Hash House a Go Go? No, Don't Think So.

Mike was in the mood to try a new restaurant today, and after much consideration (Swiss Cafe is closed? Bobby Flay wants Business Casual? Tapas don't start until dinner?), we decided on Hash House a Go Go. It gets rave reviews on the various food and travel networks, and the menu looked inventive and tasty, especially the watermelon lemonade.

Around 1 p.m. we arrived at the Sahara location, only to be told it was a 50 minute wait. Between this and the pushy, edgier-than-thou-even-with-a-baby-stroller clientele, and the b*l*a*r*i*n*g music, we decided to look for chow elsewhere. "Do you want to try the Imperial Palace location?"

I can't say I met this suggestion with clamoring agreement. The Strip? On a Saturday? Imperial Palace? With its narrow, industrial parking garage that butts right up against its "Capri" rooms, aka the old Capri Motel that at some point folded into the casino next door.

But I was up for something different, so why not endure a little extra fuss?

Imperial Palace did not contradict our past experiences, with its urine-soaked stairwell in the garage and less-definable smells and stains once inside. However, the casino was decent, if smoky, although as we waited for the elevator to HHAGG, I did wonder what a lauded joint like Hash House was doing in one of the Strip's more enduring yet not endearing dives.


(As always, apologies for the cheap-cheap-cheap-and-sad camera on my cell. The pocket camera's batteries were dead.)

The elevator opens directly into the Hash House waiting area; in fact, it opens behind the podium, so you have to either tap a shoulder or go out the exit and U-turn to queue to give your name. The wait was only 20 minutes, and the music seemed a little quieter, so we decided to stay. The other diners-to-be were no less trendy, but that in itself isn't a crime (just a curious note), and as long as they weren't depressing me with their pushiness and their obvious sense of self-importance, who cares?

(I'm rereading Catcher in the Rye, having spontaneously assigned it when the planned books briefly went missing. I reread it enough as a young adult, and the last time I tried to do so, I thought I was over it for good, too old now to relate so well to Holden's angst. But, damn if it isn't speaking to me all over again. Those phonies, they get to me, they really do.)

The two gentlemen making up the hosting staff were very congenial; they seemed to be - unobtrusively but observantly - paying close attention to everyone's happiness, coming or going.

We were seated at a table for two in what Mike calls "center stage." That's what he calls anything not cozy against a wall. The traffic out front had all but gone, but why should they offer us a booth when a wave of parties of three and four could arrive at any time? No problem. We were ready to enjoy this place.

The first disappointment came when we looked at the drink menu. No watermelon lemonade! Oh, wait, here was kiwi watermelon lemonade... maybe we were just missing it?

We asked Jessica, our server, if watermelon lemonade was available. Alas, no. So, as much as we'd been willing to shell out five bucks each for lemonades (non-refillable?), we decided to just have water instead.

Maybe that's why we got such subpar service thereafter? I never get that, those waiters who punish you for getting water. Sure, if the bill's lower, they get tipped less, but if the service suffers, they're getting tipped even less than that. Why screw yourself over further? Maybe we were going to order dessert, but your "fuck the water drinkers" mentality killed it? Nice.

(I'm not saying that Jessica did this; I'm only suggesting it as a possible reason for the poor service. We have only experienced water-hating waiters once or twice before, and that was after reading about them with incredulity. God I hate our broken tipping system.)

We considered the menu again, despite having looked at it online and again at length in the lobby, So many promising choices! A quesadilla stuffed with potatoes and eggs and goodies, served on a bed of mashed potatoes? Weird! Interesting!

Mike chose the "Big O' Crispy Pork Tenderloin Sandwich." (I have no idea if it is the Irish son of Crispy, or if someone just decided that all conjunctions are created equal, and 'N was so passe.) I asked for the Corned Beef Hash without the corned beef. Even as Mike explained that I'm a vegetarian, Jessica seemed stumped on this, which surprised me: it's 2010, it's Las Vegas. If waitresses at Denny's in hideaway parts of Texas get it, why the pause? I mean, not that it's a crime to pause or anything. Or to say, "You mean... just cheese? and onions? with the potatoes?" I was just surprised that a place that lines its walls with celebrity autographs (Lindsay Lohan! Some rapper! Some other person apparently from recent pop culture!) wasn't more used to this kind of omission.

One reason we finally got a proper dining room table (delivered yesterday!) is because we love having nice conversations while eating together. It's too easy to get a little lazy when part of your mind is on the computer, the television, work, the project at hand. For us, the charms of dining out are good food, new experiences, and raising the level of companionship.

Unfortunately, our wait for the food was spent mostly in silence. That is, silence from us. Not so much the stereo system. Honestly, why do certain eateries crank up the volume so high? Does anyone ever go to a restaurant and say, mmm, yummy, but damn it's too quiet in here?

