A Reason for the Riviera

Do you want to go out? Do you want to go out? Do you? I do if you do. Do you want to?

Why don't we go see the Titanic exhibit?

This was Mike's suggestion for what was looking to be like a very lazy Saturday afternoon. I saw the exhibit about five years ago when it was over at the Tropicana (something that Luxor rather deceptively omits in its "Big Piece" timeline, making it appear instead like the chunk of hull took a direct trip from the ocean's floor to the Strip's pyramid), but I always wanted to see it again with Mike.

On the way there, we had to debate whether to go to the fuss to stop at a ticket discounter. Okay, with either a lot of extra walking, or a lot of extra driving, we could save about $15... and as excited as I usually am to save $15 (or even a dollar), this time we decided to just pay retail, so to speak, and simply drive straight to the Luxor.

This ended up being a great idea, for once we got to the box office, I was asked if I had a library card. Yes, here it is, on my keychain. (I love that about LVCCLD, although come to think of it, since April my library card has been non-functioning until I go into a branch and do the annual prove-your-address ritual.) Oh, so now the price is $33 for two people? Very nice. (As opposed to a little over $50, with local ID, or $32-$38 at the discounter, plus either the walk to and fro or having to drive to the Peppermill one and back.)

The exhibit is recommended if you've never seen any Titanic artifacts in person before. (Not really a repeater, unless you're with someone who hasn't been.) Not a lot of new information for either of us, but it's incredible to see the recovered items. I didn't remember the promenade deck and the stars from the Tropicana, which I thought was a wonderful touch, but honestly I probably just forgot since these things seem to be, along with the touchable "iceberg," at the Pigeon Forge and Branson Titanic exhibits. (Yeah, they've got this down to a turnkey franchise, it seems.)

One thing Tropicana had that I didn't see here was a recreation of one of the ship's storage areas with some of the larger items stored (although not a car - drats), although those items may have just been rearranged into glass cases elsewhere.

It was unexpected fun to have our photo taken on the lovely recreation of the grand staircase, even though the photographer insisted that we both stand on the fifth step. (Mike is almost a foot taller than I am, and we're familiar with the effect this creates.) Alas, at the end of the exhibit, despite having braced myself for the usual unpleasantness, we discovered that fatties do not photograph well from underneath. At all. It doesn't help when you're wearing jeans and a t-shirt, either. There's a reason even regular people do the overhead shot for their MySpace profiles, okay?

I was still going to buy the photo, $4.25 being a decent price for a souvenir plus they had a special going where you get two photos for that price - pretty amazing, really, until the Asian woman behind the counter repeated, for about the sixth time and finally a great deal more slowly and with the rest of the parts of speech in the sentence, that the two photos were for twenty-five. For 25 dollars. Not $4.25. Hahaha.

No.

I have all of the usual mixed feelings about the pillaging of Titanic's wrecksite for tourism purposes. The line between sensationalizing/gawking and respectful education is pale and fidgety. I find I have to do a certain amount of "la la LA la" in my head, but not too much, because I know I'm holding up my end of the memorializing deal.

However, when we got to the gift shop, and I saw the Titanic-shaped ice cube molds.... well, yes, it's a black humour that makes me chuckle a little, but it doesn't belong here. Save it for a novelty store. The cheap piece-of-Titanic-coal necklaces and the Titanic-shaped pencil sharpeners and the "use the same kind of soap the 1st class passengers used!" souvenirs all show up somewhere on the tacky-meter, but they also speak, however lightly, of remembrance and maritime curiosity.

Making your own Titanic-shaped ice to float in the punch bowl? Inappropriate for this museum. I'm not saying the product shouldn't exist, just that it's tactless and disappointing to see it in the gift shop of a museum meant to impart the sad, sober history of the Titanic. You buy the gravy boat replica because you're caught up in the story and commercialization is part of your culture. You buy the ice cube molds because you're sitting on the sofa, not feeling connected to the tragedy, and you didn't just walk through a graveyard of dead people's hairbrushes, sheet music, and London bus tickets.

