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Apr 15, 2014 08:24 PM

Yonaka - every bit as good a reason as Raku to venture off-strip

Full review in the blog with copious photos, text as below:

Reinvigorated in my interests for Modern Japanese ‘fusion’ by a March experience with the Beard Award winning cuisine of Chef Tyson Cole at Uchi it was with guarded optimism that I assented to a friend’s suggestion to finally visit Yonaka; a three hour and sixteen course tasting of dynamic flavors and pristine balance proving the best I’ve experienced in Las Vegas this calendar year. Located in a typical strip mall on West Flamingo and featuring a concept self described as ‘Japanese tapas’ the evening began with the simple decision of bar versus table and opting for the later amidst a warm yet stark interior it was to the tune of a shared $95 omakase plus several supplements that the meal unfolded – an invigorating paco-jet concentrated cucumber amuse setting the stage for what would follow. Beginning first with a trio of fried happy hour bar-snacks from which the ‘best’ would be impossible to select and then transitioning into several amply portioned plates both cold and hot it was early on that a consistent pattern of superlative proteins over bright citrus and subtle aromatics emerged, the Suika Saka and Sakana Yaki particularly enthralling while the slightly overcooked Niku Berry’s beef proved that a mélange of mushrooms can truly save a plate, particularly served point/counterpoint with tart early-season strawberries. Rounding out savories with the crunchy Age Maki, an inspired take on Mexican Street corn dressed with briny uni, plus a $9 bite of slightly overseared foie gras cribbed direct from Austin it was at long last that we transitioned to sweets, a trio ordered but four delivered and all amongst the best I’ve experienced from Eastern influenced cuisine – the mango ‘yolk’ of the panna cotta and banana pudding-come-crème brulee Kanmi-O both on par with the pastry at Robuchon or Twist at half the price.

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  1. nice review, I might have to try it when I come to vegas next week. How did it compare to uchi? I'm a frequent uchi diner and might opt for twist or savoy since I dont have a comparable option in austin...

    2 Replies
    1. re: chrisdds98

      I'd do Twist over Savoy or Yonaka if money was no concern; particularly if from Austin.

      Yonaka is great, but I found the fish quality at Uchi slightly better. Desserts at Yonaka were superior, though.

      1. re: uhockey

        Twist is an extraordinary experience, which reminds me, I don't think I ever wrote the review for that restaurant from my last trip either. Every little detail is perfect. An example, I love iced tea, ordered it in just about every restaurant I went to along with other beverages. At Twist, they brought me a simple syrup to sweeten the tea. Ever tried to dissolve a sugar packet into iced tea? doesn't work to well. Little touches like that make all the difference. Of course the food was amazing as well, which certainly helps.

    2. I agree with this review except for the desserts. To me, their desserts were heavy-handed and far too sweet. As an Asian person, I like my desserts to have just hints of sweetness. This is one area in which Yonaka seems to be catering to non-Asians and offering desserts that don't quite hit the mark for the amazing place that it is.

      Their desserts have too many components and end up being quite muddled. The Kammi-O with the creme brulee, the ice cream, the candied bacon, and the hidden jelly on the bottom was the worst offender. It's just too much and far too sweet. And it's made worse because they torch it and serve it right away so the custard is slightly warm. Without cold custard to be at least a little bit refreshing, the dish is just sweet stacked on more sweet, with the warm custard enhancing the sweetness of it all. It's rare that I will not finish a dish, but my table of four left most of this dish behind.

      The panna cotta was good, but the texture was terrible. It was way too firm to be called a panna cotta and seemed to have been stabilized with something like xanthan gum instead of gelatin or agar, leading to a texture somewhere between snot and mush. It's a good concept, but the dish needs some work. They need to stop trying so hard. Give me a well-made panna cotta with a mango ice cream on the side and something like popped rice around it. Simple, focused, and not so sweet.

      The most successful dessert of the four is the Chokobeets. It succeeds in being intensely rich without being very sweet. It also has a great balance between flavors, textures, and temperatures. If I go back for dessert, I'd definitely stick with this one.

      6 Replies
      1. re: ah6tyfour

        We shall agree to disagree - as a non-Asian person I found their desserts to be excellent. I also think that, in general, "modern" restaurants like them are catering to non-Asian palates across the board.

