Restaurateur John Kunkel of 50 Eggs Hospitality has a lock on restaurants at the Venetian and Palazzo. His Yardbird Southern Table & Bar brings his delightfully crunchy fried chicken and Southern fare, while Lorena Garcia’s Chica offers of a world of Latin cuisines stretching across South America. Poolside respites Spritz Restaurant & Bar and Capri Pool Restaurant & Bar keep sun worshippers fed and quenched.
Now Kunkel turns his eye toward Japanese cuisine when Wakuda opens at the Palazzo in early 2022. Chef Tetsuya Wakuda earned accolades at his two-Michelin-Star Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands Singapore and his popular Tetsuya’s in Sydney, Australia. In Las Vegas, Wakuda promises his first high-end Japanese restaurant in the United States, taking over the former Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro space with a patio on the Las Vegas Strip at the front of the Palazzo after the steakhouse opted not reopen.
The restaurant takes its inspiration from the Shinjuku Golden Gai area of Tokyo, famous for its nightlife with more than 200 diverse and eclectic tiny bars in a six-block area. Most bars are only large enough for a handful of patrons, and the dark corridors and rundown atmosphere create a unique and hard-to-replicate experience. “It’s really this whole other Japan that I don’t know that everybody gets a chance to see,” Kunkel says of the kids break dancing on the corner and neon that he found there. At Wakuda, he hopes to transport customers to a space that combines old Japanese traditions with edgy, upbeat sophistication, using nooks and crannies for seating areas that offer a different experience no matter where a customer sits.
Wakuda the chef, who plans to be very hands on with the restaurant, opts to bring an approachable omakase experience, touching on some of his classic dishes such as ocean trout confit, perhaps his best known dish, along with yakitori and dishes cooked over binchō-tan.
Kunkel met Wakuda when he worked on opening Yardbird in Singapore at Marina Bay Sands. “It was my first dinner reservation when I went there and it was an epic, over-the-top experience at Waku Ghin,” Kunkel says.
At Waku Ghin, Wakuda serves pastas, donburis, and bar bites such as lightly poached octopus, wild caught chutoro tuna carpaccio, and a fried marinated chicken as starters, along with charcoal grill beef, fregola with abalone, and spaghetti with king crab.
Tetsuya’s opened in 1989 in Sydney, Australia, and moved into larger space in 2000. Wakuda’s Michelin two star Waku Ghin opened in 2010 at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore with a 10-course tasting menu. Wakuda picks up on Kunkel’s original plans to open a restaurant called Golden Gai at the Palazzo that initially started in 2019.