John Curtas is …

Las Vegas Weekly – The Sushi Issue

ELV Note: The Las Vegas Weekly’s exploration of all things sushi hits the newsstands today, so we thought we’d give you a peak at some tasty snaps from our interview with Bar Masa’s Drew Terp, followed by the Weekly article(s) outlining the best sushi in town, according to Brock Radke, Jim Begley, and you know who. (ELV tip: After Bar Masa, Shibuya and Sen of Japan, everyone else is an also-ran. ELV tip #2: Anyone who eats all-you-can-eat sushi should have their head examined. ELV Tip #3: Scroll down to Terp’s Tips if you want to raise your sushi game and stop eating it like a girlie-man.)

THE NEIGHBORHOOD JOINT

Sen of Japan (8480 W. Desert Inn Road, 871-7781) Sen, as it’s known to regulars, is a west-side staple and, unequivocally, the best “accessible” sushi in town. It’s cheaper than Bar Masa, Nobu and Roku but more expensive than your standard neighborhood joint. Don’t let that dissuade you; you will walk—or waddle—away feeling the experience was well worth the cost.

Sen’s pedigree is legit: one chef and co-owner, Hiro Nakano, is an alum of the Hard Rock Hotel’s Nobu; the other, Shinji Shichiri, was head sushi chef at Bellagio’s Shintaro (now Yellowtail), where the two met. Together, they’ve create one of the Valley’s more authentic Japanese dining experiences, a prime example of Strip-raised culinary talent migrating elsewhere in town.

Shinji’s strength is in his sauces. There’s no denying the quality of his fish—he’s been known to go without a product for months when it doesn’t meet his standards—but his preparations set him apart. A particular favorite of mine is his tai (Japanese snapper) served two ways: one with a robust red-wine reduction and the other with simple lemon and shiso (Japanese mint) leaf—a great flavor contrast, none of which overwhelms an otherwise mellow fish. —JIM BEGLEY

THE STRIP STAPLE

Sushi Roku (Inside the Forum Shops 733-7373) This West Coast-centric mini-chain has outposts in all the hot locales—LA, Hollywood, Scottsdale—and its Strip location fits nicely into that mix as easily as its sushi offerings do with their chic surroundings. Dining on sushi can be considered a visceral experience, and Roku’s vibe certainly plays to that.

For the best experience at Roku, we suggest sampling its nigiri (fish atop sushi rice), due to both the textural differential and the ability to use our hands (yes, the traditional method of eating sushi involves not chopsticks but fingers). Some of our favorites include amaebi (sweet shrimp), saba (mackerel), sake (salmon) and maguro (tuna). You might consider avoiding the hon maguro (bluefin tuna), as it’s severely overfished worldwide.

Take heed, though; you’ll pay for the ambience. A meal at Sushi Roku undoubtedly costs more than at your local sushi spot, but with its Strip-facing windows—instead of strip-mall interiors—Sushi Roku’s view alone is worth a few bucks. —JB

THE FEAST

Sushi Mon

Sushi Mon

Sushi Mon (9770 S. Maryland Parkway, 617-0241) Some sushi lovers have misgivings about the seafood quality at all-you-can-eat establishments. That’s of no concern at Sushi Mon, one of the best-known and most loved AYCE joints in town. The one on Maryland Parkway is one of Takashi Segawa’s restaurant troika, which also includes Chinatown’s acclaimed Monta noodle house and Spring Valley’s newly opened Goyemon, which is essentially an amalgam of the other two. (The Sushi Mon on Sahara is separately owned.)

