Bean Curd Noodles with Peppers and Sesame Oil
Fish Soup with Shrimp Ball and Goji Berry, Bok Choy
Niu-Gu Beef Rib
Xiao Long Bao
Spicy Fried Lobster
Black Pepper Beef Tenderloin with Mushrooms
Squid Ink Fried Rice
Napa Cabbage with Egg Yolk Sauce
Now nearing its one year anniversary, still a secret to some though the word has seemingly caught on with local Chinese families looking for a fine-dining experience without driving to The Strip, dinner at Niu-Gu has seen Chef Jimmy Li retool his menu to focus on bold traditional dishes created from top-tier ingredients, some of the newer items subtle and tuned to Asian sensibilities though few of any ethnicity will be complaining of a lack of flavor.
Receiving more attention thanks to a recent article about Joe Muscaglione’s expertly sourced Tea selection, a well-priced list provided in traditional service to those interested, it was after pleasant greetings from the staff that a party of four was seated at room’s center, the decision to defer a menu to Chef Li with Carte Blanche yielding some old favorites plus new plates, the Tea selected by Mr. Muscaglione mellow with lightly sweet notes that performed well with both mild and spicier dishes.
Not particularly busy for a Friday, though a large Asian family soon arrived and ordered a substantial amount of food that looked great, it was with a dish of Noodles made from sliced Bean Curd that the evening got underway, the vibrant Peppers not especially hot and offering a crisp contrast to the springy Noodles while a follow-up of Fish Broth was cloudy and rich with an elegant Shrimp Ball and Goji Berry offering a dynamic juxtaposition of flavors.
Happily receiving Jimmy’s signature Beef Rib next, the meltingly soft restaurant-namesake without doubt one of the best pieces of Beef in a city that has no lack of competition, the Soup Dumplings deserve no less praise in a place where restaurant-goers frequently complain of a lack in quality, each delicate pocket twisted tight and plump with pork broth as smooth as the sort found in Ramen Tonkotsu-style.
Specially requesting a whole Crab, and seeing it proceeded by a spicy Fried Lobster with a light batter clinging to Shell and sweet Flesh, those interested in seeing a truly authentic showstopper should assuredly call in advance to inquire about Market Prices far less abrasive than those found on Las Vegas Boulevard as Jimmy and his team present the Crab shell-on and soaked in Garlic plus sliced Ginger, the process of eating it well worth the effort as the best bits of Meat are tucked into the knuckles where the cooking juices penetrate most deeply.
Rounding out the evening with Peppered Beef and Mushrooms given the premium treatment by way of Prime Beef Tenderloin and dried Chilies, the two accompanying sides were a bit hit and miss as the Squid Ink Fried Rice was little less crisp or flavorful than would have been ideal while the sliced Cabbage with Egg Yolk Sauce was unexpectedly excellent, even the youngster in the group eating his fair share as the slick Sauce provided a salty balance to the pungent Crucifer.
FOUR STARS: Challenged by its small footprint amidst several of Chinatown’s best, the plaza containing Chada Thai and China Mama notorious for its parking challenges, Niu-Gu has done well at carving out its niche as a fine dining destination, Chef Jimmy’s cooking and Joe’s unanticipated role as one of Sin City’s Tea experts making this one of the rare spots in town that challenge their Strip-based counterparts at a fraction of the price.
RECCOMMENED: Niu-Gu Beef Rib, XLB, Garlic Crab, Black Pepper Beef and Mushrooms, Napa Cabbage with Egg Yolk Sauce.
AVOID: The Lobster Meat unfortunately got a little tough during the cooking process while the Fried Rice could have been slightly more crisp. Also, desserts have been eliminated completey due to slow sales.
TIP: The offering of Jimmy’s XLB comes at the conclusion of an exclusivity clause at China Mama and are well worth visiting Niu-Gu for, in and of themselves.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.