Nobu – Las Vegas, NV

In the Hard Rock Casino
Las Vegas, NV

When we found ourselves planning a trip to Utah, we couldn’t be within a few hours of Vegas and not head there for dinner. We are not gambling people, we are not 110 degree heat people, I do not dress like I just stepped out of the Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog. Las Vegas is not a place we would typically migrate to. However, given that the majority of the world’s best chefs have decided to open up restaurants there, it is now a vacation destination for me. I booked a hotel (sans Casino– a rarity I know) across the street from the Hard Rock which houses Nobu. Across the street when it’s 114 feels like a marathon, but we made it.

We had a reservation for the first seating at 6pm. If you make it there, note that they don’t open their door until six o’clock sharp, so no point getting there early except to look at the music memorabilia around the casino (which is pretty cool!). We had a reservation for a table, but my four year old wanted to watch them make the sushi so we moved to the bar. That was a great move!

We ordered the Omakase (Chef’s choice) and got to watch each dish being prepared, minus the hot dishes from the kitchen. The first dish was Nobu-style Tuna Poke. It was tossed in an acidic miso dressing, topped with some cherry tomatoes, little dollop of mild caviar, and a taro chip. This was incredible. It really made me want to up the ante on my Wednesday night farmers market creations.

Round two was mackerel. I hate mackerel, oily, fishy, I avoid it. This was the best mackerel ever but, having said that I hate it, that’s not praising it enough. It was one of my favorite dishes of the meal… mackerel! It was topped with a dry miso that tasted like some of the best, gourmet, Top Ramen powder… I know that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it is, and I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it. There was also some curry oil and a little round fruit that we couldn’t identify, it turned out to be some sort of baby peach. It functioned as a palate cleanser, it wasn’t very sweet but very refreshing.

The third dish was the one “miss” of the evening. It was Tako Sausage with an overwhelming number of other flavors tossed together on the plate: feta cheese (yes, cheese in Japanese food!), hard-boiled quail egg, corn, broccoli, peas, and a ceviche sauce. Not the masterpiece of the evening.

The meal quickly got back on track with Otoro and scallop with a sauce made of dried shrimp, dried scallop, and chili oil. Both the Otoro and scallop were like butter. Scallop is another thing that I typically avoid these days, I get a heavy metallic taste from it, but not this one. Next came a palate cleanser of strawberry-Mango sorbet on champagne granita with a white chocolate tuille (which the waiter told us was shizo–what?!– he came back apologizing profusely for being wrong).

We were now moving on to the hot dish, kitchen portion of the meal. Crab stuffed zucchini blossoms with passionfruit Ponzu sauce and golden pea shoots: well-balanced and flavorful, the pea shoots were perfectly salty. Another amazing dish. The Kobe beef with seared foie gras, kabocha puree, asparagus, and shizo oil was next. I am not a foie gras fan, so I felt incredibly guilty leaving this huge chunk of foie on my plate — I tried to eat it but it was just too much. The Kobe however was tender and flavorful and the kabocha puree tasted very similar to butternut squash and added a sweetness and freshness that was balanced and excellent.

Out next was a cilantro-lime soup with grilled squid. This didn’t taste Japanese to me, it tasted almost Thai-like but it was very refreshing after the heavy Kobe dish. I did think the squid was a little too chewy though.

We moved back sushi bar portion for an incredible plates of nigiri: Chutoro (AMAZING), snapper with shizo, sake with mild jalapeno (incredible), Spanish saba with sweet kelp (unbelievably good — again with the Saba!) , amaebi (creamy) and tamago (like a little soufflé on rice).

They brought us the dessert that was apricot gyoza with almond ice cream. This was good, a fine dessert… We could not end this fabulous meal with a dessert that was just “fine.” We ordered our real desert: Hamachi and otoro sashimi. having chatted with the sushi chef for most of the meal, we got a little bonus with our Sashimi, fluke fin. Very thinly sliced in a little mirin and soy dressing, it was chewier than fish, not as chewy as squid, unlike anything I’ve ever had really, and quite a treat. The sashimi plate was truly the best dessert we could have possibly ordered. That’s the way to end a meal.

Oh, the sake! I’m not sure how I managed not to write down the names of the sakes that we got, but I don’t think you can go wrong. They have numerous sakes brewed just for them and something for every palate, sweet to dry.

I was not surprised by the quality of ingredients or incredible knife skills of the chefs but I was impressed nonetheless. I was unimpressed with the other patrons wearing their perfume, ordering spicy tuna rolls — seriously, in Nobu, spicy tuna… what?! So there is a downside to the location, and they don’t have a restroom within the restaurant, you have to go into the casino which deadens your sense of smell with all the perfume and smoke lingering about. But I gladly got past those problems and will excitedly return to Nobu again.

Update: We excitedly returned to Nobu in November. We again got the Omakase. I’m sad to say that it didn’t live up to our July visit. The front of the house seems to have slipped. Our waiter wasn’t knowledgeable about the sake list and when handed a list of things we were allergic to, asked if it was a tempura order. The items that came from the kitchen were lackluster. Having said all that, they do still have some of the best fish at the sushi bar that I have ever experienced. The men behind the counter know what they’re doing, their purchasers know with they’re doing, I’m just afraid the front of the house is falling victim to Vegas. For future reference though, if you ever see Tasmanian ocean trout on a menu, order it!

A quick visual summary: