SUSHI WE HARDLY KNEW YEE aka Sushi Jumps The Shark– Part Three
In this last of our 3-part series, we examine another nouveau sushi-sashimi enterprise, and find one that hews closer to the spirit of true sushi/sashimi than you might expect from a restaurant associated with a nightclub. Click here and here to read Parts One and Deux.
Yellowtail in the Bellagio is another creation from The Light Group – nightclub impresarios who now run six food and beverage outlets in that hotel alone – along with several others around town. Like the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, it runs a tight ship in all of its outposts, and rarely puts forth food that feels commercialized or by-the-numbers. Make no mistake, like Sushi Samba, this is a corporate food factory, designed and planned to the nines; calculated at every turn to appeal to the zeitgeist of how modern America eats. Also like Sushi Samba, it’s next door to a nightclub, so many of its customers are of that ilk.
Yellowtail shines with its sushi even though it has no sushi “bar.” Everything is ordered off menu and composed out-of-site, but the fish is artfully sliced, the right size, firm to the bite, and not burdened by anyone’s attempt to jazz it up. A plate of signature sushi items holds delicate, lightly seared toro of good quality, kimedai (Japanese Golden Eye snapper), braided kohada (barely marinated sardines that don’t taste like cheap, pickled herring), firm and chewy mizukado (octopus) and a Santa Barbara prawn that tastes as if it was caught that morning. The rice is delicate, the right size, shaped well, slightly warm and full of infused-flavor. None of these competes with a top-of-the-line sushi boutique on either coast, but for a volume restaurant in a large hotel, you would be hard pressed to find better seafood or presentation.
If you ask for a whole sea sea urchin, and they’re available, Back will parade one to your table, accompanied by long, thin slices of snow white yari ika – a skinny needle squid that at first feels chalky in your mouth, then melts on your tongue after a slight dip in dashi broth. The flavor contrast between it and the funk, salt and dankness of the urchin will remain in your taste memory long after you’ve left the restaurant.
Back’s tamago — a small, sweet square omelet – is a worthy finish to your meal. He told me it is one of the yardsticks to measure the skill of a Japanese chef, and took him seven years to perfect. Japanese food can sometimes be subtle to the point of invisibility, but one bite of this airy, flour-less, sweet, egg-y creation is a good start to appreciating the most inscrutable of the world’s cuisines.
Like Akira Back’s tamago, sushi is a deceptively simple art. As America slowly weans itself from its steak and starch roots, sushi provides a food that, in its purest form, provides a healthful alternative to the way we used to eat. But as with most things edible, our cultural melting pot is not content to let something so pure remain just that.
Americans seem to be more in love with the idea of sushi, rather than in the execution thereof, and as long as seafood remains cheap, they will flock to this newest fad at the bidding of restaurateurs who are more than willing to cheapen and bastardize it in order to exploit its popularity. Thankfully some restaurants – even one in a huge Las Vegas hotel – have enough respect for what sushi should be to hold the line a while longer. Oscar Wilde once said: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Sadly, the future of sushi is to remain neither.
In the Bellagio Resort and Casino
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109