Lombardi’s at Planet Hollywood/Miracle Mile Shops

After dropping off my Mom and Grams at the airport, Nick and I took advantage of already being downtown to stop at the Miracle Mile Shops to pick up the 2012 Swarovski snowflake ornament (an annual tradition of ours).  While we were walking around the mall, we worked up an appetite and decided to stop at a little Italian place called Lombardi’s Romagna Mia.

Nick chose the whole wheat spaghetti bolognese and I had the ricotta gnocchi with baby arugula and a tomato mascarpone with white wine sauce. Both our meals were really tasty and very reasonably priced for a restaurant on the strip.

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The Best Cupcakes in Vegas

Nick and I stumbled upon a Las Vegas gem – the Retro Bakery. The bakery is run by a husband/wife team and I think it’s really neat that one of them has been there every time we’ve gone in. It’s just a friendly little shop that specializes in amazing cupcakes (way better than any of those shoddy Cupcakery cupcakes you’ll find on the strip – ick).

As a mini-anniversary celebration, and to make sure we don’t eat cupcakes every day and weigh 400 lbs, we go get cupcakes on the 18th of the month. This month I tried the ‘Coffee and Donuts,’ a vanilla cake covered in donut glaze with coffee buttercream, and Nick had the ‘Mint Chocolate Chip,’ chocolate cake topped with green mint buttercream and mini chocolate chips.

So if you’re coming to Las Vegas, I highly recommend you give Retro Bakery cupcakes a try. They even offer delivery to the Strip – deliciously convenient!

San Diego – Day 4

Nick and I were seriously underwhelmed by the San Diego Zoo. We took some good pictures and tried to make the best of it and now we can say we’ve seen pandas for realz. I really liked the reptile house with all the neat snakes and lizards. Nick’s favorite part was the petting zoo where we took some pictures with goats. (Nick really super likes goats; almost as much as penguins.) In summation, it was a pretty expensive day to do 3 hours of nonstop cardio, but we like being active.

Some interesting animal facts:

Blue Spotted Tree Monitor – First discovered in 2002. It is only found in the Batanta Island rainforest off the coast of New Guinea. In case you couldn’t tell from what’s going on in the picture above, they are part of a successful breeding program to increase their numbers.

Angolan pythons are seldom seen in the wild. They live in the dry, rocky foothills of Angola and Namibia–areas that are remote and mostly unpopulated. Only a very few of them have been exported for scientific and educational purposes.

This two-headed California King snake would have been twins, but the embryo didn’t split all the way.

San Diego – Day 3

Sea World San Diego is freaking awesome! In addition to all the regular park attractions, we booked the “Penguins Up Close” tour. It included extra information about the research being done on the penguins, the chance to touch a Macaroni penguin and access to the inside of the 26 degree penguin exhibit that housed Gentoo, Adelie, Macaroni, King and Emperor penguins. It was AMAZING!

Penguins have 70 feathers per square inch! (A flamingo has 10 feathers per square inch.) It’s what keeps them dry and warm when they’re swimming in Antarctic waters.

These are baby penguin feathers. They were so downy and soft! I wish we could interact with a baby penguin – they are so squee!

More awesomeness around Sea World:

There was a new roller coaster called The Manta that we rode twice because it was fun and exciting while also being comfortable! The exit led to a bat ray touch pool. Rays feels so slimy and squishy and neat.

Sea turtles are a favorite of mine:

We had fun at the Tide Pool:

I still want to swim with sharks:

Wolf eels are pretty gross looking:

The reef stonefish is known as the world’s most venomous fish. Rather than swim away when disturbed, the stonefish will raise its dorsal spines for protection. These spines inject highly toxic venom which leads to severe pain, as well as possible shock, paralysis, and even fatality.

And last, but not least, the whale show is pretty awesome.

San Diego – Day 2

We went to Balboa Park today and the items on our agenda were the Botanical Building and the Model Railroad Museum. We also moseyed on over to the Rose Garden and the Cactus Garden. (We had to leave the Nevada desert to see a cactus garden?)

The Botanical Building

The botanical building and lily pond is one of the most photographed areas in San Diego, so we decided to grace the area with some kissies.

We both took pictures with an orchid inside the building.

