2 Michelin Star Chef Tetsuya Wakuda Makes American Debut In Las Vegas. This Is The Reason He’s Betting On Success In Sin City.

WakudaPhoto Credit: MBS


Laura Schreffler

Main dining room

Photo Credit: Rockwell Group

CHEF TETSUYA WAKUDA IS BETTING ON SUCCESS, AND HE’S PLAYING TO WIN. The internationally recognized culinary expert has won several of the world’s most prized accolades, including The World’s 50 Best Restaurant distinction for his eponymous restaurant Tetsuya’s in Sydney, Australia; two Michelin stars for Singapore’s Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands; and being the first-ever global chef to be recognized by the Japanese government, in 2013, as that country’s Master of Cuisine. WAKUDA has even scored the Relais & Chateaux’s coveted Chefs Trophy Now. And now the Japanese-born, Australian chef is signaling his arrival in the U.S. with the launch of his restaurant at The Palazzo.
The restaurant, in conjunction with partner 50 Eggs Hospitality Group, blends traditional and modern elements harmoniously. As designed by renowned architecture and design firm Rockwell Group, the 264-foot restaurant is resplendent with its rich wood and stone surfaces, metallic elements, contemporary furnishings, and clean lines that seamlessly intersect with intricate neon accents. The main dining room features a wood ceiling inspired by traditional Japanese wood joinery techniques and interspersed with stacked pendant paper lantern-style lights. Works from contemporary Japanese artists like Shohei Otomo are rife. 

And now, the food. WAKUDA’s fare can best be described as unique interpretations of Japanese classics — sashimi, sushi, tempura, and more. His signatures include lobster with lobster jus and tarragon, poached angel prawns with shellfish soy sauce, aburi, New Zealand ora king salmon, Australian grass-fed beef tenderloin, Canadian lobster, and Yaki Shabu Omi beef. Topping all that, the restaurant promises a truly epic omakase experience.

The beverage program is just as impressive, with a wide selection of wines ranging from the best old-world vintages to eclectic new-world wines, and close to 100 different sakes, including those produced in small batches as well as sakes specially brewed for the restaurant, such as the Masuizami, Kotobuki Platinum Nama, a Junmai Daiginjo from Toyama prefecture. (Fun fact: Wakuda was the first to be named international Sake Ambassador by the Japanese sake industry in 2006.) The restaurant also creates custom versions of classic-meets-Japanese-style cocktails such as their take on the Tom Collins with Roku gin, cucumber, shiso, green tea and cucumber tonic; or their Smoked Oolong Old Fashioned with Toki whisky, smoked oolong tea syrup, bitters, and water.

Whether you opt to dine à la carte in the main dining room, go alfresco on the patio, or consume artful Japanese mixology at the bar, the experience is sublimely the same: exquisite. But we will say that for a true VIP experience, WAKUDA’s omakase and private sushi room — the first heightened private dining experience of its kind on the Strip — is the one to beat. And with only eight seats available, it is also going to be the hardest spot to get into and thus, the hottest ticket in town. We give it one week until it’s booked through December. And yes, that is a bet.

WakudaPhoto Credit: Waku Ghin

How did the partnership with John Kunkel and 50 Eggs come about? What can we expect from this partnership and how will this concept differ from your other two restaurants? 

John and I share a friendship and a great appreciation for Japanese cuisine, art, and culture. Marrying my culinary skills with the legendary 50 Eggs hospitality produces a completely unique dining experience that we are so looking forward to sharing in Las Vegas. The energy of the restaurant, the incredible artwork, the cuisine, are the result of a true collaboration and we challenged each other to new heights in every aspect of bringing the restaurant to life.   

What made you choose Las Vegas as the location for your launchpad to the culinary scene in the United States? 
It’s the energy and excitement of Las Vegas that drew us here. John and the 50 Eggs team have a proven track record of creating lasting restaurants and memorable dining experiences in Las Vegas. And being able to add my name to the legendary chefs cooking in this city is an honor, plus it’s a wonderful home for my first restaurant in the U.S. 

Las Vegas lounge

Photo Credit: Rockwell Group

Was opening in the U.S. always a priority?
Opening in the U.S. was a worthy goal that I always kept in mind. I tend to focus on each project individually and achieving proficiency in the culinary program, working with my team at each restaurant to continually strive to improve. At that point, I have my eye on what’s next and how I can grow to share my food and ideas with new audiences in a way that maintains excellence across all my restaurants. 