Segawa’s secret for providing quality fish in an all-you-can-eat setting is twofold: multiple restaurants over which to spread overhead costs (see above) and alcohol, that always-strong profit margin contributor. Plus, the food isn’t free; lunch (11:45 a.m.-4 p.m.) costs $24.95, while dinner (4 p.m.-1 a.m.) runs $26.95. Still, unless you fill up on edamame and cucumber rolls, it’s tough not to come out on top in the value column. So kanpai! (cheers) for good fish, and don’t forget to support the cause by ordering a Sapporo or Dewasansan sake. Or hell, both. —JB

THE SPLURGE

Terp’s Tips
Self-described “big white boy” Drew Terp is Bar Masa’s executive chef. He took up the sushi blade after becoming bored with French food and now can hold his own with the best sashimi swordsmen around.
• RICE: “It shouldn’t be cake-like; the grains should hold together, barely, and fall apart as soon as they’re in your mouth. The individual rice grains should always be visible. Sushi roll rice should never be more than two grains thick.”
• FISH: “Nigiri sushi should never have a huge, overlapping piece of fish atop the rice. The fish should be the same length and width of the rice it sits upon. Great sushi should be sized so you can enjoy it in one bite.”
• FLAVOR: “Sushi bars use sauces and spicy mayonnaise and tempura flakes in their tuna rolls to disguise their inferior fish.”
• ADVICE: “Talk to your sushi chef. Ask him what’s fresh, where it comes from and what he recommends. A good one should be eager to share this information with you.”

Bar Masa (inside Aria, 877-230-2742) It is simply the most extraordinary Japanese food Las Vegas has ever witnessed. From the pristine quality to the precise presentations, Bar Masa is a restaurant no Japanese-food aficionado can afford to miss.

It is not, however, what most would consider affordable. If you’re an all-you-can-eat, fried-fake-crab-with-hot-mayonnaise lover of screaming orgasm rolls, you had best stay away. This is a restaurant where you truly get what you pay for, and what you pay for is the best fish and the most artful platings this side of Tokyo.

The conceit here is sashimi priced by the piece—about $6 a slice for fantastic fluke, $16 for three pieces of superior Spanish mackerel or $24 for three slices of fatty deep sea red snapper—almost all of it coming from the Sea of Japan and all of it geared to please the most persnickety pisces lovers on the planet. This makes Bar Masa at least twice as pricey as even most premium Japanese joints, and when you factor in $24 orders of fried rice and $18 wasabicress and chikuwa salads, the tariff gets stratospheric quickly.

Bar Masa's Drew Terp works his magic on toro tartare, $68.

Bar Masa’s Drew Terp works his magic on toro tartare, $68.

Bar Masa's toro tartare

Bar Masa’s toro tartare

Is it worth it? Yes, if you want to taste the most exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth spear squid (yari ika) on earth, or if you love tiny, tender, rotund sizzling octopus in butter, or the umami-bomb that is the uni risotto. A whitefish sampling tastes beyond fresh, with each species (fluke, sea bream and needlefish) sliced to demonstrate its distinct musculature—a revelation in six small bites. Equally astounding are small clams in a clear broth—each sip taking you straight to a cold seashore, with the warm brininess of the clams standing out against the smell of an ocean breeze.

This fish is so good you’ll be tempted to order nothing but; that would be a big mistake. Equally chopstick-dropping are such savories as fried garlic chicken karaage (a mound of succulent dark meat nuggets) that is simply addictive, and Kobe (Australian Wagyu) skewers with yuzu spice that practically melt in your mouth. And if you don’t mind dropping $68, the toro tartare (toro akami tuna scraped from the sinew and mixed with toro fat, then topped with California caviar) might be the best four bites of any tartare you will ever have in your life. Call it freshness (that old cliché), or vibrancy, but each and every dish has a certain snap to it, combined with almost unfathomable delicacy. There are contrasts in tastes and textures, plus a depth of flavor in everything from the perfectly seasoned rice to the delicate foams, sauces and accents accompanying the dishes that beckon and intrigue with every bite. It is impossible not to be stunned by the interplay of these sensations—which is probably the exact response Masa Takayama is looking to elicit from his customers.

