It may not appear so, but this Treasure Island is different. Since Phil Ruffin took over, saving MGM Mirage’s booty by purchasing the TI in the spring, slight changes have been made to accommodate the new owner’s vision of what a Strip resort should offer its customers these days. A few months later, it’s a place of transition: A fancy Italian restaurant is now a pizza place; a country bar may be on the way; everyone wants to close the Christian Audigier nightclub, but the financial clout of the douchebag collective is just too strong.
For all the movement, its culinary lineup looks pretty balanced. There’s a coffee shop, a buffet, a deli by the sports book and a decent steakhouse, and then the exotics: a stylish Mexican restaurant, the only Vietnamese joint on the Strip and this new thing, Khotan Pan-Asian. What is pan-Asian? A contemporary blend of various regional cuisines; or, anything Asian as long as it’s had the authenticity rinsed out and been made palatable for those who would rather not venture into Chinatown.
That sounds pretty negative. There are plenty of delicious bites on Khotan’s menu, mostly from the sushi and small-plate selections. This is the site of the former Social House (which is, according to Pure Management Group, looking for a new home on the Strip), so they should handle sushi well. They do. The decadent Pay Roll incorporates crab tempura, kobe beef, avocado and a quail egg. And for appetizers, try the simple and fresh grapefruit snapper with kiwi puree, or even better, the chicken lollipops. The latter mark the evolution of chicken wings, tender, tiny one-biters with a sweet chili spice. If TI really wants to capitalize on the Audigier club, they should sell these babies to the Ed Hardy-clad crowd waiting in line downstairs. Throw in a sampling of the kobe or pork sliders and you’ve got a tasty little bar menu. You’re welcome, TI.
Things get a little fuzzy further into the menu. The clean combination of crispy papaya salad and honey barbecue shrimp—more spicy than sweet—is a winner, but an oddball tuna pizza, raw fish, jalapeno and garlic cream on a flaky pastry, strikes a bland, weird note. A super-crispy whole fried Cantonese catfish will cost you 46 bucks; an A-5 kobe filet with teriyaki sauce gets you for $85. A Japanese Kurobuta pork chop is a little more reasonable, cooked nicely and complemented simply by grilled onions and pineapple. Rice and noodle dishes are highlighted by a braised oxtail dish.
Khotan can still be the hip sushi haven Social House was, and that may be at least part of the objective. After all, the restaurant’s only decorative adjustment is a portion of Ruffin’s extensive collection of jade sculptures. Once the month-old restaurant settles into its menu, it can be the Taste of the Far East the new TI’s audience will be willing to experience. It’s almost there.