EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 39. SEN OF JAPAN


[nggallery id=717]

Hiromi Nakano‘s Sen of Japan has been humming along for years now, so sometimes we take it for granted. Shame on us for forgetting just how spectacular his food can be.

Before we go any further, a word about Japanese food in Las Vegas. There are two kinds of sushi restaurants in Las Vegas: the good ones, and the ones run by Koreans. The ones run by Koreans tend to be either all-you-can-eat affairs, or along the lines of Sushi Fever or I Love Sushi — places that play to the crowd and hire sushi “chefs” who, if you’re lucky, got a diploma in the stuff after six grueling weeks at some community college.

(For the record: ELV has nothing against Koreans and loves their food (and their culture). But he believes they care as much about great sushi as he does about who wins a stock car race.)

If you love these types of places, or get all fever-y for spicy tuna, California rolls and Screaming Orgasms, you are a hopeless case who probably shouldn’t be reading this blog. There is nothing we at ELV can do nothing to dissuade you from the wrong path you have chosen. So please spare us any comments about how good they are — the rolls or the restaurants.

Japanese food is all about superb ingredients, and the surgical, minimalist way a good chef treats them to bring out their best, intrinsic qualities. It is not about outrageous concoctions (although Nakano has some on his menu to placate the philistines).  But he also respects his oeuvre, his country’s cuisine, his ingredients and his customers in dishing forth some of the most finely-tuned food to be found in town — at prices that won’t have you reaching for a respirator.

The best way to experience his food is through an omakase dinner (gently priced at either $55 or $85/per – prices that haven’t changed in years) where he and his chefs compose a menu that builds through a ginger-spiced raw seafood salad with mango, to sparkling fresh kumamotos, to sablefish in that cliché miso glaze (that doesn’t taste clichéd at all here), to sushi that is as as much about the sweetly-scented perfect rice as it is about the perfect slices of fish lain about them. When they do accents to those fish — be it pickled eggplant or a spicy red wine glaze) — the flavors of that rice and fish are accented just so, never by too much or too little — and every bite seems to be a revelation of the main ingredients — just the way Japanese food is supposed to be. His smoky, intense miso soup is also the best we’ve tasted in our humble burg.

In other words, what gussying up Nakano and his chefs do, they do with restraint and respect for the underpinnings of their cuisine.

Much of this subtlety is lost on Americans. We like our flavors big and bold, just like our movies and our actresses. Most Korean-American-Japanese food is, likewise, about as subtle as a UFC cage match.  But take the time, think about what’s really happening on your plate (and in your mouth), and spend some time eating real Nipponese cuisine (made by natives of the Rising Sun) and maybe you’ll begin to get the vibe.

In the meantime, this is the place to go if you want to up your sushi game. It is a crowd pleaser that also manages to satisfy the purists — no mean feat that. Travel to west Desert Inn Road and you will experience inventive and classical sushi the right way. The Japanese way.


Favorite dishes: Omakase dinner; Garlic Salmon; Seafood Ceviche with Kiwi Sauce; Tar Tar with Wasabi-Soy Sorbet; Filet Mignon Tataki; Kummamoto Oysters; Kobe Beef Carpaccio-style; Hamchi Kama; Quail Meatball Skewers; Black Cod Soy; Miso Soup; All Sashimi; Almost All Sushi; Japanese Pork Soy; Calamari with Jalapeno Salt; Fried Garlic Chicken; We even like the desserts here. Go figure.


8480 W. Desert Inn #F1


4 thoughts on “EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 39. SEN OF JAPAN

  1. As I’ve said before, as a community we tend to take Sen of Japan for granted at this point, so it’s nice to see it recognized here.

    One thing I’ll say though is that it is possible to like spicy tuna rolls *and* like the food you get at places like Raku, Kabuto, and Sen, just as it’s possible to enjoy the food at both Sage and Five Guys, you just need to realize that these are not the same things, and there’s no one way to approach any cuisine. Nor does not knowing the difference make one hopeless, just ignorant, which is often a curable condition. Now, understanding the difference and not caring, *that* makes one hopeless. There are a lot of people who don’t know the possibilities of Japanese cuisine, but once exposed to it would be eager to embrace them.

    Heck, I’m betting most fans of the good Japanese restaurants in this town were first exposed to the cuisine through California rolls, teriyaki, mediocre maguro, tonkatsu and the like. I know I was. I thought that was pretty exciting back in the day. Of course, I came to realize that this was just a pale reflection of great Japanese cuisine, but we all gotta start somewhere.

    I view the fans of I Love Sushi, and I’m not one of them, as potential converts, not the unwashed masses. Now the folks who wait around for a table at Claim Jumper or Applebees… .

  2. I like BOTH types of Japanese food that you describe. Should I stop reading your blog because I am so hopeless?

  3. Very well said, npc. My comparison has always been between Chicago deep dish and traditional Neapolitan pizza. No reason why you can’t enjoy both, but don’t be confused by which is “real.”

Comments are closed.