Often referred to as the 9th island of Hawaii, Las Vegas is a hugely popular destination for Hawaii residents to visit. I used to love going to Las Vegas, so much so that between my 21st and 22nd birthday I traveled there five times! Unlike many of my friends I didn’t go to Vegas for the clubs and nightlife; I went for the casino. I enjoyed playing at the tables. Blackjack and craps were my staples. I was fortunate to be somewhat lucky and to this day remain “up” despite many hours spent at the tables. While I don’t visit Vegas very much these days, it’s still a fun place to go and, of course, is a great city for food. So for this past 4th of July my family and I visited the strip once more.

After a red-eye flight from Honolulu we landed in Vegas at around 7:30 in the morning. We made our way to the rental car center and then headed off to the Palazzo. Once settled in we headed off to lunch.

Double-double animal style and fries well done!

As a Hawaii visitor to Vegas there are a couple of things that we’re just expected to do. One, is to go to Trader Joe’s (which we did later in the trip). And two, is to eat at In-N-Out. We arrived at about 11AM and the place was busy! It only got worse as we ate, to the point where people started hovering over tables to snatch them up as soon as customers stood up to leave. Of all the times I’ve visited In-N-Out, I have always ordered the double-double animal style and it never disappoints. I always have to wonder how these burgers can be so cheap, but so much better than other fast food establishments.

Judy always managed to hit bonus rounds or free spins!

Once our need to eat was satiated we hit the casino at the Palazzo. Unlike previous trips I spent the entire trip playing on slot machines, mostly just for entertainment value than in the hopes of winning any money. Judy and I walked around the floor, playing the same machines side-by-side. While I hit a bit of a lucky streak on the last day of the trip, Judy was pretty consistently lucky getting small jackpots and bonus rounds to hit for her.

We also enjoyed a short show at the Palazzo: Human Nature Jukebox. The group was pretty good and the show itself was entertaining and high energy throughout. Not sure I’d sit through it again but it was worthwhile to see the performance at least once.

The entrance to Joel Robuchon at the back of the MGM casino floor

For this trip I had decided to finally have dinner at Joel Robuchon. Once rated with 3-Michelin stars, Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand is one of the preeminent dining options on the strip. The grand degustation menu is an 18-course behemoth at $445 per person not including tax and gratuity.

We were initially seated in a small side room but asked to be moved to the main dining room which appeared to have much more comfortable seating and more favorable lighting conditions. Aesthetically the restaurant is everything you’d expect from a 3-Michelin star rating (although not an active rating since the Michelin guide no longer rates Vegas). Service was excellent and attentive. The food however, was underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong the food was good, but it wasn’t great. There weren’t any “wow” moments that I’ve come to expect from my previous 3-star experiences. The meal was just… fine. This was disappointing not only for the price point, but also because I had such high expectations.

So many options! Bread service at Joel Robuchon showcases over a dozen options.
“2nd Service” – L’Oeuf de Poule and La Cuisse de Grenouille

The meal was divided in various “services”, each featuring two or three small dishes. I’d say that, if the Michelin guide were to re-rate Joel Robuchon Las Vegas today, it would probably be a 1-star. Maybe a 2-star for excellent service and ambiance, but it would be a weak 2-star based on my experiences.

Lunch at Javiers in the ARIA Resort and Casino
Dinner at Herribone in the ARIA Resort and Casino

Apart from dinner at the MGM and meals at our hotel, we also ventured out to the ARIA for a few bites. It was nice to try Herringbone in Las Vegas which will give me a good point of context for the upcoming Herringbone location in Waikiki.

Having a quick bite before our flight home at the AMEX Centurion Lounge at McCarran International Airport

While our highly anticipated dinner at Joel Robuchon was a bust, our weekend in Vegas was a great time. It was nice to spend time with family and to have no strict responsibilities for a few days. Las Vegas is a city that caters to its visitors needs and provides services round the clock, unconfined to the standard 9-5. I think that is a huge portion of Vegas’ appeal to me nowadays. I can sleep to whenever, stay up to whenever, eat whenever, gamble whenever, etc.

Oh, and yes, we did come back with more money than we brought!