Desert Companion

At first bite: Hakkasan

Hakka-steamed dim sum platter

Step inside Hakkasan at MGM Grand and the first thing you may notice on the way to your seat are a pair of turntables. It’s an expected sight, given that much of the buzz surrounding the $100 million project focuses on the property’s multi-level nightclub rather than its ground-floor restaurant.

But the dining room, which opened in early May, is something to be celebrated in its own right. This is the 11th outpost for the venerated Michelin-starred restaurant, as well as the Strip’s biggest fine dining debut of the year. And I mean that literally — the space is 20,000 square feet and seats 250 guests.

So it should come as no surprise that the cost of dining at this glorified chain is also over the top. But do the flavors match the prices? Of the signature cocktails ($17), the Smoky Negroni (with Ransom Old Tom gin and a smoke infusion) is bold and heavy on the booze. For something more clean and crisp, try the Shiso Gimlet, which is brightened with yuzu marmalade.

If Chinese appetizers conjure images of crab Rangoon from your local takeout joint, Hakkasan may not be the place for you. The $28 dim sum platter — eight precious bites of scallop, shrimp, perch and duck — is superior to anything served on Spring Mountain Road. As for the sesame prawn toast, a $22 price tag is initially offensive, but then justified when the first bite reveals a lava-like filling of foie gras on the inside.

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Unfortunately, entrees may leave you underwhelmed. One-percenters with a taste for extravagance can peruse a section of the menu labeled “Supreme Special Dishes,” which includes a $450 whole braised abalone (it wasn’t available on opening weekend) and a $168 Emperor’s seafood platter. The most affordable option on the list is the Lion’s Head Meatballs ($58), a classic Chinese dish that arrives in the form of two softball-sized hunks of pork. The flavor is a dead ringer for Spam, which makes an interesting match for the heady black truffles in the accompanying sauce. A braised Maine lobster from elsewhere on the menu does not indicate that only half of the crustacean is served. It’s also skimpy on the meat, but the dish is redeemed by a serving of silky, handmade spinach noodles on the side.

Strawberries and champagne

For the experience to end on a high note, dessert is mandatory. A peanut butter parfait with cherry jam and brûléed banana is simultaneously sophisticated and simple. And a panna cotta with Harry’s strawberries is plated like an edible terrarium. It’s a stunning, sweet-and-tart finish to the meal. (Never mind that neither is even remotely Chinese.)

If you haven’t gotten the hint, dining at Hakkasan is an experience that will require deep pockets. But if you’ve already shelled out hundreds to get inside the club, why not give it a try? Go for Deadmau5, stay for the dim sum. 

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