The goldfish plant is runner up in the “Coolest Plant” contest.

The pitcher plant wins the “Coolest Plant” designation.

These plants grow primarily in Southeast Asia, with many species coming from the island of Borneo. All carnivorous plants grow in areas where the soil/bark/leaf litter is so devoid of nutrients that the plants must supplement their diets with insects and animals. The pitchers have an intoxicating nectar around the edge to attract various small creatures who feast on the nectar and fall inside, where digestive acids and enzymes dissolve the soft body parts, and the resulting nutrient “soup” is absorbed by the plant.

We also spotted a hummingbird flitting around from flower to flower getting totally nectar wasted (not pitcher plant nectar wasted, though).

And because my Grams is totally obsessed with flowers, here are the rest of the flower pictures we took inside:

Model Railroad Museum

San Diego is home to the largest model railroad museum in the United States! This was a must-see for Nick, and even though I wouldn’t claim to be a model RR enthusiast, it was still pretty neat to see all of the intricate details that go into creating landscapes and towns.

Some of my favorites:

This is supposed to be Tijuana. Note the barbed wire topped fence in the background marking the border – lol!

This tiny carnival. Where do you buy tiny carnival pieces?

This intricate trestle. Also, this train had cars that each represented a different beer, which was kind of neat.

A fun Halloween themed area:

A replica of our future summer home on the lake ;)

A teeny tiny model train inside the model train area:

Here’s a video of a train in action:

And the rest of the photos we took:

Cactus Garden

This historic garden was developed under the direction of Kate Sessions for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. It contains some of the largest cactus and succulent specimens in the Park and has also been developed to include the exotic African and Australian Protea plants.

Yep, there were a lot of large cacti.

Rose Garden

The rose garden has approximately 2500 roses and almost 200 varieties. It smelled wonderful!

San Diego – Day 1

Nick and I made awesome time and made it to San Diego in only 5 hours. After we checked in to our hotel on the bay, we made the less than half mile walk over to the USS Midway, the decommissioned aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum. Obviously, it’s enormous. What I didn’t know is practically the entire thing is open to the public and part of the “museum.” We were here for over 3 hours.

Things we learned:

  • Wear comfortable shoes it’s enormous. Also, try not to visit when San Diego is experiencing a mini heat wave.


  •  Being an enlisted-man lends to unfortunate living quarters

  • Being an officer is only slightly better in terms of bunk space

  • The XO (Executive Officer) definitely has the best room that even includes a sitting area/office!

  • This is probably where the Village People got inspiration for “In the Navy”

  • Nick likes taking pictures of me in the kitchen

  • Being an engineer is the worst. The best outcome is you end up deaf from the constant noise from the equipment. Decorating steam turbines is apparently supposed to help raise morale

  • The planes (and helicopters) are the coolest part

*Fun side story – 10 seconds before we took this picture, some lady walked right into this propeller (and was not injured, so we didn’t even have to feel bad when we laughed)

F-14 Tomcat, the type used in Top Gun

SH-3 Sea King Anti-Submarine helicopter (I didn’t even know anti-submarine helicopters existed)

  • Aircraft carriers have come a long way. These are models of the very first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (on the right) and a modern day aircraft carrier, USS Gerald Ford. The USS Midway, when first commissioned after WWII, used to have just a rectangular flight deck. It went through multiple “modernizations” to end up how it is today. The deck area that sticks out makes it possible for planes to land and take off at the same time.

  • Nick’s arms are long enough so that we can take pictures of ourselves with the DSLR

After walking around the USS Midway for 3 hours and then back to our hotel, we decided to  try the Ruth’s Chris that is directly next door to the hotel. Things we learned at the restaurant:

  • Ruth’s Chris is incredibly overpriced for being mediocre
  • Don’t touch the 500 degree plates. (They are literally 500 degrees and you will burn yourself.)


Nick and I treated ourselves to an amazing dinner at Michael Mina’s STRIPSTEAK at Mandalay Bay (while also working on our 101 list item of eating at 18 different restaurants on the Strip).

