When we heard that another izakaya-type restaurant had opened on Spring Mountain Road (on New Year’s Day of all dates), we were, to put it mildly, skeptical.
When we heard that the restaurant was located in the forlorn, practically hidden space of a nondescript shopping mall that had once housed a pathetic breakfast joint, then a failed Buldogi’s Korean hot dog stand, we were, to put it accurately, underwhelmed.
And when we learned that a menu of Japanese street-food standards (and assorted other Asian delights) was being executed by an Italian-American chef, we were, to put it as diplomatically as we can, horrified.
Then we actually tried the place….and to put it as succinctly as possible….we were blown away by everything from the fried smelt:
…to the chawanmushi:
…to a Raku-worthy, butter-basted live scallop:
“How could this be?” we asked our feeble brain. “How could such finely-tuned food be coming from such an unlikely spot and chef?”
The answer is simple: passion and craftsmanship — two qualities that can overcome many an obstacle in the food business.
They are also two items in abundance in our recent explosion of izakaya eats up and down Spring Mountain Road….making it pretty easy for us to proclaim that it’s hard to get a bad bite of Japanese food anywhere on this avenue. Cocokala Izakaya, Izakaya Go and now Inyo Asian Variety Restaurant have just added to lustre of this cuisine in our humble burg, and give the galloping gourmand a plethora of options whenever Raku is booked to the nines (which is pretty much every night these days).
We haven’t asked, but it’s a fair bet that was the business plan behind these recent openings. Seeing how busy and backed up Raku always is, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that a market was there for the plucking…as long as you can compete quality-wise with its robatayaki offerings.
And Inyo does just that, with a panoply of kushi skewers that are as finely tuned (and seasoned) as any you’ll find in town. These vegetable ones are just the tip of the iceberg:
…but give you an idea of the precision grilling involved. Be advised the major proteins on the scorecard — beef, chicken and pork in various guises — are every bit as carefully cooked and compelling:
And when Chef Gregg Fortunato follows his muse, he can wow you with all sorts of surprises like soy butter squid:
…or salt and pepper prawns:
…that any Chinese seafood palace would be proud to serve.
Fortunato — who is about as Asian as ELV — clearly has an affinity for far eastern food, and a talent for for executing these dishes on par with anything a native son could put together. And his eye for detail and composition shows a sensibility that would do any Japanese cook proud:
Our only regret after two extensive visits is that we haven’t tried the “variety” of dishes which the name refers to. With the exception of those superb prawns pictured above, every dish we’ve tried (about twenty on the menu) have been renditions of Japanese recipes. Thus have we failed to see what type of touch Fortunato brings to Korean galbi or Chinese char siu dumplings. But anyone who can construct a tempura udon this perfect:
…shouldn’t have any trouble throwing together a Thai papaya salad, some oxtail fried rice, or an egg roll.
And consider this: only a couple of items on the menu clock in at over ten bucks, with most listing for half of that. That means dinner for two should run around $50 — a flat out steal for food this fine. As of this writing, owner Peter Chen is still awaiting his beer and wine (and sake) license….so BYOB-ers will save a bundle there as well.
For the record, we want them to get that license asap — so they can start making some real money and stay in business.
So, yes, looks can be deceiving. A bad location means nothing, and a chef whose only pedigree is loving the type of food he’s cooking can be enough to make a restaurant sing.
And the food here does just that. With a little luck (and word of mouth), Inyo Asian Variety Restaurant will become another mainstay on every foodies’ must-try, Spring Mountain Road list. Who woulda thunk it?
INYO ASIAN VARIETY RESTAURANT
6000 West Spring Mountain Road
Las Vegas, NV 89146