Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vegas 2: China Poblano

Upon discovering that Jose Andres had just opened two places in Vegas, I was thrilled to add them to my already impressive list of places to dine. I had discovered Andres' original Jaleo when I was in DC in 2005. That tapas place provided the best food I ate on my 10 day visit to the US East Coast, a trip full of restaurants and talented chefs. I'm sure I liked Jaleo so much because it reminded me of the great tapas my wife and I grazed on during our several weeks in Spain in 2002. Bringing tapas to North America was akin to Prometheus delivering fire to humans in the Greek myth. Tapas are by their nature inventive and Jose's mixing of Mexican and Chinese foods sounded like something done by an inventive chef.
I prepared for this meal, my first lunch reservation, by doing some Tai Chi exercises in my hotel. Not just for the exercise, which my legs needed after prodigious amount of walking they had withstood the previous evening- chi was also a pronunciation note for Andres' restaurant. It's Chi (as in Tai Chi) Na, not our usual English pronunciation of the country where Chi rhymes with Rye. Unfortunately it didn't take as long to walk to the Cosmopolitan building from my hotel as I expected. After reading the great New Yorker article about he new CityCenter complex just opened in Vegas (oddly I read the article last October when I was still feasting in NY). I just assumed the glassy billion dollar buildings would be endlessly photogenic. Well, not endlessly. There'll be a blogpost devoted to reflections later in this series. Now it's about the food.
As you can see, China Poblano deceptively advertises itself as Open long before it actually is. It's only the take-out windows that are open early. I had to wait til noon to get in
I'm the first customer in the restaurant. I've studied the menu since it went online a few weeks ago and figured the scallop ceviche and the shrimp mojo would make a good lunch. I ordered ice water, which I needed after all that walking and photographing. The waiter asked if I'd like anything else to drink. I noticed a pitcher of red liquid and inquired what it was. Called Agua Fresca, made from prickly pear, water and sugar, I was offered a sample. It was interesting. In the same way as being in a car accident could be called "interesting." Things were not starting off well.
That abruptly changed when the tiny scallops and limes arrived on my table. The servers seemed to be divided into Mexican and ?Chinese? One of the Mexican men said he was very dubious about this dish when he first saw it. But it was surprisingly good. I was instructed to insert the scallops in my mouth and then squeeze the limes into my mouth at the same time to mix the flavours, like a shooter. Intense. Wondrous. Reminded me of Grant Achatz's attempts at invention at Alinea, which is now ranked #1 in the Americas. But Achatz needed a whole kitchen chemistry lab to come up with his creations- this was simplicity, with stones. Not the aesthetically overwhelming view from Mix, but at least something is happening visually. In the episode of No Reservations Tony Bourdain shot in the Basque country, one of the restaurants featured stones combined with food made to look like stones, to bemuse the diner. Here at least I knew which were the scallop/limes and which were inedible stones. Unfortunately, that wasn't always the case in Andres-land, as you'll discover when you get to my review of Jaleo later in the blog trip.
Shrimp mojo: shrimp, sweet black garlic, roasted poblano peppers. The peppers were the highlight of the meal. OK, not exactly a highlight. Think low hill you wouldn't mind walking up if you had arthritis. The best part of this tapas was squeezing the leftover key limes over the shrimp. And I'm still hungry.
There are some special plates celebrating Chinese New Year. This was on that list, which does not appear on the website menu. My bill lists it as Plentiful Year Jiaozi. It may or may not be the Vegetable Jiaozi from that menu, perhaps someone reading this will know. It brought me closer to being full and further from being hungry but little in the way of culinary entertainment I had come to this city for.

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