The year of the dragon begins Jan. 23, and lasts three weeks. China Poblano (in the Cosmo, 698-7900) chef Shirley Chung has developed a special menu for the occasion, including cocktails and creative dim sum.
The most interesting libation might be Huang Di’s Kir Royale, named for the first emperor of China, a reputed health faddist. The drink uses cava (Spanish sparkling wine) instead of French Champagne and substitutes goji-berry liqueur for the traditional crème de cassis and employs goji-berry pearls that burst in the mouth.
Foods have symbolic significance. Happy Family Jiaozi is pork and shrimp dumplings shaped like old Chinese money for prosperity in the coming year. Gem of China is a delicious abalone congee representing luck, and Fire Phoenix is crisp young chicken with pork rinds, for long life.
The coming year will bring new trends in the restaurant industry as well, according to no less a sage than John Mariani, Esquire’s scribe and blogger extraordinaire. (Read him at JohnMariani.com). He predicts that there will be several famous chefs closing their restaurants in Las Vegas during 2012—though he’s not naming names, so be warned. He goes on to say that Asian dumplings are going to be among the hottest dishes, and also that the Old Fashioned will achieve its once preeminent place in the cocktail world yet again. Furthermore, he’s banking on the locavore movement, doughnuts and Peruvian cuisine, even if he thinks that there “isn’t all that much to it.”
Winter is a wonderful time to visit Zion National Park, a three-hour drive from Vegas. It’s permitted to drive in, there are few crowds and the scenery is especially gorgeous right now. But before you go hiking, it’s a good idea to eat a hearty meal. Just one mile from the park entrance, the quaint town of Springdale has lots of good, small places, but none stands out like Café Oscar (948 Zion Park Blvd., 435-772-3232), a funky breakfast and lunch stop just behind a Shell station on Route 9.
Oscar’s, as it’s referred to by locals, makes incredible pancakes with add-ins like berries or granola, delicious huevos rancheros with black beans and the best burgers for 100 miles. I especially love the Murder Burger, a giant patty with bacon, tomato and Swiss cheese on an oatmeal bun.
Finally, the best lunch buffet in town might just be at the Mint Indian Bistro (730 E. Flamingo Road, 894-9334, MintBistro.com), serving south Indian, north Indian and Nepali specialties. I always load up on the chili chicken, goat meat on the bone and chau chau, Tibetan noodles in a spicy sauce. The buffet is available 11:30-3 p.m. for $11.