By Jack Houston
Photos by Leila Navidi
Behind the genius of chef Martin Heierling, Sensi masters whatever cuisine it touches
Martin Heierling may not be a name that jumps off the tongue when talking about Las Vegas’ celebrity chefs, but the German-born chef has quietly amassed a devoted following with his two Strip restaurants, the hidden gem Silk Road at Vdara and Sensi, his somewhat less hidden outpost inside Bellagio. Where Silk Road made a name as a premier breakfast and lunch destination, Sensi has gone for something decidedly more ambitious: four cuisines, each distinctly different, influenced by the culinary travels that have taken Heierling from Germany to New Zealand and back.
Once off the beaten path, down the hall and around the corner from Bellagio Conservatory and Jean-Philippe Patisserie, Sensi has benefited from a newly constructed walkway that allows traffic from neighboring CityCenter to pass right by the restaurant. The increased exposure has given more people the opportunity to marvel at the space, its entranceway waterfalls, monumental rock walls imported from Japan and the stunning centerpiece, a glass-enclosed kitchen divided into four parts representing Sensi’s four cuisines: Asian, Italian, American grill and seafood.
Admittedly, it’s a lot to take in at once, so while the four-part menu stokes those inevitable “What do I feel like tonight?” discussions over a basket of excellent naan and papadum chips, why not try something you’ve probably never had before—homemade ginger ale. Yep, Sensi makes it in-house—fresh lemon, lime and ginger juice, club soda and simple syrup—and the result is more refreshing, more flavorful and likely healthier than anything Canada Dry can cook up.
But soon there will be decisions to make. Will it be the lobster lettuce wraps served over soba noodles with a touch of spicy aioli, or the Thai-influenced coconut and shrimp chock full of dark tapioca pearls? Hey, why not both?
Sensi’s pot stickers are easily some of the most decadent around, filled with tender Woodland Farms duck and topped with foie gras. Crispy fried shrimp perk the tastebuds with a citrusy glaze but don’t leave you feeling full and uncomfortable thanks to a light rice-flake crust. And if you’re in the mood for a sushi, the tempura king crab roll is a positively regal twist on the Japanese favorite.
There’s so much to tempt that Sensi almost demands repeat visits. The truffle Parmesan gnocchi was a last-second choice over the wild mushroom ravioli with black truffle ragout, but anyone would be forgiven for choosing the opposite. Miso-glazed halibut off the seafood portion of the menu was a close call, but ultimately the braised short rib and horseradish mashed potatoes won out. And if ever in the mood for a steak, the dry-aged Tomahawk ribeye from Nebraska will be a no-brainer. Or maybe the Certified Angus filet from Kansas. See, it’s not easy.
Dessert can be made considerably less complicated if there’s money to be thrown around, since the chef’s dessert and verrine symphony brings together some of the finest sweets in the kitchen. But it’s perhaps the most unassuming desserts—sorbets and gelato—that receive the most creativity and attention to detail. Served inside a glass sculpture cleverly designed in their house freezer, it elevates the most simple of dishes and leaves the palate lingering on a triumphant note.
Bellagio 5-9:45 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-10:15 p.m. Fri.-Sun., bar 3-5 p.m. (cocktails and bar menu), 5-10 p.m. (cocktails and full dinner menu). 702.693.7223