August 23, 2012

Spa time makes getaway special

Posted in Between Us column, Dining, Relationships, Travel, Women at 11:14 pm by dinaheng

Like many family reunions, our recent sisters (plus Mom) getaway weekend to Las Vegas revolved around food and relaxation.

After losing more than we’d like to slot machines, roulette and Black Jack tables over two nights, we started our last full day with breakfast at Serendipity 3, a cheerful rendition of the famous New York eatery, started in 1954 by three friends who wanted to be in show business and ended up opening New York’s first coffee house boutique instead.

Today, the popular Upper East Side restaurant offers a full menu that still features its trademark “Frrrozen Hot Chocolate” drinks, and has been the scene of several movies, including the 2001 romantic comedy “Serendipity,” which starred John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale (well worth renting if you haven’t seen it).

The Las Vegas Caesars Palace location, adjacent to the fountains on The Strip, is a charming old fashioned ice cream parlor that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and along with a kids’ menu. Its bright pink and teal color scheme brings a smile to the face, with a bar offering on one wall for the adults and a Hello Kitty gift counter on the other wall for the kids.

For breakfast, we chose two orders of “Lucky 7’s,” which included two pancakes, three eggs, two sausage links, and breakfast potatoes ($16 each), a Breakfast Quesadilla ($16), Balsamic Strawberry Cream Waffles ($16), and an Egg White Shrimp Frittata ($18). Even though we were all stuffed, we couldn’t resist ordering an Amaretto Almond Frrrozen Hot Chocolate ($11) with five straws.

Everything was delicious, and if you’re a family on a budget, the large size portions can be easily shared. The only criticism we’d make is that there’s nothing on the menu that’s sugar-free. The eatery doesn’t even offer sugar-free syrup for the pancakes and waffles, which is crucial for diabetic diners.

As we tasted each other’s items, we shared memories of past Vegas trips. My sister Linda and Mom were the first ones to visit Sin City.

“The first time we came, I bought a package deal that included plane fare, hotel and a tour of Vegas,” said Linda, who couldn’t remember how many years ago that trip was. “We stayed at the Imperial Palace, and they used to have trolley cars that went up and down The Strip that you could ride for $1.”

Mom said she learned to play the slot machines by sitting next to Linda in the casinos and just watching.

“On one trip, I put a quarter in a slot machine, and a ton of quarters came out,” Mom said, laughing. “That’s when I started gambling. You’d have to have buckets to hold the coins that came out of the machines. At first, I’d only play the nickel ones.”

“Now she plays the dollars,” Linda teased.

My sister Jane and her husband soon followed, as did Wendy and her husband.

“Mike and I came and stayed in Harrah’s when he was in law school,” Wendy recalled. “The second time came on the tail end of our honeymoon. We were so excited to see everything on The Strip, and would take pictures of all the casinos.”

This afternoon, the excitement centered around going to Qua Baths and Spa at Caesars Palace. I was surprised to learn that two of my sisters have never had a massage or facial in a spa, so that made our girls getaway even more special.

Waterfalls, mood music, and soft lighting set the tone in a spa that plays on the Roman Baths concept with multi-temperature pools of mineral-enriched water for relaxation. Before our treatments, Wendy and Linda sat for a few minutes in a Cedarwood dry sauna, designed to detoxify the body and encourage muscle relaxation.

Qua Roman Baths

I’m not one for sweating, so I joined them after their dry sauna in the Arctic Ice Room, a room where the air is kept at 55 degrees to stimulate the heart and healthy circulation while tiny flakes of fake snow fall from the ceiling. It was definitely a cool experience (ha ha).

The spa offers a range of services, including massages, chakra balancing, body wraps, hypnosis for wellness, facials and more.

Jane and Karen opted to try the Coffeeberry Yoga Facial ($200 for 50 minutes), while Wendy chose the Fountain of Youth Massage (($170 for 50 minutes). Linda and I had the Qua Signature Hourglass Treatment ($200 for 60 minutes), a customized treatment that allows you to design your own hour of relaxation.

