ELV note: This is the same review which appears midway through the Las Vegas Weekly article posted below. We thought we’d make it a little easier to read by giving it its own space. Kanpai!
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 many would consider affordable. If you are a bargain-basement, all-you-can-eat, fried-fake-crab-with-hot-mayonnaise lover of screaming orgasm rolls, you had best stay away. For 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/slice for fantastic fluke, $16 for three pieces of superior Spanish mackerel, or $24 for 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.
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; but that would be a big mistake. Equally chopstick-dropping are such savories as fried garlic chicken karraage (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 cliche), 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.