On the surface, Mozen seems like kind of an unusual name for a restaurant, bringing to mind maybe an NFL player from the early ’60s. The reference, though, actually is to the Mandarin Oriental — that’s the MO — and zen. And, yes, commence the eye-rolling, not for the former but for the latter. Except that in the case of Mozen Bistro, the “zen” part really isn’t a conceit.
If you’ve been to the Mandarin Oriental — or any other Mandarin Oriental — you know that management does its very best, from the minute you walk in the door, to be sure you’re having a soothing, serene experience. So greetings are warm but subdued, lighting and music are soft and the whole place smells like a spa.
Most restaurants, though, usually are about as zenlike as a bus terminal, and that especially applies to those on the Strip, where even the best can at times labor under the burden of a move-’em-out, turn-the-tables mentality. So it was gratifying that Mozen Bistro lived up to its second syllable.
No reservation? No problem. Entire party not ready to be seated? Ditto. No bottled-water pressure, no pressure to order right away, no pressure at all. Just everything as in paragraph two above.
The food, though, isn’t likely to lull you to sleep. We were off to a good start with an amuse-bouche of crab salad with a sprinkling of roe, on a slice of Japanese cucumber, which was a nice combination of refreshing flavors and did indeed amuse our mouths.
The menu is pan-Asian, but in this translation that extends into the Indian subcontinent, so you can get everything from sushi to Thai green curry to tandoori-style salmon. We started with Five Spice Pork Belly ($18), an artful platter of nearly perfect cubes, slightly crispy, with edamame for textural contrast, plum sauce for flavor contrast, basil seeds (basil seeds!) for all of the above.
We’ve long favored grouper for its mild, sweet flavor and firm texture, both of which seemed a natural for the Hong Kong-style treatment at Mozen Bistro. And indeed, the Hong Kong Grouper ($27) was treated with a purity of execution, steamed with cilantro and scallion to spark up its flavor just a bit, and served bathed in a whisper-light soy broth.
Thai Green Curry ($26) was on the other end of the flavor spectrum. We figured it would be fiery and we were right; this was a dish that had us regularly reaching for our water glasses. The heat, though, wasn’t just used for heat’s sake but was a firecrackerlike counterpoint to the chicken we chose (prawns were the other option). The dish also was flavored with basil, which was no surprise, but also tiny Siamese eggplants, cut into quarters but otherwise right out of the garden, which was.
Both dishes were accompanied by jasmine rice, contributing both fragrant and flavorful notes.
The comparatively light nature of our entrees meant dessert actually was an option for a change, and the Cherry Cordial Cloche ($10) was not only decadent but also intriguing; as the warm cherry sauce was slowly poured over it, the chocolate dome gradually gave way to a cherry-infused interior.
Service throughout was both pleasant and efficient and also suitably zenlike, our waiter seeming to appear just when we needed him, readily answering questions and willingly matching our desired pace.
The atmosphere, too, fulfilled the restaurant’s promise. The man standing in the shadows right outside the entrance when we stepped out for a break creeped us out just a bit, but we guess he was there to keep an eye on the nearby hotel elevators to ensure that anyone who’d entered the restaurant from the outdoors didn’t venture into the wrong area.
Sometimes, reality intrudes into the most zenlike of environments.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.