So, dig on this new restaurant, friends: YONAKA. It’s been open for less than a month, but already it’s starting to beat out a lion’s share of the hip Japanese-fusion restaurants on the strip by a country mile, in my opinion. Granted, we are plagued by those paint-by-numbers sushi joints in disguise, two or three to a casino property (hopefully a tide to be turned by the recent Palazzo top-tier sushi announcement), but honestly the quality and downright artistic creativity I’m seeing here is SHOCKING.
The meal starts out with an Amuse-bouche, mine was a little square of edamame tofu with just a dab of yuzu tobiko roe and maldon salt. The nuttiness of this, I assure you, groves of nut trees would covet. Nice to see this small but appreciated wink-and-nod to the coming meal can be practiced off-strip without being contrived. It’s fun, it’s simple, and the creamy/nutty tofu with just that tiniest bit of citrus and fish comes off pitch-perfect. Hopes, consider yourselves raised. Looking back, this was going through my mind.
A cursory glance at the menu won’t give any real indicator to the food to come, but once you start noticing menu descriptors like “apple chips” and “kafir lime vinaigrette” and “preserved lemon”, one does begin to wonder. Mainly choosing with my empty stomach, I got the item with two types of fishes (my stomach is not logical…), Konpa: Atlantic Salmon and Hamachi, with yellow bell pepper, almonds, tiny slices of preserved apricot, super thin jalapeno wheels, and almost transparently thin dehydrated tomato chips, all in an orange ponzu. Whew, that’s quite a list of elements, but it really is a bit of a salad in and around and highlighting some extremely superb fish. The duo of rich, fatty fish cut into sashimi bits contrasted well with the bright, tangy ponzu (like all their sauces, made in-house), sweet preserved apricot, and surprisingly addictive tomato chips. Perhaps most surprising was palate of textures presented, making each bite a fun little game of “find the best combo” (although, if that puzzle was solved for me and topped neatly onto the sashimi, I wouldn’t complain…).
There’s even a beef-aficionado option for us bull-eaters out there, but it’s FINALLY an off-strip Wagyu I don’t feel the need to put quotation marks around. It’s an Ishiyaki, so you get these super thin slices with more marbling than or the Caesars Palace (on-strip or Ancient, pick your reference), just a tad bit of salt and pepper, and you just lightly ssssssssssssssear it for a good one-Mississippi on each side with this big honkin’ polished river stone. I wouldn’t even wait for the Maillard reaction to kick in for me to flip it and nosh it in one bite, mostly ignoring the sides of lemon-salt ponzu and mushroom sauce (while both good enough to bottle and take home, unnecessary for this tasty little slice).
Now, most of this stuff is Japanese influenced on the main, but there was this one dish I thought was straight out of Bavaria. Pork, apple, and fennel: can you get more German? Throw in a sausage and a stein of schwarzbier and you may as well serve it in lederhozen. Big cubes of crispy and rich Kurobuta pork belly, fresh slices of Granny Smith apple, tiny fried garlic chips, fennel as both dried chips AND purée, and a lemon shiso vinaigrette. Besides the fact that these slices of fennel root and hunks of pork really were more of a knife and fork thing, it was a pleasure even with chop sticks. It was that classic flavor profile, this time with properly cooked pork belly (why does EVERYONE, even Ramsay’s pub, have to render oil out of a belly to crisp it?) and an added layer of texture with the dried fennel and crisp apple. There is one thing I noticed about this Chef Ramir DeCastro, he is very mindful about texture, something that may be unfortunately lost on some chefs these days.
Just a last word about this dessert. You guys, this dessert, I swear. Not only is it a Trio (Quartet, if you stretch the definition) of really amazing items, all together they work in PERFECT harmony of unique and light flavor. You’ve got a white grapefuit panna cotta (hiding behind the sugared and dried fennel), a “confit” of blood orange, a scoop of green apple sake-sorbet perched on a bed of pistachios, and a perfectly nutty pistachio purée dotted with candied kumquat slices. Now I love my desserts, but I can’t remember a better one that wasn’t in Le Cirque or similar. At this point, DeCastro is casting off any idea of Asian influence and is creating fantastic flavors from whole-cloth. I’ve got more dishes with just little notes in the gallery below, and I’ve got even more I need to try, but honestly this dessert takes the proverbial cake.
It’s no surprise that even in the short time Yonaka has been open, it’s become an after-hours place for F&B types to take their staff and show off in a “Look! Learn! And remember who brought you here!” kind of way. Honestly, as far as off-strip high-quality Asian fusion is concerned, it’s looking like Poppy Den will have an equal in Yonaka. Now, for off-strip high-quality Asian fusion with some real, honest character to them, that primarily empty category may be filled yet… Like John mentioned last week, our local food scene is in the infancy of a boon-time, but we can be lacking soul. Well, if Yonaka is an indication, then let me tell you: WE HAVE SOUL.
Yonaka Modern Japanese4983 W Flamingo Rd, Ste A
Las Vegas, NV 89103 (702) 685-8358