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We're Going To Michaels!

At least, I was under that impression before our Uber started heading in the entirely opposite direction.

Initiate fight or flight mode (this is really how it ends – our Uber driver is going to kidnap us and sell us into a sex trafficking ring and my dog will be motherless, roaming the halls, okay fine just the one hall, of our home for the rest of his days). Charity said what I was thinking out loud, “You’re taking us to Michael’s, right?”

It certainly seemed as much. The GPS was showing us on pace to reach Michael’s in 15 minutes. Even though I had never been to Old Vegas in my previous trips, I knew that the way we were headed was not in that direction, which was where Michael’s was, or so we thought.

Quick rewind: after agreeing to attend a dance fitness weekend with Charity in Las Vegas, we naturally procrastinated making reservations for dinner until arriving at the hotel. She had mentioned Michael’s as an incredible restaurant where she and some other friends had dined the last time she was in Vegas, and I was all about it, so I called them up to make a reservation for that evening. Luckily, they had an opening at 5 PM.

“We’re going to Michaels!!!” Charity texted to Lisa when we first stepped into the Uber. Lisa had found the restaurant several months ago. She had even responded to Charity’s text with multiple exclamation points, so as we stepped into the cab to head to Old Vegas, we were quite surprised when the Uber driver started heading fast in the wrong way.

Back to our panicked Uber driver. He so graciously yet adamantly assured us that we were indeed headed to Michael’s at Southpoint Casino, basically a straight shot down Highway 15, but absolutely in the opposite direction of Fremont. It was at this point that we realized wherever we were going was 100% not the location where Charity and friends had dined previously, and an old familiar mischievous delight soon took the place of my initial jolt of cortisol.

We’re going to some random casino on the outskirts of Vegas to eat at what looks like a decidedly fancy joint (the kind with no prices on the online menu). Being the adventurous, tastefully reckless women that we are, we submitted ourselves fully to the journey.

The casino looked nice enough as our Uber pulled up to the drop-off area, though upon entering, we again wondered if we were in the correct place. The interior of Southpoint Casino just doesn’t boast the trappings of opulence that the Michael’s website emitted, let’s just say. Also, we’re ten minutes late and have no idea where to find Michael’s in the casino.

Fortunately, our Vegas luck pointed us in the correct direction, and we giddily approached the foreboding gates of Michael’s Gourmet Room. There’s no turning back now.

A brief moment of shock and excitement took over as we crossed the threshold into a mostly empty, darkly-lit room. As the maître d' escorted us to our private booth, cloaked in fine red velvet and enormous enough to accommodate a full lifeboat of Titanic passengers, I fixed my sight upon the stained glass dome and fixtures reminiscent of the doomed ship itself.

We did not just take our seats. From out of nowhere, seemingly, a team of emergency seating responders enveloped us and performed a complicated table-turning ritual, easing (I think) our transition into the expansive booth. Before we could set our jackets and purses down, we were locked in and presented with an enticing platter of olives, crackers, dips, and dippables, flanked by a mysterious basket draped with linens.

The server’s offer of “May I fetch you a drink, ladies?” pierced our initial stupor. There was no beverage menu present, and yet, it seemed as though a bottle was already on its way. Charity ordered a glass of red wine, and I ordered a mocktail, which were promptly brought to us and set upon the table with meticulous care.

You are correct in assuming that the menus were (a) large and (b) heavy. Charity and I looked at one another before opening them and avowed, “We’re here, so we might as well enjoy ourselves to the full…HOLY FUCK, A SALAD COSTS $39!!!”

As we surveyed the menu – or rather, imitated the act of surveying the menu while dropping deeper into a state of disbelief at the prices of the entrees – we reiterated our commitment to Michael’s as if huddled atop a tiny iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, convincing ourselves with desperate prayers that a rescue vessel would soon appear.

It is in moments like these where I sometimes doubt myself; yet, I eventually got it together to devise a strategy. “I’m not going to be that millennial who waltzes in and orders ‘just a salad, thanks’ while mooching off the free (?) appetizer,” I declared. To myself. Deciding that a $100+ eight-ounce steak might be over the top, especially if we’d be going to wherever the actual Michael’s steakhouse would be when we discovered its actual name, I opted for a middle-of-the-road veal dish topping out at $70. And a salad. And an I-just-might attitude toward dessert. Charity ordered the lamb, and we sighed our first sigh of relief when the horde of servers finally let us be. Or so we thought.

Upon unfolding the linen inside the basket on our table, I was elated to find at least ten oversized pitas. I selected the finest one and set about breaking it into little pieces like a toddler to dip into all the fantastic dips before us, leaving the pitas uncovered in anticipation that more would be consumed.

No sooner than I remarked, “Wouldn’t it be funny if the server came over and tucked the pitas back into their…” did one subtly amble over to our booth and do just that. He may have even told a brief bedtime story and kissed them goodnight. I wouldn’t know, as my eyes flipped back into my head like a slot machine on crack.

