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Off-Strip restaurants fill fine dining niche

Updated May 29, 2020 - 1:18 pm

The bar sat vacant, and every other booth was blocked off with what appeared to be police tape. Nonetheless, the masked staff at Chinatown’s Partage greeted customers with the same refined professionalism that’s earned it a reputation as a fine French restaurant on par with the best on the Strip.

The changes, which also include menus offered on cellphones and projected onto a wall by the bar, didn’t dash the spirits of guests who had occupied five tables by 5:30 on a Wednesday evening. David and Lisa French were enjoying their second meal at Partage in less than a week. The pair, who have homes in Las Vegas, San Francisco and Hawaii, were in town specifically to enjoy restaurants such as this one.

“We flew here because it’s the only fine dining we know is open,” Lisa French explains. “So we were here Saturday, and we told Chef Yuri that we were going to be back. So we came back today.”

Las Vegas has long been a dining destination for those who enjoy haute cuisine. That market has always been dominated, however, by the celebrity chefs and opulent dining rooms of top Strip resorts. With most of those resorts still closed, and their restaurant openings expected to come in phases, a handful of neighborhood spots have become havens for foodies craving a post-lockdown indulgence, or looking to celebrate a special event.

“People are very happy to finally come out and finally have good food, something different, and have a hint of returning to normal life,” says Partage’s manager, Nicolas Kalpokdjian. “And they’re very happy to find a place where they can celebrate.”

After two months of takeout and home cooking, many are clearly looking to splurge. Kalpokdjian says that since they reopened May 20, over 90 percent of customers have ordered one of the tasting menus, which are available with three, five or seven courses, priced between $55 and $100 apiece. (Wine, and the restaurant’s signature duck pithiviers, are extra.)

Half a mile away, at what may be the valley’s most exclusive and elevated sushi restaurant, tasting menus are the only option, and they come with an even higher price tag. Yui Edomae Sushi, a hidden gem located next door to a shooting range on Arville Street, reopened a week ago, offering nigiri, omakase and wagyu steak dinners priced from $68 to $210. Chef/owner Gen Mizoguchi says he held off on opening until he was certain he’d be able to get a steady supply of quality seasonal fish from his contacts in Japan.

“They weren’t catching fish, because Japan (was also) shut down,” Mizoguchi explains of the delay.

Social distancing rules have caused the restaurant to eliminate seating at the sushi bar, leaving it with just three booths in the dining room, and private dining rooms available to larger groups. While the adjustment prevents guests from viewing the chef’s knife work up close, he still cuts fish behind the bar, for guests to observe from a distance.

“You can’t see the whole thing, but you still can see the chef working,” Yui manager Tomoko Escobar says. “And right now the customers kind of understand.”

While things got off to a slow start, as word quietly spread that the restaurant had reopened, reservations are starting to come in. The pair estimate they’re at 20 percent capacity now and are hoping to ramp up to the allowed 50 percent in short order.

Getting the word out hasn’t been a problem for Station Casinos, which will open steakhouses at Green Valley Ranch and Red Rock resorts Friday.

“Since they released the opening date, the phones haven’t really stopped ringing,” Red Rock chef Lupe Avila says of the response to T-Bones Chophouse’s reopening. “A lot of the people who live in the area and frequented the restaurant multiple times a week, they definitely want to get out.”

He says the restaurant has always had a good mix of regulars and those celebrating special occasions, and he expects that to continue.

“On a nightly basis, we’ll have anywhere between 15 and 20 birthdays and anniversaries. And I don’t think that’s gonna change.”

Whatever the reason, whichever the restaurant, Mizoguchi probably best sums up the thoughts of all of these chefs, and plenty of others throughout the valley.

“We’re excited to reopen and give customers a reason to dress nice, feel nice, feel normal and eat great food.”

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter and Instagram.

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