tab for you, I offer this little tidbit:

When the check came, Absinthe was the first to review it. I’d already figured the price of our meal in our head, but had failed to calculate one thing. Even I jumped a bit when Absinthe deadpanned, “Well, our water bill is $52.”

After running the numbers through an abacus and more than a couple of mental super computers, we figured out the per person cost. Remarkably, the cash hit the table in seconds, and we sated gamblers made for the door.

On our way out, our server stood waiting with a bag for each of us. Inside was a cookbook signed by the chef. Retail price on the book? $50.


Before we left to go back to playing poker, I mentioned to our group that there is a difference between being stuck and being food stuck. If you’re stuck playing poker, it’s either a result of bad play or bad luck. If you’re food stuck, it’s because you chose to satisfy one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Here’s the thing about poker, though. Unlike a lot of people who have the food vice (or any other vice), a poker player can get unstuck if he works at it.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I got unstuck and un-food-stuck. By the time I crawled onto the redeye home, I had more money in my pocket than when I arrived.

And that means, my friends, that little meal I had Friday night was free.

And the cookbook? Well, that’s just a little bit of mushroom consomme gravy, baby.

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Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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4 Responses

  1. Who might this “expert” on strippers be? I need to review my notes with him.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    Ummm…right. I have my bi-annual fishing trip coming up, my wife always ask, “how come you never bring any fish home?”…..ummmmmm, I got to go now-FB

  3. That lobster pot pie made a run for the best thing I’d ever eaten in vegas.
    Of course, the lobster bisque from Delmonico still tops the list.

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