Soon afterward, our salads arrived. Kind of. A team of three able-bodied yet frightened-looking servers wheeled a sizeable wooden cart to the front of our table, where a gentleman set about preparing our salads with all the torturous energy of an amateur chef on Chopped. You’re damned right we wanted fresh cracked pepper with that.

How pleased we were when the first bites of the greens lived up to a standard of excellence. Perhaps not a $39 standard of excellence, but it tasted fresh and bright, so we at least knew that we weren’t getting duped.

As we savored the morsels of our elegantly-concocted salads, we noticed yet another server approach our table like a phantom hovering over one’s bed at night, preparing to engage in a haunting ritual. It truly was as if everything kicked into slow motion as we watched him reach…over…Charity’s…plate…and…toward…mine…with a small pair of tongs.

Carefully…and with utmost precision…the server grasped the stem of my recently consumed pepperoncini with his tongs…and removed it from my appetizer plate.

“Oh…yes…” I believe I uttered, as I turned my head to the side and tapped into the deepest depths of my etiquette reserve to not spit the entire gulp of water out onto the table.

There was no way that the server didn’t hear us cackling as he walked away with the discarded pepperoncini stem in tow, and I dared not pluck any other stemmed eatables from the appetizer tray for fear of insulting him and his cohort. At least the pitas would stay warm.

Naturally, our entrees were cooked in front of us, as well. Indeed, they did not disappoint, and we were glad we did not order accompanying sides. At this point, my senses were on high alert. We were like uninvited guests at a royal wedding, and despite our efforts to camouflage ourselves among the diners who were used to such pomp and circumstance, our servers could detect us as imposters. I braced for impact as another server floated in from the right with several large napkins. Quickly checking my lap to ensure I had placed my napkin on it, I became rigid in anticipation that this man would be so bold (yet also petrified) to tuck the napkins into my shirt.

But no. I ogled in disbelief as he gingerly draped them over my denim jacket resting next to me – innocently – in the booth.

Charity and I discussed this gesture at length. Was my jacket susceptible, like the pitas, to the cool temperature of the room? Did it defy dress code and, therefore, require covering up? I checked my bra straps to make sure they weren’t showing and wiped underneath my eyes in case a bit of mascara had become smudged, then continued shoveling cheese-covered veal scallopini into my mouth.

Eventually, we arrived at dessert. Our pupils expanded as the largest cart we had seen thus far was rolled in front of us like a Trojan horse. Three tiers of desserts stared into our souls, aching to be plated. A server began to give his spiel about the desserts, with their ingredients, portions, and respective CVs. In the middle of his declaration, he stopped abruptly to chastise one of the servers who was apparently pouring brandy incorrectly at the table next to us. He went on for a good 20 seconds berating the embarrassed server before returning to us as if there had been no interruption, which was, yes, startling.

The aside had compelled us to launch a deeper inquiry into the operations of Michael’s establishment. Clearly, the wait staff care deeply about creating an immaculate dining experience for their guests; however, a palpable sense of dread lurked beneath the refined surface of our dinner experience. What kind of show is Michael running here? Are our servers in some sort of hostage situation? Do we need to call for backup? By the time our massive slice of cheesecake made its way from the cart to our table, we had decided that this server was indeed Michael himself, or perhaps Michael’s main henchman (since Michael was likely observing everything from a dark, locked office in the back and plotting despicable ways to torture the waitstaff based on their egregious errors). Alternatively, we wondered if we had accidentally bumbled our way onto the set of an SNL parody of Nobu.

How sad we were that we could not take home our newborn cheesecake baby and uneaten meat, for our hotel room contained neither a microwave nor a fridge. As it turns out, our meal was far from over.

Upon removing our half-eaten cheesecake, the server team placed a colossal golden bowl of assorted fruits along with a plate of chocolates in front of us. Not wanting to be rude, we each consumed a dainty piece of chocolate and briefly entertained the notion of stuffing our pockets with the fruit like Aladdin in the market of Agrabah.

Finally, our checks arrived, and we took deep breaths before quickly throwing our credit cards into the volcano pit, err, checkbook, before the balance could double before our eyes.

Thus ended our evening at Michael’s, when our servers arrived to unlock us from the culinary roller coaster contraption that was our table. On the way back to the hotel, we discovered that Barry – not Michael – was the man we had intended to see. Bouncing back quickly from our payout at Michael’s, we naturally booked a reservation at Barry’s Downtown Prime. Which was absolutely in Old Vegas.

Our meal at Michael’s was, undoubtedly, the most ostentatious, outrageous, absurd, and triggering meal to which I have ever treated myself, and I don't regret a moment. In fact, I plan on returning, but next time as a clandestine investigator to uncover the inner workings of this peculiar, unforgettable establishment.

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