Sen of Japan: Omakase Amazing!

Sen of Japan entranceSen of Japan is a quiet, low key sushi restaurant run by the former head chef of Nobu (at the Hard Rock), Hiromi Nakano. Located at 8480 West Desert Inn Road, it’s a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trip. Yes, I’m recommending sushi, in a strip mall, in the desert. Have I steered you wrong before?

The best way to experience this, and most good sushi restaurants, is to order the omakase [oh mah kah say]. In Japanese, omakase means “entrust”. Think of an omakase as the Japanese version of a chef’s tasting menu. You pay a fixed price, and the chef serves a selection of the very best and most popular dishes.

Sen of Japan insideIf you look at the menu at Sen of Japan, you would think there were only two omakase on offer – one for $55 (regular) and one for $85 (premium), but that’s not the whole story. When you order the omakase (we ordered the $55 version), they ask one standard, and one not so standard question. “Do you have any food issues or allergies that the chef should know about?” That’s standard, and a good idea. We said “no”.

Their next question was “Have you had the omakase before?” There’s a good reason for this question. Sen of Japan offers a number of different omakase, and which one you receive is based on which ones you have already had. All the dishes in each omakase are unique to that omakase, so I imagine you could taste your way through their menu by simply ordering a new omakase each time you go. We started off with the newcomers, or first omakase.

Omakase 1, Course 1

Omakase 1, Course 1

The first dish to arrive was yellowtail sashimi, deliciously decorated with a slice of grilled garlic, a slice of serrano pepper, cilantro and ponzu sauce. The large white cone in the background is also edible, made from a thinly sliced radish. In front, a carefully sliced piece of carrot adds a little color to the plate. The fish is amazingly fresh and the flavors meld together very nicely. Off to a good start!

Omakase 1, Couse 2

Omakase 1, Couse 2

The second course, a sashimi salad with garlic ponzu was loaded with delicious bites of fresh salmon, bluefin tuna and red snapper. The garlic ponzu went well with the fish, and did not have a very strong garlic flavor. Fresh greens and shredded daikon radish topped the salad. The capers edging the salad went surprisingly well with it all.

Omakase 1, Course 3

Omakase 1, Course 3

On to the third course. While I can’t complain about the preparation or the quality of any of the ingredients, this did not quite meet the high expectations I had set after my first two courses. I was anticipating something divine when our waitress let it slip that the next course would be black cod.

Placed before me was a small boneless chunk of grilled black cod, glazed with soy and topped with a shishito pepper. The fish was cooked perfectly, but I was hoping it would be a cheek cut, bone in, like I’ve had at other Japanese restaurants in town. And, while the pepper was also quite tasty, I didn’t feel it went well with the delicate flavor of the fish. This fish has a delightful buttery flavor and if you have never tried black cod, also known as butterfish, I highly recommend it.

Omakase 1, Course 4

Omakase 1, Course 4

Back to exceeding my expectations again, the fourth course was a beautiful warm pile of medium rare filet mignon atop a delicious mustard sauce. The steak was tender and juicy and the sauce was an absolutely perfect partner for it. Resting on top were a pair of warm crisp apsaragus stalks and some baby greens. The only thing that could have made it better is if my girlfriend insisted I eat her portion as well. Not a chance!

Omakase 1, Course 5

Omakase 1, Course 5

The fifth course was a long thin plate with a couple pieces of tekka maki (tuna roll) and the best and freshest nigiri sushi available that day. That evening’s selection was bluefin tuna, salmon, shrimp, red snapper and mackerel. The fish was all fresh, and clean tasting with good texture. The rice was perfectly moist. A few shards of green onion on top of the mackerel added a nice touch of flavor and spruced up the presentation as well. I felt no need to add soy or wasabi to any of the nigiri. This course is definitely meant to showcase the quality of their fish, and we were impressed.

