Las Vegas restaurant: China Poblano
Beef tendon and oyster tacos
For the next few days, Biting Commentary is in Las Vegas attending a magazine conference. There are certainly no lack of places to eat (and drink) in Vegas, but what's really worth spending the time and stomach space?
One of the notable eats: China Poblano, a small plates restaurant featuring Mexican and Chinese food, what sounds like an improbable pairing. My expectations were high, given that the place is by Jose Andres, who has eight restaurants in his empire and a James Beard Outstanding Chef Award in his trophy case.
What I found was a little hit or miss, but certainly interesting. The first miss: the dim sum. At almost $14 for six pieces of har gau (the shrimp dumpling staple of any dim sum parlor), perhaps the dish was never going to live up to its price tag. The menu description promised pork belly with shrimp; instead, we got tiny dumplings that tasted mostly of shrimp and water chestnut.
The menu is mostly divided between the two cuisines; China Poblano is less a fusion restaurant than a place where you can pick up both tacos and Chinese noodles, with most of their authenticity intact (unless you consider price part of the authenticity of street food).
From the Mexican side, carnitas tacos ($5.50/taco) are stuffed with meltingly soft, braised baby pig topped with pork rinds and a raw salsa verde. From the Chinese side, dan dan mian ($12) are chewy hand-cut wheat noodles mixed with spicy pork sauce, the Chinese equivalent of bolognese.
Left: huitlacoche noodles, right: dan dan mian
The noodle dishes are my favorite items at China Poblano. I love the slippery cellophane noodles of Ten Treasure ($17.88), in a shrimp and salted ham broth, full of goodies such as pea sprouts, string mushrooms, shiitake and tofu. And then there's the Huitlacoche Noodles ($18), one of the dishes that cross cultures—because Andres couldn't help crossing the flavors any more than Chinese parents in America can keep their daughters from interracial marriage. Doughy, knife-shaved noodles, more like shards than long, slender strips, mingle with serrano chile and huitlacoche, a fungus with an alias worthy of The Vegas Strip: corn smut. It is funky and earthy, the dish simultaneously comforting and intriguing.
Duck tongue and lychee tacos
Just as intriguing, but perhaps not as successful, are the cross-cultural tacos. The Viva China ($5.50/taco) pits charred beef tendon against Kumamoto oyster, but the textures are altogether too soft, and the flavors cancel each other out. The Silencio ($5.50) inspired both love and hate at our table: some loved the play of sweet against the squishy duck tongue, some thought the sweet distracting, and some just couldn't get over the pile of duck tongues in the corn tortilla.