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The Centurion Lounge at McCarran International Airport

December 30, 2013

Everyone’s heard of the “black Amex card,” right?  You know the card that you hear about the celebrities having, or those people who are big spenders, you flash your card and you can have a store close down just for you, or open just for you, or all the other crazy perks that spending at least a quarter of a million dollars can get you.  Well, not to mention that this so-called black Amex card, more formally known as a Centurion card only costs you some ridiculous one-time fee to get, and then some ridiculously high annual fee to go with it.  Anyhow, I guess one of the perks of being a Centurion card holder is access worldwide to American Express Centurion Lounges at airports such as New Delhi, India and Mexico City, Mexico.

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Earlier this year, American Express opened their first US Centurion Lounge at none other than Sin City, Las Vegas.  This was an experiment in seeing how these lounges would be received here in the US.  Initially, only Centurion card holders were allowed complimentary access to the lounge and any other American Express card holders could enter by paying $50 for their visit.  However, as part of a pilot program, American Express sent invites to certain card carriers giving them one-time free access to the Centurion Lounge.  My husband was fortunate enough to receive one of these invites as we had purchased our roundtrip plane tickets to Las Vegas on our American Express card.  After having read about the amenities being offered at the lounge as well as the reviews I found online, I was excited to give this Lounge a try.  The lounge itself wasn’t located exactly nearby our gate, but in the next terminal over.  However, it was close enough and convenient enough using inter-terminal transport to reach the Lounge.

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As you approach the entrance to the lounge, you’re greeted with the words “The Centurion” and an engraved outline of the American Express Centurion logo next to a set of blue doors.  As you enter the Lounge there is a reception desk where you present your credentials and are permitted access to the Lounge.  Immediately as you enter the space there’s an American Express Membership desk with staffers who are ready and able to help you with any American Express related questions and provide travel services.

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Down the hall is an enclosed children’s area enclosed in floor to ceiling glass.  This area is specifically designed for children and decorated as such.  The space has toys, books, games and a TV.  Everything you need to keep your children entertained, but yet separate to ensure that adult guests relaxing in the Lounge aren’t disrupted.

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The space is sleek and modern.  There are private booths with plush seating.  There’s a dining room area with plenty of tables and chairs so guests and dine and enjoy.  There’s an area surrounded by a wall mounted flat screen TV where you can watch the news, or even check out video games to play.  There’s even a space that has lounge chairs that face out the floor to ceiling windows so you can lay down while looking out at the tarmac.  Everything has been decorated to make the space seem welcoming, warm and inviting, yet private, relaxing and comfortable.

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And towards the back there are work stations and a conference area with a conference room table that you can book.

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However, the star of the Centurion Lounge has got to be the food and the bar.  In the dining room, there’s a whole buffet wall serving food from morning until night – breakfast, lunch and dinner – depending on what time you arrive at the lounge.  Next to the buffet wall is a full bar with bar seating and a wall-mounted flat screen TV.

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When you take a seat anywhere in the Lounge, servers come over to you with a drink menu from which you can order the Lounge’s selection of house wines or specially designed cocktails.  Of course, you can also just go up to the bar and order any drink you like as well.

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The bar doesn’t skimp either with a full selection of premium cocktails.   The Lounge’s selection of signature cocktails is all designed exclusively for the Centurion Lounge by Jim Meehan, the resident mixologist and contributing editor of Food & Wine.

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My husband even decided to relax with a glass of one of the house red wines that the Lounge was offering.  And yes, if you are wondering, all the food selections and any of the drinks at the bar are all free of charge, complimentary with your entrance into the Centurion Lounge.  I’ve never seen an airport lounge offer so much selection and variety, and not of just the cheap stuff.

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For me though, the good stuff came with the food!  The Executive Chef of the Centurion Lounge at McCarran’s Las Vegas International Airport is none other than renowned celebrity chef Scott Conant.  After having eaten at one of Scott’s restaurants, Scarpetta, in Los Angeles, I could wait to see what was being offered at the Centurion Lounge.  The menu is seasonal and designed by Scott Conant, so it’s no surprise that it has an Italian flair to it.  First off, there was a salad bar with a selection of iceberg lettuce, spring mix and baby spinach.  All of the usual salad fixings could be found – broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, red bell peppers, hard boiled eggs and more.

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Then there were a couple of pre-made artisanal salads.  I particularly enjoyed this arugula, radicchio and endive salad with pine nut vinaigrette.  I loved the earthiness of this salad with the bitter radicchio and the peppery arugula.  The pine nut vinaigrette was smooth and nutty and the toasted pine nuts as an addition to the salad was terrific.

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A farro and corn salad created by Scott Conant was also served.  Combined with fresh mint and basil along with cucumbers and the summer flavors of grilled corn was a popular selection.

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If salad isn’t your thing, there was a warm and refreshing fire roasted vegetable soup.  This seemed quite popular with the guests in the Lounge, though I didn’t have a chance to give it a try.

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My husband and I fell in love with the spinach and ricotta gnudi.  The gnudi were like little meatball-sized packets of goodness made up of ricotta and spinach which was baked.  The rich, homemade tomato sauce is then poured over the gnudi.  The flavor of the sweet ricotta and spinach comes together so perfectly with the tomato sauce that it’s like perfection in a small bite.  I think I went back 3 times for the gnudi.  I couldn’t help myself.

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And for a vegetable dish, there was roasted zucchini with mint, almonds and parmigiano.  I liked the flavor of the roasted zucchini, but thought that the mint in the dish was a bit overpowering and made it hard to taste any of the other ingredients in the dish.  The almonds provided a crunchy contrast element and the parmigiano was salty and tangy.

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And finally there was a roasted turkey panini with provolone and pickled heirloom peppers.  So earthy and delicious, the melted provolone cheese provided a terrific nutty balance to the roasted turkey.  I admit that I pulled the picked heirloom peppers out of the panini as I’m not a pepper kind of person. But I liked the panini enough that I went back for seconds.

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Of course, you can’t have a buffet without having dessert!  The desserts included a selection of chocolate chip cookies as well as chocolate brownies.  I loved the brownies because they were super moist and tasty and not too rich with chocolate.  I admit, I think I ate about 4 of these.  But, can you blame me?  We were at the airport lounge for about 5 hours!

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There was also the vanilla honey panna cotta topped with seasonal berries.  Oh yum!  The panna cotta was light and sweet.  The combination of the vanilla and the honey was heady and the seasonal berries added a nice acidic tang to the panna cotta.  I think I probably could have eaten a whole tray of these bad boys.  As it was, my husband and I finished off 2 of them.

I was so glad that my husband received an invite to the Centurion Lounge because it was amazing!  I never knew that an airport lounge could be this luxurious and relaxing.  Gourmet food from a celebrity chef that was plentiful, filling and delicious and specialty cocktails and an open bar to make everyone happy.  What a wonderful way to relax and unwind before dealing with the stress that is flying and traveling.  American Express has hit the nail on the head by providing travelers with an amazing airport experience.  I only wish these Centurion Lounges existed in every airport!  If you ever have the chance to visit one, you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity.

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