        Clearly tastes differ, considering the average Asian dessert does nothing to wow me - I'm find with some mocchi or azuki bean from time to time, but I found the Kammi-O to be one of the best desserts in this city; the warmness only making it better.

        1. re: uhockey

          There's nothing wrong with sweet desserts, if the setting fits. If I was eating at a nice diner and they ended the meal with a big slice of a very sweet peach pie, I'd be very happy.

          But Yonaka's desserts are distinctively of a different style than their savory menu (as opposed to other restaurants where their pastry chef tries to create dishes that complement the style of the main menu). More fitting for them would be desserts similar to what is served at Sweets Raku. It's possible the Yonaka desserts tasted even sweeter to me than they really were because I was not expecting it at all. I was expecting them to serve me something more subdued and refined.

          The days of really sweet desserts seems to have passed anyway. It's been years since I've eaten at a nice place with a tasting menu and been given something that was very sweet. Most are going with citrus-based or dark chocolate-based desserts and playing with textures/temperatures on the plate to impress.

          1. re: uhockey

            Time to bump an old thread here ( and join in. The desserts have been an enjoyable part of the experience at Yonaka, but because the menu changes regularly we have not yet been able to try the most recent. In the past, a "Chokoreto" was memorable in the way that it highlighted the bitter notes of chocolate with sophistication, instead of sweetness (it took some creative daring to pair chocolate on a plate with a lime sorbet, but they made it work), and there was a memorable "cheddar ice cream" on one visit that also walked the savory/sweet tight rope rather deftly.

            But like the fact that not all of their savory creations will hit the mark, perhaps it is the same for desserts. What has been impressive about Yonaka has been the willingness of the team to trust their instincts and be daring, which is not easy for an independent restaurant in these times. If there is a recent trending towards a little more sweetness in the desserts, perhaps that could also mean coming out of "winter" (yes, even in Las Vegas the temperatures drop a little bit), and that we should see lighter touches in the months ahead.

            1. re: QAW

              Oh, I didn't realize they changed the menu so often. I tried Yonaka a couple months after they opened and it was a wonderful meal, but I did not order dessert.

              I returned to Yonaka almost two months ago and, this time, tried all four desserts offered. They were the exact same four desserts in OP's review. Hopefully they're not getting to a point where the desserts are becoming standards.

              Honestly, the only dessert my table of four finished was the Chokobeets, a dark chocolate and beet dessert. I have a feeling it was along the same vein as your Chokoreto. It sounds wonderful!

              Unfortunately the other three were a complete miss for us. Two were just way too sweet (sweeter than a Sugar Factory dessert). The third was a problem in texture. These three did not seem to have come from the same kitchen as the savory menu and the Chokobeets dessert.

              1. re: ah6tyfour

                They change the "daily selection" savories menu once every 3-4 days per the GM.

                And we still disagree on the desserts, which do not change nearly as frequently (perhaps one every 'few months') per our server. IMO, I didn't find the food itself to be particularly "Asian only" or "One note" and as such I didn't expect the desserts to be so either.

                I will say the portion sizes on desserts are a bit much, though.

                Either way - Yonaka rivals Raku for a reason to get off the strip imo.


                1. re: uhockey

                  I'll have to go back in a few months and try their desserts again. I agree that the portion sizes are quite a bit too large for desserts.

                  The food is definitely not pure Asian or one-note, but rather a complex blend of flavors, textures, and temperatures that eaten together create a unified experience greater than the sum of its parts. There is focus and purpose on each plate. The desserts (especially the brulee and the brownie) seem to go against this as, to me, they seem like a lot of items put together without the end result being a unified dish.

                  If it were me, I'd change that brulee to a panna cotta. Add strawberry puree, not jelly, to the bottom of it. And make sure it's very chilled. Drop a slice of banana (cooked like bananas foster) on top. And finish with some light peanut brittle.

                  It really is a great restaurant and a place I know I can trust when I'm trying to impress someone. Aside from those couple of desserts, I agree completely.

        2. I just saw the link to your review on Eater LV.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ellenost

            Eater has been covering a number of my reviews lately.

            1. re: ellenost

              Pretty good, but not quite as good as Raku. I did like their desserts (Chocobeet icecream/gnash and Mango panacotta type desserts). Good value for money.