It’s the sheer scope of it that does the trick. It’s the 60,000 square feet of restaurant and nightclub space, the 20-foot bronze buddha in the main dining room that lets you know it’s time to chill out and party simultaneously, and it’s the knowledge that year over year, Tao is the highest grossing restaurant in the country—usually making twice as much as the No. 2 spot.
These are the things that make us forget how good the food can be at this titan of a venue.
If you’re like me and you haven’t dined at Tao lately, now is a great time to return. Chef Marc Marrone has added more than 20 new dishes to a menu that probably didn’t need to be refreshed as badly as other Pan Asian eateries on the Strip. Let’s face it: fun dishes like sweet miso-lacquered satay of sea bass ($19), lobster wontons in ginger broth ($19) and red curry sea scallops with Thai basil ($35) are still killers, shareable bites that fit the vibe.
New dishes dig deeper and stretch farther. Those with Chinese influence are concentrated into the best versions of themselves, while others with more southeast Asian flavors offer exquisite balance of sweet, savory, spicy and sour.
Bao buns are being done to death, but Tao’s new crispy pork bao ($17) are ideal. They’re beautifully crisp on the outside and fluffy within, embracing tender bits of barbecue pork and expertly avoiding the too-much-bread dilemma that frequently ruins other versions of this dim sum classic. Another fresh take on an old favorite is sizzling soy chicken, sweet, sour and slightly spicy glaze working its way around crispy morsels of meat.
The sushi selection is sparked by a roll of halibut and asparagus topped with tuna and dressed with a bright green wasabi puree that will wake up your tastebuds. Thai duck fried rice ($17) is charged with lemongrass, lime and tiny pieces of sun-dried tomato.
There are two new showcase entrees. The first is a dry-aged prime sirloin ($54), its richness forced to new levels by an earthy black bean sauce, served with tempura onion and roasted Chinese broccoli stalks. The other is dubbed Crispy Snapper in the Sand ($42), a whole deep-fried fish presented on a bed of dried garlic and black beans. It sounds like a simple dish with flashy looks, but the flavors are stunning. The fish is actually lightly fried in bite-sized pieces, and the garlic is soaked in milk to smooth things over before being dried. The result is a bite that begins with wonderful crisp-tender texture and light fish flavor then morphs into deeply savory, slightly funky notes—all kinds of umami.
For dessert, new offerings include a flash-fried bread pudding bananas foster-style with white chocolate ice cream, and an intriguing take on mango sticky rice inside a coconut shell with mango sorbet and a crispy brûlée tuile covering. Leave room for both.
Overall, Tao’s new dishes—there’s also chicken wing lollipops, drunken lobster pad Thai, and more—strengthen what this restaurant still does as well as any other, and that’s adding extreme deliciousness to the night-of-your-life memories you’re making.
Tao Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian, 702-388-8338. Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight; Friday & Saturday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.