Restaurateur Tony Nguyen ate a life-changing meal in Vietnam that set the course for his latest restaurant in Las Vegas. His new Saffron, The Vegetarian Eatery in Chinatown focuses on meatless dishes.
“I’m not a vegetarian,” Nguyen says. “Right after that meal, I felt really good about what I just ate. I wasn’t bloating. And I changed my perception about vegetarian food. I was thinking to myself, ‘Las Vegas really needs something like this,’ a good vegetarian restaurant that really showcases all the vegetables and makes people like me, people who are not familiar with vegetarian food … change their perception about it.”
Nguyễn brought in chef Louross Edralin, who appeared on Season 4 of Hell’s Kitchen, to run the kitchen after he worked at Shokku Ramen, another of Nguyen’s restaurants.
Edralin suggests trying any of the mushroom dishes first, all using Sundown Mushrooms from the Las Vegas-based farm from Myrene Angeles and Chet Cruz. An exotic mushroom tempura features wild pink oyster, white oyster, honshemenji, lion’s mane, and shiitake mushrooms, battered in tempura and dusted with crispy panko, while a mushroom dumpling uses wild mushrooms with tofu. Other options from the menu that features East Asian fusion fare include pumpkin coconut soup, a mushroom duxelle Rangoon, fern root Singapore noodles, vegetarian curries, and vegan cheesecake, but the menu will change seasonally as different vegetables come into season. The restaurant even serves many gluten-free dishes, marked on the menu.
Each dish comes with a description on the menu that takes diners deeper into the vegetarian experience. A beet tartare is “bright and vibrant,” a banana blossom salad is “a lush and exuberant affair,” and a claypot rice is “traditional, impassioned effervescence.” Nguyen says the descriptions help diners create their own dining experience. “They just help to take you on a journey and paint that painting yourself.”
Cocktails created by Edralin include a lemongrass margarita and lotus blossom martini that uses pear vodka and sake. A short list of sakes and Asian beers make the menu as well.
The atmosphere of Saffron brings together serenity and stability in the 90-seat dining room with a private dining area. A pond flowing through a hand-made basin anchors the room, crowned with a statue made in Vietnam exclusively for the restaurant. East Asian wood-carved accents and large murals decorate the space. “The whole idea is we want to bring all the elements together,” Nguyen says. “We want to bring stone. We want to bring water. We want to bring earth. We want to bring all the greens. They just come together.”
Saffron, The Vegetarian Eatery, 3545 S. Decatur Blvd., 702-201-1926. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 11 p.m.