Generally, the word “awesome” should be reserved for natural phenomena, such as the Northern Lights or spiritual epiphany. I’m going to break this rule, and proclaim that Hakkasan, the new, nine-figure restaurant/nightclub at the MGM Grand, deserves the label.
I was lucky enough to dine at the original Hakkasan on London’s Hamway Place, a small, elegant room below street level, and experience a few iconic dishes, such as the remarkable duck salad and magnificent Hakka braised pork belly. So I’m happy to report that you will be eating the exact same dishes here.
But this five-level complex goes far beyond the original concept. Dining here, for many guests, will be just the beginning of a high-octane evening that includes clubbing with a brace of the world’s top DJs, among them Tiësto and Calvin Harris. So the rather high price point of the dishes here seems almost insignificant in that context, and the fact that chef Ho Chee Boon has won a coveted Michelin star for his work at the London location justifies this further.
Your experience begins the moment you enter a narrow corridor that leads to a hostess stand, which is dominated by the scent of jasmine and ringed with purple orchids. You’ll be led to a table inside a soaring latticed woodwork labyrinth, which the management refers to as “cages.” Peek through them and you’ll see the bar, flooded with tungsten blue light. One thing I noticed on my third visit was how few two-tops the restaurant has. Apparently, they are banking on catering to parties of four and above.
Boon’s desire is to be traditional and creative at the same time. He’s a master of dim sum, for example, evidenced by the steamed basket of them, jewel-like versions of shumai (a scallop dumpling), a perch dumpling inside a green noodle wrapper and a starfish-shaped black pepper duck dumpling, among others.
Tossed at the table, the duck salad is a blend of crisp, meaty duck, tender greens and several surprises, among them pomelo, pomegranate arils and pine nuts—a symphonic étude of flavors and textures. If you fancy something fried, the soft-shell crab is amazing for its whipped egg-yolk batter; I promise you’ll spoon up the crumbs greedily. There is a crispy quail appetizer, as well, two birds tossed with Chinese five spice and chili sauce. If you didn’t realize this wasn’t your grandmother’s Chinese food before this, you will now.
The menu here is extensive, but don’t be intimidated by the unfamiliarity. Boon has made almost all of these dishes approachable, and few are so exotic that you’d shrink away from trying them.
Signature dishes are marked with an asterisk. Pi-pa duck is just about the crispest duck you’ll ever taste, skin on, though Boon wants you to try his version with kumquat and mustard sauce (a tasty conceit, but less crispy from the wet sauce).
Another starred dish is stir-fried black pepper beef rib eye with merlot, exquisitely tender meat served in a noodle basket. But I’m more of a lamb lover, so I opt for Shanghai fried lamb tenderloin instead, done with a subtle hint of fiery spice.
Don’t miss the Hakka noodle with mushrooms and Chinese chive— golden brown, delicious and completely addictive, even better than the wong chow mein served at King Wah in Alhambra, California, because of the subtle flavor of fresh mushrooms that permeates each bite. The best vegetable dish might be the humble plate of do miu, pea shoots, with a little crabmeat thrown in. Of course, if you’ve got $450 to throw around, then you can order the Braised Supreme dried whole Japanese abalone in Royal Supreme stock, the ultimate Chinese delicacy.
It may seem expensive, but I’m willing to bet it’s a lot cheaper than bottle service upstairs in the nightclub.
In the MGM Grand, 891-1111. Open 5-11 p.m. Mon-Wed, 5 p.m.-midnight Thu-Sun. Dinner for two, $89-$159.