Asian fusion is so…2008!" proclaims a Barbie blonde holding court in the Wazuzu restaurant at the new Wynn Encore resort in Las Vegas. Like many of the glamorous diners at this most exotic restaurant, Barbie conducts herself with the air of a sophisticated "foodie" – a term used to describe an individual who is always the first to check out a new restaurant or identify a new cuisine trend.
What Barbie does not yet realize is that the cuisine at Wazuzu is not Asian fusion. Instead, it is Pan Asian Bistro. So, what’s the difference? According to Chef Jet Tila, the term refers to Asian food in its purest form. Unlike Asian fusion, which mixes all Asian flavors together, Chef Jet offers dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan that reflect the spices and flavors of the individual region. Working with Chef Jet, Master Sushi chef Matsuura offers both traditional and innovative sushi and a daily "tank-to-table" special.
Before delving into the cuisine, allow me to set the scene. Wazuzu is gorgeous with vibrant orange silk draperies and distressed bleached wood wall panels, resulting in a look both modern and striking. Barbie looks good here. So does everyone else with the flattering and rather dramatic lighting.
The intimate, yet open room faces the very active casino floor, so you can people-watch the international crowd at the slot machines or peek sideways at your smartly dressed fellow diners. Like virtually all Wynn resort restaurants, the dress code is "resort casual," yet the "Forbidden City" setting motivated me to dress to match the upscale elegance of the room. Possessing an active imagination, I fancy myself a glamorous spy in a 1940s movie. "Cocktail, miss?"
I look up at our young, pink-cheeked server who offers me the cocktail menu designed by Wynn’s in-house mixologist, Patricia Richards, who has created nine specialty cocktails inspired by the flavor of Chef Jet’s cuisine. I’m told Wazuzu Smash, the restaurant’s signature drink, is made with Skyy Vodka, orchid mango liqueur, freshly muddled pineapple, yuzo, calpico, and ginger syrup. Hmm, tempting. But today I am looking for the perfect Asian food and wine pairing.
As an aperitif, I choose Jizake Tenzan Genshu from the nine-item sake. It is bold and rich, with a palate of toasted rice scented with caramel. It pairs quite well with Chef Matsu’s Special, seared big eye tuna topped with micro mixed salad, chili ginger sauce, and green scallion oil ($28).
Next, I try three whites with the highly recommended seafood sunomono. This dish is seasonal sashimi (today it included shrimp, octopus, salmon, and vinegar-soaked cucumbers) with Taz Chardonnay (Santa Barbara), Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand), and Dr. Thanish Riesling from Germany’s Mosel region. You will find the best pairing is the Sauvignon Blanc (the sharp, pink grapefruit and citrus flavors of the wine match the sharp, clean sunomono), though I appreciated the contrast between the rich, honey and yellow-fleshed fruit flavors of the off-dry Riesling.
Now the delicious Tom Yum Goong Soup (hot, sour, spicy prawn soup with shimeji mushrooms, $14) is made to order. Patrons can choose a spiciness level from one to five. I choose the hottest level, which is a mistake when it comes to wine pairing. Why? One’s tongue is so on-fire, beer is the best possible pairing, and you will find six beers/ales on the menu.
As an entree, I encourage you to try Steamed Rockfish with ginger and scallions (market price). It is a whole white-fleshed fish, steamed with the scent of ginger and scallions, and quite toothsome. It was a great match with both the Sauvignon Blanc and the Chardonnay. As an experiment, I also tried it with the Cloudline Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Wilamette Valley. This is the best pairing if you like a red wine with fish, yet I must admit that this medium-bodied red overwhelmed the subtle flavors of this incredibly delicious fish.
The Pinot Noir is best paired with the Thai Beef Salad, ($18) a generous and lively presentation of various exotic lettuce and beef in a chili mint dressing. Red wine lovers will also find this salad substantial enough to pair with the Northstar Melot from the Napa valley, with its rich fresh berry flavors, and the Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon, which is lighter than the typical California Cab.
Wazuzu’s name references a well-known 16th century painting of nine young dragons. Wynn’s designer, Roger Thomas, has incorporated a 27-foot, three-dimensional crystal dragon into the decor, which is comprised of 90,000 Swarovski crystals and 24,00 flickering lights. With its dramatic lighting and "lucky charm" ambiance, guests feel as if they are sitting in an exotic jewel box, especially if you are lucky enough to get one of the booths and sofas that look outward toward the casino floor.
Beyond the delicious cuisine, well-chosen wines, and theater-like setting, I love the energy of this place. When I ask to meet Chef Jet, a young energetic man bounds over to my table, enthusiasm for the restaurant and his culinary art readily apparent in his voice. He explains the meaning behind the large golden pear structures around the room (fertility) and why he is so passionate about Pan Asian Bistro cuisine. He had grown up, he explains, working in his family’s Los Angeles-based Thai markets and restaurants and wanted to share his take on Asian cuisine with the world. Before we can finish our conversation, Barbie calls Chef Jet over.
"So tell me about what inspired this new Pan Asian Bistro trend…" I hear her eagerly ask, surely excited to be among the first of her foodie friends to experience it.
Wynn Encore Resort
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109