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Inside Chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s First U.S. Restaurant in Las Vegas

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Importing the best chefs from around the world isn’t a new concept in Las Vegas — or at the Venetian Resort, which for more than two decades has counted within its pantheon of chefs names such as David Chang and Emeril Lagasse (currently), and Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud (past).

On June 25, it will claim Wakuda.

Tetsuya Wakuda, the two Michelin-starred chef famed for Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and Tetsuya’s in Sydney, Australia, will debut the U.S. iteration of his eponymous Japanese fine-dining concept in partnership with John Kunkel’s 50 Eggs Hospitality Group, known for Yardbird (Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami) and Chica (Aspen, Las Vegas and Miami).

The vibrantly conceived Japanese restaurant, capturing the tension between traditional and modern cuisine, design and art will open in the lobby of the Venetian Resorts’ Palazzo tower with a coveted patio overlooking the Strip. The first Wakuda opened in Marina Bay Sands Singapore on April 17.

At Wakuda Las Vegas, diners open to adventure will be able to try the quality and creativity of the chef’s renowned culinary style. Service will start with dinner, with lunch and brunch to be added later.

“I’ve never been one to try to fit in; I prefer to show my passion and love for the food through my dishes. … What I create at Wakuda reflects that. There is no secret that to have a great restaurant, the key factor is always pushing to be the best no matter what acclaim and recognition has come,” Chef Wakuda tells The Hollywood Reporter.

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Chef Tetsuya Wakuda
TNM Media

The chef says dining at Wakuda will be a transformative experience using his skill of marrying French technique with Japanese philosophy. The authentic, forward-thinking Japanese menu, inspired by the seasons, showcases the rare products and their suppliers to whom he has access. These surprises include Japanese Omi beef, the oldest wagyu brand in Japan; fresh wasabi brought in from Tasmania, which takes about two years to grow and must be served within 15 minutes of grating; and chef Wakuda’s own sake, utilizing two different breweries that grow a specific variety of rice to his specifications, only available to him.

“My team and I have personally conceptualized every aspect of the cuisine and the dynamic space,” Wakuda says. “At Wakuda, this will show through in each distinct dining experience including authentic Japanese omakase, izakaya and sushi. Our menu will be sushi-based with seafood from Australia and Japan.”

Wakuda predicts top-requested dishes will include the roasted Spanish carabineros with shellfish and miso lathered in tarragon risotto, and fresh selections of oysters from Japan and Tasmania. But Wakuda says tempt yourself to go adventurous.

“Ocean trout confit is not only the most photographed dish in the world, but it’s a dish that truly showcases the breadth of my career. The dish has slowly evolved to its present version over the last 25 years,” he notes. “I would also recommend the grilled Omi beef cooked on hoba and miso sauce. Omi beef is something everyone should try once in their life; it’s well-marbled with tender fat and a chewy yet juicy texture. Omi is the oldest Wagyu brand in Japan and comes from the Japanese black cattle raised in Shiga Prefecture. They graze on what is known as ‘the mother lake,’ the fresh water of Lake Biwa.”

Adds Wakuda, “I love pairing sea urchin and caviar. The Botan shrimp sea urchin and Avruga caviar dish represents Japanese simplicity, allowing pristine ingredients to shine.”

How Wakuda Las Vegas Came Together

Kunkel, the CEO and co-founder of 50 Eggs, says Wakuda was concepted in 2016 on a trip he took to Japan with some friends. “Like most good ideas, it came from a late night out, having fun, going to Shinjuku Golden Gai — a fun, vibrant area of Tokyo,” he recalls.

Back in the States, Kunkel noticed that many popular Japanese concepts were traditional in their interiors, presentation and customer experience.

“Nothing about them represented what I knew of Tokyo, which is easily one of the most exciting cities in the world, that has some of the most amazing cuisine,” Kunkel says.

He set out to create a restaurant to reflect the things he loved about Japanese cuisine, art and culture. Onboarding the best-in-class, Kunkel selected Rockwell Group to handle design.

“For Las Vegas, we wanted the atmosphere to be dynamic and sophisticated — a place as entertaining to see as it is to dine at. Rich wood and rough stone surfaces contrast mirrored and metallic elements, while neon installations form a visual bridge representing both Tokyo and the energy of the Strip,” says David Rockwell, founder and president of Rockwell Group.

The culinary world and art world intersected with Japanese ballpoint pen artist Shohei Otomo, whose work is featured throughout the space. The main dining room is divided into two with sumo wrestler sculptures carving the space.

“It took us five months to track [Otomo] down, get a translator and figure out how we could work together,” Kunkel says. “[His work is] really stunning. He does it all with a ballpoint pen — geishas, samurais and these classic images — and then he mashes them up with a rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock feel that is a little edgy and dangerous. You’ll see it depicted all over.”

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Selection of oysters from Japan and Tasmania
TNM Media

And of course, there is chef Wakuda, whom Kunkel got to know while opening Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at Marina Bay Sands.

“[His restaurant] is probably one of the best dining experiences of my life,” Kunkel says of Waku Ghin. “We became friendly, and I said, ‘We’re doing this really cool concept. We’d really love for you to be a part of it.’ And after many, many conversations, we were pleasantly surprised. We’ve been on this journey together ever since.”

A Look Inside

The guest experience starts with a wow moment, achieved by the dramatic 30-foot entry portal transitioning guests into a vibrant world of Japanese art, street culture and culinary delights.

Find a glass-enclosed installation of cherry blossoms surrounded by glowing lanterns, which reflect neon lights, highlighting the beauty of nature and harnessing the energy of Shinjuku and Las Vegas.

The lounge, with its warmly lit bar and banquettes, give off the Tokyo-style vibe with walls of artwork from Otomo.

In the main dining room, Kunkel promises a high-energy 360-dining experience.

“Everywhere you look, there’s action — there’s a sushi bar over here, there’s a robatayaki over there, the statues in the middle of the room, there’s just this energy,” he says. “We listened to what our customers were looking for — they didn’t want to have dinner and go to the club. They wanted to have dinner and continue the night in that high-energy atmosphere.”

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Chef Wakuda’s roasted Spanish carabineros with shellfish and miso lathered in tarragon risotto
TNM Media

The design is an exploration of layered textures and materials. Golden metal inlays in the stone tile floor act as a pathway, leading guests through a series of intimate spaces, each radiating a feeling of discovery. The furniture is contemporary and contrasts with natural details, such as textured stone flooring with a tatami-like effect.

Omakase and Whisky Bar

The crown jewel is the private omakase room and Japanese whisky bar, which can be found down a secret hallway. With dining for eight, this is the place to have the premium Wakuda experience.

“They would normally have to fly to Singapore or Sydney — it’s one of those bucket-list meals. And we really wanted to treat that truly as a separate restaurant. This is a true expression of what Chef wants to serve, bringing in ingredients from all over the world, private label sakes and soy sauces that he’s made back in Japan,” Kunkel says. “He has access to ingredients and an understanding of how to handle them like few other chefs have in the world.”

The omakase room will offer dinner five nights a week, with two seatings, as a ticketed experience, launching sometime after the restaurant opens.“Everything has just so much detail, and there isn’t a space on the wall or the ceiling or the floor that hasn’t been custom and curated,” he says.

Kunkel is looking to take the Wakuda concept global with London, Dubai and New York up next, promising each will represent its city in design and ethos — drawing contrast with Nobu Restaurants, where the designs remain largely consistent. “We really designed this for the world; it just so happens that Singapore and Vegas are first,” Kunkel says.

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