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First Impressions: China Poblano

The hardest thing I’ve had to do (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID) the past couple of weeks was to keep my expectations for Chef José Andrés’ original concept, China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan, reasonably grounded.  I’ve admittedly not been this excited about anything since I saw Bella punch Jacob in the face for trying to kiss her the first time (Team Edward, son!).  For Las Vegas to score an original concept from a chef of José Andrés’ prominence is pretty good, and for that concept to be a casual Chinese – Mexican fusion joint, well…I thought that was even better.  Not only was the chef new to this town, but the concept was new to…everywhere. Pretty good. Pretty…pretty…pretty…pretty…pretty good.

China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan. Chinese / Mexican Fusion. Who knew? Chef José Andrés did.

China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan. Chinese / Mexican Fusion. Who knew? Chef José Andrés did.

So the Tasting Las Vegas entourage arrived at the host / hostess stand (one of them in the front was a dude, already a groundbreaking concept!).  There were six in our party with The Wife, K-Pattz, Orin Montana, Filthy Pirate Hooker and Alex (still working on his name) all in attendance.  Only a smart person would make reservations on the first Saturday of the resort’s opening, so we had a bit of a wait before we could be seated.  The host took my phone number and said it would be about an hour.  We strolled over to the magnificent Chandelier Bar for a beverage during out wait.  While the space is indeed gorgeous with over 2 million crystals surrounding over three stories of bar and lounge space, it ain’t nothing compared to the barely there cocktail waitress uniforms.  Mercy.  I guess “just the right amount of wrong” means the cocktail waitresses will show just the right amount of ass cheek.  Hot damn.

The whole idea of giving the phone number to the host at China Poblano is for them to call you when your table is ready.  In a perfect world, this would be a fabulous service.  Unfortunately, we live in a world with AT&T, a service provider that works about as well as a $15 hooker with lockjaw. It took us about an hour to decide what libations we were going to sample, get said libations, enjoy said libations, pay the bill and try to figure out ways to keep having our lovely cocktail waitress walk away from us.  Mmm.  I think even the women in the group were impressed.  We decided to mosey back on over to José’s House of Tasty Eats and see how we were doing.  When we arrived, they said they tried to call us 15 minutes earlier.  I had no missed call and no voicemail notification.  However, about an hour and a half later, I got a voicemail from China Poblano timestamped at exactly the time they said they called.  Let me take this time to say, “Balls on you, AT&T!”  But let this also be a lesson learned.  It might not be the best system to use with an imperfect cellular network in the middle of a casino.

Art.

Art.

No harm, no foul though…we were promptly seated.  As with the rest of this hip and trendy resort, our mouths were agape as we were taken to our table.  From the live hand-pulled noodle station on one side and live hand made tortilla station on the other, the statues, the masks, the giant head shaped thingy with various scenes and faces projected on it…the space is a visual orgy.  Vibrant doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Much like the ass on the cocktail waitress at the Chandelier Bar, you’ve got to see it in person to truly appreciate it.  No picture is going to do the space justice, especially from the iPhone that can’t even receive calls.

The table is set at China Poblano

The table is set at China Poblano

One look at the menu and I knew we were in for something special.  To say there were interesting and unique choices on the menu is an understatement.  Beyond the interesting choices, which I’ll get into in a bit, the prices were shockingly reasonable. The majority of the menu is $12 and less.  Cheap. The six of us had a mighty fine and satisfying  graze and had a bill that came around $275 (before tip and none of us got booze) total.  That ain’t bad at all.  The low low prices get even more shocking once I talk about what we had.

Mighty fine Guacamole from China Poblano

Mighty fine Guacamole from China Poblano

We started off with some Guacamole ($12).  For my tongue, it was the best balanced guacamole I’ve ever had.  Perfect balance of the avocado to onion to lime to cilantro to heat to salt.  A little sprinkle of what I think was cojita cheese added yet another layer to the flavor. Being the nerd that I am, I’m fascinated with what kind of salt they used for the guac as it was a perfect compliment for the accompanying fresh corn tortillas.  Taking a total shot in the dark guess,  my money is on them using a gray sea salt as there was a long finish to the saltiness which kept you wanting to take another hit of the green stuff.  I’m probably talking out of my ass, but these are the things that consume my life. It was good.

