FROM LEFT: Chef Stephane Chevet; The dining room at Shibuya at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino.
In the heart of Tokyo lies the Shibuya district, a cosmopolitan mixture of retail, nightlife and food that ranks with the world’s great urban neighborhoods, like New York’s Soho or London’s Chelsea. In 2004 the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino sought to capture a bit of this Japanese icon’s dynamism and re-create it in Las Vegas, with its eponymous Shibuya restaurant. As anyone in its position would do, MGM’s first task was the installation of… a French chef?
Born in Paris and raised in the south of France, chef Stephane Chevet may seem like an odd choice for a restaurant whose cuisine carries with it the expectation of rice and seaweed (as compared to, say, butter and cream), but as Chevet explains, the idea behind the meal is universal. “The philosophy of Japanese cuisine is pretty much the same approach [one takes] for French new cuisine,” he says.
However, when your chef’s CV boasts enough Michelin-starred restaurants to open a planetarium, and he’s dedicated a good portion of the last decade to mastering the art of Japanese cuisine (as Chevet also has), does it really matter where he went to elementary school? Apparently not, as Chevet is firmly at the Shibuya helm, where his cooking is a kind of new Japanese—a fusion style first made popular by the likes of Nobu Matsuhisa but taken in breakthrough directions at Shibuya. Take the seven-course omakase (chef’s choice) menu: A light amusebouche of Kusshi oyster with apple momiji and orange ponzu cleanses the palate and piques the imagination for what will follow—an intensely flavorful hamachi trio, here infused with garlic in various forms; for the sashimi, a garlic-ginger soy sauce adds subtle heat when mixed with shichimi pepper. Next is a sashimi duo, selected nightly by the chef, this time with fatty and flavorful chu toro dressed with a dash of spiced crunchy garlic. A light kanpachi with yuzu sauce and a hint of black truffle oil completes the pair.
This duo is perfectly accompanied by a glass of Tengumai “Dancing Goblin” sake, one of about 120 sakes carried by Shibuya, which has the largest selection of sakes of any restaurant in Las Vegas. The eatery even keeps a sake sommelier on hand to help guide you through the menu. Just a few minutes with Mark Szymanski and even the sake novice will feel like an expert. (He leaves you with handy, preprinted cards containing information on each sake so you can study up or remember the drink next time you dine at Shibuya.)
The third course introduces meat, in the form of tataki. Not just any beef, Shibuya’s Australian Wagyu is thinly sliced and marbled, served with tarragon oil and garlic chips, and accompanied by an earthy Kamotsuru sake to enhance the flavor. The standout dish comes in the next course: A rich, satisfying uni butter, serving as both sauce and broth in a small bowl, is drizzled atop Australian lobster and diver scallops to create near perfection. Just when it seems the apogee has been reached, a braised Kobe-style short rib, one of Chevet’s signatures, arrives with a bite-sized dollop of sautéed foie gras and a sweet and spicy soy sauce. The meat is moist and tender and the taste combination is utterly decadent. Combined with a sip from a glass of nutty and sweet Nishi No Seki “Western Gate” sake, this course is a showstopper. And good thing, because the last course finds us back at the nigiri sushi so many of us envision when we think of Japanese food. Four artfully formed pieces, of the chef’s selection, are the perfect ending to the hearty tasting menu.
However, this doesn’t mean you’re through. For dessert, try a selection of mochi ice cream, rich and delicious without being overtly sweet. Or dip into the yuzu momo parfait, a layered concoction that looks almost too pretty to eat. Chevet’s Gallic roots emerge in the form of an airy choco-lychee mousse cake, as the French do love their chocolate. Try pairing dessert with a glass of Jokigen “Sweet Dreams” sake, a refreshing, light Riesling-esque chilled selection.
As the weather warms, look for Chevet to shift the balance of the heated entrées to more earthy dishes with ingredients that better reflect the season. But as that shift occurs, adventurous eaters should keep an eye out for more traditional dishes that mark the annual influx of Asian visitors to Las Vegas. “I gauge my changes towards that as well and put in more live things, like live abalone, which I know the Asian clientele is looking for,” he says. Suddenly, the New Year just got a lot happier.