Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sen of Japan- Las Vegas

For my recent trip to Las Vegas, I felt it was necessary to have an amazing sushi meal. My research lead me to an off strip joint, catering to locals and tourists alike, Sen of Japan. Opting to stay away from Las Vegas's overpriced outposts of Nobu and Sushi Roku, Sen seemed like the best choice. Vegas has also recently put in an outpost of the famous New York joint, Masa, called Bar Masa in the new Aria casino, but that was out of my price range. Other reviewers have compared Sen of Japan to Sushi of Gari in New York City, so I was very excited to get there and try out the goods.

Sen is located about 15 minutes off the strip in a non-descript strip mall. The decor is nice, but in no way over the top. I rented a car, specifically because there were some spots off the strip that I wanted to hit. In the end, I found myself at Sen of Japan on two different nights. A nice feature about Sen of Japan is that they are open late.(2am) We got into Vegas around 9, and after some rental car woes and picking up some friends on the strip, sat down at the sushi bar around 10:15. We had the whole place to ourselves.

While researching Sen online, I found that they offer two omakase meals, one for $55 and one for $85. These emphasize both cooked items and some sushi/sashimi. These are more like a prix fix menu with a set course. Wanting to put the emphasis on the raw fish, I decided to ask the sushi chef to give us a more traditional omakase approach, and just serve us whatever fish he seemed was best and let the chips fall as they may. For the sushi enthusiasts, this seems to be a more effective approach than the omakase they boast on the menu. Having the place to ourselves ensured that we had a constant flow of fish. Going during peak hours may drag your meal out longer, as the sushi chef does not have the ability to give you his full attention.

Our meal jump started with a couple plates of sashimi, hamachi(yellowtail) with jalapeno and sauce as well as a seared salmon setup. Both were excellent. Following the sashimi plates, we started to receive a steady flow of nigiri sushi. All nigiri was garnished and sauced, so soy sauce was unnecessary. There was also a wide variety of fish and several types of toro (tuna belly). Traditionalists may say that the sauces and garnishes take away from the natural flavor of the fish, however, I would suggest that the sauces and garnishes are carefully picked to match and enhance the flavors of the fish. On our second night we were presented with a pair of Japanese Snapper nigiri, one with sea salt and the other with a sweet Japanese pepper sauce. This salty then sweet, one two punch, is not something to miss. We were also presented with some halibut nigiri that was delicate and delicious. After hearing how much I enjoyed the halibut nigiri, I was presented with another piece as well as a soft and chewy piece of meat from under the halibut fin, in a light ponzu sauce, that was also amazing. The sushi that was consumed was too numerous to mention, and my memory escapes me about many of the preparations.

The hot dishes at Sen are also high quality. The chef migrated over from Nobu and he brought some tricks with him. They offer a Black Cod dish very similar to the version at Nobu that is soft and subtle. This melts in your mouth and needs to be tried. We also had a foie gras dish over Japanese pear. This was delicious and rich, but smaller and did not compare to the foie gras nigiri at Gari in New York City. There were also many other preparations on the cooked menu that we did not have the opportunity to try.

I look forward to my next trip to Vegas, so that I can have another session at the sushi bar of Sen of Japan. It is a great place to go to escape the madness of the strip. The sushi is fresh and inventive. You can avoid the taxed prices and image of the strip and go for the real thing. Each night our bill came to around $100 a head for the full meal, including drinks. This is a far greater deal than the outrageously priced prix fixe meals at the mega resorts on the strip and the omakase meals that can be 2-5 times that price with ease. If your in Vegas and love sushi, make sure you stop in at Sen.
Hamachi Sashimi
Seared Salmon Sashimi
Nigiri Set 1
Nigiri Set 2
Nigiri Set 3
Nigiri Set 4
Unagi (Eel)
Uni (Sea Urchin)
Black Cod
Foie Gras with Pear

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spints Alehouse

I kept reading about this new spot on E28th Ave's restaurant row called Spints Alehouse. The foodie police had been raving about it, so I figured I would drop in for lunch and give it a gander. They offer European style food, which generally means heavy meaty stuff. This doesn't really agree with the fact that I am trying to start a diet, but I made it work. Their menu is certainly interesting with many items I haven't heard of. The lunch menu is neutered, which is appropriate, since in Europe dinner is the largest meal of the day. I got a chicken salad with pickled vegetables and celery over a bed of asparagus, which was delicious and fit my "diet" perfectly. They also have interesting beer taps, wine, and cocktails. They had a beet mary, as a lunch cocktail, which sounded awesome. They also offer happy hour from 4-6, with many of their regular items and drinks at a discounted price. I look forward to trying the "Dirty Pretzel," which is a pretzel covered in something like a Welsh Rabbit stew(this weeks), and rotates weekly. I am interested in returning to see what else is happening here.

Spints Alehouse
401 NE 28th Avenue
Portland, OR 97232

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tasty and Sons is Tasty! (Son)

Somehow, the opening of John Gorham's (of Toro Bravo fame) new place, Tasty & Sons in NoPo, flew under my radar. I knew that it was opening, but for some reason I just did not care about another brunch spot. Fortunately, a good friend of mine suggested we check it out for lunch and see what they were putting out. They just opened last week and they seem to be doing everything right.

Stepping into the space, I could immediately tell that Tasty and Sons was going to be great. The high ceilings and reclaimed wood bar give a modern, yet inviting feel. We sat at the chefs table/bar and were presented with the menu. The menu and ordering process is very similar to Toro Bravo, where they encourage you to share small and large plates. They bring out the food as it is finished. They also offer a wide range of breakfast cocktails, beer, and wine. We settled on a round of Tasty Maria's, essentially a Bloody Mary made with tequila. These were great and came with pickled cucumber, pearl onion, beet, and a celery stick.