The menu is split up into several sections, some more Mexican centric like the Tacos and From Mexico while some sections such as the From China and Dim Sum sections roll more Chinese.  However, there are hints of both cuisines throughout the entire menu, with the selections from “China Meets Mexico” being the shining example of fusion at its finest.

Cochinita Taco from China Poblano. Muy tasty.

Cochinita Taco from China Poblano. Muy tasty.

The tacos are extraordinarily creative and addictive. Using the fresh, handmade corn masa tortillas, most of the tacos are about $4 each, with the most expensive taco being the Langosta at $6.  The Langosta taco features lobster, mango and arbol chile sauce.  While one might think an arbol chile sauce might overpower the lobster, they were generous with the fresh lobster meat and it was perfectly balanced.  The Carnitas offering has beautifully roasted pork with impossibly light chicharrones as a garnish.  I don’t know how they did it, but if fried pork skin could possibly be called “ethereal,” this would be it.  Amazing.  The Cochinita (tasty pork) and Pancita al Pastor (more tasty pork) selections are packed with flavor, and also packed with juice, so beware lest you want some extra designs on your shirt.

I didn’t have the fortitude to try it, but I’m thrilled China Poblano has the balls to put items like the following on the menu.  The Silencio taco features duck tongue.  Any restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip that has the balls to put duck tongue on the menu is a place I want to be.  I’m torn apart by this, because on matters of offal (nasty bits of the animal made into food), I’m more a part of the problem than the solution.  I champion places that have the fortitude to put it on their menu, yet I won’t go near the stuff with a 10-foot pole.  I think I’m a fan of places that offer oddball animal parts because that usually means the rest of the menu is kicked up to the next level.  No better example of this is in the dishes found in the China Meets Mexico section.

Like Water For Chocolate from China Poblano. It's literraly tasty.

Like Water For Chocolate from China Poblano. It's literraly tasty.

The Like Water For Chocolate ($15) is spectacular.  Like Water For Chocolate doesn’t have much to do with water, nor chocolate, it’s the title of a book written by Mexican novelist, Laura Esquivel.  In the novel, the main character expresses her love through meals she cooks (my kind of lady!).  One of the pivotal meals in the books is a quail dish made in rose water, and that is what this dish is. Crispy pieces of quail with a sous vide Dragon Fruit and just a hint of rose flavor.  It was perfectly executed and thankfully light on the rose water, as rose can make a dish go from tasting exotic to tasting like Grandma’s hand lotion in a hurry.  They done good at China Poblano.

Shrimp Mojo from China Poblano. Spectacular

Shrimp Mojo from China Poblano. Spectacular

What is probably the best example of “fusion” I’ve ever encountered came with the Shrimp Mojo ($10).  Shrimp with Black Garlic and roasted Poblano peppers.  One bite of this dish and you understand that Chinese and Mexican flavors should forever be joined in holy matrimony.  It was good.  Damn good.  One of those dishes that makes you scratch you head and wonder why people haven’t done this all along.

Scallop Ceviche from China Poblano. Art.

Scallop Ceviche from China Poblano. Art.

At China Poblano there is an attention to the artistry on the plate.  One of the more beautiful presentations comes with the Scallop Ceviche.  A ceviche of Bay Scallop rests atop half a lime, bruléed with sugar and chili.  Eating the divinely fresh scallop off the bruléed lime gives you a healthy dose of flavor fireworks.  The sweet, the sour, the savory and the heat come together for quite the memorable bite of food.  Rested among some polished rocks, it was as beautiful on the eyes as it was on the tongue.

Chocolate Terra Cotta Warrior from China Poblano. Art.

Chocolate Terra Cotta Warrior from China Poblano. Art.

