#TheVegasILove,  Books,  Food,  Travel

Find the Best of Vegas with #TheVegasILove

Las Vegas is like an amazing rhubarb pie: the top crust is flaky and buttery, the filling is a combination of sweet, tart, and surprising. Most people who visit Las Vegas (and even some who live here), taste only the crust and, while the crust is delicious, it’s only one part of a much larger, much more satisfying whole. #TheVegasILove is about tasting the whole pie, not just the surface. #TheVegasILove is for the adventurous tourist looking for authenticity. It’s for the local looking for a deeper connection to a city that can, at times, feel isolating. But if I’m being honest, #TheVegasILove for me is a catalog of all the places, experiences, and people that remind me how lucky I am to live here.

My Story (in 200 words or less)

I’m a big city woman (I know that sounds weird, but I’m also in my 30s, so referring to myself as a ‘girl’ or ‘gal’ is just plain wrong). I’ve always lived in large cities, and I do find small-town existence charming, although in theory alone. Big city amenities are where it’s at: 24-hour service, bars open late, diverse population and food. In 2006, during my first Vegas visit, I proclaimed: “I could NEVER live here!” Well, I don’t know how it goes in your life, but when I use words like ‘never,’ my life likes to reveal to me the full extent of my foolishness as soon as possible. Five months later, I packed up my haughty exclamation and moved to Vegas.

It was not love at first sight. I missed New York. Even though Vegas likes to dress up in a sparkly big city dress, it still wears the white cotton panties of a small town. It’s taken over a decade to find my place here. But now that our affair is in full swing, now that I am head-over-heels in love, I want to tell everyone why.

The Rules of the Game (Why I Hate Amazon)

The qualifiers for #TheVegasILove are both tangible, easy to assess characteristics and elusive, hard-to-define concepts. First for the easy: shop small, shop local. The enterprises I feature are owned and managed by locals, the people who have chosen to make a life here. They contribute directly to the prosperity of our city, either through active participation in the community or simply by paying the taxes generated by their business. There’s a reason for the old “small business is the backbone of America” cliché, the symbiosis between these entities and the communities they serve helps build relationships, connections, and sustainable happiness. Mega-corporations like Amazon stamp out this happiness with convenience.

I’m well aware of Amazon’s monopolistic tendencies (especially as a writer) and the dangers of challenging them. And that is exactly why I can wholeheartedly state: I hate Amazon. There is something so special about walking into a place of business where everything on offer has been lovingly created or curated for you by the person standing right in front of you. This expert will greet you, welcome you, remember you, appreciate you.

A collector at heart, I tend to hoard inanimate objects and assign them a sentimental value. Clothes, DVDs, designer toys, art prints, business cards, the list is weird and endless. But the collection I value the most is my experiences. This brings me to the elusive qualifier of #TheVegasILove. All places, people, food, and experiences featured are memories I want to go back to time and again because they make me feel something powerful: happy, nostalgic, free, comforted, or exhilarated. I would hang them on my wall as part of my collection and look at them forever.

The Magical Unicorns (The Point)

So where are all these delightful places and experiences I keep yammering about? Right here! I’ve lined up three examples of what you can expect to be featured as #TheVegasILove.

Bookstore The Writer's Block
The Writer's Block

The Writer’s Block

Now that you know about my hatred of Amazon, you might be thinking: Veronica, where do you buy books? The answer is I don’t buy books. Being an avid reader can be taxing on your wallet as well as the real estate in your home. So I go to the library. But every now and then, an irresistible gem comes along and I must possess it, i.e. anything by Haruki Murakami. When the siren call of the page is too tempting to resist I head over to The Writer’s Block.

By the time you read this, the physical description might be moot (The Writer’s Block is moving to another location during the month of July 2018), but I’m going to chronicle it anyways for posterity’s sake. Upon entry into this East Fremont jewel, you may notice several different things. Perhaps the soothing instrumental music. Maybe the eclectic décor punctuated with slices of amber wood. Your eye might wander to the glass cases with enchanting ephemera. None of those things can compete with the enclaves of bookcases packed high, from biographies to philosophies, fiction to friction.

Co-Founders Scott and Drew are normally on hand to assist; these gentlemen are what Goodreads aspires to be. They’ve also made it their mission to foster a vibrant writing community. Educating the young through Codex workshops, creating an interview series with local writers, and hosting myriad events from book clubs to readings and signings. Their calendar is bursting with happenings that are both worthwhile and entertaining. When I think about the aforementioned symbiosis between small businesses and the communities they serve, I can think of no better example than The Writer’s Block.

Sin City Writers Group Critique
Toni K. Pacini leads a Sin City Writers Group meeting.

Sin City Writers Group

Anyone who knows me knows I have the confidence of a mediocre white man—there are very few places where I don’t feel I deserve to be. But there are very few places where I feel I belong. Minor distinction. And even if I do get that warm and fuzzy feeling it’s only after some time and/or effort. Sin City Writers Group is the first place I’ve felt immediate comfort. To those of you unfamiliar with writing critique groups here’s a crash course: writers only get so far revising their own work, a critique group can provide essential constructive criticism taking your writing to the next level.

What I didn’t realize when I walked into my first ever critique group, was that I’d find a home. As with any group of people, workplace or otherwise, the tone is set by the leader. Toni K. Pacini, who founded Sin City Writers Group, goes out of her way to create an environment that’s not only welcoming and nurturing but also fun. On so many occasions in Vegas (and in general), I felt I wasn’t cool enough, smart enough, pretty enough to belong. Meeting fellow writers who are: weird, funny, and obsessed with words, meant I found a place where just being me was enough to fit in.

Chef Mio Raku Sweets Dessert
Chef Mio of Raku Sweets prepping the Mars dessert

Raku Sweets

Though the savory options at Raku Sweets are tempting (they feature simple, but high-quality ingredients), it’s the dessert menu which is worthy of a golden idol degree of adulation. Each item displays a level of crafts(wo)manship that delights the eyes, the tongue, the nose, and the stomach. The offerings are seasonal, so you might encounter different variety than the one I mention below, but rest assured, your joy will not diminish.

Mt. Fuji: what looks like a symmetric mound of noodles adorned with jagged chocolate shards is, in reality, a delicate study in flavor. The ‘noodles’ consist of a smooth chestnut crème, an underrated dessert flavor that is equal parts tenderly sweet and texturally decadent. Plunging your spoon below the chestnut roof, you will find a fluffy gossamer cloud of real whipped cream. As in cream that has been properly whipped into a velvety pillow. The bottom of this lush treat is a sponge cake that acts as the perfect, sturdy but moist vehicle for the exquisite layers above. When all three textures and flavors mingle on the spoon it creates a perfectly balanced bite.

Take a seat at the bar for the ultimate experience. Watch as the seemingly disparate components of your dessert come together at the masterful hands of Chef Mio Ogasawara or one of her talented assistants. A study in synergy, each delicious piece of the puzzle fits in to form sweet perfection, all the while the ambrosial aroma prepares you for the pleasure to come. Visits to Raku Sweets are not frequent, excellence does not come cheap, but every single time I’ve left this establishment feeling not just satisfied, but inspired. Inspired to attempt even just a little bit of that same awe-inducing integrity in my own endeavors.

Where is the Vegas You Love?

Besides being located in Las Vegas, the three places I've presented have something much more important in common. Each enterprise is fueled by the love of the person/people behind it. I can’t wait to share all the many flaky, buttery, tart, and sweet layers of my favorite pie with you through the #TheVegasILove. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see the latest updates. Let me know what you think in the comments, what/who would you like to see featured? Where is the Vegas you love?