Have you walked through the Palms lately and wondered what’s going on in that space that used to be Little Buddha? I recently peeked behind the curtain to find the dining room just about ready for its new tenant, retaining the same chic, sexy feel we remember, despite numerous renovations. The kitchen is far from complete; however, Palms officials assure me Lao Sze Chuan, will be ready for a soft opening August 29, with a grand opening September 12.
Lao Sze Chuan specializes in Szechuan cuisine. (The spelling of the name reflects the Taiwanese spelling of the word.) If you’re anything like me, you may have greeted this news with a yawn. After all, it’s hard to find a resort in Las Vegas that doesn’t offer Chinese food. But owner Tony Hu promises his place will be a game changer.
“Lao Sze Chuan is the first Chinese restaurant in a casino offering authentic Sze Chuan cuisine,” Hu tells me. “It’s the first one, and the only one!”
Hype is nothing new in Las Vegas. But a quick look at Hu’s credentials, and you begin to wonder if this is something more. The original Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago has received numerous awards and accolades, including being named one of the “Top 10 spots for spicy food” by the Chicago Tribune; “possibly the most interesting menu in Chicago” by the Chicago Reader; and the “closest to Chinese home cooking” by Chicago magazine.
Plans for Hu’s Palms location are ambitious. The menu is set to have more than 250 items. They’ll include signature Chicago items, such as his three-chile chicken, and items created just for Las Vegas, such as a Szechuan peppercorn fish. There will also be dim sum made fresh to order (rather than wheeled around on a cart) and a late-night menu of clay pot dishes. And the kitchen will feature eight large tanks of live seafood. “We have many return customers,” Hu says. “And we want to give them more choices.”
Despite the elegant décor and a handful of pricey exotic dishes, Hu promises to keep things mostly affordable. He’s proud that his Chicago space has twice earned Michelin’s Bib Gourmand Award for good value. Here, the price is expected to average from $35 to $50 a person, with dim sum available for much less. Compared with other resorts’ Chinese restaurant, “Our prices will be the lowest in Las Vegas,” Lao says.
As for competition from less expensive restaurants in nearby Chinatown, Hu doesn’t seem worried. “All of the restaurants in Chinatown [near] Spring Mountain Road are way behind other cities’ Chinatowns,” he says. When I ask him how, he points to the current styles, décor and presentations he sees on his frequent trips to China.
Whether Hu will deliver everything he promises and propel Lao Sze Chuan to the top of the local Chinese food world remain to be seen. But one thing’s certain: Come September, the game will most definitely be on.