In a culinary world increasingly obsessed with chefs’ TV credits and the opinions of anonymous Yelpers, few credentials are as trusted by discerning diners as a Michelin star. Unfortunately, most restaurants that have earned these elusive honors also pack a hefty price point, putting them out of reach of cost-conscious foodies. Fortunately for Las Vegans, Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan will open a Las Vegas outpost at the Palms on Sept. 29.
“It’s one of the cheapest Michelin star restaurants in the world,” Palms General Manager Jon Gray says. “So I think it adds to the foodie (experience) and the millennial guests’ as well.”
“Cheap” is, of course, a relative term. But it’s hard to argue the affordability of a restaurant where you can get a filling meal in the $20 range, and a trio of the signature barbecue pork buns for a mere $6. And as executive chef Jean-Pierre “J.P.” Choy is quick to note, those aren’t the same steamed buns you’ll find at most dim sum joints.
“Our version is baked,” he explains. “(They’re) very fluffy and crispy on the outside, just like a Chinese style croissant, with barbecue pork in the middle.”
Moreover, each is prepared to order in the open kitchen, rather than being made en masse and rolled through the dining room on a cart.
“We have only 30 items,” Choy says. “We concentrate on quality.”
Adapting for Las Vegas
The new Palms restaurant, which is over 5,000 square feet and seats over 170, has its roots in a 20-seat spot on Hong Kong’s Mong Kok neighborhood. The modest little spot was the brainchild of chef Mak Kwai Pui, a veteran of the Michelin three-star restaurant Lung King Heen in the Hong Kong Four Seasons.
“The chef owner created Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong 2009,” Choy says. “And after 11 months, he got his first one-star Michelin for the world’s most approachable dim sum.”
In the decade since, the concept has expanded to more than 40 locations across Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Macau, Japan, Australia and the U.S. This being Las Vegas, however, the menu has been expanded to indulge the city’s penchant for luxury and excess.
“We have some exclusive items only for Las Vegas,” Choy explains.
“For instance,” he continues, “fresh lobster meat rice roll, beef wagyu bundle, wagyu beef rice roll, shrimp toast with truffle and foie gras. These are exclusive for Las Vegas. This is the first restaurant where we are experimenting with the high-(end) trend.” (It’s worth noting, however, that the most expensive of these high-end dishes, a steamed rice roll with lobster and in black bean sauce, is still below $11.)
Las Vegas also offers the restaurant the most extensive bar program in the chain. It expands on the frozen drinks popular in other locations to include several virgin slushies as well as a frozen white sangria. The back bar offers an Asian whiskey collection with a handful of Taiwanese marks.
The restaurant also features the resort’s most extensive sake collection, which will soon include a house brand. There are several representations of the Chinese spirit baijiu, available on its own or in cocktails. And speaking of cocktails, the Palms location offers the first collection of Tim Ho Wan signature cocktails, created by Station Casinos’ corporate mixologist Chelsea Caplin and Scotch 80 Prime’s Hien Truong.
“We do have a very diverse cocktail menu that will hit some of that crafty (cocktail) scene, but also has some very familiar ingredient cocktails so people can come in and feel comfortable and not feel intimidated by it,” Caplin says.
Late night partiers, lunching locals
Those spirits should help the restaurant appeal to the late-night crowd that patronizes the Palms’ massive nightclub Kaos on weekends. Gray says the restaurant will be open late to satisfy pre- and post-club munchies, extending the hours to anywhere from 2 to 4 a.m.
“We are seeing a tipping point with the millennials demographic going into more dim sum restaurants,” he notes of Kaos’ target audience.
Gray is quick to add, though, that locals will be just as important to the restaurant’s success.
“Our most important sector of business is really the local business. They’re tried and true. They’re here several times a week. And we wanted to maintain and add more experiences for that local customer.”
Tim Ho Wan’s location in the new west wing of the resort, with direct access to the parking garage, is intended to court that market.
“It’s quick, easy access. You can run right in and get a quick lunch and head out.”
With something for just about everyone, Choy is excited to bring Tim Ho Wan’s version of dim sum to our valley.
“We are very happy to be in Las Vegas,” he says. “And hopefully Las Vegas people will love us.”