The Grand Canyon

Now I know that you all think of Las Vegas as a fun place with great hotels, restaurants and casinos.  Mel and I haven’t been there since 1974.  It’s changed! We were taking my sister Georgia and her Italian architect partner of 15 years on a trip to the Grand Canyon so we all flew from Boston to Las Vegas to drive the 750 miles through this magnificent corner of our country to end up in Phoenix for some wine business and sales meeting.

We arrived at what one could only describe as a 5-block village that called itself Caesar’s Palace.  Joe, the 65-odd year old valet, beamed at us as if he recognized us (he didn’t) and told us that he’d been there since 1970.  Mel asked him where the entrance was.  He told us that the ¼ mile long cobbled square surrounded by Roman statues and fountains was it.  We walked through the massive row of double doors and walked quickly out again.

“Where the hell is the reception?” asked Mel.

“Through the casino,” replied Joe. Everything in Vegas is “through the casino”!  And so we trundled into what Mel described as the pit at the bottom of Dante’s Inferno.  A mile or two passed slots and roulette tables ahead of us was a reception looking like the desk at the Southwest airlines check in counter on July 4th.  We stood in line for a half hour.  Our rooms were another mile or so through 3 more casinos interspersed with famous restaurant names like Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, Spago, Nobu, Gordon Ramsay, et al.

That evening we had tickets to see Le Cirque de Soleil’s Zakana show which blew our minds and made the visit to Dante’s Inferno all worth while. We followed that with dinner at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill (he had worked for Mel as a line cook back at Jams in the 80’s!).  As we walked the mile or so to our rooms,  Mel commented that there were no windows or clocks and that the only way folks could tell what time it was, was by checking out the age of the prostitutes – the more ancient the later it was!

Early next morning we FLED to the Grand Canyon!

Janie Grand Canyon

We drove through the awe-inspiring Zion national park to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and hiked for ½ mile in gale winds to the outward rim.  Both Mel and Georgio held onto their balls the whole way as they both had dreadful vertigo and clung onto the walls of the precipitous 24-inch rocky path the whole way – so brave.  The north rim is ever so much more wild with hardly any tourists and the views are AWESOME. Everyone goes to South rim but go the North rim…much better!

Janie and Friend Grand Canyon

Thrilled to be still alive after that experience we drove on and on through Utah’s cowboy film panoramas to Flagstaff for the night.  We had booked into a steak house “with a cowboy singing cabaret sung by the staff” that we thought our British relatives would enjoy but naah!  OMG, the place was surrounded by trucks and mobile homes and everyone stopped talking when we entered. Would we be shot?  A waiter was on the tiny dirty stage singing (at least he thought it was singing) a dirge about lost love, alcoholism and despair (a country song no doubt).  We left quickly and ended up in a tiny family run restaurant where the steaks were great and the atmosphere was well…country!

The next morning we drove to gorgeous Sedona and sat on a terrace overlooking the towering red chimneys of rock surrounding the village and marveled at all the lovely adobe-style modern homes dotting the valley (mucho dinero in Sedona).  Then on and on into the dusk we drove back down from 7,000 feet through hundreds of miles of gulches, breaks, endless sagebrush plains and more smaller canyons with towering cliffs bleeding red and apricot colors in the setting sun.  The lights of Phoenix were truly welcome and we basked in the luxury of the Valley Ho hotel which is a sort of through back to the 1950’s in architecture and music but not in service and comfort!  We met up with our fabulous sales rep for the West Coast, Kristin Potter, and the manager of our local wholesaler, Pat Jasmin and enjoyed a tad too much Tortoise Creek and then on to dinner at a place called Cowboy Ciao. It is renowned for its amazing wine list and it was laid out unlike anything we had seen. It’s huge but instead of being divided into regions or styles, it was divided by price. So to find a red from Provence, you had to take a guess at what the price might be and then go through about 100 different wines between 35 and 75 dollars! It took Mel about an hour to find something but we settled on a beautiful Bandol from 2009.

Next day we had lunch with a couple of sales people at the famous Pizzeria Bianco which is indeed everything it is cracked up to be and more. It is truly outstanding pizza with all organic ingredients.  Just be warned that if you go for dinner it is a long wait as they take no reservations, It is much better to go for lunch. Their telephone number is (602) 258-8300.

Speaking of great pizza, here is Charlie’s recipe for a fantastic pizza that almost rivals Bianco’s!

Charlie’s Perfect Pizza

            1 packet (one and one half tsp) dry or fresh yeast.
            4 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
            1 level tbsp sea salt
            3 tbsp virgin olive oil
            2 tbsp raw honey
            1/2 cup milk
            ½  cup mixed fresh Provençale herbs or ¼ cup dried variety (thyme, rosemary, sweet mint, and lavender or any combo)
  1. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water with the honey. Allow to sit for 7 minutes. Warm a large bowl. Put 1 cup flour and the yeast in the bowl and mix until incorporated. Add 2 tbsp olive oil, salt, a cup more of warm water/milk mix and 2 more cups of flour alternately to make a soft but not sticky dough.
  2. Place in mixer bowl with dough hook and knead for 5 minutes until shiny. Smear with more olive oil and allow to rise in a warm place, covered with a damp towel, for about an hour until doubled in size.
  3. Punch down and lightly knead in herbs and the remaining olive oil. Allow to rise again for about 45 min or overnight in the refrigerator.
  4. Divide into 3 or 4 balls and stretch. Sprinkle a pizza stone with corn meal and lay the pizza dough on top. Cover with your favorite toppings.
  5. Bake at your oven’s hottest setting (450°-500°) 8-10 mins.