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You can dine at ultra-chic Hakkasan without breaking the bank

<p>The Steamed Dim Sum Platter. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES</p>

The Steamed Dim Sum Platter. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES

It’s no surprise the Cantonese restaurant in Hakkasan has a reputation for being expensive. The nightclub/restaurant complex reportedly cost more than $100 million to construct. There’s a Michelin-starred chef. And I can only assume the club’s exclusive DJs — like Tiesto, Steve Aoki and Calvin Harris — don’t come cheap. But I think few people were prepared for dishes such as a $450 whole abalone or a $245 Peking duck — each of which is intended to be shared as part of a large family-style meal.

Even without such extravagances, word on the street is that Hakkasan can be very, very pricey. And not being a member of the bottle-service crowd, I’d originally planned to refrain from visiting until someone else was paying. But a friend recently told me there are actually some excellent dishes on the menu at relatively reasonable prices. So my wife and I paid the place a visit to see if it’s actually possible to get the Hakkasan experience without breaking the bank.

The good news is you can get a very good, affordable meal at Hakkasan, if you consider $70-$80 for two (before tip) affordable. (Trust me, for a restaurant of this caliber, it very definitely is.) But you have to follow a few simple rules.

First, prepare to drink water, preferably ice water. If you want a cocktail, grab it at a corner bar on your way. Martinis here are $15, and specialty cocktails are $17. If you do want some alcohol with your meal, scour the wine list for one of the handful of bottles available for under $50.

Second, ignore your server’s recommendation on how to order. For two people, I was told a proper order would be one small plate, two entrees, an order of rice or noodles, and a vegetable. That’s reasonable for a fine dining restaurant, where multicourse meals are the norm. But it’s not necessary. We opted to go with a very large “small plate,” one entree and one noodle dish, and we didn’t leave hungry.

Third, splurge on the small stuff, skimp on the entrees. Let’s face it, you don’t want to come to an incredible restaurant and only get the least expensive dishes possible. If you want to try some signature dishes, do it on the small plates or the noodles, where they’ll only cost you an extra few bucks, as opposed to the large dishes, where the difference in price between a budget option and a premium dish can be $20 or more.

My wife and I began our meal with the Hakka dim sum platter. At $28 it was among the most expensive small plates on the menu. But we chose it because it offered two samples each of four dumplings, and is one of those buzzed-about signature dishes. We followed it up with one of the least expensive entrees, sanpei chicken claypot with sweet Thai basil ($22), and the house specialty Hakka noodles ($18). We could easily have saved $10 or more on the first course by ordering a smaller dish, and another $5-$10 by ordering rice instead of noodles. But we wanted to make sure we got a true feel for what Hakkasan has to offer. My wife had a Diet Coke ($5), and I decided to be frugal by drinking ice water. And we saved $10 or so by skipping dessert. End result: $78.92, including tax.

Overall, our meal was very good. The most impressive course was the dim sum platter: a collection of shrimp dumplings, scallop shumai, perch dumplings and black pepper duck dumplings in pumpkin wrappers. Unless you’re already a dim sum expert, it’s guaranteed to impress. Our noodles and chicken were also very good.

Spending more money clearly could have made for a more extravagant meal. But it wouldn’t have improved the ambience. Hakkasan boasts one of the most gorgeous modern dining rooms in town. The staff is amazing. And the soundtrack by DJ Shoe was more suitable to my taste than any set Tiesto or Aoki might provide.

Obviously, Hakkasan isn’t an inexpensive restaurant. But if you want to experience it, you don’t have to empty your wallet. Then, when you’re on someone else’s dime, you can go back and splurge.

HAKKASAN MGM Grand 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 891-7888. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.