WHAT: 8 East
IT’S: A new dining concept inspired by Asian street markets
OPENED: October 28, 2020
WHO’S BEHIND IT: Chef and Proprietor Dan Coughlin, Executive Chef Steve Piamchuntar and Circa CEO Derek Stevens
FUN FACT: Coughlin tested out some of the dishes at his other Downtown restaurant, Le Thai, before debuting them at 8 East.
LOCATION: Circa Resort & Casino (8 Fremont Street)
HOURS: Sunday to Thursday | 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday & Saturday | 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Circa’s Understated Dining Over Delivers
Out of the new dining concepts at Circa, 8 East may be the most under-the-radar, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Tucked away in a corner of the casino floor (near the high-limit room), the restaurant is intimate and casual with wood decor and a small open kitchen that dominates one side of the dining room. It’s a charming spot, but understated, allowing the food to be the focus of attention. The menu, inspired by the Asian street markets of Thailand, China, Japan and Taiwan, is a collaboration between founder Dan Coughlin and Steve Piamchuntar who oversees the day-to-day kitchen operations.
A One-Stop Combination of Far East Street Markets
Much of the food contains the same colorful ingredients and flavors that made Coughlin’s Le Thai a longtime hit just a few blocks away in the Fremont East district. This time around, the chef is covering a wider variety of styles while keeping the cuisine approachable for a diverse audience. Chicken wings are given a Szechuan-style makeover and a New York Strip has a five spice blend of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns and fennel seeds, allowing both to mix familiarity with experimentation.
Yet 8 East works best when dishes are ordered to share. The ginger chicken dumplings come alive with the unexpected spiciness of the sweet soy vinaigrette while the photogenic filet mignon carpaccio is a savory combination of wasabi creme and peanuts with crisp tatsoi and dried slices of purple sweet potatoes (undersold as “potato chips” on the menu).
The duck roll is a play on a Peking Duck, but in a more inventive, convenient presentation. Thick chunks of duck confit are wrapped in a tortilla with green onion and cucumber — chopped and stood on end, almost like a sushi roll. Drag ’em through a thick sesame seed hoisin sauce for a rewarding balance of sweet and salty flavors. Another highlight is the crispy pork belly, cooked for six hours, deep fried and stuffed into a bao bun with white BBQ sauce and wasabi.
New Surprises and Secret Dishes
Despite its success out of the gate, 8 East remains a work in progress with new recipes in development. Ask about off-menu dishes like the shrimp fried rice, short rib dumpling with horseradish sauce or a perfectly seared black cod with sweet miso glaze and seasoned golden beets.
As can be expected, 8 East has its share of sake and Chinese teas. The flights of carefully sourced Japanese, Taiwanese and Indian whiskies are the biggest surprise. Choosing a cocktail to pair with the restaurant’s intriguing array of dishes may be the hardest part. The Roku Negroni has a certain spiciness that undercuts the bitterness of the Aperol and The Wise Man is a sweeter, but more complex Manhattan while the Desert Rose balances the smokiness of mezcal with tart lemon.
Small/tapas plates $6 to $25, entrees $14 to $16 (or market price for the lobster fried rice), desserts $9, whisky flights $24 to $50, sake $14 to $68, cocktails $12.50, and tea $3.5. Happy hour runs 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and includes $8 plates, $9 house wine, $6 sake bombs and select beer and $5 well drinks.
With reasonable prices and an ambitious menu, 8 East is almost an anomaly among restaurants at fancy new resorts. Yet there’s also enough familiarity to keep casual diners from feeling overwhelmed. The daily happy hour is an opportune starting point to try things out before returning for a full dinner.