Tuesday, December 20, 2005

3950 at Mandalay Bay

After two days that brought increasing physical punishment, Rachel and I found ourselves in the midst of Sportsbook Sunday at Mandalay Bay. Mandalay is a great casino and every time I’m there I wonder why I don’t visit more often. For some reason it just never makes it to the top of my priority list. Because I never seem to have enough time ending up in the “spare” column, sports haven’t been very high on my list for many years, but for a group of folks like this I was looking forward to making the time. I got the crash course on ponies from BG and found myself shocked when, $40 later, I hadn’t hit one single solitary horse and had to accept the fact that I was not the clairvoyant expert I secretly hoped I would be. I missed Al’s gold medal finish on the stairs and quickly learned that, in my case, betting the ponies is NOT where it’s at. Perhaps I’ll surround myself with Al and Iggy for some football bets on the next one.

While looking for lunch that didn’t have a intestine destroying “Mc” in front of it or “o-rama” on the end, Rachel and I scouted out some of the restaurants in the casino. There were several likely candidates for a nice dinner, but I was particularly intrigued by 3950. I mentioned it to BG, and before I knew it a group had formed for a final meal before folks had to leave. It took about an hour just to exit the sportsbook because so many in the group were departing, which I hated. I wanted everyone to come, and rest assured that if I ever win an obscene amount of money I will be taking over a similar establishment for a true “group” meal. Goodbye’s wound up and Rachel and I, BG, Bill, THG, April, and Prof, all set out in search of gastronomical delights. Then we got lost. I blame the exhaustion, but we finally found what we were looking for.


It was the modernity of the place that initially intrigued me. The tables were set in appropriately sleek fashion, replete with a triangular stainless-steel type of plate. Hmmm, definitely unusual. Whereas most restaurants have their menus displayed for passers-by in the usual shadowbox, 3950 has LCD screens. While I prefer the more old-fashioned method of display, this was definitely a departure from the ordinary that grew my desire to see what the place was all about.

As our group walked inside I was a bit worried about our not having any reservations. We were informed that a table could be had in fairly short order, and would we like to have a drink at the bar? Why yes, we would. Can we smoke at the bar? Yes? Jackpot.


BG was nice enough to pick up the first round of cocktails, a favor that I’ll be sure to return on the next trip. Per usual, I went with the drink that is my personal measuring stick for any establishment, a Grey Goose martini, up, bleu cheese stuffed olives if you have them, and very fucking dry. I’m really not kidding here. Very. Fucking. Dry. Rachel also went the measuring stick route, which for her is a Cosmopolitan.

To the bartender, Chris, I must extend my effusive thanks.

My martini was perfect. Only the slightest hint of vermouth rode out on the back end following the first cold swallow, a beautiful thing. I was slightly amazed that they actually had the bleu cheese olives I desired, but the look on the bartenders face said that he would be shocked if it were any other way. I was additionally satisfied at the size of the drink itself, as nothing begins to kindle annoyance quite like paying $10-12 for a cocktail and finding that it’s no bigger than the drinks found at the most middle of the road joints.

I would have to take my shoes off and then some to count the number of times that Rachel has ordered a Cosmo, only to find the resulting drink to be the color of cherry Kool-Aid and the consistency of Robitussin doing its damndest to drown the erroneously included cherry. Ugh. The 3950 Cosmopolitan, however, was a resounding success. Wonderfully light pink in color with a lemon twist, it was deceptively gentle, just as a Cosmo should be.

As an extra bonus, while perusing the wine list BG found a favorite from his namesake vineyard, which the bartender promptly decanted so it had time to breathe before the meal. I don’t think that I was alone when I said a small prayer of thanks for knowledgeable and professional bartenders like Chris.

Try as I might to find something wrong, I just couldn’t. A perfect 10 for cocktails.


With cocktails winding down, our party was seated at the big round table that dominated the middle of the dining area. The aforementioned stainless-steel plates were promptly whisked away, which was mildly disappointing. I guess I will have to locate my own if I want that particular experience. Our waitress began by asking me what sort of water I would like and commenced rattling off the various incarnations of bottled, inevitably arriving at the lowly “tap.” In the middle of the water litany I heard “Fiji”, a favorite of mine, so I went with that. I thought that I was just ordering for me, but before I could correct anything, it was being poured all around. My apologies to the group for the mistake as I know that name brand waters, both in price and principle, are annoying to many.