We then started our food orders. We got spinach with a fried egg, and candied yams. The yams were out of this world. They were caramely, sweet goodness with just the right amount of char on the skin. The spinach was also delicious and simple after mixing in the perfectly fried egg.

Next we got a Carolina Cheese Steak, Chocolate Potato Donuts, and French Toast. The Cheese Steak was delicious. It had the cheesy, gooey elements of a Philly, but with PNW flair. Apparently, the meat is salted and aged in house. It accompanied by the obligatory mushrooms, pepper, and onions mix and on a nice light, crusty hogie roll, of unknown origin. (I forgot to ask) A modest serving of satisfactory fries accompany the cheese steak. The Donuts were delicious, warm and gooey, quite rich and unnecessary if you have French Toast coming, but great none the less. These may serve as a good follow up to a lighter breakfast or lunch at Tasty and Sons, but completely uncalled for considering the gluttony of our undertaking. The French Toast was equally rich, with powdered sugar, whipped cream, and a incredibly delicious syrup. If you are a fan of French Toast, or sweet things in general, do not miss this. We actually ordered a 1/2 order and they accidentally brought us a full order. Instead of returning it to the kitchen and bringing us a 1/2 order, they left the full order and COMPED the entire order! Wow, talk about service. They were definitely looking to please.

As we were starting to feel completely stuffed, out of nowhere another plate lands in front of us. They brought us a plate of the Fried Pork Cutlets, with spinach and a fried egg, on the house. As if the French Toast wasn't enough, we were now getting another large plate comped. This was perfectly moist with a nice crispy exterior. We found ourselves stumbling out to the car, in utter food bliss.

In the middle of our meal, I looked at my buddy and said "God, I love Portland!" I try to keep my hand on the pulse of the Portland food world, but so many great places are popping up that I find it difficult to stay on top of it all. The Portland food scene has become a well oiled machine, with great local chefs putting out blockbuster spots and following them up with new blockbuster spots. I'm glad I was reminded to check this joint out. It is great to have a lunch time counterpart to Toro Bravo. It seems they were looking to get people excited in their early existence, and have definitely succeeded. They have taken the same style and care that made Toro Bravo famous and moved it into the noon time slot, with a brunch time twist. I could not be more impressed.

Tasty and Sons
3808 N Williams

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sushi of Gari: The Big Apple

Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to spend a week in New York City. Being the food Mecca that NYC is, I obviously had some serious grubbing planned. Armed with the vast resources of the internet at my disposal, as well as the specialized knowledge of one of my old time friends, Max, that resides in Manhattan, I was ready to see what “The City” was made of.

Having never had sushi in a major city, known for having great sushi restaurants, that was obviously very high on my priority list. New York has some of the best sushi restaurants in the country and likely the world. Max wanted to take me to Yasuda, known as one of the best in NYC, but it was closed over the holidays for renovation, so we ended up at Sushi of Gari. At Sushi of Gari, they take a non traditional approach to making sushi. Each piece is given different sauces and garnishes. While traditionalists may balk at this, any lover of food and sushi would quickly learn, that they are not out to play games. Their approach to sushi creation uses outside flavors to enhance the flavor and texture of the high quality fish. They meticulously match these flavors and when you sit for an Omakase meal, you are taken on a journey of elaborate flavors. There is no need to smother this sushi in soy, ginger, or wasabi. (Although they use real wasabi, not the common powdered wasabi you see at most sushi joints)

Obviously, Max and I were willing to put our trust in the hands of our sushi chef. We sat at the sushi bar and had a ridiculous Omakase meal. A word to the wise, if you plan to go for an Omakase sushi meal, especially in New York City, get an idea of the price tag or give the chef a range before you sit down. If you forget to do this, or don’t care, you will have to subject yourself to the mystery of what the final tab will be. And if you get intoxicated by high quality fish, you may just forget about the high tab you are running up. That happened to us, but it was definitely worth it.

The highlights of this meal were too numerous to mention. To be honest, I have forgotten many of the elaborate preparations and if I ever get the opportunity to return to Sushi of Gari for an omakase meal, I will certainly bring a pad and paper. Among the notables were the rare puffer fish(fugu). This infamous piece of fish, if cut wrong, can kill you. It was lightly cooked and had a mild flavor. Another favorite of the meal was the lobster nigiri. The kumamoto oysters were amazing and the foie gras nigiri with a small pineapple slice and brown, eel-like sauce, was amazingly rich and delicious. Although you wouldn’t expect foie at a sushi restaurant, this was one of the best foie preparations I have ever eaten and was not gimmicky at all. One interesting preparation was sea urchin (uni), wrapped in a green vegetable and tempura fried. We felt as though this preparation tried too hard to enhance the already rich uni flavor, diluting the taste of the uni in the process. While certainly an inventive take on uni, we would have preferred a more traditional uni arrangement. Also present in the omakase were several different preparations of tuna belly(toro), salmon, mackerel, snapper, and squid.

The experience at Sushi of Gari was unlike any I had ever had. It was great enjoying each meticulously made piece and wondering what would be handed to us next. The flavors and craft that went into this meal was of the highest level. I hope that I will get another opportunity to experience sushi of this caliber as it is truly the sweet nectar of life.
Salmon with roasted tomato
Seared Foie Gras with a pineapple slice and some tasty sauce
Puffer fish(Fugu)
Uni Fail(Wrapped in a green leaf and tempura fried)
Snapper with arugula, olive oil, pine nuts and a fried lotus flower root- demonstrating the attention to detail at Gari
Kumamoto oyster(unbelievable)