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On a break from Mizumi, chef Min Kim is popping up elsewhere on the Strip

Updated June 13, 2023 - 4:28 pm

Chef Min Kim is on break (in a sense). He’s popping up (definitely). He’s having fun (ditto). He’s sporting custom-branded sneakers (more on that in a moment).

Mizumi, the superlative Japanese restaurant in Wynn Las Vegas where he is executive chef, has closed for renovations through late September. During the break, Kim is at the helm of Min’s Test Kitchen, a pop-up in Jardin restaurant, which lies down a luxury goods corridor from Wynn at its sister property, Encore Las Vegas.

The Test Kitchen, conjured five evenings a week after lunch service in Jardin, draws on the cuisines of the places across Asia-Pacific where the chef has lived, cooked and traveled. The pop-up setting confers greater menu freedom than the chef enjoys at Mizumi, even supplying an opportunity to a be a little transgressive.

“Mizumi is a more refined space. I try to push the boundary every single day, but there is still a certain boundary you need to stay within,” the chef said. “At the Test Kitchen, there might be some dishes that are more challenging, more eye-opening. We can be a lot more innovative.”

But whatever you do, don’t call those dishes Asian fusion.

“I hate the word fusion. It sounds like it’s been bastardized. I want to be clear about that,” the chef said with cheery emphasis during a discussion at Wynn ahead of last month’s debut of the Test Kitchen. He wore the Min Kim sneakers created for him by Feature, the ur-cool clothing collective that is a merchandise partner of the pop-up.

For Kim, the history and origins of the dishes he’ll serve at the Test Kitchen are a platform, not a cage. “The menu might start in a traditional way,” he said, “but the way we execute it is very modern.”

KFC and karaage but not pad Thai

What does this progressive Asian cooking look like in practice? Bao stuffed with short ribs in a sweet soy reduction, say. Or potstickers plumped with A5 wagyu, plus Chinese red vinegar to wet their bottoms (like xiao long bao). Or wild snapper with yuzu dressing and pomelo salad, from the contemporary sashimi selections.

Cod karaage ranks among the signature dishes at Min’s Test Kitchen: a hot stone pot with cubes of cod, fried crisp, then anointed with a sauce of vinegar, soy and sugar. Korean fried chicken, first marinated overnight in milk and pineapple juice to break down its proteins, takes a bow with peanut butter sauce and gochujang.

An omakase menu composed of several off-menu courses is “based on ingredients I have on the day,” Kim said. “I’m just going to play around with autonomy.”

Some dishes don’t lend themselves to the progressive Asian approach. So don’t look for pad Thai.

“There is no progressiveness in pad Thai,” the chef said. “Pad Thai is pad Thai. Maybe if I dehydrated it and you inhaled it?”

Artistry in the glass

Mariena Mercer Boarini, chief mixologist of Wynn famed for her progressive pours, created cocktails to complement the menu. A Silk Road margarita, for one, convenes Patron Silver Tequila, spiced yuzu, gochujang and kimchi salt.

“The gochujang is painted on the glass,” Boarini said. “It’s an adhesive for the kimchi salt. It’s the Asian version of a rim. I wanted to match the artistry of his plate.”

A Harmony Highball upends the Japanese highball, which features Japanese whisky and a carbonated beverage served over ice in a tall glass. Boarini’s version builds on Botanist Gin, not whisky, then adds Chareau cucumber melon liqueur, shiso leaf and kombu liqueur (made in-house), lime juice and cucumber soda. The cocktail arrives in a fish mug.

“It’s very clean in flavor so as not to overwhelm chef Min’s cooking — there are some delicate flavors on the menu,” Boarini said.

DJs and custom uniforms

Min’s Test Kitchen is open Tuesdays through Saturdays. A live DJ creates the ambient soundscape each evening. Performance artists pop up at the pop-up. The staff wears T-shirts and sneakers designed in collaboration with Feature (conveniently, its flagship store is in Wynn). Visit minstestkitchen.com for details and reservations.

Wear your coolest sneakers.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JLWTaste on Instagram and @ItsJLW on Twitter.

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