Among Hawaiians, Las Vegas has been bestowed with the affectionate moniker of "the ninth island" for its careful catering to some of the visitors who love it most. Hawaiian barbecues and shave ice joints dot the Vegas valley, doing a brisk business for those who have swapped island life for the desert. But until recently, the simple authenticity of dining on freshly caught opakapaka or opah hauled in by family fishermen required a flight back from the honorary island to one of Hawaii's original eight.
Chef David Walzog of Lakeside restaurant at Wynn Las Vegas, whose love of Maui rivals the Hawaiian Islands' love of Las Vegas, set out to change all that. A series of fishing trips later, and bonds formed with fishermen who text him the catch he'll get the next day before it's even off the boat, and Walzog has created a Hawaiian fish menu that's a destination in itself. "I wanted a menu with a story, and real reasons that fish is on your plate," Walzog says. "And there's nothing like those pristine Hawaiian fish that have such distinct sweetness and flavor profiles and textures." Finding small family operators that would take him out on their boats was "another layer to the story." Now the dedicated customer of a select few fishermen around Kauai and Maui who previously had to market their fish across dozens of restaurants, Walzog gets multiple daily updates. "One will text me, 'I'm at 150 pounds off Maui. Stop, or keep fishing?' The next day, it's here."
Steve Wynn's legendary attention to detail, from the custom beds in each sumptuously- appointed room to the lush golf course he co-designed with Tom Fazio, inspires Walzog and his fellow Wynn and Encore chefs to craft highly specialized programs that place them squarely ahead of the competition. Wynn operates all of its fine dining restaurants, many of which reside permanently on critics' annual 'best of' lists. This promise of exceptional amenities and superlative service is among the reasons Forbes Travel Guide has recognized Wynn Las Vegas and Encore with more Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Awards than any other Las Vegas resort.
At Lakeside, Walzog keeps the preparations simple – much like you'd order a steak from SW Steakhouse next door – designed to set off the freshness of his fish. Both Hawaiian names and more commonly known names appear on the menu, and the fish and preparations range in intensity from delicate opakapaka (pink) served with market-driven citrus and herbs to Mongchong – a snub-nosed deep-sea fish better known as Pomfret – that takes on meaty intensity with confit mushrooms, herbs, beurre blanc and truffle. You'll find mahi mahi, shutome (swordfish), and ono (wahoo) among the six to eight varieties of fish a night – plus surprises that could only result from those real-time messages from the boat. If you want to try the full range of the day's catch, Walzog will even create a series of tasting portions – not on the menu. Next time you’re in Las Vegas, reserve a table right on the Lake of Dreams and only a flight to Maui could transport you more directly.