Who knew that art also made for a good dessert?  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will be one of the most talked about desserts in town.  The Chocolate Terra Cotta Warrior ($16).  The Chocolate Terra Cotta warrior is exactly what it says it is.  A chocolate shell of one of the famous Chinese Terra Cotta Warriors filled with an pillowy light chocolate mousse.  The warrior is laid to rest on top of a pungent Ginger ice cream and some Chocolate….dirt.  I’m guessing some kind of crumbled up cookie, but the dirt made for not only a tasty textural contrast, but for a powerful artistic statement.  I can’t say that I’ve ever actually spent time thinking about the layered meanings of a dessert before.  The use of ginger, a root that is a staple in Asian cuisine.  The flower growing out of the soil which the warrior rests upon.  Pretty cool.  And pretty tasty.

Service was exceptional throughout the evening.  Much of it is small plate-ish kind of food, so in that tradition the plates come out as they are ready.  Although I was outed by a very exuberant Pope Curtas the ELV that happened to stop by upon our graze, service seemed to be comparable for all of the other tables in the restaurant.

When Pigs Fly. It was all tasty except for the paper.

When Pigs Fly. It was all tasty except for the paper.

Our experience was overwhelmingly positive at China Poblano.  And I’m glad for that, as I was a little extra excited for this to open up.  I only have two bitches about the place, and that is this.  Their paper products suck.  The napkins suck, and the paper used to wrap around the tacos and underneath the When Pigs Fly ($8.88, pork steamed buns) dim sum also is firmly in the suck category.  The paper napkins are a pain in the ass to get out of the holders and are too thin.  The paper used for wraps / mats stick to the food, and that gets irritating.  I’m not convinced that paper is necessary at all for the food when you’re dining in (yes, China Poblano has take out windows).  The other thing I didn’t dig so much is that they don’t have coffee.  I really wanted a nice cup of strong coffee at the end of the meal and all they had was tea.  Mexicans drink coffee, don’t they?

Oh, and I guess one other bitch would be the chairs.  While giving a communal flow to the room, the little bench-type seating without backs to the seats doesn’t lend itself to a long and steady graze.  I think all 6 of us Early Thirtysomethings bitched a tad about our backs, with the 6 of us being in various stages of physical fitness from the fairly fit, to the….me.  Also, without backs to the chairs, you don’t get to have that satisfying lean-back-and-unbuckiling-of-the-pants at the conclusion of eating far beyond your stomach’s capacity.  Maybe that’s the point.

Art.

Art.

I can’t possibly recommend China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan enough.  Keep in mind this post is based off only one visit that occurred within their first week of operation. Damn, did they come out of the gate swinging!  It’s a great space for a group of friends to hang, share plates, and eat some combinations of flavors they probably haven’t tasted before.  It’s a well-executed menu that is reasonably priced and in a vibrant setting that fosters good times to happen.  If you roll with the Duck Tongues, let me know how they are!  Oh…and P.S.:  Apparently the name of the joint is pronounced “Chee-na Poblano,” in case you want to sound fancy to all your friends.  However you say it, go forth and eat lots!

—–

China Poblano

The Cosmopolian of Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 698-7900

http://chinapoblano.com

Follow China Poblano on Twitter at @chinapoblano

Follow Chef José Andrés on Twitter at @chefjoseandres

—–
Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife.

Follow Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

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3 comments to First Impressions: China Poblano

  • Thanks for the great review, Mike! Hope you get a chance to try our other restaurant, Jaleo by Jose Andres, right upstairs.

    Jonathan (Director of Marketing, Jose Andres ThinkFoodGroup)

  • No doubt! Looking forward to it!

  • HaleyB

    My hubby and I were eagerly anticipating this opening as well. It lives up to everything I hoped for. We have eaten here twice in the last week! Through dumb luck, we fortunate to be the second people sat when they opened last Saturday. You MUST try the Sliencio tacos…..I’m not a huge fan of offal, but they were amazing!

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