Chef Philip Lo claims to have "the most beautiful Chinese restaurant in the world." After a meal at Jasmine, it's hard to disagree. Jasmine is quite probably the best place in Las Vegas for a romantic meal. It is also the only place in Las Vegas that features the nouveaux Hong Kong cuisine of Chef Philip Lo. Lo, who has been named one of "America's Outstanding Chefs" by Chefs in America, draws on the sheer depth of Cantonese cuisine to deliver modern interpretations of classic Chinese food. With the Bellagio fountain show as a backdrop, a winning wine list, chic food and a decor that is dizzyingly beautiful, Jasmine is a must for lovers of Asian cuisine.Read More ...
Chef Philip Lo proudly boasts that he has the most beautiful Chinese Restaurant in the world. After dining at Jasmine in the Bellagio, it’s hard to disagree. Jasmine, which opened with the Bellagio in 1998, isn’t merely beautiful. It is a drop-dead gorgeous restaurant. Gorgeous like a classic movie star—the Lauren Bacall of restaurants, if you will.
The dining room is spacious, opulent, and dripping with black-shot gold chintz. Every window faces out to Lake Bellagio and the famous water fountains. You’d need a helicopter for a more breathtaking view of the Strip. With details like hand-painted butterflies on the ceiling and leather-bound menus printed on vellum, nothing has been overlooked. Not one concession was made in the creation of this restaurant.
Best of all, the food and the service are just as good.
Let’s start with the service. From the moment you are greeted by the hostess, this is old-world, formal dining. The visit by the Maitre D’Hotel and service by your sommelier, server, and stewards follow suit. Of course, it is not necessary to know where to put your napkin, or how to place your silverware on a finished plate. But if you do, it is refreshing to find servers who speak the silent language of fine dining. It’s like finding a bridge partner who knows every bidding convention that you do. Make no mistake. If your aim is to impress someone in Las Vegas, this is an ideal venue.
The food is chic. Chef Lo draws on a wellspring of Cantonese tradition, and then fuses European and new-world techniques and ingredients. Speaking of ingredients, Lo’s arrangement with his seafood vendors is the stuff of legend on the foodie circuit. Most of his seafood comes from Australia—live, on a plane, twice a week. Think about that when scanning the live-tank menu that includes Australian crystal crab and geoduck clams.
My wife Nina brought her mother along for this review. Both of them know far more about Chinese food than I ever will, having been born there and all. We ordered a pot of aromatic jasmine tea (naturally), which did a wonderful job of tying the various menu items together.
While the Taste of Jasmine tasting menu and the James Beard “foodie” tasting menu looked divine (and were quite a value, to boot), we ordered à la carte. Each of us had something we wanted to try.
To start, we ordered the Three Soup Tasting as well as Philip Lo’s Hot and Sour Soup. The four soups provided us with two of the “holy-trinity” of luxury Chinese foods -- shark fin and sea cucumber. Bird’s nest was (thankfully for my wallet) not on the menu that day. The soup tasting trio included shark fin soup, wonton soup, and chicken corn chowder. Which one was best? All of them.
The shark fin was thick and porky, with a mushroom finish. It was a clear, very bright, thick soup with a robust flavor and a constant interplay of textures, thanks to the shark fin. The chicken corn chowder was light and fluffy, slightly crunchy, with an aroma that reminded me of fresh-popped corn. The chowder had just the right seasoning, and was thickened with egg. Ah, comfort food. The wonton was another very bright soup, with a shrimp- and pork-stuffed wonton. I could drink the broth by the pint.
The hot and sour soup was Nina’s favorite part of the meal. First of all, it contained sea cucumber—my wife’s favorite luxury food. The soup was pleasantly spicy, but not “clear your sinuses” hot. It contained silky smooth tofu, wood ear mushrooms, and bamboo shoots, with a hearty thickness. Black rice vinegar (the king of rice vinegars) balanced the heat.
Next came the Spicy Plum Sauce Duck. I was anxious to order the Imperial Peking duck, but like the newly-minted saying goes: “When in a nouveaux Cantonese restaurant, eat what the chef suggests during the chef interview.” (For the record, three nearby diners ordered the Imperial Peking Duck. After seeing its elaborate table-side presentation, I am going back to Jasmine in a big, big hurry to try it.)
That being said, the duck with spicy plum sauce arrived sizzling in a clay pot, with an aroma that made nearby diners sniff the air. Sweet and spicy, tangy and lip-smacking, this duck was excellence in a pot. The duck was served on a bed of young eggplant, which were skinned and without the slightest hint of bitterness. The light star anise was perfectly balanced, and this duck was grease free. Nina and I had a stare-down over the last bite. Nina won. She told me, “I love you, but not enough to fork over the last piece of this duck.”
Next came the Ma Po Tofu. This is a vegetarian dish that even unabashed carnivores will enjoy. The tofu was rubbed with roasted pepper, and bits of preserved radish provided a salty, tangy finish (much like capers). The radish isn’t traditional (ground beef is), but this dish exemplifies nouveaux Cantonese. This, like all the entrees we enjoyed, was served over traditional steamed jasmine rice.
We rounded out our entrees with Soya Chilean Sea Bass, which was sautéed, and drizzled with aged soy sauce, asparagus, and lotus root. The fish was crisp on the outside, and perfectly flaky white on the inside. The asparagus was crisp. The aged soy played with the dish like balsamic. Aged soy sauce is something you want to have in your kitchen—thick, rich, smoky and sweet.
Then came dessert.
I’ll come right out and say it. Jasmine has the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had. I ordered the Assortment of Petit Crème Brûlée, a four-piece crème brûlée taster. The green tea and chocolate brûlée was an interesting twist on a classic. Then came a wonderfully-tart mango brûlée. Next was a traditional vanilla brûlée heaped with fresh fruit. They were all superb. Finally, the raspberry brûlée: silky, creamy, and with a raspberry sauce on top of the caramelized sugar that intertwined with the custard as you ate it. This is now the standard by which I will judge all other crème brûlée. This dessert wasn’t just excellent. It was perfect ambrosia.
My mother-in-law had the Tropical Tasting—three high-end fruit cakes with nouveaux twists. Warm mango cake with coconut ice cream, passion fruit parfait with marinated pineapple, and poached lemongrass cake with mango tapioca. Each of us had a different favorite of the three. Mine was the lemongrass cake.
I would love to tell you more about their Chocolate Lava Cake, but Nina gave me a look that told me I was only getting one bite. We both loved the fact that it was an adult chocolate dessert. Bittersweet and rich beyond belief, it celebrated the flavor of chocolate. The Jasmine Chocolate Lava Cake is a dessert that should only be shared between consenting adults. Consider yourself duly warned.
Executive summary: Jasmine will expand your horizons for Chinese cuisine. Chic, breathtakingly beautiful, formal, and yet fun, Jasmine overlooks nothing—except possibly the Bellagio fountain show.
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