Our meal started with duck fat fries (as a ‘contemporary’ replacement to a steakhouse’s standard bread basket) served 3 ways:

  1. Old bay dusted with whole grain mustard sauce
  2. Garlic and herb with ketchup
  3. Truffle dusted with truffle aioli

In case you couldn’t tell from Nick’s thumbs up, we liked them. Now, on to the really good stuff. We each ordered an appetizer. Nick had the Caesar salad.

I was slightly more adventurous with the Maryland Blue crab cakes with lemon bearnaise mousseline that was listed on the menu as coming with an asparagus salad and ended up coming out with a frisee, but I wasn’t complaining. The crab cakes were so incredibly light.

For our entree, we each ordered steak and shared two sides.  The bacon roasted mushrooms proved to me that there exists a food containing bacon that can end up being not delicious. Would not order again. They had an odd texture and were overly seasoned, masking the awesomeness that is edible fungi.

The potato puree trio, on the other hand, was delicious. Nick’s favorite potato form is extra smooth and creamy (i.e pureed or whipped) so it was already a win. From left to right, they are: sour cream & onion, lobster, and horseradish.

I had the 10oz filet. It was perfectly cooked and seasoned. It was incredibly tender. My knife cut through it like hot butter.

However, Nick let me try a piece of his 30oz Porterhouse (whoa big daddy!) and it was AMAZING. We both agreed it was the best steak we’d ever had.

Cows beware – Nick will end you! This is the aftermath:

We took a gander at the dessert menu and as soon as Nick saw “Bittersweet Chocolate Cake” it was over.

That’s a cherry-port compote on the side, along with a little quenelled vanilla ice cream, and the richest, fudgiest chocolate cake I’ve ever tried. It may have looked like a cake, but that thing tasted like a fudge bar. Nick liked it so much, he actually tried to savor it. It was the slowest I have ever seen him eat anything.

Museum Day!

Nick and I hit out some more items on our 101 list on his latest off day. The forecast was for 100+ degree weather and over 25% humidity, so we decided to take care of some indoor items – Las Vegas Natural History Museum, Bodies…The Exhibition and Shark Reef Aquarium.

The Natural History Museum was…underwhelming. Nick and I are completely spoiled when it comes to museums since we grew up by Chicago and had access to The Field Museum, The Museum of Science and Industry (our first date!), Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium. Las Vegas isn’t exactly a cultured city, but we still had fun.

There was a traveling exhibit titled, “EWW! What’s Eating You?” that focused on parasites. It was incredibly disappointing as each section was narrated by Carrot Top (Who thought that was a good idea?); it was poorly executed as each section only had these video narrations for information (not too many signs to read) and it was difficult to hear the information since the sections were too close to one another and the volume was far too loud so it just became a bumbling Carrot Top mess whenever any of the other guests activated a video near us. The only highlights were Parasite Pinball (which wasn’t calibrated correctly):

and the Colon Crawl (that’s exactly where this whole exhibit should have gone):

There was a marine life section that included this gross looking frogfish:

and these cute Red Ear Slider Turtles (I have some experience with this species from my fishing days and I’ve entered a few in Hebron’s 4th of July Turtle Race. Alas, I never achieved my Uncle’s feat of having the Grand Master Champion turtle winner):

Nick got excited over a Narwhal tusk:

We saw the remains of the Dino Croc v Mega Shark Battle:

There were two pythons that I’m pretty sure were mating. Those pics are too hot for this blog.

Next was the dinosaur area, where we learned the Ichthyosaur Shonisaurus is Nevada’s state fossil (the fossil, not surprisingly, is not at this museum). Nick called this Deinonychus a “Nightmare Turkey”

Then he demonstrated how the dinosaurs became extinct. Scientists, you can stop theorizing how that happened:

We traveled to Africa via magic elevator – way cheaper than a flight to Capetown or something:

We “learned” lions make leaping takedowns on a variety of animals,

Rhino racist stereotypes are still a problem,

and Nick and a Cape Buffalo had beef, so he took care of it.

Then we went back in time to ancient Egypt where I walked like an Egyptian,

Tried to make my hair Giorgio Tsoukalos-esque to explain weird depictions of people with elongated skulls were due to ALIENS:

Nick demonstrated how to be a good Egyptian worker (those buckets were actually kind of heavy!)

