Eastern Influence

MOzen Bistro offers variety, any time of day

It’s not enough that the Mandarin Oriental at CityCenter is the city’s most elegant hotel. It also has cutting-edge French cooking at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist, and what I call our best three-meal restaurant, the casual MOzen Bistro.

MOzen Bistro sits on the third floor at the hotel, reached by the only elevator I know of with a velvet-upholstered bench. Valet parking is de rigueur, but the good news is that I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes for my car (as opposed to an interminable waiting time at the adjacent Aria).

Credit: Anthony MairAsian comfort food: a bento box.

Credit: Anthony MairSushi being prepared.

What makes MOzen great is that executive chef Shawn Armstrong, a personable American with chops in his own right, has so much help it almost seems unfair. The hotel caters to a tony Asian clientele, so the restaurant needs to satisfy all their whims.

That’s why the kitchen has a top-notch sushi master, a dim sum chef, even an Indian chef making the best tandoori in Las Vegas. Order the Royal Tandoori Platter, for instance, and you’ll get beautiful pieces of lamb, chicken and shrimp with an amazing spice crust. Dim sum like ha gow shrimp dumplings and barbecued pork buns are as good as you’d get in Hong Kong. What an embarrassment of riches!

The dining room has a clean, slightly sterile feel, punctuated by a trio of steel and glass chandeliers. Seating is either at view tables or at a series of leather-upholstered banquettes. The noise level is subdued at best; lighting is, in the classic Asian manner, on the bright side.

I love to come here for breakfast, not because of the complimentary newspapers and filter coffee, but because I love the rice porridge, a.k.a. congee. Here, have it with chicken, scallops or shrimp, an enormous bowl of Asian comfort food, flanked by sides of toasted peanuts, fresh ginger, marinated spring onion and chili sauce.

Western breakfasts are sublime, too; great pancakes with real maple syrup, walnut banana bread French toast, or Southern eggs, poached with pulled pork and homemade buttermilk biscuits.

Lunch is a good time for Asian fare. Japanese customers will be pleasantly surprised to see toro, their prized fatty tuna belly, on the sushi list for only $15; they’d pay three to four times that in Tokyo. Salt and pepper calamari, a Chinese dish, is great for sharing. The crust is as light and crisp as first-rate Japanese tempura.

The house pad thai is exquisite, not sticky sweet as in most of our Thai restaurants. Spice lovers might cotton to lamb shank curry served with a tray of Indian condiments, rice and thick lentil gravy. I prefer it to any such dish I’ve eaten in Las Vegas.

Things are quiet during the evening, a good time to indulge in the American fare created by Armstrong. The 72-hour short ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, sensuously perfumed with rosemary and thyme. The best fish dish might be herb-roasted Alaskan halibut with green peppercorn butter sauce.

The dessert list is short and sweet. There is a classic lemon tart, and something called matcha, a green tea mascarpone accompanied by an espresso-soaked, hard Italian biscotto.

Never the twain shall meet? That sentiment is woefully out of date.

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