Las Vegas

It's spring, which in Southern California means there must be a fresh crop of strawberries and a spanking-new $1.9-billion Las Vegas resort with a really good get-to-know-me rate. Indeed, the Palazzo is in blossom. Tom, the husband, is game. We are poker players, and thanks to me, the stepkids are too. (It's one of the many reasons, Tom says with some rue, that I get the Stepmother of the Year award. Every year.) Because sometimes a home-cooked dinner is not enough to get their attention, and because I am so very hip, I text my two twentysomething L.A.-residing stepkids Cody and Jesse: Want 2 go 2 Vegas 4 a nite? The response from both is more or less the same: Um, let me think for a minute. YES.

We drive through the Mojave Desert, and as soon as we're within shooting distance of poker city, I pop in my Rat Pack CD. Although I long ago steeled myself against my family's apathy for my musical tastes, I am delighted to see everyone perk up as Dean Martin croons, "I love Vegas in the summer."

Where's the Palazzo? Strange, it doesn't use a zillion kilowatts to spell out its name. Only in the context of Vegas could this hotel be subtle, but it is--it's the Venetian's less kitschy sister. The lobby features miles of gleaming marble and a rich Italian color scheme of golds, yellows and ambers. Under a sky-high gilt rotunda, gigantic ice-white nudes, lighted from within, look down on our dusty arrival.

Up on the 31st floor, our two rooms are connected by a door, and for a while, we four occupy about 1,400 luxurious square feet. The gold-paneled bedroom opens to a spacious sunken living room, at the end of which are large picture windows that convey a sense of endless space. The kids are thrilled: "I could sleep, like, eight of my friends in here," says Cody. (His last name is different from mine, so I'm not, like, blowing his cover.)

The car ride was long, so it is unwind time. For me, that means a bath and power nap on the oh-so-comfortable bed while Tom and the kids work on laptops in front of one of the six TVs (three per suite). Then we dress up in a way we rarely do at home and, feeling handsome and pleased with ourselves, head downstairs to Carnevino, the new Mario Batali restaurant in the Palazzo.

This is a large Italian steakhouse with Venetian luxury touches--heavy drapes, high wood ceilings and sconces spilling pretty yellow light. We start with clams al forno, then come bucatini all'amatriciana and raviolo di stracotto, with duck livers and balsamico. A Vegas-size New York strip and lamb chops Scottadita with cumin-scented yogurt follow. To go with, I choose an $80 Nero d'Avola and am quite proud when the waiter says it is "the gem of the menu" (always like to look good in front of the children).

Sated and less than sober, I know it's a mistake to go to the casino, but, of course, we go. What else would we do, catch the Barry Manilow show? For this part of the evening, the Palazzo is useless. Its casino has no poker room. Are they kidding? So, without stepping one foot outside, we head to the poker room at the Venetian.

I love this room, but tonight I'm down $100 in an hour, so enough, already. The kids stay longer and fare better, with Cody winning at poker and Jesse winning at roulette. Tom and I retire to our room, with its fabulous view as long as you stay far away from the window, and do what you do when the children are safely tucked into the casino. It's just enough Vegas to satisfy us until the next $2-billion resort goes up.

WHERE TO STAY

The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South; (866) 263-3001, www.palazzolasvegas.com. Luxury suites start at $199 on weekdays (introductory rate).

WHERE TO EAT

Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, the Palazzo Resort Hotel, 3265 Las Vegas Blvd. South; (702) 789-4141, www.carnevino.com. Appetizers $15 to $60; pasta $15 to $47; main courses $35 to $145 (Florentine porterhouse steak for two). Lotus of Siam, 953 E. Sahara Ave.; (702) 735-3033, www.saipinchutima.com. Appetizers $7 to $11; main courses $9 to $20.