John Curtas is …

ELV Dreams of HIROYOSHI

My respect for Asian chefs — Japanese in particular — has always surpassed my feelings for many of their European and American counterparts. Not because they work harder or are better cooks (which may or may not be true), but because they readily make sacrifices we round eyes are unwilling to suffer.

Everyone from Wolfgang Puck to your average line cook loves to give lip service to opening a “small, personal restaurant where I can cook my food for friends and others who appreciate it,” but that’s a bunch of hooey (dished to credulous critics and such) and they know it. Truth be told, once you’ve got a taste for casino money — whether as an employee or owner — the idea of risking it all for the uncertainty of running your own, barely profitable business is a gamble very few want to take.

Except for Asian chefs — Japanese in particular.

Consider these facts: What Mitsuo Endo started with Raku in January 2008 has spawned Monta, Nakamura Ya, Izakaya Go, Kabuto, Fish N Bowl, Kyara, Ramen Sora, Japaneiro, Inyo, and Yui Edomae Sushi, among others. With the exception of a few downtown joints (Bradley Manchester’s Glutton, Kerry Simon/Cory Harwell’s Carson Kitchen, and Daniel Krohmer’s Other Mama), nothing we gringos have done can come close to competing with this wave of Japanese authenticity and deliciousness. (Sure, there were plenty of sushi bars around before the crash of ‘o8, and many are still with us, but most of them are owned by Koreans pushing California and spicy tuna rolls on customers so gastronomically timid, they make my Aunt Edna look like Toshiro Mifune.)

You can now add another feather into this bonnet of Nipponese industriousness with the opening of Hiroyoshi — the latest in our wave of edomae sushi restaurants that may be the biggest gamble, with the biggest payoff yet.

It’s by far the biggest Japanese gamble because it is, by far, the farthest from the economic eating engine that is Spring Mountain Road. By several miles in fact.

In fact, Hiroyoshi is in such an obscure place for a restaurant of its quality, that you have to question the sanity of one Hiro Yoshi — formerly a sushi chef at Blue Ribbon — for taking over the space* to begin with. But any doubts you have as to his sanity will evaporate the moment after you take your first bite.

Bear in mind, this is Tokyo-style sushi. The real deal. Fine fish, finely cut and served on rice so pure, you can count the grains in your mouth.

As we’ve said when we’ve gone crazy-nuts for Kabuto and Yui: don’t even bother to show up if you’re the sort who eschews fresh fish for overwrought, inside-out sushi rolls. Of course, being no fool, Hiro-san includes some specialty rolls on his menu (unlike the purist temples just mentioned), but you can get a “Dragon Maki Mega Roll” anywhere.  If that’s your bag, Mr. and Mrs. Gaijin, Sushi Fever and Osaka are just up the road. Here, you come to see Hiro’s knife work, and to eat impeccable fresh fish on even more impeccably seasoned rice:

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Or to enjoy this umami-bomb of grilled cod with mushrooms:

…or to watch him compose this drop-your-chopsticks, intricate sashimi plate:

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For the truly adventuresome among you, there’s also these chewy, gelatinous strands of jellyfish — containing more texture than taste — which will bolster your street cred among the Bizarre Foods crowd.

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…as will this unagi (eel) tucked inside of savory tamago (egg):

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All of which were part of an $85/pp omakase that stands up to anything Yui or Kabuto can throw at you…and which puts most sushi on the Strip to shame.

Put it all together and you have a neighborhood sushi bar** that feels like it relocated from Shibuya. The fact that it also happens to be in ELV’s ‘hood (close to downtown) is also a plus, but the fact that it exists at all, and seems to be thriving, is a testament to how far our Japanese eating has come.

Which is a testament  to Japanese chefs and chef/owners, who are dedicated to their craft, rather than the cult of celebrity, and brave enough to put their money where your mouth is.

And I’ve yet to see a stupid tattoo on any of their forearms advertising how cool and tough they are.

There, I said it.

Our two meals for two came to $144 and $241 (including tip) — the latter one being the omakase meal and both including a small (375 ml) bottle of good sake. The sake and beer list is woefully small, but the selections are decent and not onerously priced. There are only thirty seats so booking ahead (especially on weekends) is a must.

 HIROYOSI JAPANESE CUISINE

5900 West Charleston Blvd.

Las Vegas, NV 89146

702.823.2110

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* Formerly occupied by a sushi bar of below-average quality, noteworthy only for the fact that the chef/owner once put my name on a wooden sake box (at another location in 1996), and spent every spare minute (when he wasn’t composing maki rolls) at the video poker machines next door.

** Domo arigato to Judge Bita Khamsi for putting us on to this place.

(Hiro-san is our hero)

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