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Mar 18, 2010 07:00 PM

Trip report: eating Caesar's Chinese food so you don't have to, and other highlights

OK, I'm still in Las Vegas, but I can't resist providing some reports. I should mention that I got annoyed with Dollar after they sent me down to their basement, where I was informed that the midsized car I had just signed a contract for didn't exist, but if I would just wait behind three other people in a similar situation, for cars to be returned...I walked up the stairs, voided my contract, and decided to embark on an experiment of on-strip eating in lieu of transportation.

Now, I do know that one can do this successfully, with careful attention to the latest info from Chowhound. Last trip, I enjoyed a great meal at Fiamma, for example. But I also noted that, last I checked on the board, no one had eaten at Sea Harbor, a Caesar's restaurant that purported to be a real deal Cantonese seafood place. I was ready to discover a gem, or take one for the team.

It was the latter. Okay, the space is very nice, with marble-looking columns and a ceiling like the night sky. But my $18.80 plate of gai lan with oyster sauce had most of its wonderfully bitter leaves cut off, and the oyster sauce was stingily applied, nearly flavorless, and to call it markedly inferior to the "sailboat" stuff I pay $2.75 or so for at 99 Ranch would be to be guilty of complimenting it excessively. I can think of no plate of $1.50 - $3.00 gai lan I had in Hong Kong that was not 3x better, except maybe once when I walked into the wrong place and it was waterlogged. This was at least properly boiled.

I also ordered a clay pot of tofu and chicken and salt fish. How much on Temple street? I don't know, is $8 too high? Well, this was $24, and I'd have happily paid it if it were as good as the Temple St version. Instead, it was lacking in umami and flavor, except for the salt fish and ginger. The dish needed something it was not getting. I don't know what. I just know it was not right. This is a restaurant that has 8 branches in China? I don't know how they survive, but I doubt it's by serving food of this caliber.

If there were live tanks, and I suppose there must have been, given the live fish selections on the menu, I did not spot them.

Sea Harbor is not the only Chinese restaurant in Caesar's Palace. The other is Beijing Noodle No. 9, a noodle cafe in a hypermodern, painfully white space that I thought was very cool, sort of like what people in the 70's thought the future would look like. Well, I hope that the future does not supply pu-erh tea that was so watery and lacking in actual tea that I didn't bother drinking it. I ordered beef brisket noodles, a dish I've had dozens of times in Hong Kong and San Francisco, and the cheerful waitress said "good choice." $16.00, by the way. What arrived was a broth that was not bad, though I suspected it contained beef base, beef that was a just bit too tough and in which some pieces had hardish connective tissue, and which did not have nearly enough flavor in the anise-chenpi-rock sugar axis, and thick, udon-ish, soft, starchy-tasting noodles. I admit I'm not an udon fan. I ate the beef, which was sort of OK, drank the broth, which was OK, and left the starchy noodles. Then I walked to the Mirage for a pastrami sandwich on rye at Carnegie Deli, which was like cool water on the brow on a 90 degree.

So that's it for me and Caesar's Palace's Chinese restaurants. And I had such hopes.

I have ventured off the strip once, of course, for Lotus of Siam. A colleague and I went there, and while I ordered the sour sausage and crispy rice to which I am addicted, and the crisp duck in Panang and cognac I had read about here, he ordered a good squid salad, and an amazing beef in peppercorns. Green peppercorns, to be specific. Has anyone else tried this? It's incredible. That green peppercorn taste was not familiar to me, but I just loved it, and somehow the flavor was all through the beef, even though the beef was medium rare in spots. It was flavorful, deep, complex, and spicy, and I am going to have a hard time getting through another meal at LOS without ordering it.

I will venture off the strip again, to Joyful House and Sen of Japan. I expect to do better at Rao's than I've done above. And I've already done better, with the pork loin sandwich at lunch at Spago's. Their chef is from Alsace, and if I could take back that Sea Harbor meal, and try his choucroute instead, I'd do it in an instant.

I'll report further if anything interesting turns up during the rest of my trip.

Lotus of Siam
953 E Sahara Ave Ste A5, Las Vegas, NV 89104

Sen of Japan
8480 W Desert Inn Rd F1, Las Vegas, NV

Carnegie Deli
3400 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

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  1. HI SN,

    I know having two mediocre at best meals isn't fun, but you have provided a valuable tip for Chowhounds. There's a real shortage of posts about the mid-level restaurants in casino-hotels here. I'm trying to think of a Chinese restaurant in a strip hotel other than Wing Lei that receives props here and I'm coming up short.

    Can you find the the green peppercorn dish on the Lotus menu? I don't think I've ever had it, nor seen it on the menu.

    Wing Lei
    3131 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

    2 Replies
    1. re: Dave Feldman

      The beef dish sounds like "Nua Yang Prik Thai Onn", which first appeared as a special a little over a year ago. There are sprigs of young green peppercorns that add a nice flavor, and a wonderful perfume, to the dish. The habit has become to scrape the peppercorns off of their sprigs and stir them around with the other ingredients, consuming them whole. It brings a little crunchy texture as well, and some particular bites that pack a wallop, though still staying in balance. Saipin at her best in putting the combinations together.

      As for Chinese on the Strip, the picture is not a rosy one, and note that even Wing Lei could be a question mark going forward, now that Richard Chen has left the kitchen.

      1. re: QAW

        Yes, that definitely sounds like the dish I had. Thanks for the clarification; I was having difficulties locating it on the online menu.

    2. Thanks for the report on Sea Harbor. I had asked about it on the board over a year ago, so I really appreciate it. Of course, perhaps the lack of comment over that period of time might itself have been a clue.