TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF - CHARLIE PALMER - Visiting Vegas with Charlie

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AWARD-WINNING CHEF, HOTELIER AND ENTREPRENEUR

As a chef who happily lent a hand in the development of Las Vegas as a dining destination, one of the best parts of my job is acting as host to visitors, not only in my restaurants, but also by sharing the other remarkable attractions this town has to offer.  Beyond the casinos and luxurious hotel amenities of pools and spas, there’s a lot to do here. 

With all the development that turned Vegas into a modern urban center known as “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” it’s easy to forget that we’re in the middle of the desert.  But if you want to experience the natural beauty of this subtropical desert climate zone, just travel about ten miles off the strip to Henderson, home to one of the largest botanical cactus gardens in the world.  The 3-acre garden is part of the Ethel M Chocolates factory (located at 2 Cactus Garden Drive • 800-471-0352), which you can also tour.  It’s a family-owned and operated business, where hand-packed, small-batch chocolates are made from a century-old family recipe, which Forrest E. Mars inherited from his mother, Ethel.  (If the Mars name in chocolate sounds familiar, it’s because Forrest and his father, Frank, also created the Milky Way bar in 1923.)  There are two spectacular times of the year to visit the garden, which features more than 300 types of cactus: late spring when the flowers begin to bloom, and during the holidays when the garden is alive with more than half a million lights.  It’s a seasonal must-see, just like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

Lights are a big part of Vegas history, and at the Neon Museum (located at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North • 702-387-6366) you can take a guided tour through several acres of un-restored neon signs and metal remnants from the city’s great historical locations, including the iconic signage from Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo, Howard Hughes’ Desert Inn, the 1955 Moulin Rouge, and the gold lamp that once marked the Aladdin casino (where Elvis Presley married Priscilla in 1967).  Neon signs are this city’s native art form, and there’s no better look at what was once the blazing beauty of old Vegas than in what was nicknamed the “Neon Boneyard.”  Even the visitors’ center is a period piece:  the transplanted and restored retro-futuristic lobby of the La Concha Motel, designed in the early ‘60s by Paul Williams, who was on the team behind the landmark mid-century modern “Googie”-architectural theme building at Los Angeles International Airport (where the famous intergalactic-themed Encounter bar is located). 

Vintage cookbook lovers get lucky in Vegas at Amber Unicorn (located at 2101 South Decatur Blvd. • 702-648-9303), a used bookstore in a strip mall.  But don’t let that unassuming location fool you:  Owners Myna and Lou Donato have put together a world-class collection of over 20,000 cookbooks, including many rare titles and first editions.  Older cookbooks are valuable because they give us the story behind the recipe, explaining the why, when and how a dish fit into people’s lives.  That’s why those of us who collect vintage cookbooks read them like historical novels – because they provide a window into kitchens of the past.  Charlie

Charlie Palmer Steak • The Four Seasons Hotel. • 702.632.5120 • CharliePalmer.com 

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