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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Review: Tao Las Vegas

This post is part 3 in an occasional series about Las Vegas. If you can get a sitter and want a night or two away with your honey (or a girlfriend's getaway), here's an idea where to dine.

It’s a restaurant! It’s a nightclub! It’s a beach (okay a pool)! Welcome to Tao.

If you’re a reader of People Magazine (or any rag covering celebrities), you’ve heard of Tao Las Vegas. As in the restaurant that rakes in more money than any other U.S. dining establishment, to the tune of $68.4 million last year alone.

After years of reading about all the celebrities at Tao in my People mag (with parties attended or hosted by the likes of Lauren Conrad, Riahnna, Kevin Federline, Ellen Pompeo, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Kid Cudi, Holly Madison, Khloe & Kourtney Kardashian, Madonna, and Rumer Willis, who celebrated her 21st birthday there this summer), we had to eat there on a recent Las Vegas trip.

I had my secret weapon – my sister, who lives in Los Angeles and is much better at celebrity sightings than I’ll ever be.

Our cell phones were quick on the draw. However when you eat dinner at 5:00 in the main dining area (rather than a private room with the stars), you’ll be left taking cell phone pictures of your sister instead. Plus we were at the restaurant, not the club.

We preferred to think of our early dining experience as the pre-show meal (hey – we had 7:00 and 10:00 shows to catch), but eating dinner at 5:00 did feel like we were catching the early bird special. That’s when the restaurant opens, so the early birds (most of whom looked decidedly like sneaker-wearing retired folks from Iowa) stood in line behind the velvet rope waiting to get in.

Located in the Venetian Hotel (read my Venetian review here), Tao joins the rank of other restaurants with its own store (think Hard Rock CafĂ©, but a smaller store). Lest you try to pronounce Tao the Chinese way (dao), think again. Try that at the restaurant and you’ll be corrected. It’s “tao” with a "t."

It may have been bright and sunny outside that late afternoon, but getting into Tao was a dark, exotic experience. The entrance is like entering a telescoping stone tunnel, with bathtubs on each side - the tubs were candle-lit and filled with flowers.

The club (which we didn’t see – I guess it’s not open at 5 p.m. – go figure) holds 1,000 partiers. The restaurant holds 450 diners, but it didn’t seem quite that big. It is certainly atmospheric. Ceilings went up at least two stories, and the main room is dominated by a 16 foot tall Buddha “floating” above a pool with Japanese carp. The Buddha sits in front of a wall of candles recessed in cubbies (we tried to figure out how they’d light all those candles before realizing they just flipped a switch - they’re electric). On the brick walls upstairs, we could see large photos of monks and other Asians, which were striking.
Like many restaurants in Vegas, this one has its on DJ spinning tunes for your dining pleasure.

Okay, the food. The stylized menu is organized by “noble treasures from the sea,” “from the sky,” “from the land,” “from the sides” (which I thought was funny), and some other categories including sushi, rice/noodles, tempura, special dishes, etc. The menu was extensive and if you can’t find something you like there, you should never eat at a pan-Asian restaurant again.
We started with the trio of sashimi, which was topped with jalapeno, cucumbers and tomato. It was delicious, but the jalapeno seems rather trendy (we had a similar dish at Lavo the night before complete with jalapeno). To die for was the seabass skewer with asparagus, glazed in miso teriyaki ($15). Ironically we also had miso teriyaki-glazed seabass at Lavo, though the Tao version was beyond compare. My companions and I were fighting over the last bites and who got to lick the dish.

As for entrees/sides, we ate spicy eggplant ($9) and pad Thai noodles ($16) which were good, but nothing special. We enjoyed the grilled Yellowfin rare tuna ($29) and red snapper with peanut sauce.

For dessert, we split the Fuji apple spring roll with Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream ($8) and chocolate raspberry won tons with the same ice cream ($9). Again, they were good, but not outstanding. I think the titles and presentation surpassed the taste.

Highlights for us were the cocktails and the service. The Tao-tini ($10), made with Absolut Mandarin, Stoli Raspberry, Malibu rum, cranberry & lime juices, was superb. I loved the Tiger Lily ($12), made with vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice. That one was served with a piece of sugarcane, which was yummy to chew on.

As for prices, you’ll pay for the atmosphere and Tao name. Kung pao chicken is $24. Pad Thai is $16. ‘Nuff said. The restaurant boasts of “spiritual eating” which we took as “holy sh*t – contemplate this $240 bill!”
Our server was excellent - she knew we had a show to catch and was attentive but didn’t rush us.

What I remember most about that meal is the image of the main dining area – the red hues, the big Buddha, the great drinks and the warm, exotic vibe. The restaurant has style and we enjoyed that style immensely.

Maybe next year Rumer will invite us to eat there with her next year - for her 22nd birthday.

(If you're going to Vegas with kids, you must read this first. And if you're doing Canyon Ranch Las Vegas, read this review)

1 comment:

  1. We had the best meal of our life at Bartollota Las Vegas. No celebrity sitings in the Wynn, but a phenomenal setting and amazing dining.