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.
In the Encore Hotel and Casino
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109