John Curtas is …

Whassup With WAZUZU?

If it’s possible to have a love/hate relationship with a restaurant, then that’s what we have with Wazuzu.

At the helm is one, Jet Tila, whose real name is so long it looks like its own alphabet. Taking pity on haolie-food writers he has mercifully shortened it. His Thai/Japanese/Malaysian/Indian menu also takes pity on his upscale customers by toning down the seasonings more than they would be in your average, neighborhood Asian joint.

In other words, even though he uses good groceries, and prepares them pristinely, there’s always something missing in the dishes.

Put another way, the place, although beautiful, is just too damn civilized. And wethinks that’s just the way the Wynn/Encore bigwigs want it.

We’ve yet to have anything that’s made badly, but we’ve also decided that (after trying almost the whole menu in six trips here), that the only way to get close to a “real” experience of anything from pad Thai to panang curry is to insist on at least a “4″ or “5″ level of spiciness on their 1-5 scale. Anything less and you’ll swear the dish was prepared for a hospice patient.

Order the crispy sea bass at “4″ and you’ll get one of the best renditions you’ve ever had. Tone it down to a “3″ and you could feed it to your toothless grandma. Likewise, the green papaya salad and the Thai fried chicken are both as succulent as you could hope for, but downright dull unless you make the kitchen kick it up a few notches.

For another proof of this point, order the light-as-a-feather, crispy-thin papadum, and be prepared to be disappointed by the tamarind and mint sauces — neither of which could hold a candle to the generic stuff laid out by any garden-variety Indian joint. We’re sure they’re made in-house, and we’re equally sure they tone them down so as not to offend Mr. and Mrs. Fannypacker from Bumfudge, Utah.

Still, it’s impossible not to like Tila’s drunken noodles, or Thai basil stir-fries — even if you’ll never fall in love with them — and even if you find your jalapeno sushi roll a bit on the bland side, you’ll admire the quality of the ingredients and the care with which they’re put together.

As for the desserts — we advise you to skip them and stroll over to Society for some 85-layer chocolate cake. (Okay, it’s not quite that big, but in this era of ever-escalating cake layers, it’s only a matter of time.)

Asian chefs don’t understand sugar (at least not the way the French do), and unless you’re on a health kick, whatever bean paste they’re slinging at you will only leave you jonesin’ for a profiterole.

By now our staff has eaten in Wazuzu so many times, we’ve actually tried to psychoanalyze its chef. How can such a talented kid make stuff so perfectly yet so slightly off the mark so consistently?

My conclusion: neither he nor the hotel want authenticity; they want the appearance of authenticity, gussied up with enough top shelf ingredients to justify the high prices.

After all, there’s something gritty and down home about great Asian eats, and gritty and down home is not what Jet Tila is being asked to do at Wazuzu.

A recent lunch for three with no booze came to $130, and even solo, ELV has never gotten out of here for less than $40.

WAZUZU

In the Encore Hotel and Casino

3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.770.5388

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13 Responses to Whassup With WAZUZU?

  • Thanks for the review. I may not live in Bumfudge, but I can see it from here. It’s exactly what the locals want. That’s what we have here, and they eat it up. They complain if anything gets too close to the real thing. It’s the same thing for Italian and Mexican, not just the Asian cuisines.
    They want to feel adventurous for skipping the steakhouse, but don’t want to go too far out on a limb either.

  • The 1-5 spiciness rating seems to be infiltrating other Thai joints as of late. I have my regular spots that give me 1-10 (Marnee on Spring Mtn, for example) with all the soul-searing heat I could ask for, but one place by my work, Ping Pong on E Sunset, keeps forcing me to up the ante each time ( the sweet almond eyes of the counter girl widen in possibly phony amazement when she sees I’m the white gut who ordered a 7!) I can at least understand the reasons for this in a resort eatery, but we should all make an effort to keep our neighborhood joints on the level, offering us at least an opprtunity to head down the highway to spicy, yummy heaven.

  • but the thing about wazuzu isn’t that it’s authentic thai. it’s authentic wazuzu. authentic jet. i mean, really, jalapeno sushi? i’ve never seen that in japan. the food here is inventive, fun, creative, and absolutely delicious. It’s playful and wonderful; a totally different experience than you’ll get going to your favorite local thai/indian/chinese/japanese spot. Your local cultural hangout is probably wonderful, and you return because you know they’ll give you exactly what you expect. That’s great, but it’s not the playground that is wazuzu. in vegas, the city of endless buffets, this restaurant stands out as something decidedly different. expensive, yes. delicious, yes. generic? absolutely not.

    and, truly, if you like extra spice, i’m sure the kitchen will oblige.

  • With all due respect to Surfchyck, there’s nothing all that inventive or playful about Tila’s menu. It hews very closely to standard Thai, Chinese, Indian and Japanese recipes — all done with really good produce, fish and meat, but hardly tweaked in any significant way.

