Monday, April 14, 2014 | 11:58 p.m.
I kept asking myself, “How is this possible”? How can an American chef who grew up eating liver and onions become such a masterful Japanese chef? Then again, he’s the first to admit that his food isn’t authentic Japanese.
That’s the incredible conundrum Matthias Merges has set out with his new Japanese street food restaurant Yusho at the Monte Carlo. He’s the first of a new wave of Chicago chefs invading the Strip.
His food is so tasty that I ordered the Japanese griddlecake as an appetizer and again for dessert — it was that incredibly delicious. How can you go wrong when instead of one cocktail, you get a flight of six so that you don’t miss any.
Then I tucked into grilled octopus served with green beans, enoki mushrooms and an egg yolk. If that was the only meal I ate for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t complain. Food critics here are giving him rave reviews; I’m joining the chorus.
It’s shared dining at its finest and most original, with noodles, tempura, steamed buns, crispy cod, fried oysters, charred eggplant and more. Be sure to order the grilled duck breast served with mushroom marmalade and scallions.
Las Vegas visitors might fear this menu. Don’t! Be adventurous, as you are in for a treat. (My Q+A with Matthias was posted April 4.)
The contrarian chef who ran the late celebrity chef Charlie Trotter’s empire for more than a decade told me: “I wanted to really explore a lot of things that I really fell in love with while traveling, visiting markets and eating things on the streets in Malaysia, Singapore, going to Japan and China. Those food experiences were so vibrant in my mind that I wanted to explore them more. I thought why not make this acceptable with a larger, broader audience.
“It’s more interesting that I’m not Japanese and I’m not Asian, and I actually live in Chicago. My Asian guests say what I do isn’t Asian, but they prefer it to the traditional. The food that we do and how we perceive it was inspired by our travels, and we call it Yusho cuisine because no one really does what we do. That puts us a little step ahead.
“We’re not trying to imitate. We just want to be ourselves and have fun with food and use those kind of markers in Asian cuisine by using a product or ingredient that specifically is Asian, but put a spin on it and a twist.”
The Chicago invasion is underway. Tony Hu of Chicago’s Chinatown Lao Empire is bringing his much-admired Lao You Ju to the Palms.
I’ve previously reported that Graham Elliot, who serves as a judge with Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich on “Master Chef,” is headed here.
Over the next few days, we’re going to see a slew of new eateries opening. It starts this Thursday with Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar at the Quad, and, as part of tour Chefs Week salute here at Vegas DeLuxe, we’ll have an interview with Guy on Thursday.
Newly redheaded Holly Madison opens her 1923 Bourbon & Burlesque small-bites cigar lounge and adult show at Mandalay Bay also on Thursday. We’ll post my interview with her Thursday before she opens the doors.
On Saturday, I’ll do a menu tasting at the new DB Brasserie named for celebrated New York chef Daniel Boulud opening next month and helmed by former Alex Stratta protege David Middleton.
Then a few days later, TV darling Giada De Laurentiis and I will break bread with a test run of her California Italian taste treats at her new 450-seat restaurant in the new Cromwell that opens May 21. It’s her first restaurant and scales in at 14,400 square feet and at a cost of $6 million.
SPRING CULINARY SEASON
It’s an exciting spring culinary season for Las Vegas.
Chris Keating has become the new executive chef at Border Grill in Mandalay Bay offering new and unlimited made-to-order small plates for Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit starts May 8 with a food extravaganza of 60 superstar chefs, 100 restaurants and 100 wineries and sommeliers.
Many of the events are already sold out (go to VegasUncorked.com for details), but I’ve discovered a special way to break that barrier at the Joel Robuchon Cooking and Wine Demo, the Hakkasan Experience and Michael Mina Pig Roast & beer tasting all at MGM Grand.
The first-ever VIP package has been put together for foodies who can’t bear the thought of missing out on Vegas Uncork’d culinary kings and queens and want to dine with Joel in his flagship. The Chef of the Century will even give you a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour.
MGM executives are offering the Extravagance Package that includes three nights in MGM Sky Lofts. Call (877) 646-5638 for the inside scoop.
MOZEN AT MANDARIN
Our Mandarin Oriental at MGM’s CityCenter caters to Asian visitors familiar with the hotel group’s high standards of service and accommodations. And when it comes to food, there’s nothing quite like the brilliance of Mozen Bistro.
In addition to the sushi and sashimi bar for Japanese delicacies, there are menu selections and chef’s designs for Thai treats, Singapore specialties, Malaysian marvels and intense and incredible Indian incidentals.
Call this a culinary tour through Asia for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a unique dining experience because you can sample all the varied cuisines of the East — and let me just say that the Indian delicacies are really zesty! That’s thanks to new chef de cuisine Vivek Rawat, who hails from the highly respected Taj Hotels of India and the Maldives.
He holds silver and bronze medals for culinary excellence while at the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore. He’s so talented that the prestigious James Beard House in New York invited him to cook there. For a totally different and divine dining experience, Mozen must not be missed.
I celebrated our esteemed Senior Editor Don Chareunsy’s birthday meal there (his “public age” is 34), and we both rolled home marveling at the spices and regional Indian cuisines with their 5,000 years of history.
On Tuesday, our Chefs Week series continues with Giada’s preview tour of her new Strip restaurant Giada; on Wednesday, it’s my interview with Wolfgang Puck and his new attitude toward healthy eating; and then we’ll wrap Thursday with my Guy Fieri interview as he opens his first Las Vegas hotspot.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
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Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.