I’m not used to this. In fact, I’m willing to go on record and say that this is my first negative review ever. Believe me when I say it wasn’t without just cause.
This being my first trip to Las Vegas, we made several plans ahead of time, including several reservations to random places I was dying to try. We traded our rez at Mon Ami Gabi for José Andres’ fun eatery named China Poblano, a Chinese and Mexican joint with great decor and atmosphere. I love Chinese and Mexican food, how could you possibly go wrong with a place that highlights some of the best light lunch and dinner from both cultures? God, how it pains me to write the following words…
Ambiance and Service
Entering China Poblano was somewhat like walking into the vestibule of a trendy TGIFriday themed nightclub. That much we enjoyed. It was as if China Poblano was José Andres’ fun drinking buddy side. With luchador style Kabuki masks on the wall and semi-rhythmic dance music playing against projected images of famous Chinese and Mexican people, we thought dinner was going to be a great time.
But reality set in pretty quick when we realized our waitress was clearly more interested in serving the table of 8 seated across from us. I get it, tips are important, but when you ask me what id like to drink and immediately turn your head to monitor the party of eight, don’t act rude when I say “excuse me” like a loud East Baltimorean. The bus boy ended up grabbing our drinks as we waited longer than one should for drinks at a semi busy time of night (for perspective, we ended up in Vegas about three hours after the usual dining hour).
Another 15 minutes would pass before we saw our waitress again, sporting no drinks and no knowledge of the helpful bus boy.
If I had to choose just one meal for the rest of my life, I’d choose Dim Sum. Dim Sum is the greatest meal of the day if you are fortunate enough to come from a Chinese family. For those that have never had the pleasure, Dim Sum covers a myriad of small plate dishes that range from buns (both sweet and savory) to fully cooked noodles, meats and seafood (Duck, bbq pork, shrimp. Oh! How I love you all). At China Poblano, the siu mai and steamed pork buns were the main highlights. The siu mai came in four different varieties and the bbq pork buns came steamed or fried, fried costing extra.
On the Mexican side of the menu, there was a variety of tacos with different fillings (all priced at 6-8 dollars per taco) and random things like Shrimp Mojo. China Poblano also offers a nice range of heavier dinner options, like Dan Dan noodles with Mongolian beef, but at what I think was technically midnight on the east coast, we were mostly looking to sample the light fare from both sides of the menu.
We ordered the steamed bbq pork buns, two chicken tacos and the table side guacamole. Let’s get the guac out of the way first, it was lazily terrible! We ordered it sans cilantro but our waitress must have heard tomatoes because once the sullen mixing concluded, it had everything but tomatoes. From the picture you can see that there was barely any effort put into mixing the dish. Most of the avocado was still intact with slice marks and it looked like it was covered in a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. We took one bite and pushed the bowl to the side. My friend, god bless her heart, was nice enough to offer this thought:
“Maybe we are just spoiled on Plaza guacamole and that’s why we hate it?”
The steamed buns were an even bigger disappointment. I know I’m a white Italian American, but I’ve eaten at enough legit Chinese restaurants to boldly make the statement that China Poblano’s steamed bbq pork buns should not be considered Dim Sum and, quite frankly, are a confused abomination unto the lord. The bun’s innards consisted of a dark brown sauce that looked like Housin mixed with gravy. The meat resembled chunks of chicken akin to Perdue short cuts. I chewed on the pasty bun for what seemed like forever before I conceded defeat with a hard swallow.
The tacos were decent. I’ve had much better (more on that lunch later) but they got the job done. The worst part of that experience was trying to figure out how China Poblano can justify selling incredibly small tacos for 6-8 dollars a piece.
After the Meal
The check came shortly after we consumed our tacos. For what we ordered, including 2 Mexican Pepsi, it cost 61 dollars. I tipped the waitress 4 dollars because I figured in a place like Vegas, a small tip is more insulting than no tip.
I’ll be honest, I am beyond excited to eat at any José Andres restaurant any day of the week. Maybe my expectations were a little high, maybe the waitress was having a lousy night, maybe I am spoiled on Plaza Mexico’s incredible table side guac. But that doesn’t change the fact that the master of fusion cuisine missed the mark with this second rate Tex-Mex-esk mashup. Try the dinner options if you do decide to go, those at least looked much more pleasing to the eye, but probably cost double what we paid for our entire meal.