Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sen of Japan @ W. Desert Inn Road, Las Vegas

Not your Run-of-the-Mill SLUT Roll!!!

  There's only a handful of Sushi Restaurants & Bars that are worth going to for this second generation Japanese-American and it is a NIGHTMARE to traverse the minefield of, 'dead fish on bed of broken dreams' bilge  and 'what you call sushi,  I call a bad bowel movement' fusion rolls with sushi menu lists longer than the Bible (Roll over and get out of me already Roll)...I feel like we've reached the end of days when Sushi Mon (all you can eat sushi den of inequity)  is regarded as one of the, 'Fifty Must-Eat Las Vegas Meals' - I wanna cry....

  And going to the Strip can be a disparaging experience if you're a local;  first of all, the transient slag can be obnoxious and utterly annoying-leaving all manners behind the minute they step off that plane.  And to top it all off, the looks of abject ennui and annoyance from the entire staff, either giving you condescending looks because they think you're an ignorant tourist, or trying to buddy up with you and being totally unprofessional, (I'm still trying to figure out if all that chummy conversation's for a better tip, if they're just high or completely incoherent)...

  So I've just about given up on trying to eat Sushi on even an occasional basis, but when I really feel like having it-Sen of Japan is always an enjoyable experience.

  Being an independently run business in Vegas can be terribly rough; firstly, you have to compete with the Casinos, (who have unlimited resources and budgets to produce the most mundane mediocrity at exorbitant prices) and then the local environment can be pretty desolate.  As is the case with Sen, it's located in a commercial center, which in its definition, reeks of banal modularity.  As you can see, the front facade won't be on the cover of Restaurant Victim's Quarterly, nor will the inside win any interior design awards anytime soon.  But it's dark and moody in a semi-Japanese minimalist way, which is better than an over worked, over designed, venus fly trap of laser cut metal panels and lucite curved walls.....


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And if accolades impress you, the head chef/owner Hiro Nakano left Nobu at the Hard Rock to open up Sen, and it won Best Japanese restaurant in the US in 2008 from Zagats as well as a recommendation from the Michelin Guide.  And most importantly, Sen is not outrageously expensive, considering the quality of fish that Mr. Nakano is able to procure.

Japanese Oshinko (Pickled Vegetables)

We like to start off every meal with a little app, and here we had the Assorted Japanese Pickled Vegetables, (cuz we need more salt in our diet)! and a Cucumber Salad in Vinegar and Lemon.  They were both very light and able to rock our appetite before the Sushi feast we were about to consume!

Cucumber Vinaigrette

But before that, we must have a little bit of Sake with our Sushi (pronounce sa-KEH, not saki, please).  For this casual but kinda special occasion, we ordered the Sake Flight-three glasses of various distilling methods that encompass the spectrum from light to full body.  Starting from the left: The Junmai -Otokoyama from Hokkaido.  The middle is a Nigori, an unfiltered Sake; this is the Momokawa Pearl. And finally, the right is a Daiginjo: Hakutsuru Sho Une. I had a particular affinity to the Nigori (middle) it had a great texture and complimented the Sushi. The Junmi was very light which was good with the lighter fishes (white meat) but kinda petered out when it came to the oilier, heavier pieces.  The Daiginjo was really bold (fire breathing dragon bold) and was akin to rocket fuel grappa.  Smooth tho......


SO if it's your first time to Sen, I DO recommend the Omakase Course, it's the Chef''s choice selection of Sushi that is innovative, creative and delectable.  To call it fusion would be an insult, however, it is a diversion from traditional sushi flavor profiles. For most sushi dishes, Soy Sauce dipping is not necessary, the Chef brushes specific Soy Sauces to each Fish served, as well as various condiments to supplement its natural flavor, (jalapeƱo, ginger, micro greens, capers and scallions just to name a few). Sen serves one of the few Western-Japanese hybrid cuisines that is flavor wise, successful and in very good taste (no spicy mayo globs here).

