Tao At The Venetian
Tao the nightclub may be getting all the hype, but its restaurant deserves
some ink as well.
By Al Mancini
From Las Vegas CityLife
Anyone who follows the local club scene, or anyone who pays attention to celebrity gossip, has certainly heard about Tao. Since opening its doors in September, the new nightclub/ restaurant in the Venetian has been a constant fixture in both local and national gossip pages, eclipsing all of its competition as the hot spot on the Strip for V.I.P. parties. I have no idea whether the club is worthy of the hype, since I've never been there. But the restaurant definitely lives up to its reputation.
Executive chef Sam Hazen tells me the owners of the original Tao in New York City spent $20 million creating the Las Vegas location. I can only assume a nice chunk of that went to the two-story Buddha floating above a koi pond in the main dining area. It's a breathtaking centerpiece that nearly overshadows the rest of the beautifully designed space.
Tao's menu, like it's decor, is pan-Asian. The sushi menu is split between Atlantic and Pacific Ocean choices. The rest of the menu is divided between numerous "small plates," which parties are encouraged to share (the larger tables each have a lazy Susan in the center so everyone has easy access to everything on the table), and larger dishes that are sufficient to serve as a full meal.
The main section of "small plates" offers more than a dozen options such as edamame ($7), Thai stuffed shrimp with garlic, lime and chili sauce ($12) and lobster wontons with shitake ginger broth ($15). There are three soup choices ($7 to $9), three types of dumplings ($8 to $12), three spring rolls ($8 to $11) and a large noodle and rice selection ($12 to $21). The larger dishes include soy ginger glazed salmon with udon noodles and spinach ($20), hoisin explosion chicken ($22) and 12 ounces of grilled Kobe ribeye with yuzu cilantro butter ($88).
My trip to Tao actually started off a bit rocky, with the staff making it obvious that customers should consider themselves lucky to dine at the town's new hot spot. Since chef Hazen was aware that I was planning a review, I had my wife call to make our reservation in her name. When she called on a Tuesday to make a reservation for Wednesday, she was informed that 8 p.m. was out of the question, but they could seat us at 8:30. Fair enough. But she was then told that she wouldn't be provided with a confirmation number until she called back to confirm the next day. On making the follow-up call, we got our confirmation, but were also brusquely informed that tables are held no more than 15 minutes, and only entire parties will be seated.
I wouldn't have of a problem with a restaurant running a tight ship if they imposed the same discipline on their staff. But when we arrived, we learned they were running behind, and we had to wait at least 20 minutes for our table. When a hostess finally brought us to a table, she found someone else seated there, and left us standing alone in the middle of the dining room while she tried to figure out the mistake.
We were finally seated at a great table on the second floor, and the evening immediately improved. Our waiter was friendly, and knew the menu inside and out. On his recommendation, my wife ordered the miso-glazed Chilean sea bass with wok vegetables ($28), which was, without fear of exaggeration, the best piece of fish either of us has tasted in years. For appetizers we had a scallop and edamame-mashed potato special ($18) and an order of Negimaki ($12), scallions and seaweed wrapped in beef. For my entrée, I had braised spicy shrimp with chive flowers ($25).
Every one of our dishes was excellent, each showing Hazen's ability to create complex sauces that manage not to overpower the dish. The presentation was simple but elegant and, unlike many gourmet restaurants, our portions were huge. They were so large, in fact, that I wasn't able to finish all of the shrimp in my entrée, and couldn't find room in my stomach to sample the tempting giant fortune cookie stuffed with white and dark chocolate mousse.
As a restaurant, Tao is definitely deserving of the hype it's been receiving. So if a little attitude at the door is the price I have to pay to enjoy the food, I'm more than willing.
Inside the Venetian hotel-casino