Vegas visitors drive our dynamic dining. One of the clearest examples of that evolution is Chinese food. The noodle bar was the most prominent early entry for Asian food in Las Vegas casinos, a convenient and quick stop before getting gamblers back to the tables. When international visitation and luxury levels increased, fine dining destinations serving authentic cuisine proliferated, like the former Fin at the Mirage, Jasmine at Bellagio and Wynn’s Wing Lei, the first Chinese restaurant in this country to be awarded a Michelin Guide star.
This has been standard operating procedure for the Strip’s luxury resorts for more than a decade. If you want to bring in the big-spending Asian clientele, you have to create an elegant experience and serve all the classics.
When the Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, it didn’t have a traditional Chinese restaurant on property, but it covered its bases a year later with the high-end Talon Club, a private gaming salon where veteran Hong Kong chef Yip Cheung prepared excellent seafood tofu soup, Kobe beef, Peking duck and anything else the high-rollers wanted to eat.
“It was almost a secret restaurant—the general public didn’t know it was there, but our high-end customers, particularly Asian clientele from China, had the opportunity to have pretty much anything they wanted, made to order,” says Patrick Nichols, Cosmopolitan’s Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Development. “We decided it was time to expand on the chef talent there and give them a full-fledged restaurant, partially due to our expanding presence in the international market, but also to create another really good offering we could deploy to the rest of our guests.”
Last month, the Cosmopolitan opened Red Plate, an original and refined Chinese restaurant on the third floor between its Scarpetta and Beauty & Essex restaurants. Cheung is the executive chef, supervising an authentic Cantonese menu that also includes other specialties such as dim sum, Taiwanese xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and a selection of barbecued and roasted meats.
Like every other Cosmo venue, Red Plate also offers a focused cocktail program, not something you’ll find at traditional Chinese restaurants. That feature is emblematic of a more modern approach to this specific kind of culinary experience, justified by the fact that this customer base is also changing and evolving. Asian travelers are getting younger, their tastes are different and they visit Vegas often enough to be ready for something new.
“People in general are just traveling more, especially young people and millennials,” says Patrick Lang, vice president of global restaurant and nightlife development for Las Vegas Sands, which is adding Hong Kong’s Mott 32 to the Palazzo’s restaurant portfolio next month. “As they travel to London and Tokyo and Singapore and these other leading culinary markets around the world, they’re having these different experiences that are equal parts culinary and experiential excellence. These things start to resonate more, and they’re seeking them out on a greater scale.”
That’s why Palazzo chose Mott 32, which also has locations in Vancouver and Bangkok showcasing Cantonese, Szechuan and Beijing cultures in its cuisine and presentation, to fill its significant Asian restaurant void—the Venetian and Palazzo resorts haven’t had an upscale Chinese destination since Royal Star closed in 2006.
Lang spends a lot of time in Asia at Sands’ Macau and Singapore resorts but says he also bounces around mainland China and southeast Asia. “I kept hearing about this unbelievable restaurant that opened in Hong Kong, and I had to go. The name kept getting thrown out there, and it was winning all these awards on the culinary and the design side,” he says. “I was blown away by what I saw, and still to this day it’s one of the most unique restaurant experiences I’ve had. Every touch point stood out to me as if no detail was overlooked, from service to design to atmosphere to music to cocktails.”
Most importantly, Mott 32 finds the sweet spot, Lang says, between the more casual Chinese restaurant that simply serves great food and the white tablecloth experience that might be a bit too formal for many Vegas visitors, no matter where they’re coming from.
“It figured out how to straddle both worlds, with very authentic Chinese cuisine in an environment that appeals to western and Asian customers,” he says. “Our Chinese customer is very important to us, so we want to have a world-class Chinese restaurant here, but also we didn’t want to alienate or intimidate our western customers. You get the traditional cuisine with an innovative twist, but you also enter this dynamic, completely transportive atmosphere that’s more upbeat and energetic.”