This is the first post in the Winter in Las Vegas Series detailing my trip to Las Vegas in January to attend CES.
If you wanted to live in a place where famous chefs all over the world came to YOU versus the other way around, Las Vegas might not be a bad bet. In the past decade, so many excellent restaurants have opened up in this city. You've got everything from the most Michelin-decorated chef Joel Robuchon coming out of retirement to open his flagship restaurant in Vegas to popular burger joints like In & Out or New York's Shake Shack, a burger stand with a cult-like following that just opened its first location in (where else?) the casino New York, New York.
Then there are the celebrity chefs, like Bobby Flay, Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, and Jose Andres, just to name a few. All in all, the Strip has a wealth of excellent French, Italian, Spanish, and American restaurants. There are tons of steakhouses. Buffets are everywhere.
However, there are very few Asian imports. Sure, Nobu has been at the Hard Rock for awhile (and more recently at Caeasar's Palace), and BarMasa opened in Aria not too long ago. However, aside from really expensive Japanese cuisine, there is a noticeable lack of hot Asian inspired restaurants (like Momofuku, for example), on the Strip. The closest might be the Mexican-Chinese fusion brainchild of Jose Andres, China Poblano.
And then Yusho, a really, really popular restaurant in Chicago, arrived at the Monte Carlo in April of 2014. Yusho is the brainchild of Matthias Merges, a chef who worked at Charlie Trotter's for fifteen years before opening Yusho in Chicago. Its modern style of fusion Asian "street" food includes innovative takes on comfort dishes like ramen, Asian-style buns, house made pickles, and grilled skewers plus a creative cocktail program all under one roof. Yusho has received tons of recognition in Chicago. It has a three star (out of four) review from the Chicago Tribune. In 2012, it won Eater's Restaurant of the Year award, and in 2013, it made The Saveur 100 List.
"We don't want to fit in" says Matthias Merges when asked about adjusting his restaurant to the Vegas culture. He wants to bring Yusho to Las Vegas but wishes to maintain the restaurant's own identify. Similar to Yusho in Chicago which caters to industry folks because it opens so late, Yusho Las Vegas also features late night noodles and a menu that changes frequently.
Chef Brian Lhee, formerly a chef at Yusho Chicago, moved to Las Vegas to help open and helm this new location. Chef Lhee is hot in Vegas right now, having just won Eater Vegas's "Chef of the Year" Award for 2014, beating out Giada’s Giada DeLaurentiis, Carson Kitchen’s Kerry Simon, DB Brasserie’s David Middleton and Omae’s Takeshi Omae.
Bryan and I sampled a bunch of Yusho's menu items our second night in Vegas. Here's a look at all the cool things that are coming out of this new Asian spot right now.
One unusual item they offer is the Draft Cocktail ($10). Essentially, these cocktails are made in batches every few days and then served "on tap" like beer. We tried a small taste of each of them. The Gin & Tonic consists of navy strength gin and housemade tonic. The Chuhai is made from a sudachi shochu, jasmine tea, and citrus. The Daiquiri is made with overproof white rum, lime juice, and sugar. The BooZE Cola is made with dark rum, white rum, bitters, and citrus. The Paloma is made with tequila and grapefruit juice, and the RoadSoda is made with nama-genshu sake, gin, and lemon juice.
The menu is divided up into five different sections, each featuring a different type of small plate. Most diners order at least 2-3 small plates each, if not more depending on the size of the dish. Menu items which were classics from the original Chicago location are notated with a tiny little red "Y" (about ¼ of the menu). The rest of the dishes are from Chef Brian Lhee and are unique to the Las Vegas location. Below, I'll describe a couple dishes from each section of the menu.
SNACKS + SIDES
If you love pickles, you are in luck. Yusho makes a bunch of different types of pickles and kimchi, and you can try many of them. The day we were there, the Assorted Kimchi ($4) included a mixture of baby radish, beet greens & fennel, and "caramelized" kim chi.
The House Pickles ($5) is a "Yusho classic" (from Chicago) and includes a mixture of oshinko cucumbers, lotus root, and carrots.
Scallop ($12) is a generous plate of raw scallops topped with pink peppercorn and soy salt. I loved this dish. I found the scallops to be beautifully fresh and sweet.
The Spicy Tuna Taco ($13) is one of Chef Brian Lhee's signature dishes. The most unique feature is the taco "shell" made from crispy, paper thin salmon skin. Inside, the taco is filled with chopped tuna (reminiscent of Hawaiian poke!) and pine nuts.
