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I had always been one of those strong critics of youngsters who bury their heads in online games all day long, until I found out that I was equally capable of losing self-control when I tried to play those video games in The Venetian casino. While computer games cost kids only their time and energy, those casino games machines can cost you lots of money once you start! No wonder The Venetian has been offering to give away free ferry tickets (between Shun Tak Centre pier and the new pier near that hotel) to its casino patrons, on condition that they stay in it for at least an hour and just play as few as two 5-cent video games in the one-hour duration (one at the beginning and one at the end just to have the time checked). I intended to play two games just to get the free ferry ride home and ended up spending half a day glued to the machines, not to mention the money lost! It is no doubt in the operator's calculation that the casino will pocket much more in gaming revenue from one patron than the price of a round-trip ticket offered to him as bait.
What's captivating about the games is not just the plethora of fantasia-style game designs but also the adrenalin-rousing sounds that give people the kicks. Once you are on board, you are the captain of your own fate, with buttons fully at your command. The hope, if fleeting, of being serendipitous beckons and it is hard to resist. The flip side is that after several pushes of the button, one is unconsciously hooked to the game, especially if those first few pushes happen to churn out some gain.
Following the advice of a food columnist, my companion and I decided to try out Portuguese cuisine on this trip at the Clube Militar on Avenida de Praia Grande.
Housed within a graceful pastel pink and white colonial mansion that is next to a tranquil and shady park called Jardim de Sao Francisco, the club's restaurant has been open to the public since 1995. Inside, the elegant decor is unmistakably colonial with slow-spinning ceiling fans, arched windows, dark shining wooden floors, rectangular tables draped in crisp white table cloth, wood-and-glass cupboards displaying tasteful antique flatware and a few wall-hung oil paintings.
To whet our appetite, we took a walk in the airy tree-lined park adjacent to the club premises. The park straddles two street levels and features a small ornate fountain in pastel pink with white highlights on the lower level. On the side of stony steps leading to the upper level stands a giant mango tree flanked by other smaller leafy trees which provide the perfect playground for birds, squirrels and chipmunks. In the centre of the upper level is a dilapidated cylindrical two-storey structure, which is of the same color and design pattern as the club mansion. It serves as the park's monument of World War I.
The club restaurant serves a daily lunch buffet that starts at 12:00 noon. It consists of a daily soup (red kidney bean soup with cabbage), a buffet of six appetizers/side dishes (green salad with tomatoes, chopped cuttlefish with vinaigrette dressing, tuna and onion salad, cooked cabbage with garlic, steamed choi sum and mashed potatoes), two main dishes (shredded dried codfish with cream and coriander sauce and stewed lamb leg slices with orange and rosemary), and a delightful dessert buffet (coconut pie, chocolate mousse and bite-size pastries). It also offers an impressive list of Portuguese wine. For an unlimited serving of the food, the price is only HK$118.00 per head. Exquisite cooking and courteous service get thrown in although tea or coffee is separately charged.
It was a weekday and by one o'clock the place was quickly filled with mostly Portuguese customers – a good proof of its popularity even among local expatriates or senior civil servants. We were glad that we arrived at noon.