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Desert Companion

Our slice of Macau

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Rainbow Dumpling Soup
Photography by Sabin Orr

Rainbow soup dumplings from Pearl Ocean

The Lucky Dragon’s many restaurants offer a dizzying tour of fine Chinese cuisine

Bloody Mary Flaming BuddahAfter what seems like an eternity of anticipation (okay, about two years), the Lucky Dragon hotel-casino on Sahara Avenue has finally opened. For food-lovers, the exciting news is that the property features five restaurants, all of them under a unifying vision and aesthetic. But don’t call it a theme. The Lucky Dragon isn’t an Asian-themed resort. Rather, it’s simply an Asian resort, geared for tourists fresh off the nonstop Hainan Airlines flight from Beijing. Every sign in the Lucky Dragon is subtitled in Mandarin, and many of the TVs in the center bar are tuned to China Central Television’s international services. The decor mirrors this as well, with the octagonal main room dominated by a massive chandelier featuring a spiraling golden dragon. It’s authentic, you could say, or as authentic as anything in Vegas can be, anyway.

That center bar itself is worth a mention, as it boasts one of the largest collections of a very special Chinese alcohol, baijiu. Baijiu is a high-proof clear alcohol distilled from bricks of buried fermented wet sorghum and then aged in amphoras. It’s one of the most popular drinks on Earth, but it’s something a Western palate might consider an acquired taste. Its high price (a half-liter of iconic brand Kweichow Moutai retails for $300) might surprise you once you taste it (my initial impression: as if someone put an entire horse in a blender and distilled it), but baijiu is an integral part of celebrations and luxury lifestyle in Chinese culture. No wedding, birthday, or lucky streak at the baccarat table is complete without a little shot glass of baijiu. And its tonic, bold flavor actually pairs well with Chinese cuisine.

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Tea from Cha Garden

Tea from Cha Garden

The most casual of Lucky Dragon’s dining options is a 24/7 to-go counter called Bao Now. It offers a simple menu of rice bowls, noodle soups, dim sum, boba tea and, of course, bao — serious bao. These bao are picture-perfect and fresh as they come, and the long-cooked beef stew is a dream, though both are a touch pricey at nearly $6 and $14 each.

Bao Now’s kitchen is exposed to the gaming floor through big windows showing all the prep areas, and it’s shared with Lucky Dragon’s “night market” called Dragon’s Alley. Dragon’s Alley, open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., might look like a buffet at first glance, but it’s actually an á la carte selection of a wide range of Asian street food, inspired by the shop stalls of Hong Kong or Beijing’s famous Ghost Street: soya sauce chicken, fish ball skewers, char sui pork, and many more bites are available for $2 to $10. For less than twenty bucks, you could quite easily fill up on fresh wok-cooked noodles, congee, roast duck, and pork buns.

Upstairs is where the traditional service restaurants are. Phoenix, Lucky Dragon’s fine dining destination, might be one of the most luxurious Chinese restaurants in Las Vegas. Phoenix features floor-to-ceiling views of the north Strip, ritzy, refined service (the waitstaff is trained to serve customers from any background or origin) and a menu tailored to the whales Lucky Dragon is looking to attract; you’ll see everything from exotic seafood soups to dishes of abalone, lobster with black truffle, sea cucumber, and more modern Chinese dishes such as “fried organic mango milk,” a creamy block of custard in a fried skin, dotted with honey walnut shrimp. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can also dive into items such as fish maw, shark fin soup and peach gum. Phoenix’s desserts are made to end the meal on a healthy note. Try the herbal jelly, a bowl of firm black gelatin that balances sweetness and a tea-like bitterness.

 

Deer Tendon Soup

Deer tendon soup from Phoenix

Next door to Phoenix is Pearl Ocean, the answer to the burning question of who serves the best dim sum in Las Vegas. The menu swells with delicacies (some of which you can select from live seafood tanks) that approach culinary perfection. Pearl Ocean’s signature dish, the rainbow soup dumplings, is the menu’s must-eat. The rainbow is a sampler of dumplings, each with a different colored wrapping and filling: black truffle, green spinach, red beet, yellow crab roe, and traditional — each distinctly savory and rich. In the evening, Pearl Ocean offers even more entrée dishes, drawing from regional specialties of Xianjiang, Szechuan and Yunan. Pearl Ocean even has the dim sum brunch market covered, helped by the property’s signature drink, their take on a Bloody Mary called the Flaming Buddha. The house mix has sriracha and sesame seed oil, Chinese spices, and the drink is garnished with a fried chicken foot.

Lucky Dragon is a delicious little slice of Macau. There are many places in town to get fine Chinese cuisine, but Lucky Dragon has an irresistible concentration of them begging for exploration — a fact that will make adventurous eaters feel very lucky indeed. 

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