So feeling a little adventurous, I asked my Japanese waitress which roll she liked the best that's not gimmicky and tragic.  She pointed to her her all time favorite roll and throwing caution to the wind, we trusted her and took the plunge:


Here's what we got: The Wild Shrimp Tempura, Apple and Inariage (seasoned fried bean curd) Roll with Tuna, Salmon, and on top Mango, Micro greens and a Balsamic drizzle.  Needless to say, it looked gorgeous!!! Reluctant at first, I let Rick try it and closely observed his facial expressions.... 

Once his face gave it the thumbs up, I went in for the Kill Bill; with the Apple, Mango and Balsamic - it was on the sweeter side, but with the Tempura and Bean Curd, it satisfied the fried, decadent component; the Salmon and Tuna made it actually Sushi and then the Sushi Rice rounded it out, balancing the roll as a backdrop to the melange imbued with all these ingredients.  I'd say, get it cuz it's fun to taste something different!

From the left: Maguro (Tuna),  Hamachi (Yellowtail), Hirame (Fluke), Tai (Red Snapper) and Saba (Makarel)

The Tai (Red Snapper) and Saba (Mackerel)

With the Apps and Rolls done, we ventured deeper into the belly of the beast;  We order edSushi a La Carte and it was delicious (Rick's words...such the poet).... It was superlative; mouthwatering and fresh, we relished every bite.  Starting from the lighter fishes, we had the Tai with Scallions and then the Hirame with Capers.  The Fish was firm and with the Soy Sauce already on it, we just popped into our mouths and enjoyed.





Maguro (Tuna), Hamachi (Yellowtail) and Hirame (Fluke)
Moving on, we had the Maguro, the Hamachi and Saba afterwards.  being a little too elated, I forgot what condiments were on the Maguro, but it was good enough.   (I was told that getting the Chu-toro is an easy order, because of it high fat content).  The mark of a great Sushi Restaurant's worth is in it's Maguro because it's a leaner meat.  I'll say it, I prefer Chu-toro any day, I'm not there to be wowied and zowied by the Chef's prowess, just give me good fish!  I loved the Hamachi with the Jalpeno, and Saba is always my favorite of the silver skinned bluefish....




Unagi (Fresh Water Eel)
In addition, the waitress said they had the Shima-Aji in today, (another blue fish favorite) so how could we not get it?  It's got a little more refined tasted than Makerel, but still a robust fish that is satisfying.

We ordered the Unagi, which is always such a crowd pleaser.  It's just yummy with the sweetened Soy Glaze, you can almost detach your mind from thinking that you're eating a snake!?! I kid I kid, it's different and even though it's not raw, it does taste really good and it's addictive!!




Uni (Sea Urchin)
And we ordered the Uni (Sea Urchin) which is an acquired taste, (Rick is slowly getting used to the texture and briny flavor-even I admit in the beginning, it was like taking a gulp of sea water and sucking on a barnacle.. I was a kid then).  It was pretty fresh, Rick and I thoroughly enjoyed all our Sushi items.



Shima-Aji (Stripped Jack)

Although we were stuffed, it's alway good to order a little something sweet to cleanse the palate.  So their specialty desserts are: Chocolate Souffle with Green Tea Ice Cream and the Almond Yuzu Franjipan with Pineapple Sorbet. But since they took over fifteen minutes to prepare and we were full, we just ordered the Mochi Ice Cream: Peanut Butter, Tiramisu and Green Tea:


I'm not a fan of Peanut Butter desserts, but this was actually pretty awesome!  And the Tiramisu was even better!  Green Tea is always a favorite, but it was good to venture out and get the others.  

Also, Sen has a full non Sushi Menu-so if you are a Sushi enthusiast, or just looking for a great Japanese Restaurant, Sen of Japan will not disappoint you!!  And having eaten at all of the Sushi restaurants along the Strip, we will go as far to say that this is one of the Best Sushi you can get in Vegas! Props to this Mr. Nakano and Sen of Japan!!!


Rating (Out of Five Stars)

Food:             5
Ambience:     4
Service:         4.75


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