Thursday, May 5, 2011

Vegas is Sweet!

For all it's many and varied attractions, Las Vegas is also a sweet spot for sugar addicts. Cash and calories may have limited my hands-on experience, but that certainly didn't stop me from doing a fair amount of window shopping! Here are some of my favorite, sweet selections:

The wall o' candies at M&M's World!
M&M's World: In short, this is a four-story paradise on the Strip for fans of the beloved "melts-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hand" candy. The store boasts every kind of M&M merchandise imaginable (think toys, pillows, bedclothes, kitchenware, jewelry and even undies!) but it's much more than just a retail location - there's also an in-store movie theatre, which shows shorts featuring the M&M's characters, and lots of information about the history of M&M's. Even if you're not a candy lover (or you're saving your cash for the casinos) a walk around the shop floor is entertaining and the wall of bulk colored candies is impressive. This is also a great place to take the kids for an hour or two - just don't let them get too hopped up on sugar!

Ethel M's Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden: After visiting M&M's World, you can see where it all started at Ethel M's Chocolate Factory. Located away from the Strip, in nearby Henderson, NV, this factory was started by Forrest Mars Sr. and named for his mother, Ethel. As all good chocolate lovers know, Mars is the company responsible for bringing us a wealth of tasty treats, including Mars Bars, Snickers, Dove and...M&M's!

The factory offers free tours (and free samples!) every day of the week. Due to their 'small-batch' philosophy, I've visited twice and never seen the machines in operation, but it's still worth a visit.  The whole factory smells wonderfully of chocolate and the quality of their product is great. The site is also home to the Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden, which boasts the one of Nevada's largest collections of cacti, with over 300 species of plants. There are paved paths meandering through the garden and the plants are labeled, with a bit of history and information for the amateur botanist. It's surprisingly entertaining and I think Matt and I spent more time with the cacti than we did in the factory!

Max Brenner at the Forum Shops: This is truly a chocolate lover's paradise. I didn't have the chance to visit when we were in Vegas, and it's an omission I strongly regret. I could smell the rich, chocolaty aroma emanating from this shop long before I spotted the source, and I spent a few moments out front just enjoying it...and wishing I was inside! The Max Brenner website is full of heady descriptions of 'the new chocolate culture' (which was a bit much for me), but the basic premise is to enjoy chocolate in all its forms, and to use it in unusual and unexpected ways - I can support that! 

The shop has a retail element, but also serves 'real' food and a wide variety of chocolate-infused offerings at the 'Chocolate Bar.' While this 'bar' is hailed as something new and revolutionary in our experience of chocolate, it seems similar to the fashionable chocolate houses of 17th and 18th Century Europe. Like Max Brenner, which sells the specially-shaped 'Hug Mug' for the perfect enjoyment of drinking chocolate, these establishments came with all sorts manners, customs and paraphernalia dedicated to the consumption of chocolate. Although much has changed about chocolate consumption since the 1700s, we have these chocolate houses to thank for it's continued popularity. Whether Max Brenner's legacy will be as enduring remains to be seen.

Bouchon Bakery at the Venetian: For those eager for a brush with culinary celebrity, there's the Bouchon Bakery on the casino floor of the Venetian. I've already related my sad encounter with the famous Thomas Keller Oreo (TKO), but I'm willing to bet some of their other offerings are delicious! I've heard great things about their Nutter Butter cookies....

Jean-Philippe Patisserie at the Bellagio: If you're looking for European-style pastries, crepes, sandwiches and entrements, look no further than the Jean-Philippe Maury Patisserie at the Bellagio. Their creamy gelato is perfect for hot desert days and their sandwiches look fresh and filling. Of course, you can also enjoy a visit without ingesting a single crumb; glass cases filled with delicately crafted delights are great for window shopping, and the patisserie is also home to the world's largest chocolate fountain. Undoubtedly the best of Las Vegas' many fountains (it's chocolate, after all), the 2,100 pounds of cascading chocolate perfume the entire hallway with magical sweetness. If 27-feet of flowingly molten milk, white and dark chocolate is just too much, there's another, fountain-less Jean-Philippe location at the Aria.

The Sugar Factory at the Miracle Mile shops: Another celeb-magnet, this ice-cream-candy-and-baked-goods emporium is a relative newcomer to the Las Vegas Strip. Apparently, this sweet shop is known for it's 'Couture Lollipops' ('bejeweled' candy sticks touted by Kim Kardashian, Lauren Conrad and Britney Spears) but I was drawn to it's pastry case, more than the over-priced candies. Matt and I sampled a walnut brownie which was pretty tasty and, at only $1.75, a steal at Vegas prices. The outside was just slightly crisp and the inside still soft - just the way I like it. If your hunger won't be satisfied by a simple brownie, or you're up for a more all-inclusive experience, visit the Sugar Factory restaurant at the Paris Hotel and Casino.

Yogurtland at the Town Square Mall: From the star-studded to a street favorite. The self-serve frozen yogurt craze was just taking off when I left the States for Germany, in 2009, and I'm amazed at the number of locations that have cropped up since then. There seems to be one on almost every corner, and Las Vegas is no exception. There are several tucked away in casinos on the Strip, but Matt and I chose this location because it's the cheapest Fro-yo in Las Vegas. At just 37 cents/ounce, this store easily beats the Venetian (55 cents), the Fashion Show Mall (49 cents) and Mandalay Place (49 cents). It also seems to have the broadest selection - a win-win! It's a bit of a drive from the Strip, but a solid choice if you're looking to get away and satisfy your sweet tooth away from all the crazy crowds.

Vegas is Sweet!
All these reviews and I've barely scratched the surface of Las Vegas' sweetest attractions. I can think of several omissions (the famous Serendipity Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, for example), which just goes to show you that if your Sin City transgression of choice is gluttony, you'll be spoiled for choice! Armed with all of this sweet info, you can plan your indulgences more wisely - and if you get the chance to visit Max Brenner, let me know what you think!

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