MoZen Bistro at the Mandarin Oriental is the most underappreciated restaurant in the city. It’s on the third floor of the hotel, reached by the city’s only elevator equipped with a velvet bench. Valet parking is the only option, but you’ll never wait more than three minutes for your car.
This is a three-meal restaurant. They serve a superb breakfast and offer fresh squeezed juice, filter coffee, complimentary newspapers and wonderful pastries. I usually order rice porridge, aka congee. Have it with chicken, scallops or shrimp. Toasted peanuts, marinated spring onion, fresh ginger and chili sauce come on the side, to mix in. (I love the pancakes here as well, for the record.)
At lunch, the dining room could be described as busy, but not brisk.
The Royal Tandoori Platter is the best Indian dish in Vegas, and there are dim sum like ha gow shrimp dumplings and barbecued pork buns, like you’d get in Hong Kong. Naturally, there are burgers, sandwiches and pastas. This place has something for everyone.
But during the evening, the room is often nearly empty, and the talent of Executive Chef Shawn Armstrong and his team of chefs from South India, Japan and China are like trees falling in the forest when there is no one to hear them.
So the restaurant recently came up with a brilliant idea, one that I am hoping will catch on, and bring people in to eat this excellent cuisine. I am referring to their new Bento Box option, at first glance a steep $48, but really a good deal when you consider it’s six different dishes.
This is a build-it-yourself concept. You’re handed a menu with different sections: Thailand; Japan & Korea; South East Asia; India. The menu is called “A Journey Through Asia”, and the idea is to pick six like you do at any race track, except that in this case, it’s a guaranteed winner.
All the dishes smack of authenticity. The hotel has a large Asian client base, and they would be mighty sore if the kitchen put out ersatz stuff that pandered to the Caucasian palate. The other side of the menu has plenty of a la carte dishes that Grant Wood types can enjoy, like Angus tenderloin, free range chicken breast and Caesar salad.
My wife and I choose different dishes, so we could taste twelve. We also uncorked a bottle of Argentine Malbec, a red wine for all seasons we thought would go nicely with the dishes. Then, the server brought an appetizer tray stocked with fried papadum, boiled peanuts redolent of star anise and assorted pickled peppers. Peter Piper was a no show.
It’s easier here to list the dishes we chose, and describe them. I’ll rate each one from one to ten, with a short explanation.
Bento Box 1-for my wife.
Blackened Albacore tuna tataki-served on a rice cake with garlic soy reduction, chili aioli, shrimp chips and edamame. 7-thanks to good, slightly seared, sushi quality tuna.
Angus beef carpaccio-sliced thin, with wild mushroom chutney. 7-we both liked the soy-ginger, scallion and mixed wasabi garnish.
Yam neua-Thai beef salad. 8-great beef, and a nice dressing.
Kor moo yang-grilled pork collar with green papaya salad. 6-a classic Thai som tam, but the pork was a bit tough.
Singapore chili crab-soft shell, cooked with chili, garlic, tomatoes and a beaten egg. 9-the best dish of the tasting.
Pani puri-crisp hollow pastry puffs with a chick pea and potato filling. Minted tamarind water is poured in from a pitcher. 5-a near miss, since the flavors were muddy.
Bento Box 2-for me.
Guay teow lui suan-rice wraps served cold, filled with grilled chicken and vegetables, with chili relish on the side. 7-the number would have been higher if there had been more chicken in the filling.
Yam som o-shredded pomelo salad with poached prawns, peanuts and coconut. 6-too much dressing, and the flavor of the pomelo was faint.
Bulgogi-stir fried Korean beef tips with peppers and scallions on white rice. 9-great beef, and textbook Korean flavors.
Hae mul pa jeon-Korean seafood pancake. 8-very tasty, but where was the seafood?
Malai murgh-tandoori chicken breast with a spice crust. 7-I would have liked more spice and more crust.
Galouti kebab-smoked minced lamb kebab patties. 4-an abject failure. I couldn’t tell whether I was eating lamb or alligator. No taste.
Still, this was a fascinating meal, of great depth and variety. All in all, there are 30 choices, and I find it remarkable that the kitchen can do a menu with so much variance.
Do yourself a favor and check out MoZen Bistro soon.
The Bento 48. At the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Served from 5 p.m. daily.
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