Xinjiang Lamb ($13) consists of grilled lamb on skewers with a creamy cucumber salad and powdered cumin for dipping. The flavors were excellent, especially if you like lamb (like Bryan!). In fact, this was one of his favorite dishes.
The Duck Breast ($11) is served on a skewer as well, wrapped around mushrooms and served with a Shitake mushroom marmalade and scallions.
The Chicken Wings ($8), another Yusho Chicago classic, are unusual in that they are deboned and then grilled on a skewer. The meat (which is actually thigh meat), is marinated in garlic, ginger, chili, mirin , and soy. The "lollipop" is then grilled, topped with honey, and served with Thai chili, bonito salt (for dipping!) and lime.
The Crab Fried Rice ($22) consists of crabmeat, mushrooms, eggplant, and dashi broth. One of the favorites of the evening (for everyone!), this dish popped with flavor: bits of ginger essence, a spicy kick, sweetness from the crab, and a rich umami from the dashi broth. I loved this one.
I should also mention the 2XFried Chicken (not pictured), which is served with kanzuri and green tea lime. Though I did not try it, I do know that it is one of those dishes from the original Yusho in Chicago that has a cult-like following.
We tried several of their buns, which were all pretty solid.
The Pork Shoulder Bun ($7) is the only Yusho Chicago classic on the "Buns" section of the menu. The pork shoulder was very tender and soft and came with kimchi, cilantro, and peanuts. The flavors were nice, balanced, and classic.
The Crispy Cod Bun ($7) comes topped with cucumber, sesame, and fresh watercress. Like an Asian fish taco, this one was good and was Bryan's favorite out of the three.
The Fried Oyster Bun ($8) comes with a wonderfully crispy panko-crusted fried oyster, shaved fennel, and a flavorful curry sauce.
The Logan Poser Ramen ($18) is yet another signature dish from the original Yusho.
Logan refers to the original location in Chicago, Logan Square. "Poser" refers to a quote by David Chang of Momofuku, who said that anyone making ramen outside of Japan was basically being a "poser."
The ramen is topped with breaded crispy pork and then served with a sous vide egg, nori, cucumber, and a fragrant chili oil. The broth is made from a stock that includes bacon, chicken backs, and pork neck bones which are browned and then cooked with lemongrass, togarashi for heat, and chicken fat oil.
This ramen was excellent, and Bryan and I both really enjoyed it. We loved the smoky punch that came from the fragrant chili oil, It really added a lot of depth to the flavor of the dish. All the elements - from the perfect sous vide egg to the al dente noodles - were very good.
Please note the above photos represents a tasting portion of the ramen. If you ordered it, you would get a much bigger, full-sized bowl!
More breaded pork on the side (!). Heh, they didn't fit inside that tiny little bowl.
For dessert we had Tofu Donuts made with rosemary sugar, sweet potato puree, and candied ginger. These tasted pretty similar to normal yeast doughnuts. They were hot, fresh, and delicious, but the tofu was so subtle that I think I missed it.
Peanut Ice Cream Mochi was filled with dark chocolate inside.
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After the meal we went around each listing our favorite dishes. Our host, Jackie, said "the ramen and the fried rice." Bryan said "the grilled lamb skewers, the ramen, the spicy tuna taco, and the crab fried rice." I chose the scallop, the crab fried rice, and the chicken wings.
I guess the crab fried rice was really popular, though the ramen came in a close second!
All in all, the food here is very good. Brian Lhee is given a lot of freedom to experiment and play around with the menu, and he changes it up a lot. Of course, the signature classics will always be there (don't worry, the Logan Poser Ramen isn't going anywhere!). However, if I lived locally, I might have the most fun returning to try all the unique specials on the menu. You can get a sense of some of the creative dishes Chef Lhee cooks by checking out his Instagram account.
There's very little on the Strip right now that offers this type of food, so it's a refreshing change from all the steakhouses, buffets, and European fare. Monte Carlo recently built out a beautiful outdoor area called the Boulevard, which includes outdoor eating areas for Yusho and two other restaurants, Double Barrel Roadhouse and 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria.
Unlike in Boston, where it's still too cold to eat outside, Vegas is already enjoying sunny weather in the seventies right now. It's the perfect time to take advantage of that outdoor patio. Sadly, it doesn't look like there's warm weather anywhere in sight right now in Boston, so perhaps it's time for a quick weekend getaway to Vegas?
Disclaimer - this was a press meal arranged by MGM Resorts, the parent company that owns Monte Carlo. I did not pay for this meal. All opinions are my own.