Omakase 1, Course 6

Omakase 1, Course 6

Who ever thought of putting clams in miso soup? It didn’t sound very appetizing, but that’s exactly what our sixth course was, and I must admit, I tipped my bowl to get every last drop. It’s just a simple miso soup with a touch of green onion and a clam (though not the variety of clam I’m used to from New England) shell on, in the middle of it all. The flavor imparted on the soup by the clam is milder than I would have expected, and it really works. Unlike the clams back home in Essex, Massachusetts, there was no gritty sand in my clam or my soup.

Omakase 1, Course 7

Omakase 1, Course 7

Already comfortably full, and glad we hadn’t ordered the larger $85 omakase, we were each presented with an elegant wooden box. Inside was a small scoop of creamy green tea ice cream topped with a fresh mint leaf and a small chocolate souffle that was perfectly hot and gooey on the inside and soft and cake-like on the outside. It was the perfect ending to a terrific meal.

The service throughout the experience was impeccable. Each dish was placed before us and described in detail by our server. Empty plates disappeared quickly and unobtrusively and water and tea stayed full. We never felt rushed or waited too long between courses. The overall experience was stellar, and we ended up returning just a few days later for their late-night happy hour (also stellar). There is only one other sushi restaurant that I have been to in Las Vegas that matches the food and service we have received at Sen of Japan and I can’t tell you about it. You wouldn’t want to go there anyways – it’s substantially more expensive, and it’s on the strip.

  • It’s not widely advertised, in fact it’s not even listed on their website, but Sen of Japan offers a Happy Hour from 10:30pm – 1:30am every night except Sunday. There is a special Happy Hour menu, including $2.50 hot sake, $2.95 – $6.50 hot appetizers, $1.80 – $7.80 maki and $2.80 – $3.90 nigiri sushi.
  • Reservations are accepted, but typically not required, thanks to the out of the way location – even on weekends.

Sen of Japan on Urbanspoon

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The Lady Silvia

Lady Silvia EntranceAs someone who has never smoked, it took a while for me to get used to casinos and bars in Las Vegas. While I am all for freedom of choice and believe that a smoker should be able to choose whether or not they want to smoke, it is honestly hard for me to breathe smoke-filled air. I tend to get an allergic reaction to smoke, complete with stuffy nose and watery eyes.

So, when I heard about a smoke-free bar in Las Vegas I had to try it. And this bar is definitely worth a try – though it is more than a little hard to find. The address of the bar, 900 Las Vegas Blvd, is actually different from the physical entrance. If you want to enter the bar then you need to go to 140 Hoover Ave. One big clue is to look for the small parking lot with the Lady Silvia sign. It’s right across from the entrance.

Lady_Silvia-roomWhen you enter you are greeted by a dark hallway with bathrooms to the left. Ahead is the door to The Lady Silvia – a large, bright modern room lined by a bar on the right and a large seating area to the left. The bar is sleek and modern, framed by two TVs that were playing a Truffaut film (The 700 Blows) last time we were there. The seating area, on the other hand, resembles an old Victorian study with a modern twist. Bookshelves line the walls and comfy Victorian style chairs and sofas make up seating areas.

Lady_Silvia-PinxtosAt Happy Hour (the only time we’ve been there) the bar tends to be filled with locals who, from what I can tell, live in the adjacent apartments or condos. It comes off as more of a local hang out – kind of like the tv show Cheers, Vegas style. While the bar is open at 4pm, Happy Hour starts at 5pm and goes until 8pm Monday through Friday. The specialty cocktails are $6 and they serve pinxtos (similar to tapas) for $2/piece. There are also beer and well drink specials but, if you are going to go out of your way to come here, you should really try the cocktails!

Lady_Silvia-Cocktail2They have a wide array of premium liquors, bitters and cordials for making interesting drinks. Some of the Signature cocktails we have tried and liked are the Surrealist, the Lady Silvia and the Impressionist. The Surrealist stands out as being one of the only drinks made with green chartreuse that we’ve actually liked. I am always impressed by a place that can make a good cocktail using Green Chartreuse, since it’s strong herbal flavor often makes it hard to blend with other liquors.