And why is it that the trendier the restaurant is, the louder the music? (Exhibit B: Serendipity. Exhibit C: BLT Burger.) Is it to drown out the posturing? Protect Incredibly Important Conversations? To make people believe they're somewhere fun and full of life?

I'm thinking that the guy in charge of the volume knob is not sitting still for very long and not trying to talk to anybody.

We nursed the near-ends of our waters, the wait for the food (which we expected and accepted to be long, per the warning on the menu) dreary as we chose not to shout across the table at each other.

Sometimes we played with the congealed matter in the pot on our table, pictured above. Backwashed caramel? Lumpy-honey? Once-preserves? I don't know.

My dish arrived first, delivered - of course - by someone other than Jessica. I can't fault HHAGG for this as everyone seems to do it these days, but I do wonder why? Why do so many places now have some person you've never seen before and will never see again bring your food? I'm used to the server doing the serving, and upon serving, ask, "Is there anything else I can get you? No? Enjoy your meal!"

Or whatever. I looked over my plate while we waited on Mike's. It looked pretty good.

After awhile, I couldn't resist a bite. "Go ahead," Mike said, "your cheese will get cold." I tried some. Hm. Mike, now informed that his would be out soon, was talked into a bite. Hmmm.

Seemed okay. Mike's arrived.

Wow - do they serve Flintstones vitamins with that? Pork, or porkasaurus?

We began to eat. Later, when we were able to share our thoughts openly and without raised voices, we discovered that we were both thinking the same thing. "I don't really like this, but it's so clever, I wouldn't mind coming back and trying something else."

Maybe conversation is overrated, because our thoughts stayed in step through the rest of the meal and beyond. (We're just lucky all of the toilet trips later were less synched.) "Will we ever get more water?" "Should I even keep eating?" "Should we bother with to-go boxes?" "Whatever happened to Jessica?" "Isn't it ironic that we, the fatties, find all of this heavy, greasy food disgusting, but the skinny people around us are shoveling it in?" "Is a **% tip too much?" "Ugh, how nasty does the car smell now?" "Let's just throw these to-go boxes away and not bring them into our home, okay?"

(I used ** for the tip amount because tipping is a very sensitive, and strangely subjective, issue, and to reveal the precise amount is to risk detracting from my other points. Plus inviting a lot of guff from vocal waitstaff who think you should tip 25% regardless of quality of service. Google around. They're there. And loud. And they also hate the idea of a fixed service charge. Hm.)

To be more specific, my potatoes (in addition to being greasy/heavy) were burnt and completely lacking in seasoning. I rationalized this at first, thinking, "well, maybe the corned beef would have provided that missing taste." Then, when I got to my completely flavourless scrambled eggs, I was less charitable. Seriously, maybe I'm getting spoiled on the cage-free/organic eggs we eat at home, but I don't think so. Not when plenty of buffet eggs still make my fork-fingers dance. It was like I was strictly eating texture. Salt, salt, salt. Pepper, pepper, pepper.

The biscuit was tall and decent, but man, dry. You know, like a biscuit will be on its own. "Why," I asked Mike, "do servers tell you their name, 'in case you need anything', when knowing their name doesn't help much if they disappear?"

Later, I overheard another server asking the group of girls at his table if they needed anything more for their biscuits, more butter? More honey? By the time I shook myself out of the shock that the tall biscuit with six inches of rosemary bush stuck in as garnish wasn't meant to be artfully dry, the server was out of poaching range.

The fruit, I'll say, was nice. I shared my pineapple wedge with Mike. Poor Mike.

Maybe if Hash House didn't make up phrases like "Big O' Crispy," Mike would've known what he was in for. He expected a lean pork loin, perhaps pan-seared to a crispy exterior, and instead he basically got chicken-fried something. I say "something" because any taste of pork was lost under the grit of the sand-clumped breading.

The steak fries were likewise a mistake, tasting like they'd soaked in oil for the week before, just to make sure it permeated to the center. ("And they weren't steak fries anyway," Mike adds now. "Steak fries are flat and broad. They were just regular fries.")

After we'd given up eating, Jessica brought us more water for our four-inch-tall glasses. "Sorry!" she said, in the voice of someone who was only a minute late. Mike had the Visa card out before she could finish her "Here's the check; I'll take care of this whenever you're ready" line.

I'm glad we had the new experience, but we're both sorry to have eaten more than a few bites of Hash House a Go Go's complete spring line for the emperor.

Are we that peculiar in our tastes? This place is hugely popular on print and screen. A guy seated next to us, a repeat customer, was about to wet his pants in anticipation of getting to eat at Hash House a Go Go again.

Later, on Yelp, we would see that the Sahara location averages 4 stars (out of five), whereas the Imperial Palace branch merits only 2.5. Perhaps IP puts its taint on everything, but will we try the Sahara location now? Perhaps ordering something different?

I can't say that we will. As always, this is Las Vegas. Too many restaurants, not enough time nor dining budget for many second chances. Hash House a Go Go is a No-Go.

28 February 2010 |






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