Thursday, October 4, 2012

Trattoria Nakamura-Ya @ W Spring Mountain Rd, Las Vegas

In the depths of Chinatown west of The Strip, there's a small commercial center that has sprouted several Japanese restaurants that have gained major notoriety around town.  It's become a growing 'Little Tokyo' right before our eyes which is pretty exciting to see in real time.

This restaurant hub has been a favorite place to get our Japanese 'fix', what with all the variety: Monta for Ramen, Kabuto for Sushi and Raku for Kushiyaki and late nite bites.  And we also have Italian-Japanese Hybrid cuisine: Trattoria Nakamura-Ya.  Much like here, (we have Italian American food) Japan's love for Italian has developed a hybrid, where Japanese ingredients are incorporated into the dish; the flavors are geared towards a Japanese clientele where texture and and Umami sensibilities create a 'fusion' (hate that word, but yes...) that is pretty evolved.  And while not 'authentic', it's creative and essential in a city that is continuously developing its own culinary identity.  Plus I grew up on Japanese Italian, so in a way, it's familiar and nostalgic and feels like home.

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I'll tell you what; even though commercial centers are the bane of this city's cultural identity, actually, I'm not bothered by their facade because it kinda works.  The brick wall with the lantern sconces adds a throw back, old school Italian rustic feel, (which is lot better than other venues have produced).   But with large, untinted windows, there's an openness into the restaurants; with warm lights and action spilling onto the street, it's got character.

The interior itself is nondescript, with a hint of Japanese minimalism, but just mainly austere.  Which at this point, it's just the norm here and we must be desensitized.  The wood fixtures create a relatively warm environment, and the counter is in an abnormally light grey granite which definitely brightens up the space.  In all, the feel is a casual cafe with no pretensions. Oh and everybody is Japanese, which might surprise some who come in!

I arrived before 7:00pm, and the restaurant wasn't full, one person at the counter and a table for six with one seated.  The place is pretty small, maybe thirty seats mostly four tops and counter seats (does everybody need a course in table management?)

The menu came in a highly elaborate and complicated sheet, as well as a prix fixe that kept me confused all night (although in the end, it was a bargain to order the prix fixe).  Unfortunately the Pasta dish that I most desired was not included in the Prix Fixe (believe me, I couldn't figure out the system for the life of me), so I had to order a la carte....

I wish that I could have eaten for four, because there were many dishes that were so appetizing; from the Mantaiko (Cod Roe) Carbonara, the Seafood Pescatore to the Kurobuta Tonakstu, not to mention all the appetizers!  But the reality is that I would have to come back and just update this post.. which in the end is just fine.
So with that, I ordered a glass of San Pellegrino Limonata, excited with anticipation to devour my beloved Japanese Italian dishes!!

I ordered a little appetizer off the Specials Board of the evening; Idako Karage -Fried Baby Octopus.  Apart from the zombie-esque/Walking Dead physical similarities of these creatures, (made more grotesque by the light batter its encased) I love this dish, because it's where the similarities between Italian and Japanese become evident; both cultures love Seafood and honor it by showcasing its pure flavor..even in fried form.  The Baby Octopus was fresh, soft in texture with just a hint of brine that reminds you where it's from.  With only four pieces, it was just enough for one to satisfy that craving.

The main dish that defines Japanese Italian cuisine is 'Wafu' Pasta - the Japanese love love love Pasta and Wafu Pasta caters to their palate by adding a lot of Seafood that usually is found in traditional Japanese fare.  So with that, the main dish that I had specifically came to enjoy: the Uni Tomato Cream Pasta!  A blend of Tomato and Sea Urchin- definitely a Japanese concept that gives an added complexity to what is a traditional Italian classic. The Uni is definitely background flavor, it's there but subtle-it definitely hits the mouth with a melange of profiles pleasing to the palate.  I loved the fresh cut Basil on top which gave that herb punch, I didn't recognize the added shaved topping, it was crunchy but unnecessary..

Now, what accompanied the dish caused an interesting debate in my head; along with the Pasta came two shakers containing Parmesan Cheese and Chili Flakes.  So the question was: to add these condiments or leave the dish in tact? Sounds way too cerebral right? But with the Uni Tomato Cream Sauce, it could cause an unbalance to subtly of the flavor profile.  It was almost a clash, in a way the chef is saying  'add what you want', which is surprising since it's such a well composed plate (and at $27 for Pasta, you'd think the Chef would be pretty adamant about taste profile).

So I began eating the dish by itself,  I loved the combined flavors of Tomato and Uni, it had great balance, if not light in it's purity.  And although the Pasta wasn't al dente, (a little soft for me) but still delicious and not a huge distraction from the dish.

Consequently,  I shook that shaker full of Parmesan, adding one more component to the profile. The richness of each ingredient became intensely robust, all of a sudden the Tomato Cream was fuller and the pasta was even more addictive.  But it did detract from the subtle Uni, it blanketed the brininess that the Sea Urchin contributed to the sauce. I started an intense search for the pieces of Uni hiding in the Pasta in the hopes of regaining balance.  The dish itself wasn't crowded with whole pieces of luscious Sea Urchin, which made me to believe that it was blended in with the Tomato Cream, but what bits I could find did help.

I dared to be even more adventurous and added the Chili Flakes; I absolutely loved the added heat which gave a punch that to me is awesomeness; but again, it detracted from the Uni.  I hazard to guess that many could have gone overboard with these two condiments and have blown away the subtle, sophistication that the dish really holds.  It was a dilemma; by itself it was rather light but pure, the additions pronounced and elevated it,  but ran the risk of drowning out the purity.  I loved this dish and it was almost worth the high price, but I wished that Chef had taken the lead on this one, either by adding more Uni or deliver a calculated amount of condiments already on the dish...

After the Pasta, I wanted to cleanse the palate, so looking at the Dessert Menu, which had all the favorite desserts that the Japanese love: Creme Brûlée, Tiramisu etcera..(which usually means something soft and creamy with a baby food like texture) a dish that always seems to catch my attention is the Black Sesame Blanc Manger- another hybrid, (albeit French) a classic take on a custard type dish, with a definitive Asian ingredient.  The picture is deceiving, there's a liquid layer of cream on top of a black/grey Panna Cotta like texture..  It was light and not too sweet, a perfect way to end the meal.

Overall, I really enjoyed the dishes that I had at Nakamura-Ya and I will most likely return to have the other Pasta dishes as well as the other offerings that they have.  It's a great place to serve what is 'comfort food' to me and as I left the restaurant, the restaurant became very busy and crowded, which confirmed to me that the people in Vegas are ready to try new types of cuisine..even hybrid!

Trattoria Nakamura-Ya on UrbanspoonRatings (Out of Five Stars)
Food:          3.5
Ambience:  2.75
Service:      3.5