We have yet to go to The Lady Silvia at night but that is mostly because we are usually downtown enjoying the free shows later in the evening. They look like they have some interesting entertainment, though, like the house and underground techno night they have on Sundays.

Lady Silvia BarYou can check out their website here: And if you are looking for something to do that’s minutes away from downtown, you should check them out.

Lady Silvia on Urbanspoon

Red Rock Canyon Part 1: Driving the Scenic Road

Pontiac Solstice at Red Rock CanyonLess than half an hour from the mega-resorts that make up the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is about as far from the strip as you are likely to get. Wildlife here comes in the form of lizards, burros and longhorn sheep. It’s quiet and peaceful here, and there is very little that is man-made. I have yet to spot a slot machine or a craps table here. So, if you’re looking for the perfect escape from the games, the resorts and the endless party that is the City of Lights – drive out here and you can get away from it all. It’s like a mini vacation. For the Vegas traveler, consider it a vacation from your vacation, so to speak.

The entrance to Red Rock Canyon is located just off Route 159 (West Charelston Blvd / Blue Diamond Rd) west of Summerlin. There is a small gate where you pay your entrance fee ($7 per car, $3 per motorcycle, cash only) and receive your park pass. Just past the gate to the left you will find a visitor center where you can pick up some souvenirs, learn a bit about the park and its wildlife, and get visitor information from one of their friendly, helpful guides. Restrooms and drinking fountains are available as well.

Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center

Visitor Center

The best way to experience the beauty and serenity of Red Rock Canyon is to get out of your car and go for a hike, and there are numerous trails of varying lengths and difficulties for you to explore – when you have the time to do so. I plan to share with you a couple of the trails I have enjoyed in upcoming posts. But, if you lack the time or the mobility to go hiking, there is still much that can be seen from the road.

Willow Springs picnic area, just a few hundred yards from the scenic loop road.

Willow Springs picnic area, just a few hundred yards from the scenic loop road.

The park loop road at Red Rock Canyon is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on. In fact, the photo I use for the Las Vegas Off Strip logo at the top of each page was taken while driving the park loop road (It’s okay, I was in the passenger seat at the time). The road is thirteen miles long, with lots of twists and turns and about a dozen scenic pullouts where you can stop, stretch, take pictures – even have a picnic. The speed limit ranges from 15-35 mph, and the road is one way, so plan at least forty minutes driving time – plus stops. I find that budgeting two to three hours gives me just enough time to stop and enjoy each of the scenic vistas along the way and get a few pictures.

Partial View From High Point Overlook

Partial View From High Point Overlook

If you only have time to stop at one turnoff, make it the “High Point Overlook.” It will be the fourth turnout after the visitor center. This is a large parking and picnic area at roughly the northern-most point of the loop. From here you get a stunning panoramic view of the mountains, and if the sky is clear (it almost always is) you might spot a couple of those mega-resorts in the valley below.

If you plan to picnic, the Willow Springs Picnic Area would be an excellent choice. There are a quite a few tables set up under a fantastic willow tree. There are also toilet facilities here. Wide pathways and gentle grade make this area (at least somewhat) wheelchair accessible. To reach it, take the second right after the High Point Overlook.

If you need a break from the loud, smokey, perfumed, artificial atmosphere of the casinos, take in some fresh air and beautiful mountain scenery in Red Rock Canyon. The short ride and small admission fee are well worth it. The road is well maintained and easy to follow, with plenty of places along the way to stop and enjoy the view. And unlike the rest of Sin City, the photos you take here will probably be safe to show to Mom.

Wild Burrows near the entrance to Red Rock Canyon

Wild Burrows near the entrance to Red Rock Canyon

  • While it may be tempting to pull off to the shoulder of the road, doing so is both dangerous and it’s against the rules. Use the designated pulloffs, there are plenty of them.
  • Do not feed the animals. Wildlife can become dependent on human feeding, and feeding them can also be dangerous. Admire the desert creatures from a safe distance, and keep your food for yourself.
  • If you are a fan of fast and exotic cars, keep your eyes and ears open. There is a sports car tour that comes through here regularly with Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotics. Go near sunset for your best chance to see them in action.
  • Sunset is the best time to see, and photograph Red Rock Canyon. As the sun gets low on the horizon it casts amazing shadows over the mountains and the desert.
  • Your admission is good for 24 hours, so if you miss something and want to go back you can simply re-enter the loop at the entrance gate.


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Red Rock Canyon Part 2: Guided Night Hikes
Red Rock Canyon Part 3: Hiking the Calico Tanks Trail

Breakfast Downtown – Du-Par’s Restaurant

DuPars-menuThis excellent breakfast place is located inside the Golden Gate casino, directly across from The Plaza. There are quite a few restaurants offering breakfast downtown but if you want a good, hearty breakfast this is your best bet.

The restaurant is fairly tiny but has a cozy, diner-type feel. The waitstaff is friendly enough and, while it is often crowded, we have not yet had to wait for a seat.

Eggs, muffins or pancakes are all good choices. I like the omelets, while my boyfriend prefers the (rather large) pancakes. I was impressed that they even attempted to grill a muffin for me. I guess that cutting a muffin in half and grilling it with butter is a Northeast thing, but they made a reasonable attempt at it.

DuPars-pancakesWe also ended up having dinner here once because of it’s convenient location across from the Plaza (where we were staying). I ended up having meatloaf and some pie, both of which were quite good. However, while there are tons of choices for dinner in Vegas there seem to be few decent (and easy to get to) breakfast places. For that reason, I think I will continue to make this a breakfast stop.

As for prices, I found them to be similar to what I pay at home in the Boston area, which I think is a bit expensive for Vegas. But I happen to be okay with paying a bit more for quality and I think Du-Pars is worth it.

Du-Par’s Restaurant & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Yellow Brick Road (Band): The Best Rock of the 70’s and 80’s

Yellow Brick Road

Yellow Brick Road performing on Fremont Street

Do you remember the days of arena rock, or wish that you did? The music of rock legends like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Queen is best experienced live. However, many of the artists of the era are either too old or too deceased to perform like they used to. Or else they just can’t get along … think Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), David Lee Roth (Van Halen). So, what’s a fan to do? Go see Yellow Brick Road!

A Little Background:

Yellow Brick Road started out 16 years ago as a tribute to Elton John. And much like the city around it, the band has gone through a lot of changes since then. Occasional experimentation with songs by arena rock bands slowly transformed the band from “tribute” to “cover”. The band garnered quite a following, playing hits from legends like Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith and The Who. Then, in 2011 the unthinkable happened … Brody Dolyniuk, the band’s founder and front-man left the band “to work on other projects.” While this might spell the end for most bands, Yellow Brick Road was too good to die.

Yellow Brick Road Today:

Brody passed the mic to current lead vocalist Kelly Christian two years ago. Watching Kelly perform with the band today, it is impossible to tell that he hasn’t always been in this role. The whole band is tight and brimming with talent. They blast out solid reproductions of the epic rock anthems of the 70’s and 80’s with fine attention to each note and detail. And better still, they appear to be having the time of their lives doing it.

That’s what takes a rock performance to the next level… They make you believe that they are having as much fun (maybe more) performing these great songs as the crowd is watching and listening. You can see the emotion from head to toe as Kelly Christian belts out crowd favorites like “Pride (In the Name of Love)” by U2 and “Good Times, Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin. There’s no doubt he is exactly where he wants to be.

Guitarist Mark Cole gets in on the fun as well, showing off with note-perfect renditions of rock’s timeless classics, all the while looking cool as a cucumber. David St. John and James Sloan keep the rhythm going on bass and drums respectively, never missing a beat. David also contributes vocals on a few songs, taking the lead for “Come Together”. And wait until you hear James Sloan belt out some vocals from behind the drums… I won’t spoil the surprise. Most of the time Jonathan Gilcrest rounds out the band on the keys, rocking the keyboard back and forth as he plays, having a grand old time, but then there are the truly special moments… Like when he reaches for his violin during The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and dances up to the front of the stage with a twinkle in his eye for the most amazing violin solo. (Jonathan also plays guitar, sax, and flute.)

