Matthias Merges spent almost two years coming up with his plans to open Yusho at the Monte Carlo, perhaps the most exciting restaurant to open in Las Vegas this year. Now open less than a week, food critics are already discovering the Yusho way and marveling over the ramens, the grilled chicken wings and octopus, the soft-serve desserts and tofu doughnuts. Here Merges talks about why he wanted to open in Las Vegas, what you should order on the menu and why Yusho doesn't want to fit in with the other restaurants in the city.
In Chicago, you're more of a neighborhood joint that has attracted a following. Why come to Vegas where the crowd changes every day?
Because I think there is a neighborhood commonality with people coming to Vegas. Randolph Street and the Loop attract a certain clientele who love the hospitality and the food we serve and the beverage service. It's served in a space you can be sheltered from the everyday. A reprieve.
You and I both know why food lovers should get excited for Yusho. Give me your 30-second elevator pitch.
I think that Yusho represents accessibility to well-crafted cuisines and beverage with unobtrusive service that's accessible and at an affordable price. We wanted to make sure we had something anyone could afford and well-crafted cocktails. We want people to come once a week or twice a week.
Yusho changes all the time. There's always some new taste that we have. It's an interesting interpretation of Asian and Japanese cuisine.
What are some of the crazy dishes you plan to serve?
We have a cool menu of things that we love and resonate and hit the mark. In Las Vegas, we see the market and the people and tastes. We'll see how adventurous they are. We'll have a braised pig head one day, a whole fish, grilled lobster. We want to bring Yusho to Las Vegas. A lot of people try to adapt to Las Vegas to fit in. We don't want to fit in. We want to become part of the fabric of the food and beverage scene in Las Vegas and maintain our identity of what we are.
Have you found it easy to source some of your more interesting ingredients here?
Funny you say that. Things that you take for granted in Chicago are hard to find here. We have a huge butcher place in Chicago where we get our pig heads. We called everywhere and we couldn't find them here. We'll use our purveyors in Chicago.
You're known as a chef hangout in Chicago. What are you going to do to get chefs to come in after their restaurants close for the night here?
We are for sure. That's something that we want to hit while we're out here. There are not a whole lot opportunities on the Strip for the late-night dining thing. We'll have a late-night menu of noodles. We hope that we would get some of that crowd that make that like an industry hangout.
What should they order?
I think what we like about Yusho is that you can come late night and get a great pig tail ramen, Japanese whiskey or 21-course experience. Our staff is really well trained to our clients wants and needs. We are very good at that in Chicago.
The Logan Poser Ramen has been on the menu for a long time. The steamed buns are delicious. The draft cocktails are delicious.
For me, any of the specials that come are things I would personally go for. Things out of left field like the pig heads and different steamed buns we do. Right now in Chicago we're doing grilled rabbit hearts. Those are the things that show what Yusho can do.
Everything is made in house. The best thing I could advise, come in with a group of four and explore menu on the own. Don't be afraid to be adventurous and try new things
Your wife designed in the interior. Can you talk about that?
One thing that we really wanted to get across is that when we travel to Japan there are things that we love reminisce about — the lighting in the stalls of the Japanese fish market. We have a kind of cool industrial dock light used for receiving docks. We have Japanese anime and illustrations and colors. Huge swaths of blues and reds and bright colors give an energy to the space.
You personally aren't Japanese, but you're serving Japanese food here. Can you talk about that?
We poke a little fun at ourselves. You never take yourself too seriously without introspection. I'm not Japanese and I don't live in Japan. I'm from Chicago. but the farmers markets are hallmarks of how I like to cook. I'm not trying to create traditional Japanese cuisine where I saw this and have to make it the same. There's no fun in that. This is Yusho cuisine.
When you're eating the ramen, you think, "This is like no ramen I've had before." The only thing similar are the noodles in the bowl. It opens a whole another world of exploration of food.
People say they're a fan of Asian cuisine, but I don't recognize any of this. I don't want you to recognize any of it. The package is greater than the sum of the parts. There are so many great Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas. We don't want to be a sushi restaurant or a maki roll restaurant. We just want to be good at what we do because we're the only ones that do it.
Can you talk a bit about the cocktails?
At Yusho, one of things I wanted to make clear, there is no difference between a cook and a bartender. They understand ingredients and timing. We made the line open and one continuous unit. The cooks help bartend and vice versa. There is a flow and this seamless production going on with ingredient. Those items you find in the kitchen? We'll explore those in the bar area as well.
Billy Sunday came out of the Yusho bar philosophy in Chicago. The accolades are crazy. We really focus on the bar program and incorporate two together.
Is there anything else you think people should know?
I think one of the great things about the site is the great patio opportunity. Not a lot of people have one on the Strip. Late night and those days that it's not 115 degrees they'll have a great experience. The shade and trees are great alternatives to the usual.
The design of the space is challenging. It was an odd footprint that turned out to be great. We have four distinct areas that offer differ experience.
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Yusho pig head [Photo: Twitter]