Let's just say that I was extra glad to have gotten a discount, like it was my way fining the Luxor for being a touch sleazy.

One thing they're still doing right is giving you a boarding pass with a real passenger's name on it when you enter. Mike was Frank Andrew Thomas, a Cornish tin miner with a family back home. And, as Mike put it, "a male sailing second class - I knew I didn't have a chance."

Me, I was a Parisian model, Henriette Yrois. (Yes, Wikipedia, I'm spelling that right, no matter what you say.) I was traveling with my married lover, filmmaker William Harbeck, who was making the movie of Titanic's inaugural sailing. I played a lot of solitaire while William watched, and of me there is no further account... for I perished as well. My body wasn't (knowingly) retrieved, but William's was, and he was holding my purse. What's up with that, William? And we only know it was my purse because a mysterious, to this day unknown person identified the purse to the authorities.

A life-affirming activity, like dinner, was now in order. We walked around the shopping area between Luxor and Mandalay Bay looking for possibilities, but meh. Trendy. Boring. Repeat. (Although I must ask - what is with the Kwik-E-Mart hot dogs at the gelato stand? Ew.)

Hey, what about that new Indian place? The one inside the Riviera food court?

Okay, perhaps it's a sign of my foolish love for Indian cuisine, but I'm not joking. Worse, here's how we heard of it: One, I decide to look up which restaurants have received demerits from the health department. Two, I see "India Masala" listed under restaurants recently reinspected and receiving an "A." Three, I drop my jaw. There's a new Indian place?

So, we headed to the very discount ticket booth that we'd eschewed before, the one in the Peppermill parking lot, the one that I used to say was in the Morocco parking lot. Now you can twirl in the darkness over the smooth, black asphalt where the Morocco used to be. We never knew it as a casino, but we always honored its ghosts when passing the souvenir stand it had become. Now we honor the memory of the one time we stepped inside to buy a Cherry Pepsi.

Bulbs like Hair Curlers

By the discount ticketers, there are about four spots that won't get you towed. Don't park in the Peppermill lot. Don't park behind the Grand Canyon tours. Park behind the half-price ticket place, but only in the bays that don't have towing signs. Perhaps this is an oversight, and now I've just killed a great little trick, but the only reason you'd want to park there is to either buy tickets or hop through the side door of the Riviera and straight into the food court, so maybe they don't mind. 

Or you can just park in the Riviera parking garage, but those older Strip casino garages... with the narrow ramps and the sharp corners and the people who race through at highway speeds, plus the grim stairwells and piss-soaked corners... best avoided, in my book.

All photos were taken with my cruddy camera phone, because I didn't know we'd be going anywhere other than the Titanic exhibit (which doesn't allow photography).

Mike in Front of Riviera

Terrible photo of Mike in front of the Riviera, specifically the food court entrance, yet still better than the grand staircase photo. Jeepers.

Our first reaction of the food court was "this isn't too bad, considering." After standing around and waiting 15 minutes for our food, my skin was crawling with the feeling that everyone around me had consumption and poo-flecked hands. It took three tries to find a clean table. I asked Mike if he would please steal straws from another establishment, one that offered them wrapped and not loose in a box.

But, when we left, I was back to thinking that it wasn't so bad, and we would certainly come back under certain conditions. So, on to the actual review of India Masala.

Some reviews on line will have you believe that this is a restaurant "on the edge of the food court." No, India Masala is just another place in the food court, and it happens to be on the edge. Here is the counter that it shares with Big Burger:

Next to Big Burger 

It also shares employees with Big Burger. Make of that what you will. Just like Starbucks' lawyers might want to make something out of the fact that Big Burger sells "Frappuccinos."

Rogue Frappuccino

(Again, apologies for the cruddy shots.)

