Thursday, January 20, 2011

China Poblano, Las Vegas: Jose Andres's successful new dining concept

As someone who doesn't like gambling much or hitting the hot night club until 4am, Vegas has never appealed to me. Thankfully during my last trip, I came to realize that Vegas could be done the right way especially when you threw in dinner at some good restaurants. So when I was making dinner plans for a business trip to Vegas during CES 2011, I did some research on hot new restaurants in town. Jose Andres' two new restaurants Jaleo and China Poblana at the Cosmopolitan were top on the list. It was an easy decision because I'm a huge fan of Andres's The Bazaar at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Andres brought the Jaleo branded Spanish tapas restaurant (with locations in the East Coast) to Vegas just a month ago. China Poblano on the other hand, is a brand new concept which features a mix of Chinese and Mexican cuisine. I just had to check out this new restaurant.

The two cultures are clearly segregated in both decor of the restaurant and on the menu. One side of the restaurant is decorated with an Asian theme and showcases Chinese chefs preparing dim sum. On the other side, Mexican cooks are making tortillas from scratch.

I was surprised at how small and intimate the restaurant was, compared to the oversized seating capacity at most Vegas restaurants. China Poblano was also rather casual with simple furniture, communal tables and metal napkin dispensers on the tables. This is definitely less swanky than the Bazaar. The space is accented with Chinese masks and digital portraits of Chinese and Mexican people on the walls, and Chinese bicycle wheels on the ceiling.

The menu is served tapas style and reasonably priced for an upscale establishment. Tacos are mostly under $10 and larger plates are in the mid-teens. The most exciting items on the menu were the unique tacos (duck tongue, tendon).

Salt air margarita is a popular drink at The Bazaar. The drink was strong in alcoholic content and topped with a salty foam. Expect a foam mustache after taking a sip. There's no way around it.

Silencio - duck tongue, rambutan fruit

I really enjoyed this taco. I've had beef tongue before, but never duck. The texture was different - the duck tongue was essentially a large piece of cartilage. It was crunchy and well seasoned. I loved the pairing of rambutan which is a sweet tropical fruit that I grew up eating in Singapore. I thought this was a great way of showcasing Asian ingredients and flavors in a Mexican package.

Carnitas - braised baby pig, pork rinds, spicy salsa verde cruda
I liked the tender carnitas with the crunch pork rinds, which made this a very greasy dish. The acidity from the lime was essential to cut the fattiness of this dish. The carnita was tender and moist, and was served with a smokey chipotle salsa. This was definitely a very heavy dish.

Viva China - soft beef tendon, kumamoto oysters, scallions, Sichuan peppercorn sauce

Kudos to our waiter for mentioning that we were ordering tendon, not tenderloin. I knew that, of course. Apparently some diners were mistaken. I'll take tendon over tenderloin any day. The tendon was prepared perfectly, just the way my mom makes them. It was cooked to a point where it had a gooey and fatty consistency. The tendon was rich and topped with a raw oyster that had a strong oceanic taste. I didn't think the oyster and tendon would go together but it was a perfect union. I liked that the first bite sans oyster had a very Asian flavoring, but the next bite with the oyster gave a completely different taste where you felt like you were experiencing a completely different taco.

Lamb pot stickers Stuck on You - vegetables, crispy lace

I thought the presentation was lovely, with the pot stickers covered with a thin, crispy wafer. The pot stickers were tiny and delicate, however I thought the lamb was a bit gamy. This was probably my least favorite dish because of the strong cumin flavor in the lamb.

Dan Dan Mian - hand cut wheat noodles, spicy sauce
I know critics will try to compare this to an authentic Chinese restaurant and may be disappointed but personally, I enjoyed it. It was a nice dish that balanced well with the heavy tacos that we had selected. The noodles were fresh and didn't stick together. They were topped with minced meat that were salty and had a spicy kick.

I was really impressed with China Poblano. Jose Andres has continued to surprise me. You won't find fancy molecular gastronomy here (unlike at The Bazaar) but you'll find a lovely but subtle marriage of Mexican and Asian concepts. He did an excellent job of blending two cuisines by offering Asian ingredients with Mexican seasonings in a taco. The flavors were bold and some of the dishes we selected were unique and interesting. For a restaurant that had only been open less than a month, I was pleased with the service which was knowledgeable and friendly. The tacos were also made to order but were zipping out of the kitchen. Once again, Jose Andres proves that he can create a inventive and delicious menu, which is yet another reason why Vegas ain't that bad after all.

Hits: duck tongue taco, tendon taco, service
Misses: tacos were a bit greasy
Rating: ***1/2

China Poblano
3708 N Las Vegas Blvd.,
Las Vegas, NV 89115
(877) 893-2001


Diana said...

Sounds like the perfect place to perk up a business trip! Though I think I'd prefer tenderloin to the tendon. ;)

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