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Lack of Top Quality Sushi-ya in LV

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This was intended as a response to LVI's astute comment on a prior post, best current sushi:

Quite an excellent point LVI and the subject of one of our recent dinner conversations. I too consider myself a sushi snob and have often wondered why, in this cuisine specifically, does a city with nearly limitless fiscal resources not have a world class venue? Granted, with the recent addition of Bar Masa, I believe that there was some effort to achieve this; however, the restaurant’s size, expense, and lack of sushi bar/Masa’s presence translate to a short run under the current model.

As the metropolitan Las Vegas population has steadily increased to nearly 2 million(Us Census pop. Div. 07.01.09), along with the tourism influx, it would seem that the city could sustain a sushi-ya of high quality (though not a ten-plus million metropolis to be fair). The logic you posited above regarding Okada is likely one reason. Simply, Okada does not have to be great and, thus, is not. That is only one hotel restaurant example though(although exemplified in so many others-Yellowtail, Tao, Samba, Koi, Roku, on and on). A few additional thoughts we came up with (assisted by several bottles of sake) :

Lack of a top quality itamae, Masa-san being the exception(though with Masa in NYC I have serious doubts how often he will be here). Each and every top quality sushi-ya I’ve been to in my life has one common factor-the itamae is there every, or nearly every day, or the place is closed. Accordingly, Las Vegas would need a itamae with the experience/talent and desire to live here and run his restaurant. Maybe there just aren’t enough chefs of this caliber....and after visiting nearly every place in the city this appears evident. I recently returned from another trip to Urasawa, and Hiro-san discussed many of these same topics. Notably, I asked him when the last time he was in Japan and he said it had been a long time. The reason? “If I leave or take a vacation, we must close.” It is that dedication and commitment to the craft that Las Vegas so desperately needs. The type of commitment currently displayed by many in this town including Endo-san of Raku.

Another thought might suggest that the lack of close relationships with Tsukiji market(as in buyers with close ties to wholesalers) is a main reason for the lower quality we see here in Las Vegas and the reason that Masa, Urasawa, Yasuda, Zo, Mori, etc. all(their buyers) get first pick, at least for sushi-yas in America. A good summation of the process, if not a little dry, Tsukiji: fish market at the center of the world, by Theodore Bestor.

I also heard from an MGM executive that Aria/City Center spent millions, I believe he said in the low teens, on bringing Masa here/building the space. This then brings us back to the vast financial resources the mega resorts employ. Okada, for example, is very expensive for the quality. What then is the difference in a few more dollars, at that already high price point, to secure truly outstanding quality paired with an outstanding itamae? This cost can be directly passed onto the customer. Perhaps a sign of the times, still charge X for a product that is lower quality= more profit, and with few repeat customers who cares. I would like to see their figures, if any, on the percentage of revenue generated by first-time diners vs. repeats-I’m sure the answer would not be a surprise.

Lastly, as evidenced after a brief reading of Yelp LV sushi bar reviews, the majority of the Vegas population, and maybe Americans as a whole, think that Korean sushi roll, AYCE joints are the pinnacle of the Japanese dining experience. Having said that, I’m not immune to the fact that the Americanization of all types of cuisine is more than commonplace; maybe I just wish it wasn’t that way. Of course, these are just some thoughts from someone who also eats bastardized Chinese and Italian cuisine from time to time when in a pinch. Hypocrisy at its finest, I suppose.

I guess, for now, I will just happily go to Sen of Japan.....and book a flight on those other occasions when I’m craving something more.

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  1. Hey palmdoc1, excellent post. Sorry for just responding now but just happened upon your post. I think all the points you made in the above are 100% accurate. But the one thing that I can't grasp is: Why? Why can't the city attract a top caliber itamae? It simply can't be about dollars and cents. A casino/resort that attracted sushi loving patrons would reap the benefits by foot traffic alone (both tourist and locals). When Sen of Japan is the stand out sushi restaurant in a city with the resources of Las Vegas, something is amiss.

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    Sen of Japan
    8480 W Desert Inn Rd F1, Las Vegas, NV

    1. I'm not a sushi snob, but I prefer to save the money I might want to spend to eat sushi in Las Vegas for those trips I occasionally make back to Los Angeles. Could the answer be as simple as that Las Vegas is located in the middle of the desert, hundreds of miles away from the fresh fish markets along the California coast? At best, what most sushi restaurants serve here as fresh is comparable to the fish that Los Angeles sushi restaurants served yesterday.

      In most Las Vegas sushi bars (off strip) they have menus with dozens upon dozens of rolls, most of them relying upon fake crab, something tempuraed or otherwise cooked. My favorite itamae in Los Angeles serves me nothing but raw fish in innovative ways. He'll have easily a dozen different species of fish not found in Las Vegas.

      Could it be just that simple? This town isn't close enough to the source of fresh fish to either satisfy those of us who know the difference or to attract a high caliber itamae?

      2 Replies
      1. re: shamu613

        I wish it were that simple. Many of the top sushi restaurants in the US do not necessarily serve "local" fish. And many, like the ones in NYC (just saying NYC because that is the area where I live) serve some of the best fish from around the world. To complicate matters, the wonderful Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare in the Wynn has fresh and LIVE seafood flown in almost daily. So it has almost nothing to do with location, IMHO.

        1. re: shamu613

          Respectfully shamu, LVI is correct. With the availability of same-day/next-day air, location, these days, is largely rendered irrelevant. Notably, even the great sushi bars in LA do not source many ingredients from California fish markets, the only exceptions that come to mind being Santa Barbara uni and SB spot prawns. Nearly every fish species is shipped from somewhere else. Mackeral, snapper, various white fish, shellfish, etc from Japan, bluefin from Boston/Spain, and so on. Additionally, top-caliber restaurants here in the valley have no problem securing excellent product (e.g., aforementioned Bartolotta, the now defunct Bar Charlie, BAR Masa as a few examples).

          As a side, LVI, loved that comment " When Sen of Japan is the stand out sushi restaurant in a city with the resources of Las Vegas, something is amiss."-a more accurate single sentence summation of Las Vegas' sushi scene, I have not heard.

        2. I'm a little late to the game, but in doing a search for a new sushi-ya in LV I came across your post. While reading it, I kept thinking, "he should try Sen of Japan." I think we're on the same page. =)

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          Sen of Japan
          8480 W Desert Inn Rd F1, Las Vegas, NV