Speaking of menus and prices, of you see a menu online with prices for India Masala, it's probably wrong. The menu I saw online was the same one that you can take from in front of their cash register, and most prices seem to have gone up at least a dollar a dish since it was printed. Here is our receipt:

India Masala - Receipt Total

The $29 gave us pause. For that price, we could go to Mt. Everest or Tamba for a really delicious buffet, get to try a variety of things/courses, and get to have all we wanted - especially drink refills. (We always get water at Indian buffet or when getting a regular Indian dinner, so having to pay for drinks, and not having refills, does change the experience a little.)

But "it's a notch," we told each other. Plus, if it was good, it would be an alternative to what we usually pay for a sit-down Indian dinner. Sure, the water is free, but there is still the gratuity, the appetizers, etc. We thought about getting some samosas at India Masala, but the food court atmosphere doesn't really lend itself to a leisurely, indulgent meal.

The employees at India Masala were very nice. That said, I did have to remind them to return my credit card, and then later I had to remind them that we had ordered drinks. I also had to point to the specific nozzle of the soft drink dispenser to explain what I meant by "two Mr. Pibbs." But, they were nice, so who cares? Better than the ticket-taker at Titanic who just mumbled the instructions as he stared past us, and who mindlessly jabbed two boarding passes in my general direction. (So, in addition to being Henriette Yrois, I was also shadowed by first class passenger Mrs. James Warburton Martinez Cardeza, aka Charlotte Wardle Drake, big game hunter.)

Here's Mike, waiting for our food. You can also see two Indian gentlemen who've just come from inquiring about the wait. They were the only people other than us who had ordered (much to Mike's disappointment as he watched the ongoing traffic to and from Big Burger), and they had a pretty big takeout order, so perhaps this was the cause of the delay.

Mike at India Masala

We mentally staked out a place at a table to the side, away from the central throng. However, there is a section closer to the street doors with some nice booths that I would prefer for next time. This time, our seating looked like this:

Private End of Food Court

Go left, and you'll hit the arcade. Go through that entranceway, and you'll hit some slots.

When our food arrived, we were oooh-ahhh over the size of the naan.

Mike's Plate - Butter Chicken

That's Mike's butter chicken. "Hmm, I guess I see some meat in there." Then after, he dipped in his fork, "Oh, it's deeper than it looks." He had no further complaints, so I guess there was plenty of chicken hiding in the sauce after all.

I went with the shahi paneer, which they should rename the shari paneer, because it's one of my faves. Creamy, spicy, cashewy... MMMMmmmm!

My Plate - Shahi Paneer

I thought it was delicious. The paneer had a pleasant firmness without being rubbery. The vegetables were sliced a little chunkier than I'm used to, but this didn't detract from the taste at all. The basmati rice wasn't particularly aromatic, alas, but it was still yummy with a light hint of spices. The naan was decent. Not amazing, and a little thin and tasteless in places as the heat left it, but still nice while the freshness lasted.

We were very satisfied. Ready to leave the moment the last bite went in, but satisfied.

So....

It's definitely an apples to oranges to apricots kind of a deal here, and comparisons are difficult. I think it works out like this:

If it's lunchtime, no. Go to whichever buffet is your favourite. Ours are still Mt. Everest and Tamba, although I haven't tried Mint or that place up near Alta.

If it's dinnertime, and before 9ish p,m,, you should probably hit a "real" restaurant. For about the same price, you can eat the same meal in much more pleasant surroundings at any number of Indian restaurants, plus you get table service and unlimited beverages. Maybe if you're rattily dressed, even by Vegas standards, and you just want to grab some chow, then yes.

If it's after 9ish p.m., then absolutely go for it. When I say the food at India Masala is good, I don't mean by food court standards, I mean that if I had it at a regular Indian restaurant, especially buffet, I would be clapping with delight. Not the best I've ever had, but very solid, very tasty. No foil packet sludge here, and this is probably one of the tastiest food court meals you will ever have.

The Riviera food court seems to be open until midnight during the week and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. As we returned to the car, I glanced over at the Peppermill - which we both really like, despite the hipster fog - and said, "Oh no! When can we ever go to the Peppermill again?"

For, the next time it's 11 p.m. and we're hungry and willing to drive to the Strip, I don't see us being able to resist India Masala.

17 May 2010 |



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