Once is a culinary melting pot
Like moths drawn to a flame, globetrotting celebrity chefs are inevitably attracted to the bright neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip. This affords visitors and locals alike the opportunity to partake of global cuisines from the very best kitchens, sometimes from across geographies, in a single seating.
Such is the case at Ricardo Zarate’s Once at The Palazzo. The chef interweaves ingredients and techniques from his Peruvian homeland with a number of traditional Asian ingredients he was exposed to as a younger chef, reflecting a melting pot of cuisines.
Once—pronounced on-seh as in the Spanish word for “the number 11” (he’s the second-youngest of 13 children)—delivers a direct journey between Asia and South America with each offering. For instance, red snapper tiradito is accented with yuzu kosho, a not-so-widely-known Japanese condiment consisting of chile peppers fermented with salt and yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit. Thinly sliced portions of the delicate, skin-on snapper are garnished with fried garlic chips and finished with ponzu and aji amarillo aioli, resulting in a fusional epiphany.
Similarly, tender kampachi—a sushi bar staple—is given a Peruvian presentation as ceviche adorned with aji amarillo leche de tigre and crispy calamari. Scallop and shrimp dumplings, traditional Chinese fare, are served swimming in a bowl of sudado sauce derived from a traditional Peruvian fish stew. The hearty sauce intermingles smoky chipotles with seafood stock, the result so complex you’d be wise to sop it all up at the end. Meaty lamb chops arrive slathered in a sauce resembling a complex mole with panca-gochujang, a flavorful blend of Peruvian and Korean pepper pastes.
The Peruvian chef is as adept with vegetables as he is with meat—braised fennel stands in seamlessly as a meat substitute atop a bright arugula salad with goat cheese and pecans. A bit heartier are Zarate’s whimsical yuquitas—deep-fried balls of cassava root—a riff on arancini, oozing with smoked mozzarella and served with a sharp jalapeño-cilantro sauce.
Even traditional Peruvian dishes are elevated under Zarate’s watch. Anticucho de corazon is the ornate-sounding Spanish name for beef hearts, a traditional Peruvian protein. It is skewered, grilled and finished with an earthy pesto tinged with rocoto peppers native to South America and diced almonds for texture. The chicharron karaage folds in jidori chicken with rocoto aioli, popped kiwicha (amaranth) and charapita peppers. That same rocoto pepper is featured in coleslaw served with pork ribs in a Peruvian barbecue sauce. And the otherworldly Peruvian arroz chaufa is strewn with a trio of crustaceans—lobster, snow crab and shrimp—along with sausage, crispy pancetta and Amazonian sweety drop peppers. Finished with a sunnyside-up egg and stirred tableside, the result might very well be the best fried rice you’ve ever had.
It’s been said for years Peruvian cuisine was bound for a breakthrough, bringing ceviche, anticuchos and chaufas mainstream. And for years, we’ve been waiting with bated breath for that moment. With the arrival of Zarate’s Once, we can be hopeful that time is here in Vegas.
The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and The Palazzo, 5 p.m.-midnight daily, brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Fri.-Sun.. 702.607.3797