Those who think of spa treatments as a decedent luxury would be right, but when you realize you can stay in the spa all day for the price of one treatment, it becomes more than a fleeting moment of relaxation. I love spas because they take you out of the everyday world, allowing you to unwind, reflect, and release stress, which is the underlying cause of many illnesses.

My Hourglass Treatment included a massage, a mini-facial, chakra balancing and energy work with Carole, a very intuitive therapist. Chakras, in the yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, are areas of the body thought to collect energy tied to major organs or glands. Balancing the chakras leads to a healthier body, aligned with the mind and spirit.

The treatment was totally calming, and the therapist reminded me to slow down and connect more with my own intuitive self. She then took the time to write down some wellness tips for me after the treatment.

The others enjoyed their treatments as well, with those getting facials saying their skin felt pampered and smooth as silk. For Wendy, who had never experienced a massage, the jury was still out.

Qua Treatment Room

“I’m glad I did it, but I’m not sure if I want to do it again,” Wendy shared. “I had so many knots in my shoulders, it hurt for the therapist to work on them. But I can see why people would want to spend their whole day here.”

After our treatments, we picked up Mom from her room and headed for some comfort food at Beijing Noodle No. 9 downstairs. Since we wanted to save room for dinner, we choose mostly dim sum items from the Northern Chinese cuisine menu. Dim sum, which translates to “treasures of the heart,” refers to hors d’oeuvre-size portions of specialty dishes often served as teahouse snacks.

Mom wanted to try the War Wonton Noodle Soup ($16.99), and the rest of us ordered a Seasonal Vegetable Plate, with asparagus, bok choy, Chinese broccolini and choy sum ($15.99), Green Onion Pancake ($7.99), Pork Fried Dumplings ($10.99), Shrimp Dumplings ($10.99), Beef Dumplings ($10.99) and Spring Rolls ($6.99).

While the quality of the food was high, like many casino restaurants, the prices were nearly double what you’d pay at a good Chinese restaurant elsewhere. Eating in the dining room, which lacked acoustical dampening, was authentic in another way — it was as noisy as any typical Hong Kong restaurant, with a dour wait staff and cooks who banged away while cooking in the open kitchen.

That afternoon, we tried our luck at various gaming tables and slots, then rendezvoused at Paris Las Vegas for dinner at Gordon Ramsay Steak, which features upscale steak and seafood dining at its best. Ramsay, a TV personality who’s known for shows like “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Master Chef,” has fans around the world, so the offering of a four-course tasting menu (signed autographed photo included) for $135 per person for the table was not unexpected.

If you’re not inclined to try the tasting menu, you can expect an average check of $85 per person in this trendy, disco-pounding restaurant that features alcove tables in the mezzanine and a main dining room floor that includes an open kitchen and bar.

Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas

Our waitress brought an iPad to the table, which could be used to order cocktails, wine and beer, then wheeled out a cart with an artful display of the various cuts of meat offered on the menu.

Since we’re all tee-totalers, we went straight to the food. For the six of us, we ordered two, 24 oz. Bone-In Rib Eyes ($56 each), Beef Short Ribs with Potato Puree and Wild Mushrooms ($40), Fish and Chips ($42), Sauted Spinach ($11) and Fingerling Potatoes ($11).

While waiting for the entrees, we enjoyed a selection of breads that was outstanding — Lemon and Thyme Focaccia, Brioche Pinwheels with Roasted Pancetta Fig and Truffle Mushroom, and Walnut Stilton Bread with English Devonshire Butter and Volcanic Sea Salt.

For foodies like us, the meal was the capstone to a girls getaway we’ll long remember. And like all great slumber parties, we chose to take dessert from the casino’s Cafe Belle Madeleine patisserie back to our rooms to enjoy with a last, late night gabfest.

All too soon, our long weekend came to an end, and we headed out to the airport the next morning. There were no jackpots to brag about this trip, but the memories from our time together will no doubt grow even more valuable as time goes on.

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