This past weekend, Tetsuya Wakuda, the two Michelin-starred chef, best known for Tetsuya’s in Sydney, and Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, was greeting guests at his new Las Vegas restaurant, Wakuda Las Vegas at the Venetian Resort, when he paused thoughtfully to consider a customer’s innocuous question: What’s the secret to running a great restaurant?
“Well, no matter how good you are, always work to be better and better and better,” he said.
At 63, and clearly still pushing to new levels of excellence, you can tell the chef means it. The new Japanese fine-dining concept in partnership with John Kunkel’s 50 Eggs Hospitality Group (also behind Yardbird and Chica) somehow elevates traditional and modern Japanese cuisine into an event-level spectacle that makes Wakuda Las Vegas the tastiest, if not buzziest restaurant launch (that goes to Martha Stewart’s The Bedford), on the Strip this year. It’s a restaurant worth flying to Vegas to try.
The first U.S. restaurant for Wakuda, the spot opened last June with a festive interior by the Rockwell Group and a menu that features yuba made with fresh bean curd skin from Kyoto; sea urchin from Santa Barbara; oysters flown in from Tasmania and Tokyo, and Australian wasabi so fresh it must be served within 15 minutes of being grated. Suffice it to say, the Japanese Omi Wagyu, from black cattle raised in Shiga Prefecture, is tender enough to slice with a fork.
I loved dining at Tetsuya’s when we lived in Sydney a decade ago, but there’s something almost electric about Chef Wakuda in high-rolling Vegas mode. His menu is full of rare delights—Aburi king salmon from New Zealand, Tasmanian Washu ribeye, Patagonian toothfish—and a sake list with nearly 100 hard-to-procure varieties, including Wakuda’s private label sake. The space itself feels like a big deal, too, down to neon art walls and the giant sumo wrestler sculptures by Shohei Otomo that rule the place.
Over the weekend at a Venetian culinary event called Tastemakers, Wakuda was a quieter presence alongside other celebrity chefs, including Wolfgang Puck, but the unflashy demeanor fits with his success story. He and I chatted for a few minutes, and Wakuda said the key to his decades-long run (he was the first-ever international chef to be recognized by the Japanese government as Japan’s ‘Master of Cuisine,’ in 2013 ) is “mostly hard work.” He puts in time in the kitchen, gets on the phone with Tokyo fish mongers, constantly demands excellence from his staff, and doesn’t really have hobbies outside of the job. He doesn’t like to golf, he’s doesn’t go to concerts, he’s not a gambler. “I like fishing sometimes but usually I don’t have much time for that,” he says.
He’s got enough on his plate, frankly. The full Wakuda experience will take place inside the soon-to-open omakase and private sushi room, said to be the first private dining experience of its kind on the Strip. With only eight seats, dishes will be “individualized for each person and feature courses prepared à la minute, determined by the interplay of chef and guest.” The menu is priced at $500 per person and will feature multiple courses. The omakase room will offer dinner five nights a week, with two seatings.
“We want people to enjoy a meal they will remember for a long time,” Wakuda says.
Wakuda Las Vegas
Palazzo Lobby at The Venetian Resort
Open for dinner nightly 5 pm-late
Lounge open until midnight