Not being much of a fan of Japanese cuisine, it took me until Restaurant Week 2011 to actually try Japonais at the Mirage. Their Restaurant Week menu had an entree of braised short ribs with pureed sweet potato that was calling my name. On this night, I showed up around 7pm (without a reservation) and was offered a seat in either the dining room or the lounge. I chose the lounge, which sounded more casual. Little did I realize how casual.
I was shown to my seat: a couch in one of those cozy little seating areas meant for groups of friends. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten dinner on a couch in a public place before. I sat down and felt completely swallowed up by the couch. I couldn’t quite figure out how to look like I was comfortable sitting there having dinner by myself. I felt a little too exposed–as if I’d been expecting a group of friends and they all stood me up. Also, it was very dark in there. We all know how I feel about dark restaurants. Grr.
Then when I placed my order, my waitress informed me that they were out of the short ribs.
I didn’t actually scream it out loud, but at this point, I seriously considered getting up and leaving. My waitress gave me more time to review the menu while she went to get my drink. As I was fuming about my poor choice in restaurants and wondering what the hell to order now, my glance fell on the Restaurant Week logo on the menu and it reminded me why I was really there. Charity. Oh right; this isn’t about me. It’s about feeding the truly hungry. Shame flooded me, but it also turned my attitude right around.
I wound up ordering the lobster spring rolls, the organic chicken, and the sorbet trio for dessert. I made one special request: I asked if they still had any of the sweet potato puree left and if they could substitute that for the rice that normally came with the chicken. She went to check and came back with the good news: Yes! After that, all was right with the world.
While I waited for my food to arrive, I relaxed a little into the couch, sipping my cocktail and listening to the background music while trying to ignore the other diners around me. There were candles on the tables in the lounge, ostensibly for the romance, but I think secretly it’s because the lounge is so dark you can’t read the menu without them. Still, once I stopped feeling self-conscious–and there was really no reason to feel that way, since not a single other person in the restaurant had so much as glanced in my direction–it wasn’t such a bad place to be, I decided.
Then the food arrived, and I was happy I’d stayed. I’ve never met a spring roll I didn’t like. The chicken was fine (and likely much healthier than the short ribs), the broccolini was crisp-tender, and the sweet potato puree was to die for. It tasted like there was apple or pear mixed in with the potato. Mmmm. The sorbets came in a trio of flavors–mango, raspberry, and yuzu, a Japanese citrus that tasted like lemon. More mmmmm.
No matter how hungry I was before my meal, though, I recognized once again why Restaurant Week is such a bad idea for me: I cannot eat three courses in one sitting. I was so full by the time this meal was done, I almost had to ask to be rolled out of the restaurant and back to my hotel in a wheelbarrow.
Despite getting off on the wrong foot, my meal here was terrific. The food was fine, but what really stood out for me was the service. My waitress did everything she could to make up for the disappointment of not being able to order what I wanted, as did the chef by accommodating my sweet potato puree obsession. There were times when I thought perhaps I’d been mistaken for a restaurant critic–the staff was that attentive to me.
Next time you’re in the Mirage to see a show or do a little gambling, Japonais is well worth a try. Tip: They also have a happy hour in their lounge daily, with $7 drinks and appetizers from 5-8pm. I think I’ll try that next time.
Photo credit: MGM MIRAGE