China Poblano - Las Vegas, NV

Dinner - Tuesday, December 28, 2010

China Poblano is a new concept from José Andrés, one of his three restaurants in the brand-new Cosmopolitan hotel (the other two establishments are Jaleo and é by José Andrés). As the name suggests, the restaurant combines the flavours of Chinese and Mexican cuisine, with some characteristic twists here and there.

The restaurant has two separate kitchens for Chinese and Mexican menu items, and these are connected to takeout windows where passers-by can order items to-go. We had originally planned to have lunch here, but after perusing the menu, our stomachs got the better of us and we switched our reservations to dinner that same day. Upon arriving at dinnertime, we were seated at a communal table - service was fast and efficient, and we quickly got around to ordering some items. The menu is thematically divided into 3 "cuisines" - Mexican, Chinese, and Chinese-meets-Mexican.

Salt-air margarita
Singapore Sling
We started off with some cocktails. The salt-air margarita was excellent. In fact, all margaritas ought to be served this way - the foam (created with soy lecithin) ensures that you get just the right dose of salinity in every sip. The balance of tequila and lime juice was good, not too sour or alcoholic.

On the other hand, the Singapore Sling was a slight let-down. It was overly sweet and the flavours didn't taste as fresh as they should. The menu describes the cocktail as "the original recipe from the Raffles hotel". I've been to the Raffles, and can aver that their version tastes better. I wonder if the current Singaporean recipe has been tweaked for the modern palate.

Lengua tacos
Beef tongue, pasilla salsa, radish garnish
The lengua tacos were excellent with the pasilla salsa on top and some additional chipotle salsa - nicely spicy and the beef was cooked to tender perfection. I love radishes in dishes so I was happy to see them piled atop the meat here.

Gazpacho Morelia
Pineapple, cucumber, jicama, dragonfruit, queso fresco, chile pequin, tangerine juice
Next was a dish from the Chinese-Mexican fusion section of the menu. The server mentioned that it had just been added to the menu the day before, and after tasting it, we told him that it should probably be taken off the menu. On paper, it sounded intriguing, but the dish that arrived was essentially a glorified fruit salad. It was impossible to get more than a few chunks of vegetable/fruit in each bite, and there was nothing to tie the disparate flavours together. We sent this back to the kitchen. As it turns out, this dish would continue a theme wherein the Chinese-Mexican dishes seemed to be the weakest dishes of the evening (see the tuna ceviche below).

"Dancing eggplant" - Steamed eggplant
Soy sauce, black garlic, bonito flakes
"When pigs fly" - char siew bao
The texture of the steamed eggplant was great - firm and meaty, standing up well to the strong garlic/soy sauce combination. The pork filling in the baos were likewise excellent, but the dough left a lot to be desired. They were simultaneously too dense and too thin, ripping when I pulled the paper away from the baos. The server proudly mentioned that their baos were packed with filling and far meatier than the usual dim sum versions. This is really missing the point - filling is important, but a good bao should be equally appreciated for the taste and springiness of its dough. Overfilling a bao not only upsets the balance, but creates a structural weakness as evidenced here.

Silencio tacos
Duck tongue with rambutan
My favourite dish of the evening - absolutely delicious. The sweet rambutan flesh was a perfect foil for the savory, chewy duck tongue. Three perfect bites per taco.

Chrysanthemum Pu-erh tea
Tuna ceviche
Avocado, amaranth seeds, pecans
This dish wasn't bad, just rather boring. I liked the addition of amaranth seeds, but there was too much for the amount of tuna on the plate, and everything else was fairly standard. The whole pecans were unnecessary.

Snow pea leaves, pomegranate, orange, lily bulb petals, marigold
Red-braised pork rou jia mo
This Chinese "street sandwich" was stunningly good. The braised pork was sweet, salty, moist, succulent and fatty. This contrasted well with the slightly-crispy bread it was served between. One could criticize it for being one-dimensional, but that would be beside the point. The sandwich was immensely satisfying on a primal level.

Cajeta flan
Goat's milk caramel, pineapple
Coconut tapioca balls
Mandarin orange sorbet, passionfruit, coconut air
We enjoyed both desserts, but the coconut tapioca balls were particularly good. It was clever to include a coconut foam and toasted coconuts, in addition to the coconut milk - this really allowed us to experience multiple textures/temperatures of the coconut. The sorbet and passionfruit sauce were sweet and also appropriately acidic, to cut through the richness of all the coconut components.

Overall, we enjoyed our meal and the experience. The main problem with China Poblano is that the best dishes were purely Mexican or Chinese, and the fusion dishes fell flat. Thus, the restaurant is a unique concept that works within the confines of the Strip, but might flounder in big cities where one can get better (and cheaper) ethnic food in specialist establishments. There is promise in the Chinese-Mexican fusion, but the team here will have to work hard to expand and improve this section of the menu (currently limited to ~5 dishes, at least two of which were mediocre).

China Poblano
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (702) 698-7900