Monday, November 28, 2005

Tao Asian Bistro at the Venetian - Las Vegas



This place is an overblown, in-your-face production. It's precisely what I would expect an American interior designer to boilerplate when given the assignment of decorating an Asian-themed restaurant and nightclub.

There are colorful, oversized National Geographic photos of Asian faces plastered all over the restaurant. Toothless old men grinning. Bald monks in orange sashes staring.

Over the sushi bar, a lifesized poster of Akebono, the sumo grand champion. He has nipples the size of saucers.

A two-story bronzed Buddha is the centerpoint of the room, "floating" over a bubbling pond.

A Buddha in a Vegas restaurant?

Sacrilegious? Maybe. Ironic? Absolutely.

There's also a glass display wall of opium pipes carved ornately from animal tusks.

Club music thumps and thumps in a continuous loop, usurping any and all conscious thought.

The crowd is predominately non-Asian. Young, and gleaming with designer jeans and shoes.

The wait staff wears pseudo-Chinese garb made of silk. The girls look like concubines and the guys look like kung-fu fighters.

Remember the scene from "Garden State" where Zach Braff's character waits at a "Vietnamese" restaurant? I think they might have filmed it here (or the New York sister restaurant). Whatever. The same vibe. The same crowd.



The food caters to this audience. The selections on the menu is vast and ambitious, covering not just Asia, but The Orient as the West would see it, in a way that isn't reverential. There's everything from pad thai, to sushi, to udon, to steak and potatoes. As with anything that tries to be so many things at once, it does no single thing well. Not surprised are you?

The tempura appetizer was heavy and thick with gummy batter. These things go down like a pile of bricks and finishes with a nasty greasy oil slick that tastes rather rank.

The egg rolls were better, but not much. The filling was mushy with veggies turned to a pulpy goo.

The chicken satay sticks were bland and dry. It's what you'd expect when you skewer a chicken breast and bake it in an oven with plain peanut butter.

Miso marinated sea bass looked pretty but the glaze was so salty I had to scrape it off to make the delicate flesh of the fish edible. The "wokked" vegetables that went with it? The cheapest produce available. There was on choy, some bean sprouts and carrot.

The best dish was the New York Steak, which (surprise) had no glaring Asian influences (except for the shitake mushrooms). Tender, perfectly grilled and sweet. Succulent.

The prices? Well, can't you already guess?

Tao Restaurant
(702) 388-8338
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

7 Comments:

At 5:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm....
I eat at the place every time I'm in Vegas and it's always phenomenal. Maybe you should try something a little more adventerous besides chicken satay and tempura, which you can get anywhere. The seabass satays are awesome, and the peking duck is out of this world! Who gives a sh*t what the staff is dressed in. The entire TAO experience is worth every penny. Check out their sake list, too!

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Oh wow. Our opinions can't be more diametrically opposed. I'm glad you enjoyed it, but the large group of 20 or so I was with (all Asian or Chinese), was really unimpressed. So much so that I think my critique of the place was the kindest out of all of them. At least I loved my steak, they were just livid about everything (especially the guy who treated).

For Asians, being "adventurous" at Tao is like Mexicans being "adventurous" at Taco Bell. We were the kind of people that love live uni, mountain potato, chicken feet dim sum, and xiao long bao.

I suppose this place is great for the PF Chang crowd. But that we sure ain't.

For great eats in Vegas without all the showiness, you should try this Thai place called Lotus of Siam. Off the strip, and deeeelicious!

 
At 8:33 PM, Anonymous larry fonzioli said...

I read your response to someone who had questioned your review of Tao and I am wondering what you mean by " the PF Chang crowd " . I too have eaten at Lotus of Siam and I thought it was excellent . I live in Santa Ana and have eaten with my mexican amigos at many delicious hole in the wall mexican restaurants, with my vietnamese friends at the same kind of vietnamese restaurants in westminster, chinese friends in Montery Park and Rowland Heights , indians in Artesia , and arabs allover (although they do not go to many "dives") . The point is I enjoy those types of places but I also enjoy some very uppity type restaurants as well. Especially in Vegas which has a number of world class establishments. I have never eaten at Tao but I will try it sometime . I have however enjoyed several quality meals at PF Chang( in newport not irvine), but do not consider myself to be part of any crowd . I know it is far from authentic chinese but they do not profess to be that and if you do not order the whitewashed versions of typical chinese dishes and opt for something more condusive to thier style you can have a perfectly decent meal there.

 
At 8:29 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Larry,

Thanks for writing in. I hope you enjoy Tao. Do let me know what you think of it.

 
At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think elmomonster is too nice to say this but, what I think he means by PF Chang crowd is the same type of Paris Hilton-wannabees who infest the local malls, spending money they didn't earn, the vapid bobble heads you see in the show "Laguna Beach", eating at PF Changs because Ryan Seacrest said so. At least that's what I equate it to. And I've been to Tao...it's crawling with them.

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger David Oh said...

elmo! i love you. i tried to explain to my... "western" friends the essence of PF Chang and your article and response and the comments here pretty much sums it up.

larry.. you "get" it. so don't worry too much about it.

PF chang crowd.... man... i love that term.

 
At 9:06 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon and David,

Thanks guys! I was in Vegas recently, and guess what TAO was touting in one of their advertisements? PARIS HILTON! Apparently it's a badge of honor to have her grace your establishment. Go fig!

 

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