With the unprecedented expansion of Nobu and the long-delayed opening of Morimoto all behind us, one might think Las Vegas would be ready for a break from importing pricey international Japanese restaurant brands. But in a city where nothing succeeds like excess, is it really surprising that another player is preparing to take a place at that table? Zuma has already demonstrated its ability to play with the big boys in London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Dubai, Miami, Bangkok, Abu Dhabi, Rome, New York and Turkey’s Datça Peninsula. The local casino in which chef and co-founder Ranier Becker has chosen to compete is The Cosmopolitan. In advance of the restaurant’s January 25 grand-opening celebration, Vegas Seven recently got a peek at Zuma’s cards.
Las Vegas’ Zuma will occupy the square footage that last housed The Cosmopolitan’s P3Studio interactive art space. Becker says the fact that it wasn’t a restaurant in the past will make it easier for them to achieve their goals. These include a segmented kitchen and front-of-house area. “Food-wise, we must have a sushi counter, robata grill and the main kitchen,” the chef says. “Another important element is the bar and lounge. It adds to the fun and the relaxed atmosphere that you find at Zuma.”
As for the menu, Becker describes Zuma’s cuisine as “traditional, but not authentic,” and sees that as a plus when playing to an audience with a solid understanding of Japanese cuisine while still delivering a new dining alternative. Because the restaurant wants to cater to “all kinds of dining, whether it be a quick bite or an evening out,” it will include diverse dishes in all sizes.
When it comes to sushi and seafood, Zuma will rely on the suppliers of its Miami and New York locations as well as regular shipments from Japan. While classic sashimi and nigiri will be available, the restaurant prides itself on “house” preparations such as pirikara hamachi with sansho pepper, avocado and wasabi mayo, or the mixed seafood dish Zuma chirashi, a maki roll version of the classic dish with assorted fish, avocado, cucumber and gobo (burdock root).
If you happen to have friends who turn up their noses at raw fish (or if you’re one of those people yourself), Zuma promises to present something for all diets. An easy starting point will be the robata grill. Offerings there will include skewers of meat, fish and enough vegetables to satisfy a vegan, cooked over traditional Japanese charcoal.
One of the greatest challenges any international restaurant group has when coming to Las Vegas is figuring out how to stay true to its roots while still creating an experience as distinctive as its new home. Obviously, with Zuma having 10 other locations worldwide, a large portion of Cosmopolitan diners are likely to know the restaurant and its most popular dishes before they open the menu.
“Of course, the Zuma favorites will be a feature [on the Las Vegas menu],” Becker says, reassuring those loyalists. “We have a huge international following, and many of our guests come to Zuma for those dishes, such as thinly sliced sea bass with yuzu, truffle and salmon roe; and our barley miso marinated baby chicken, oven-roasted on cedarwood; and from the robata, our jumbo tiger prawn with yuzu pepper.”
Las Vegas casino-resorts are unique in the way they lend themselves to walking from restaurant to restaurant and grabbing a quick bite at the bar of each. The chef clearly sees the appeal of this, especially at The Cosmopolitan, where he describes the restaurant program as “brave and thoughtful.” So what dish would he recommend to complement those of his new neighbors during a restaurant crawl? Becker suggests one of his personal favorites: robata chicken wings, which he describes as “the ultimate bar snack.”
At this early juncture, any list of recommendations is destined to change as Becker and his team continue to customize the Zuma experience for our city. “We like to tailor our menu to the market demand. I mean, who knows better than your customers what they want, right? So, after opening, we will introduce a few new dishes. If they’re well received, they’ll [eventually] be featured on the menu. Indeed, they may translate globally. It’s an exciting time for development when you have a new team in a new environment.”
And that anticipation is mutual, as we watch the entire process unfold over the next few weeks.