It is true that the inscrutable nature of Japanese food is often lost on the Western palate. Japanese food can have a subtlety to it that borders on the invisible, but if you’re looking to raise your Japanese eating game, and have the money to invest, this is one of only a handful of places in the United States where you can do so. —JOHN CURTAS

THE NEWCOMER

Sushi Imagine's Spider Roll

Sushi Imagine’s Spider Roll

Sushi Imagine (75 S. Valle Verde Dr., 272-2228) There are loads of neighborhood sushi bars scattered about the Valley, and some of the tastiest options can be found in the Green Valley and Henderson area. So when former Orange County restaurateur Aki Fujimoto opened his new local spot, Sushi Imagine, in August, he knew he had to make it special. He took inspiration from a musical favorite, John Lennon, for the name and mantra of his restaurant: “Imagine all the people eating sushi in peace.”

But it takes more than a creative name to earn a following, and Sushi Imagine has been doing it by focusing on presentation and listening to customers. “We serve traditional Japanese food and new-style sushi, but Aki helps make our food unique by answering customer requests,” says co-owner and spouse Chieku Fujimoto. For example, the PS I Love You special roll combines one customer’s favorites, shrimp tempura and spicy tuna, using rice paper. Another regular—and Hello Kitty fan—got a roll named after her favorite character, with her favorite fish (yellowtail) inside.

Sushi Imagine doesn’t do all-you-can-eat, but they absolutely do catering, as well as happy hour and early bird specials. The newest promotion is the Wheel of Fortune: With every $30 spent, customers get a spin and a chance to win Imagine money for their next visit. It’s fun and easy, two elements that should be part of any good neighborhood sushi bar. —BROCK RADKE

Good reasons to go to …

Nobu (inside Hard Rock Hotel, 693-5090) Hard Rock’s Nobu is the Las Vegas outpost of celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s international restaurant empire. The scene is still hip, and though it’s effectively Sen of Japan at twice the price, it’s well worth trying out the original.

Osaka (4205 W. Sahara Ave., 876-4988 & 10920 S. Eastern Ave., 616-3788) This elder statesman of Vegas Japanese restaurants has been around since 1967. The Sahara location can be a bit claustrophobic, but it’s a fleeting feeling. Check out an old area favorite.

I Love Sushi (11041 S. Eastern Ave., 990-4055) Must we explain why a joint with rolls called Tastes like My Ex-Girlfriend, Happy Ending and John Holmes needs to be checked out?

Sushi Factory (6120 W. Tropicana Ave., 876-5665 & 10720 S. Eastern Ave. 270-7906) Their motto is “They Sell Fresh Dead Fish,” and we agree. A good neighborhood all-you-can-eat sushi choice, with locations on both sides of the Valley.

RA Sushi (3200 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 696-0008) An upper-Strip hotspot with outdoor dining affording a view of the Strip. Tough to go wrong with that combination.

Shibuya (inside MGM Grand, 891-3001) One of the Valley’s largest sake selections resides here. The 125-plus varietals include three exclusives.

Lahaina (4570 S. Hualapai Way, 309-9911) The west-side haunt will soon (April 1) reintroduce a Vegas favorite: 24-hour all-you-can-eat. Who’s in for 4 a.m. hand rolls?

RM Seafood (inside Mandalay Place, 632-9300) Rick Moonen’s eatery is the proud purveyor of the Valley’s first fully Safe Harbor-certified sushi bar. Couple this with his steadfast sustainable ways and you know what you’re eating is good for you and Mother Earth. —JB

Share this post:

2 Responses to Las Vegas Weekly – The Sushi Issue

  • Enjoyed Sushi Imagine as it is a stonescthrow from my house. It is a little tight at the bar but food is fresh and service good. Great to have a decent one close. Sorry you didn’t include En Sushi and Robata Grill in Anthem as they do a good job as well. Problem there is that it is off the beasten path.

  • I like Blue Fin. Ahi Poke is the best with many other creative and delicious rolls as well. Friendly chefs and staff as well.

Latest Tweets
John at Work Restaurant reviews, quips, picks and pans-with some seriously salivating history-from the man who eats his way through Sin City every day.
Flangas-McMillan
Attorneys at Law
Follow eatinglasvegas on Twitter Follow eatinglasvegas on Twitter