Kenneth Watrous is my name. All the opinions here are mine. They also apply only to the places I have tried in Las Vegas.
Last month, we went to Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House. This month, it’s a trip to Nobu.
Nobu is one of those places that has to be visited to be understood. It is rare to see a restaurant that is so much a complete product of all of its elements. The décor is fashioned after a variety of culturally significant Japanese items and traditions. The materials are authentic in several places and reminiscent in others. The private ‘pods’ they have around the outer walls are really interesting. They are connected to the main dining area but they are walled off on sides and it really gives a sense of being alone. The craftsmanship in all of the wood is really amazing, especially if you work with wood. There are patterns in various places and it ends up being intriguing without being overly busy. The tables often have a lazy Susan for that sharing style of food.
The flavors are heavily Japanese inspired but range in their authenticity to experimental. This is one of the things that makes Nobu such a destination: it doesn’t just do a flavor, it invents a flavor. Which might sound a little broad to say, but I was told about the place before I visited and I have to say that everything I was told about how unique the place was didn’t really prepare me. So if it sounds like I’m laying it on thick, it’s because I’m trying to give even a partial accounting.
The food is best described in several different realms. The most understood are the sushi bar and the hibachi. These are probably types of Japanese food that have been experienced before. The sushi is split between the piece by piece sashimi, and the several pieces of rolls. Sushi offers a different texture than most other seafood, not just because it’s raw, which not all of it is, but it is the presentation and the coupling with rice or rice vinegar that makes a lot of the difference. This is also a place where you can sit at the sushi bar and see the work being done, which even when you watch carefully still comes across with a certain magic.
Hibachi is the other commonly seen Japanese fare. This is a heated unit in the table and then different meats and vegetables are prepared either by a cook with a certain performance to it or just at the table where as a customer you can take the choice ingredients and work out your own blend of seasonings and cooking techniques. Most hibachi foods are things that can be eaten raw, so there isn’t a big worry, mostly it is about preference but they also do offer tips and explanations if asked.
Now, for the rest of prepared meals there are flavors to explore and concepts to get behind. The main dishes include things like squid pasta, which is something made both out of squid and with squid ink. It has an interesting texture and a lot more flavor than you might think. The seabass with black bean sauce has a “melts in your mouth and then sticks in your senses” quality that easily rivals some of the earthier steak flavors I have had. The fish offered come from all over the world and then are given a Japanese treatment, which also adds to the complexity and the variety of foods offered. They also offer a whole range of something called kushiyaki, which is a type of meat kabobs. I could go on and on about kabobs from various areas, but the Japanese variety have a usually sweet and savory aspect and the seabass and scallop varieties put most pork and lamb kabobs around the world to shame.
The desserts can get a little out there as well. Not the usual offerings of pie and ice cream, these are really outside the normal things encountered (though they do have those standards, because why not). The bento box of cake and green tea ice cream with a type of syrup is terrific. The whiskey foam cappuccino is also about the most adult dessert I have ever had.
All in all, this was a memorable place to go and I would recommend anyone and everyone give it a visit. If you are visiting Vegas for a weekend you would be crazy not to give it a try.
-Kenneth WatrousFind more about me on www.kennethwatrous.com or follow me on twitter at @KennethWatrous