Here’s a bonus pic while we were on our way out. Moose Nick is Moose-y:

Our next stop was Bodies…The Exhibition at Luxor, where photos weren’t allowed, but here’s a blurb from the website in case you don’t know what it is:

BODIES…The Exhibition provides an intimate and informative view into the human body. Using an innovative preservation process, the Exhibition allows you to see and celebrate your body’s inner beauty in ways you never dreamed possible. Over 200 actual human bodies and specimens, meticulously dissected and respectfully displayed, offer an unprecedented and wholly unique look into your amazing body. Come explore, experience and celebrate the wonder of the human form.

We really enjoyed the exhibit. The preserved bodies were so interesting – Nick even considered breaking the rules and sneaking a picture!! In case you were unaware, Nick is the biggest rule follower EVER.

Then it was a quick walk over to Mandalay Bay and their Shark Reef Aquarium. The first section was reptiles. There was this lonely looking Golden Crocodile

a sleepy python:

a Komodo Dragon that appeared to be napping when we walked up. Then Nick walked up to the glass stating, “Whatever, I could take that thing.” At that point, the Komodo Dragon stood up and looked right at Nick, prompting him to say “Come at me, bro,” entertaining the people around us. Goofy

There was a touching pond that had various rays and some horseshoe crabs (Did you know horseshoe crabs are used to manufacture sutures for burn victims?) Nick said they felt, “Weird.” – eloquent

There was an octopus that was housed with some giant starfish:

Jellyfish were displayed in a huge cylindrical tank. The jellyfish lifecycle is interesting.

Of course, there are sharks:

There is a Swim with the Sharks program here that might just inspire me to get SCUBA certified.

Then we had some fun with the Shark Reef promo posters outside:

 (Nick’s arm looks mega beast mode in that pic, right?!)

We ended our day at STRIPSTEAK, but that’s a whole other blog post.

My Birthday

My birthday this year was pretty amazing. Nick started it off wonderfully by letting me sleep in, followed by a dual-effort of French toast (since Nick is not exactly culinary-inclined). Then it was off for a nice pedicure before hitting what ended up being a ghetto mall. Nick bought me two perfumes I’ve been eyeing for a while – Ralph Lauren Romance and Burberry Brit (Nick’s favorite) and I of course received my free Sephora birthday gift, which was quite stingy in size compared to the gift last year. What’s up with that, Sephora?

Nick had made reservations at Society Cafe at Encore for dinner and it was delicious! I had a birthday cocktail that had a hibiscus pod in it. It was pretty and delicious! We started with an appetizer of fried rock shrimp and calamari served with zucchini chips and an aioli. For entree, I chose seared scallops with an English pea puree and pea shoots. They were cooked perfectly! Nick, of course, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat some type of cow product and chose the 8oz filet that came with a ‘potato and bacon cake’ which was essentially a molded hash. Nick says it was “delicious” and I would have to agree. I’m pretty sure the filet was seared in bacon drippings, so how could you go wrong with that? We also shared two of the most delicious sides I’ve ever eaten –  roasted mushrooms & cipolinni onions and truffle mashed potatoes. Nick eschewed his hash cake  in favor of the truffled potatoes ;)

Then it was off to the Wynn Theater to see Le Reve.

LE RÊVE – THE DREAM, presented exclusively at Wynn Las Vegas, offers breathtaking performances in an intimate aqua theater-in-the-round. The show features aerial acrobatics, provocative choreography and artistic artistry.

The cast of 93 captures the imagination with daring feats of strength and agility. Live music and special effects immerse the audience into a world of fantasy, adventure and intrigue.

The “stage” is actually a MILLION gallon water tank and no seat is more than 40′ from the stage. Also, we has seats by one of the canals that the performers use to come in and out of the performance area so we were extra close to them at times. In fact one of the ‘dream demons’ came and sat by us giving us creepy stares for part of the show! The show doesn’t have much of a story. The central character is female; she has a bunch of dreams; some involve what I suppose is her lover/boyfriend(?). Anyways, the show isn’t so much about a central story as it is a bunch of mini stories that are supposed to transport you to other worlds. Oh, and it is jam packed with amazing acrobatics as well as ballroom dancing (in water, of course). We loved it. One of my favorite acrobatic shows on the strip (along with the Cirque du Soleil shows Zumanity and O, which also takes place in a giant pool of water).