Given that Las Vegas is landlocked, how will you be sourcing the same quality of fish that you would in Singapore?
I’ve been building relationships over time with the best fish suppliers around the world, building rapport and mutual respect for our crafts. We acquire unparalleled ingredients daily from around the world that offer superior quality and flavor. Our seafood will be sourced from Japan and Australia.

Omakase room

Photo Credit: Rockwell Group

What are some of the menu highlights that guests can experience from WAKUDA Las Vegas? What differentiates the cuisine from other Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas? 
Certainly our sourcing sets us apart. I have developed relationships over my entire career to have access to the best ingredients in the world. There are several ingredients that we share at WAKUDA that are available only to us. Our menu will be sushi-based with seafood from Australia and Japan. WAKUDA will also feature Japanese Ohmi beef, the oldest Wagyu brand in Japan, known for its marbling. I only work with fresh wasabi; ours will be brought in from Tasmania. The quality and the color are unmatched and it takes about two years to grow. I even craft my own sake utilizing two different breweries that grow a specific variety of rice to my specifications and is available only to us.

What’s in store for VIPs? What over-the-top offerings can they expect? Private entrances? Hidden rooms?
There are many VIP experiences to be had at WAKUDA in Las Vegas.  We also accommodate VIP guests with the utmost discretion, so I can’t share all our VIP amenities. We do have a hidden whisky lounge for their enjoyment, an elegantly appointed private dining room, as well as a bespoke omakase.

Canadian lobster

Photo Credit: TNM Media

Will there be off-menu items that only those in the know will be able to enjoy? Can you share anything about that, if so?
Our omakase experience is completely bespoke; it is custom created for each guest. The omakase is a wonderful opportunity to try items that are not available on the à la carte menus. It is a collaboration between the chef and the guest, so no two offerings are alike. 

Your Singapore eatery is responsible for the most Instagrammed dish in the world. How will you top that in Vegas?
It is hard to predict which dish will resonate with guests in that way. Certainly, we have many aesthetically pleasing dishes that show extremely well. We find that with each opening, guests tend to connect with specific dishes that meet them at the right moment and that energy builds by what is shared on social media. I focus on ingredients and flavor first, then build the aesthetics.    

Smoked Oolong Old Fashioned

Photo Credit: Anthony Mair

Can you speak to the restaurant’s aesthetics? How engaged were you with planning the concept?
The design of WAKUDA was a collaboration between me and John. We worked with the acclaimed designers at Rockwell Group and partnered with renowned Japanese artists to create a space that exudes energy and elevates cultural references. There are many aspects to WAKUDA in Las Vegas: It encompasses a sexy lounge experience with entertainment; dining room with a luxe, exclusive omakase; and a terrace overlooking the lights of the city. 

Do you plan to expand the WAKUDA brand in America?
We are looking forward to sharing WAKUDA with guests in Las Vegas and perhaps we will look to New York City next. 

Stone, Water, Plants

Photo Credit: Anthony Mair

Waku Ghin has consistently held two Michelin stars since 2017. What do you credit that to?
I credit my Michelin recognition to the dedication to the craft of developing innovative cuisine, sharing my passion and skill with my team, and continually working to improve upon what we are sharing with our guests. 

How important is receiving Michelin recognition in Las Vegas?
I would be honored to have my work acknowledged in that way.

Wakuda omakase bar

Photo Credit: Wakuda

What do you hope the takeaway from dining at WAKUDA will be?
I hope that guests will have an excellent meal, making new memories with friends. I would humbly hope that they gain a new appreciation or insight into the quality of our ingredients and how they translate into superior flavors and dining experiences. I hope they will join us again. 

Have you had much time to explore Las Vegas and its restaurant scene?
When I am not working, I love red-sauce Italian spots. I have found a few places off the beaten path that are fantastic!

Are you close with any of the other chefs who operate here? How much time do you plan on spending in Sin City?
I plan on being in Las Vegas several times a year. I enjoy the energy of the city, the fantastic culinary options available, and the camaraderie of the talented chefs working here. I am friendly with many chefs in Las Vegas, but I have known both Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud for years.

WAKUDA entrance

Photo Credit: Wakuda

What has been the most surprising thing to you about Las Vegas as you’ve begun to familiarize yourself with the city?
People say that New York City is the city that never sleeps, but you could absolutely say the same for Las Vegas. I love the energy of the city as well as the fun and mischief that nights out in Las Vegas bring. 

What to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?
Time is truly the greatest luxury in life. We are given a limited supply and must make the most of what we have offered.  I genuinely love my work and enjoy investing one of life’s great luxuries — time — in continually improving what I do.

WakudaPhoto Credit: Wakuda