Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gluten Free in Las Vegas: Encore/Wynn & Palazzo/Venetian

Earlier this month I went on my first real trip since going gluten-free, excluding travel to visit family. All in all it turned out great. Here are some of the ups and downs:

Pictured: funnel cakes from SW Steakhouse. Highly glutenous. But even if I couldn't eat them (or inhale too deeply around them) they're worth showing.

Airports: I haven't yet cracked this problem aside from bringing enough food with me to tide me over, and that's just barely. I love my peanut butter cups, but not enough to keep me going through 12 hours of flights and delays. I've noticed a few coffee shops and smoothie places and the like that sell fresh fruit, which helps. But it's easy when traveling to end up at an airport you hadn't planned on surrounded by eateries you've never heard of, and an hour before getting on a plane is pretty much my worst nightmare when it comes to times to have a gluten reaction.

Encore room service: This was the first thing we tried when we got there. We were assured before we arrived that all of the restaurants at Encore were equipped to handle requests for gluten-free food. I called the concierge when we got to our room and was reassured that I could just call room service and they'd figure it out. So I did. After a bit of stumbling over how to ask, I ended up on the "allergy" keyword, which brought us to a set of menus arranged according to allergies. They sent that up to the room, at which point I started panicking.

Under each allergy was listed a handful of items, some of which could be cobbled together to form a meal, some not so much. Under "glutin" (sic) there were a couple of fish dishes, some appetizers, and a cheese tray. No chicken, no steak, no meat of any kind outside of fish. Curiously, the steak wasn't even listed as safe for those with fish allergies, which struck me as a bit odd -- maybe cooked on the same grill? In any event, it was starting to look like it was going to be a long few days. Hoping for a bit more variety, we started calling restaurants, which led us to...

SW Steakhouse (Wynn): This was a 100% different experience from trying for room service. We sat down, informed the waiter, and he told me I could order nearly anything on the menu and it would be modified to be gluten-free and cooked in a separate area. I settled on a filet mignon with a side of tater tots (seriously), which, alas, were among the handful of items on the menu that couldn't be made gluten-free. So I ended up with fries instead. I believe I had dessert options here as well, but wasn't exactly feeling up for it after ingesting over half a pound of steak. Because she secretly hates me, my wife ordered the funnel cakes, which turned out to be one of the great dessert experiences of her life. We ended up back here on our last night on the basis of those funnel cakes alone.

This place was pricey, but you also get at least three shows with your meal: 1) the shows projected on the lake of dreams; 2) trying to figure out who's there because they're treating themselves on vaction, who's just that rich that they do this all the time, and who's expensing it; and 3) watching people polish off 20 ounce bone-in ribeyes without looking the least bit uncomfortable after consuming over a pound of meat. This place attracts that sort.

Canyon Ranch Cafe & Grill (Venetian): Another winner. I managed to pick something off the menu that I think was actually naturally gluten-free, or at least trivially adapted, (chicken with peanut sauce), so I ended up with a pretty complete dish. This place was a little tricky to find -- down a number of long hallways that had an "employees only" feel -- but worth the trip.

Grand Lux Cafe (Palazzo): Huge menu here. In general, the wait staff won't be aware of the gluten-status of any particular item, but asking for a manager will get things sorted. Our waiter was able to handle the request himself, though. I picked what I wanted off of the menu, he went back and checked if it could be done, and came back to let me know the head chef was working on it.

Society Cafe Encore: This became our breakfast spot. Breakfast in restaurants is a bit tricky for me -- gluten is out for sure and eggs may be problematic as well. Here, though, I was able to put together a version of my go-to breakfast at home: canadian bacon and breakfast potatoes. There was a bit of a snafu here on the second day when the waiter thought that there was flour in the potatoes (after I'd had them the first day!), but it turned out they had changed the way they were prepared since opening the restaurant and the new ones were fine.

Terrace Point Cafe (Wynn): We stopped here for breakfast, asked for the gluten-free menu, and got something similar to the room service menu. I believe the only two gluten-free options listed were fruit platters. So off we went.

Sundries shops (Wynn & Encore): I didn't expect to find much here, but was quite surprised to find some good backup foods -- tostitos, etc, as well as some energy bars explicitly labeled as gluten-free.

Sugar & Ice (Wynn): The sorbet here is gluten and dairy free, and totally hits the spot as dehydrated as that place can make you.

All in all, the trip turned out better than I'd expected, and I wouldn't hesitate to go back.