Yonaka Is the latest shining star in what has been a terrific expansion of quality Japanese offerings in Las Vegas over the past few years. But while so many others in the constellation were bringing long-overdue standards into play (there was one Ramen shop in the entire valley 10 years ago - now there are a half-dozen quality locations; we have multiple Izakaya spots; the quality of sushi continues to get better; and Raku has set its own particular standard of creative excellence, with Mitsuo Endo garnering another James Beard nomination), Yonaka has its own special place in that galaxy.
Yonaka (http://www.yonakajapaneserestaurant.com) brings some unique combinations of old school technique and a creative flair, which jumps out from the menu. It shows a confidence from the guys in the kitchen - Ramir DeCastro and Toshi Yoshioka - to try bold combinations, and they are making them work. There is particularly a lot of citrus influence to be found, and some of the presentations are exquisite.
It became "Chowhound" time when one of the combinations struck a special place in the heart and palate - shown in the first two photos below. A Sunday evening special of "Ebi Kinoko" brought together Red shrimp, onsen egg, the trio of chanterelle, king's trumpet and shitake mushrooms, nasu, sansho pepper, watermelon radish, blackberry boshi and pork dashi. When the egg yoke was broken and all of the flavors and textures mixed it brought back fond memories of Bar Charlie, which set such a unique standard during that all-too-short existence at the Palazzo.
Photo #2 was another special from the Sunday board - "Gyu Nashi". Beef tongue, asian pear, nasu, fried hard boiled quail egg, creme fraiche, preserved lemon, spinach, pine nuts, basil puree. Again this was a bold and daring foray with so many items in play, but like the Ebi Kinoko, it deftly walked a tight-rope and stayed in balance.
The regular menu features some combinations along these lines, and there is also an array of sushi and sashimi. Photos from the regular menu are "Konpa", Atlantic salmon, hamachi, bell pepper, citrus, dehydrated apricots, tomato chips and jalapeño, and "Sake Orenji", Atlantic salmon, orange supreme, yuzo tobiko, lemon oil and maldon.
Yonaka has a chance to be a special player in the local Japanese scene. And the fact that places like Yonaka, Raku and Kabuto exist within a mile of each other is a sign that the market is accepting the creativity, which can open the door for even more going forward.
Time for a "bump" here, now that we are into the summer, and so much is in season. We have yet to have a bad experience at Yonaka, and this trip was all about the brightness of fresh summer flavors, paired well with saltwater proteins. After a crudo appetizer (not pictured, but a palate opening combination of Japanese sea bass, kumato tomato, candied quinoa, ikura, lemon herb oil), it was on to -
Japanese red snapper, pickled honeydew, baby heirloom tomatoes, cucumber and a separate yuzu/serrano dressing that was poured over it.
Sea scallops, strawberry-cherry relish, shiso, negi, thai chili, strawberry dashi.
Lime-infused bluefin, kumato, edible flowers, nasturtium leaves, sumac, candied onion, charred leak sauce.
Machi to Uni
Sea urchin, yellowtail, pickled cherries, kaiware, daikon, sanbai zu.
It was an evening of fresh and vibrant flavors, with the presentations also creating the kind of texture elements that help to enhance each dish. The use of citrus continues to be deft. It was also the second straight trip in which there was a wait for a table when we left, which perhaps officially makes Yonaka a "player" on the scene. Kudos to some folks that have vision, and are not afraid to put it on a plate.