With all the exciting restaurants opening Downtown over the last two years, it can be difficult to remember the dark days, when the pickings in the area were slim. I was one of the neighborhood’s harshest critics. Then came Natalie Young. The casino veteran’s solo debut, Eat, on Carson Avenue was an overnight success in 2012, thanks to a diverse menu that ran the gamut from obscure South American dishes to Americana classics.
There was only one problem, at least for this suburban late-riser: The place is only open for breakfast and lunch. At the time, Young told me she wanted evenings off to spend time with her rescued pit bulls—a subject that hits home with this fellow pit-owner. But Young received more and more pressure to sacrifice a few more hours for local foodies. And when news finally came that she was planning a dinner spot, it rocketed to the top of the Valley’s most anticipated restaurants list.
The “General Chow’s chicken” will make you forget the homage to General Tso served at your local Chinese joint.
Once again, Young has kept the name simple: Chow. And once again she’s kept it small (at least by Las Vegas standards), with a cool neighborhood feel, an open kitchen and a classic-rock soundtrack. The room only has space for about 60 diners. The ceiling is lined with finished wood beams. The walls are painted primarily with simple Asian images, with an occasional chicken stencil. And a large red paper dragon hangs from the ceiling.
That eclectic decor is a nod to Young’s equally eclectic and unexpected mash-up of cuisines. Chow is officially described as a “chicken and Chinese joint,” which has led many to assume that this a fusion restaurant. But for the most part, Young doesn’t mix the styles. Her most straightforward attempt at fusion—something called Chi-’talian noodles—was my least favorite item. Young finds more success when the individual cooking styles are allowed to speak for themselves.
Her fried chicken, for example, is a straight-up Southern classic served with miniature corn muffins and pickled jalapeños; you can order three, four or eight pieces. I’ve had the crispy, well-seasoned dark meat pieces, and while they’re not quite the best I’ve had in the Valley, they’re definitely up there. Yet it’s Young’s egg drop soup, however humble, that is probably the best dish I’ve had here. While this is pretty much the traditional Chinese classic, I detected a hint of lemon that reminded me of its Greek cousin avgolemono. With the addition of pan-seared and steamed shrimp shumai (also available as an appetizer), it’s a meal in itself.
Chow puts a spin on another Southern staple, a side of collard greens. Made with what the chef calls “spicy Chow sauce,” these greens retain all of their down-South richness and freshness. But there’s a mild spiciness to them that makes them even more addictive.
As for the Chinese-American dishes, the “General Chow’s chicken” will make you forget the homage to General Tso served at your local Chinese joint. Young begins with large cuts of quality chicken, fries them till crispy, sets them over a bed of wok-seared Chinese broccoli and coats them with a thick red sauce of ginger, garlic, soy, rice vinegar and sweet and hot peppers. Crab Rangoon is a fairly basic rendition, though the accompanying ponzu citrus sauce makes the dish worth trying.
Chow’s dessert selection is limited to three items, all of them leaning toward the Southern side of the menu. So far, I‘ve tried an “Old-School” banana pudding and “Dirt,” a vanilla pudding layered with crushed Oreos and chocolate syrup. Both were good enough that I can’t wait to return just so I can finish off the meal on such a sweet note.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Young has another hit on her hands. And the prices are amazingly affordable. On a recent visit, I had a meal that was more than enough for five people. With the tip, it was about $100—not bad for a spot that’s changing the Downtown dining landscape. I just hope Young still has time for her pit bulls.
Al’s Menu Picks
- DW egg drop soup with shrimp dumplings ($8)
- crab Rangoon dip ($13)
- crispy Southern fried chicken ($10-$26)
1020 Fremont St., Suite 120, 702-998-0774. Open for lunch and dinner, noon-5 p.m. Sun, noon-8 p.m. Tue-Thu, noon-10 p.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $30-$60.