Wednesday 27 February, 2013

Happiness Is A Warm Bao: Fat Choy, Las Vegas


Sheridan Su is kind of a cross between Jet Tila and Sam DeMarco--with a bit of Ludo Lefebvre thrown in (Pull out your Vegas chef trading cards if you have no idea what I'm talking about, lol). On one hand, he's clearly driven by ingredients and demystifying the traditions of his Asian heritage. On the other, he likes to play around, have fun, and make people smile.

As for the Ludo reference, Su has been in a kind of quirky pop-up mode himself for a while, making food in a small space leased from a hair salon (!) after leaving a position on the Strip, then focusing on a food truck. Now, he's found something more like a real brick-and-mortar spot to practice his craft, and here's hoping he plants roots.

Fat Choy, his new counter inside the unlikely Eureka Casino on East Sahara (not far from Lotus of Siam, if that helps your Food GPS) has managed to get so much press attention that I figured I'd better post about my visit before it became completely irrelevant! So we'll make this brief(ish). Su is cooking his version of California Chinese (the reference to '626 Monterey Park' on the art wall isn't an address, but for those who don't know, Southern California's Chinese food mecca). If this were actually in Monterey Park--or for that matter, almost any large city--it would merely be a good spot that wouldn't need to seek out attention. But in Las Vegas, where such quality often fights against competing hype and ennui, you can understand the excitement for something which only sells itself on its own merits.

The menu is smartly tailored, with only two dishes more than $10, and balanced between  "what the chef wants to make" and "what casino players need." They run beers from the bar. If this isn't an entirely family business, it sure acts like one.

Here's what I tried:

Pork Belly (with pickled mustard greens, cilantro and peanuts) and Peking Duck Bao (cucumber, scallion, hoisin): warm, spongy buns surrounding crispy, roasty meats that thankfully were not over-sugared. Pure and pretty perfect.

Shrimp Toast: a pretty crazy version, with crumbled Chinese sausage, sriracha mayo and a fried egg on top. Kinda felt decadent like morning sex.

Pot Stickers: I think these were described to me as pork, shrimp and beef combined--the beef flavor dominated, the others offered texture. Classic garlic-chive-soy flavors.

Sesame Noodles (with roasted wild mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots, peanuts, sesame dressing): The classic Thai comfort food--I used to eat a ton of these in college--done just a little 'fresher, with good spice. But probably the least 'special' thing here.

Duck Rice (a confit duck leg atop cucumber mixed salad, fried shallots, ginger scallion sauce and warm rice): If there's a 'dish of the year' in one of the local Vegas media's best-of issues--and I think there is--this should certainly be nominated. The simple genius of a few disparate quality elements presented together without pretension is everything that guys like Anthony Bourdain and David Chang worship, and rightly so. It may merely be a traditional dish, but it is treated with such unfussy respect that it surpasses anything you walked in here expecting.

Short Rib Grilled Cheese (provolone and cheddar, onion jam, fresh tomato dip): "Ah, man I don't think I can eat anym...alright I'll just try a...holy crap this is good!" Almost wished I was drunk so I could've INHALED this. (Fat Choy apparently closes at 10 pm, which is just beyond unacceptable. I guarantee Vegas chefs are going to start a petition for him to stay open later so they can go after their own shifts end.)

The Fat Choy Burger: Oh, this will just be a casino burger to make the video poker crowd happy, right? Uh uh. It's a half pound patty (menu just says 'Angus,' but it tasted Certified to me) topped with some short rib meat, bacon, a roasted tomato and fried egg, on a good solid bun, with good solid fries. Maybe it's not quite in the 'best damn burgers in Vegas' list, but it sure is on the 'best damn burger for $10 list.'

This is the kind of food that makes you shed a tear for other people paying the same money, or more, and eating garbage. Then you wipe away the tear and get back to eating.

Fat Choy Asian American Fare

Fat Choy on Urbanspoon