Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Andrea Ung [Photo: Susan Stapleton]
Andrea Ung came to Vegas from Boston seven years ago and took a five-day temp job that turned into a full-time gig as the manager of Sugar & Ice at Wynn Las Vegas three days later. "I was young and new to Vegas. It just kind of snowballed," she says. Stints at some of Wynn's casual dining concepts moved Ung around the property until she landed at Wazuzu at Encore Las Vegas as the general manager when it opened. Now she's the GM at Mizumi, the Japanese restaurant that opened last May. Here she talks about guests trying to drop $20 bills to land a table, her love of Big Wong and the most shocking thing she's seen in Vegas.
So, what's the busiest time right now?
The really strange thing for us is that it's busiest during the week rather than on the weekends. You don't necessarily expect to be slamming busy on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Any holiday is really big with the Far Eastern Asian clientele. Thanksgiving is the second biggest week for us. Then comes Christmas, New Year's, then CES [the Consumer Electronics Show].
As one of the hottest restaurants in Las Vegas, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried?
People try everything. Usually they offer gifts or cash. Usually cash.
I don't like to take cash for a table. My first reservation is whatever time. I have people try to slip me cash. I never look at it. People try to slip you a $20. I always hold their hand and give it back.
Cash doesn't ever guarantee you a table. We try no matter what whether you give us cash or not. It does get uncomfortable.
The other day I had a guy trying to slip everyone cash and no one would take it. He said, "Do you want more?" "No, that's very sweet of you." Yeah, we see that all the time.
Tell us about your favorite customers.
So our favorites, that's a hard question. We have local guests who come in every week. They're like a family. They get to know about your routines, you know what they like to eat. Some of them are locals some are not. We just know we see them every few months.
How about celebrities?
We get a lot of them. We do. We don't want to over dote on them. A lot of times they are trying to remain anonymous. Sometimes they don't want that. If they want that, we do it. If they don't, we don't.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables to give?
I think it depends on the situation of how cramped you are and the VIP. Generally speaking, if you have a VIP, you have a relationship with them know how to deal with them. If you have no table, you have no table. We might move them to a private dining, outside, the sushi bar. You do whatever it takes in the moment. You might have them temporarily sit at the bar with appetizers or drinks. There are definitely going to be situations where we have to think on the fly.
So, what's the strangest request that you've accommodated at Mizumi?
Is that is a food request or any request? I don't think there's anything strange, so you never know what's going to happen. As long as it's legal. We don't do anything outside of that.
We've had people ask for food from a different restaurant not on property. You see everything. They come to this restaurant and they don't want Asian food. That's strange. Why would you come to an Asian restaurant?
We had one family where the kids only eat breakfast, so chef Devin [Hashimoto] made omelets with butter toast and honey. In room dining would be the only place to go to get breakfast made at 9:30 p.m. They loved it and remember us.
What was the first thing that shocked you in Las Vegas?
I've been here so long. I don't even know how to answer that. I don't know. Maybe I've seen too many things and I'm desensitized.
Most recently on Halloween, I was leaving work. It's a club night and everyone gets dressed up. Out in main valet, I saw a woman who was dropping her car off at valet and it didn't appear she had clothes on. She was wearing underwear with no heels. Guests were just sort of looking at her. But the employees just kept working and still parking cars and attending guests. No one else seemed shocked by her outfit. Eventually security stepped in. That could possibly be the strangest thing I've seen. I was looking around like was anyone else seeing this? Is anyone else seeing that this woman is potentially naked. I remember looking at the Wynn employees and nobody stopped. They just kept on working.
Do you ever get any requests for vegetarian dishes here at Mizumi? How do you accommodate them?
All the time. We have a special menu. We get a lot more requests lately than we used to because I think the word is out.
What's the most popular dish right now?
We just rolled out a dish the other day. It's a hot stone tataki. Chef Devin has these hot cooking stones that get up to 1,000 degrees. He uses Japanese A5 Wagyu. It is super hot. The rock stays hot for 45 minutes to an hour.
I would also say the Mizumi roll, our signature roll. Maine lobster, avocado, tamago, soy paper, wasabi tobiko and yuzu mustard aïoli.
So, when you're not at Mizumi, where are you eating these days?
I eat a couple places. I eat at La Cave all the time because my husband is the chef there. We have a baby and I parade her around the hotel. Once a month I have dinner here. The food is so good there. My husband always says, "Why are you surprised? You say that every time you eat here."
I love this Italian restaurant Mastrioni's.
Chef Devin was making fun of me because I was talking about this restaurant, Big Wong. Sometimes Monta is packed, and Big Wong has the cheapest comfort food. Such good food. He makes fun of me. I like to order the chicken and Chinese sausage for $5.25.
What's the must-order dish at Mizumi?
The must order is the ishiyaki tartare bibimbap [a Korean-inspired rice bowl]. It's a play on traditional Japanese ishiyaki that takes a sizzling hot bowl with tuna tartare or yellowtail, tuna salmon, a poached egg and Korean chile sauce that sizzles and cooks. It's different and you won't find it anywhere else.
One of our new desserts is the Mizumi masks. It looks like one of the masks on the wall with a shell of a white chocolate, hazelnut cookies, Rice Krispies and a mousse.
I would also say the vegan roll with cucumber and a soy wrap. The roll is wrapped with cucumber with a green onion oil sauce on the side. It's a little savory and a little sweet.
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele?
I don't think there was one in particular. Since we're still kind of fresh, the reviews are consistent. I think that's driven the interest in guests coming here. We take those reviews very seriously. And not just on the food side of it. I ridiculously read Yelp and Open Table reviews. The best news is they consistent mention good service. You have to read those to know what the public's perception is. It's great when people say the food is great but when you read that service is good, it means we hit all of our points.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done?
I think that's gotta be my staff. If my team wasn't here, I couldn't get any of this done. Having a team that's willing to work as a team, without that, wouldn't be able to get anything done.
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