I refrained from ordering any appetizers because, generally, I find that I can’t finish my entrée if I do. While everyone else ordered their appetizers, the bread arrived. The bread itself was nothing unusual, the typical collection of differing types of rolls and flatbreads, but one thing stood out. At the bottom of each basket was a hot stone, something that I have not seen anywhere else. While I’m sure that this isn’t the first restaurant to do such a thing, it was a pleasant surprise for someone like me seeing it for the first time.

My normal entrée measuring stick is a steak of some sort, and 3950 had a nice selection available. I went with the bone-in ribeye (as did about half of our party), while Rachel decided on the lamb. Unable to resist any longer, I also ordered the Mac and Cheese w/ lobster and truffles to be brought out with our meal. We paired our order with a middle of the road Pinot Noir, a 2001 Martinelli.

As the food arrived, everything looked and smelled wonderful, as expected, and everyone dug in with little fanfare. Our pinot was medium in body and strength and paired well with our order, although it couldn’t lift the meat above what it was: Okay. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t delicious, I just wasn’t blown away like I had hoped. It was a huge chunk of ribeye, and it was cooked very well, but somehow it still wasn’t IT. Being slightly underwhelmed with the meat, I ventured into combo bite territory, having a bit of steak with a bite of the Mac and Cheese, a good combination that lifted my taste buds off of their even keel for a short while. Rachel reported the same with her order of lamb; very good but nothing absolutely special, which is likely obvious by this point considering the distinct lack of flowery and melodramatic adjectives in the description.

I originally would have gone with a 7 for this meal, but due to the wonderful 3950 Mac and Cheese, I feel compelled to bump it up to an 8. Please don’t read dissatisfaction into it. The meal as a whole was very, very good. I just can’t in good conscience call it the food alone “great.”

Service and Miscellaneous

Our group was about three quarters of the way through our meal when I found myself wondering why I hadn’t given the service any consideration. The answer to my self-imposed question was that I didn’t need to. It was so good that I had failed to consider it altogether. Extraneous silverware was promptly removed, and water and other drinks never even got below the halfway mark in the glass. Appetizers and entrées were perfectly timed and coordinated. Waiters and bus-people were everywhere and nowhere, pulling off the feat of never really being seen but ensuring that everything was in its proper place at the proper time and that an enjoyable meal continued unabated.


I found the red leather chairs to be very comfortable for a long meal such as the one we engaged in, and even though it’s something I never would have considered, the purple velour booths surrounding the edge of the dining room seemed a perfect fit. Being someone that loathes sports bars in general, I found that the (42”?) flat-panel television in the bar area showing the Detroit Lions game didn’t seem out of place whatsoever, even though I would have probably fainted from the horror had I simply heard tell of it. 3950 managed to bring a lot of seemingly disparate things together into one very pleasing décor.

Dessert was about the same as the meal itself; very good but nothing completely stand-out. The presentation of the desserts ordered by the group, however, was absolutely beautiful and more than made up for what it may have lacked in substance or taste. So much so, in fact, I even took a picture, one of only five that I took for the entire trip.

Oh, hell. How did I almost forget the bathrooms? Truly, the word fantastic doesn’t even begin to describe it. The pattern in the black marble tile covering the walls and floor made me feel as though I was encased in some sort of Jackson Pollack bubble, causing me to feel comfortably isolated while taking care of the necessary necessaries (how’s that for dancing around unpleasant bodily function?). Right next to the toilet was a small LCD television also showing the same Detroit game viewable at the bar. The sports bar thing again, but not. It didn’t seem out of place at all. The crowning achievement of this oasis for bodily function, though, was far and away the tooth brush kits. This was another first for me. Boxes containing individually wrapped toothbrushes and paste were stacked neatly on a shelf right by the sink. After eating a rich meal it was the perfect thing to send me on my way feeling refreshed and ready to continue the evening.

Overall, I give 3950 at Mandalay Bay a solid 9. The décor was modern but intimate, providing a welcome respite from the rigors of the hard-partying weekend. The perfect service let us focus on the good company we had along with the meal, providing a perfect segue out of town for those whose time was up. Don’t bother coming here if you’re food budget frugal, but if you’re looking to spend on a really nice meal your money won’t be wasted.