Upscale Chinese restaurants on the Strip are two distinct entities. One aspect of them caters to non-Asians, usually seen chowing down on familiar fare such as Mongolian beef, fried rice and the occasional whole Peking duck, elegantly carved tableside.
Succulent marvels whose name the management has not bothered to translate into English, such as duck wings, beef tendon and black moss, are the province of ethnic Chinese diners who order from a special menu rarely offered to Caucasians.
But Aria’s Blossom, arguably the most beautifully designed restaurant in the hotel, makes Chinese delicacies accessible through the expertise of veteran general manager Tony Lee. He has managed Pearl at the MGM Grand and Fin at The Mirage, so he’s a cagey old pro. He’ll be happy to let you try one of his more exotic dishes, if you insist. Ask him to describe some, unless, of course, you can read Chinese characters.
This is a stunning room filled with latticed wooden dividers, so that the overall look is that of a trompe l’oeil Chinese courtyard. I love the bird-cage lanterns suspended over the booths, the inlaid glass flowers on the walls, and the deluxe wooden chairs, appointed with green velvet backs and jade-color leather cushions.
So the hefty prices shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many live seafood items are well over $100. If money is no object, you can have an ’82 Petrus from the wine list, a cool $19,100. You don’t get that option in Chinatown.
Chef Chi Choi is a master of both the simple and the complex, dishes that elevate Chinese cooking to a level few cuisines manage. This foie gras, for instance, is goose, not duck—and it’s the only one of its kind in the city, flash-fried to a crisp in the wok with soy sauce and vinegar. (For the record, it’s $32.)
The chef’s tempura string beans, ice fish and cubed eggplant are as light as meringue. They share the stage with more mundane appetizers such as pot stickers, lettuce wraps, and other items that one can order in your local P.F. Chang’s.
The menu boasts more than 100 items, plus countless daily specials. I requested that Mr. Lee bring us two of his favorite cold dishes, and he suggested wood ear mushrooms and beef tendon, both crunchy, redolent of sesame oil and rice vinegar.
For our entrées, I chose stir-fry of spicy shredded pork, firm tofu and green pepper, delicious on white rice. My wife insisted on Dungeness crab in black bean sauce. We both ended up licking the shells clean.
For sides, I like the spicy Indian-style fried rice, which our bilingual young waiter (he’s Cantonese, but was reared in Hawaii) said was “spiced more like Indonesian fried rice.” We also tried pan-fried pea shoots, a seasonal Chinese green slowly becoming mainstream.
If you want dessert, there is both an Asian and Western menu, both written in English. From the Asian menu, the sweet, chilled mango, sago and pomelo soup is the clear winner. If it’s Western dessert you’re Jonesin’ for, banana dumplings with passion fruit cream, coconut tapioca and candied mango will do nicely, thank you.