    Still, xie xie for the post and it’s always fun to agree to disagree about these things.

    And, like I said, even though I think there are disappointments on the menu, I’m sure I’ll be back there again soon!

  • Last time I dined at Wazuzu, I was fortunate enough to dine with the Chef Jet and his GM, Andrea. We sampled food from each culture and the ticket was sent to the kitchen without them knowing it was for the Chef. Myself being Thai-Chinese, Andrea being Chinese, and of course, Jet being Chinese with Thai influences, we all agreed that the food was right on spot. One of the items we sampled was the Chinese style noodles with duck and char sui pork, for us, it’s common to find the duck bone in. But the gentleman in the next table sent it back and asked for the duck to be de-boned. My point is that the restaurant caters to people who aren’t normally used to eating food on the streets of Thailand or Hong Kong or used to seeing their food come out with it’s head still attached. I’m quite sure your favorite corner Thai spot isn’t working on 200 covers a night or accustomed to hour long waits. Apparently Wazuzu is doing something right.

  • Apparently this reviewer’s chief complaint is that the food isn’t spicy enough unless you request it that way. Despite repeated visits, he apparently hasn’t worked up the vocabulary skills to ask for the spicier version.

    As for Wazuzu being “too damn civilized” I am reminded of the ancient Thai retort “WTF?” It’s a showplace restaurant in a leading hotel casino. Were you expecting a strip mall dive?

    The food at Wazuzu is imaginative and delicious and every member of the staff is exceedingly eager to please. I’ll bet a first time visitor who requested something as vague as “an authentic Thai meal” would readily be accomodated, even off the menu.

    That said, I greatly respect John Curtas’s reply to other reader comments and his acknowledgement that he plans to return to Wazuzu. That’s the kind of open-minded critical dialog that actually makes restaurants and dining better!

  • Comparing Strip Asian restaurants with anything neighborhood is unfair. I want to know how this stacks up compared to other Strip restaurants of similar ilk. And how bad can it be if you keep going back with all the other choices you have?

  • Thanks because ELV probably eats for free!!

  • Larry, ELV pays for his meals, or else it will cost him one way or another … We have to keep those lawyers honest, don’t we?

    ELV, I am shocked that you, of all people, know the Las Vegas culinary scene better than you are letting on, ehh? You know that Chef Jet (as well as the other chefs at Wynn/Encore Resort) has a boss that he reports to.

    FYI An Asian dish that’s not spicy can still be authentic. In the same way, a savory dessert with little sugar can still be a “real, authentic” dessert, ehh?

    Next time I’m in Las Vegas, let’s have lunch over at Wazuzu. I’m sure Chef Jet and his staff can create a real authentic Asian meal for us, instead of for those Utes from Bumfudge.

  • @rjwong….you couldn’t have said it any better.

  • Wazuzu was the best eating experience I have had living here for the past 14 years. The food was pure and perfect. Having fine dining has almost faded away in Las Vegas, but Jet Tila’s talent for having the know how and the wherewithal has renewed Las Vegas for being the best in town. The food and presentation is off the chart.

  • First of all, crispy sea bass is not spicy, I don’t know how can you order it with spicy number 4, it is panko crusted sea bass serve with ginger scallion soy sauce, you also can order it steamed, it is a chinese style dish, so it is not Thai and should not be spicy, if you looking for a spicy fish this, I recommed you the crispy fish with Thai herd, and if you really like spicy, please just let the server know that you want it extra spicy, I belive the chef with do it for you, not all the dishes spicy is that or indian food, wazuzu try to make a menu with can fix for everyone, not just those who like spicy food, so spicy # 3 or #4 is already too spicy for some people. So please don’t judge the dishes base on the spicyness, that is not fair.

  • Just ate at Wazuzu tonight for the first time. As a reader of EatingLV and one that values its comments I knew that there was a risk of being dissatisfied, but because we all have different tastes, I gave it a shot. Well, I have to side with Mr. Curtas on this one. It was my belief that it was just sorta bland, the taste didn’t pop at all, instead of was asking for plum sauce and chili sauce to add to my dish just to give it some flavor. I’m no expert by any stretch, but for me it was just a matter of tasting the food and in my experience they struck out. I was with 2 other guests and quite honestly they felt the same way. I don’t know if its the playing it safe argument or not, but it sure as heck makes sense. The only thing I loved was the oolong tea and that was a brand thats killing me that I forgot, a little bit pricey too I might add, I spent something like $40 bucks just for 4 small pots of tea. Its things like that that makes you tee’d off when its a bad meal. I’ve virtually tried all the Chinese restaurants in the hotels and I still hold out for the old Moongate, now FIN in Mirage. They had some turnover the years and now I think the chef works at Shanghai Lilly in Mandalay Bay, but who knows, theres not exactly a publication that keeps track of where all the chinese chefs go. As soon as I find something I like, the chef takes off and I have to hunt him down some how.

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