ELV’s comely young assistant was hungry.
“Let’s go to Nakamura-Ya,” we said.
“But I don’t know anything about wafuu pasuta,” she responded.
“Well,” ELV replied, “think of it this way: on his worst night, Kengo Nakamura is bound to be whipping up more interesting than almost any Italian restaurant off the Strip, and like Eating Las Vegas reg Cat Simril Ishikawa says: ‘(The Japanese) know what to do with noodles as the French know what to do with fish.'”
And so we went and so it was. We made a mistake by ordering too many specials with cream sauces (ask the helpful staff for guidance, unlike us), but the fried “Jidori” chicken was first rate, as was the tomato farci gratin. No one of our party of five complained about the Kurobuta pork strips either, although there were a few grumblings about the octopus carpaccio being a bit thick and tough (as tentacles are wont to be), the miso carbonara being one dimensional, and the tomato/uni pasta not being worth the $28 tariff.
Nevertheless, the oddly-named (and odd looking) Kurobuta sausage and kinoko (mushroom) pasta (Japanese soy sauce style!?) disappeared quickly, and everyone raved about the (raw) hirame (summer flounder or fluke) and mizuno salad with its delicate dressing and well-chosen greens.
There’s also a lightness to the pasta dishes you rarely find in Italy (although by Japanese standards this food is a gut-bomb). There’s also a more than passable tiramisu, that tastes like it was made minutes earlier, rather than biding its time in the fridge for days. The restaurant sort of reminds us of a cross between Raku and Monta — which makes sense since it shares the same shopping center with them both. Kengo-san’s hand-tooled food is so startlingly good (and beautiful), we are tempted to proclaim it the next Raku…albeit a Raku that sticks to your ribs.
Taken as a whole, the cooking and presentation here is light years beyond your average pasta palace…or even an over-priced, pseudo-sophisticated one…and if you approach these dishes with an open mind, you will be, at the very least impressed, if not dazzled by the creativity behind them.
When this place opened three years ago, we wondered if Vegas was ready for Japanese-Italian cooking. From the business we’ve seen in this clean, attractive space, it seems yes. These sleek and sp0rty Asian cafés have been a welcome addition to our food scene, and just the thing to relieve palate fatigue at highly digestible prices.
There are reasons why so many Japanese spots are making it into our top 50, mainly: the carefulness of the cooking, but also because the passion behind the projects is palpable. Compare them to the feeling you get the next time you walk into any place at Tivoli Village…or the new “Downtown Summerlin” — which is neither a town, nor down, nor downtown of anything, least of all a non-city. All restaurants are in it to make money, but Americans cook for the cash, while the Japanese look upon it as a calling.
Favorite dishes: Are you blind?
5040 West Spring Mountain Road