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Zai jian, Woo

q
QAW Jun 1, 2010 10:09 AM

It really is a bittersweet sign of the times to see Woo close at the Palazzo, but perhaps even more so because it happened without even a whisper from the culinary media. Located in an out of the way setting, out of sight of the casino and shopping foot traffic, they never really had much of a chance. And given the vast expansion of Asian cuisine throughout the Las Vegas valley, especially with the addition of some higher-end places on the Strip, not many were going to go out of their way to seek them out. As such, we may not see Ming See Woo in a kitchen again, and she deserves a better send-off. So we will try to create one.

Ming See Woo and her husband Henry opened Mayflower Chinese back in the late 70’s, when getting fried rice or an egg roll in a Hotel/Casino coffee shop was about as close as one could come to anything from the Orient. A little over a decade later (1991, to be exact), it became Mayflower Cuisinier on Sahara and Decatur, joined by her son Peter, and they broke some interesting ground, combining their Asian background with several different influences, in particular French. It led to an inspiring menu of vibrant and fresh flavors, long before “Asian fusion” came into fashion across the United States, and it was among the true power lunch spots in Las Vegas. Peter then left to take the helm at Nobu at the Hard Rock for about 5-6 years, before the family came back together to form Woo (son Tony came on board as assistant manager), closing Mayflower in the process.

The Woo concept at the Palazzo never caught footing. What were once creative interpretations of their roots blended with those other influences, instead brought a menu that looked a little commonplace in today’s market. That was a shame, because it did not properly honor Ming See Woo and her family for being such pioneers in this kind of cuisine. We have not heard any news as to what happens next; it would be great to see the family remain in the Las Vegas area. If not, they will certainly be missed. Should there ever be a Las Vegas culinary “Hall of Fame”, Ming See Woo deserves a place for bringing her creations to the table, which really were cutting edge in their day. The population in the Las Vegas valley has more than doubled since Mayflower Cuisinier opened in 1991, and has increased five-fold since Mayflower Chinese first opened. Perhaps that explains why the closing of Woo has not even been a blip on a radar screen, with the vast majority of the current population knowing little about the arc of the Woo kitchen. That is too bad.

  1. d
    Dave Feldman Jun 1, 2010 09:05 PM

    I knew only a fraction of this story. I never went to Mayflower Chinese, but I have eaten at Mayflower Cuisinier more than any other Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, and I started fairly soon after it opened. My memory of the early days is that it was heavily influenced by Chinois On Main, and indeed offered several identical dishes, most noticeably Chinois's most famous dish, the whole sizzling catfish. I didn't know any of the family personally, but they were always gracious to my parties, both before and after they started to recognize me.

    I feel horrible that I didn't even know that Woo existed, and that I never supported the Woos. We do indeed live in different times. I remember how exciting Chinois was to me when it first opened in Venice, and now there is something almost quaint and nostalgic about the food.

    1. w
      winedine Jun 2, 2010 10:55 AM

      I have been to Woo. I must say the information you have included in your post was nothing like we experienced there. It has been a couple years since our visit, so I am vague on details but the overall impression was miserable. The service was slow and clumsy. The food that we ordered was poorly executed and unmemorable. We decided to leave after appetizers and eat else where. The only positive thing I can recall is that the hostess seemed sincerely upset how disappointed we were.
      It is true that the location at the Palazzo is difficult. We stay there a few times a year. Table 10 never seems that busy, but Sushi Samba seems to do okay. The Noodle place that was also up there closed at least a year ago and is still vacant. I now see that Trotter's has closed on the casino level. I think the ultra high price point of the 'fine dining' places will take longer to come around. There do seem to be more people visiting Vegas over the past 6 months than the last couple years.

      -----
      Table 10
      3327 Las Vegas Blvd South Suite 2900, Las Vegas, NV 89109

      1 Reply
      1. re: winedine
        Steve Green Jul 29, 2010 05:02 PM

        winedine: I've reread the posts you seem to be responding to, and nowhere do I see any raves about the restaurant Woo.

        What is being mourned here (by me as well) is the loss of Mayflower Cuisinier, and by extension, the Woos' innovative, tasty, and creative cuisine.

        Although we loved Mayflower Cuisinier and were regular customers, we never made it to Woo, because:
        a. as locals we weren't really interested in hassling with Strip traffic and parking to visit a restaurant with prices over double those at Mayflower (even before the economic downturn, the price points at fancy Strip restaurants were above what we preferred to spend)
        b. the menu was not that similar to Mayflower's, and didn't particularly interest us

        I sincerely hope that the Woos can open a restaurant on a smaller scale, that is more like Mayflower. If they got the word out, I would think they would have quite a following. On the other hand, opening any restaurant right now seems to be a risky proposition -- even more than it would be in a _good_ economy.

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