Yellow Brick Road not only manages to play the music of many legendary bands, they manage to sound more like the bands they play tribute to than most dedicated tribute bands. Their repertoire of classic rock anthems seems endless… They perform hits from Boston, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, U2, Queen, Jethro Tull, Whitesnake, Foreigner, Journey, and Aerosmith just to name a few. It’s like having every band from your favorite classic rock radio station brought to life on the stage in front of you. If you want a chance to live, or relive, the days of arena rock then get to a Yellow Brick Road performance. It’s the real deal!

Symphonic RockShow:

Oh, and about those “other projects” that Brody left to work on… Brody put together a 30 piece symphonic orchestra, stage effects and the full membership of Yellow Brick Road to recreate the full arena rock experience. They played a few sold out performances in Las Vegas last year. I was lucky enough to see a recording of one of their shows at the Smith Center before it got pulled from YouTube, and it was nothing short of amazing. If you are lucky enough to have a chance at seeing this show live and in person I would highly recommend it. There’s really nothing else like it.

  • You can catch Yellow Brick Road on Thursday nights 7-10pm (free) at the Fremont Street Experience, Friday Nights 10:30pm-12:30am at South Point Casino ($5 general, $10 VIP) and Saturday Nights 10pm-midnight at Texas Station (free).

Yellow Brick Road Website:
Symphonic Rockshow:

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Viva Las Vegas – Car Show

Viva_Las_Vegas_Car_Show-logo-carMany of my trips to Las Vegas have coincided with Viva Las Vegas. This hasn’t necessarily been intentional – Viva almost always happens the weekend of my birthday in early April. I can’t complain, though. In my experience the Viva attendees have been a lot of fun – both to hang with AND to look at!

Viva_Las_Vegas_Car_Show-Covered-Convertible-HotrodSince I usually have my own itinerary when I’m in Vegas in April, the only event I have attended (that is officially put on by Viva) is the car show. It is a four day event that takes place in the large rear parking lot of the Orleans hotel. It is a bit on the pricey side – last year’s tickets were $30/day in advance or $50 for the full 4 days. But, if you like cars, it is well worth it.

The cars are amazing! What makes this car show unique is that each car is a real work of
Viva_Las_Vegas_Car_Show-Truck-Harley art and a direct reflection of it’s owner’s tastes. No two cars are alike and, with over 700 registered cars, there was a lot to look at. I would suggest late in the day on Friday or Saturday as the best days to go. It seems like the majority of the cars arrive by Friday night and some people are starting to head out by Sunday morning.

Viva_Las_Vegas_Car_Show-Counts-Kustoms-BoothThere are also a lot of interesting vendors offering everything from clothing to art to burlesque items. There was even a tent set up for Counts Kustoms, a dealer of custom choppers and hot rods which has been featured on Pawn Stars and Counting Cars on the History channel. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check out all of the vendors since a lot of them were located towards the back of the show. It took about a couple of hours to get through all the cars and, by the time I got to the rear of the show, it was closing time for the day.

I have so many pictures of this show that it is hard to pick and choose. I have attached quite a few images of what I felt were the more interesting cars. And, if you are ever in the area during the show, I suggest you check it out yourself.

Viva Las Vegas 2013 will be held on March 28-31 at the Orleans Casino. The car show is March 30th.


Le Thai: An App, Two Entrees and a Lady Boy

Le_Thai-EntranceThis little restaurant located just outside the downtown canopy may not seem like much at first glance. In fact, I walked by it many times on our trips to Vegas. It’s dark exterior and tiny size made me think it was just some random take-out restaurant.

When my boyfriend told me about the really good Thai restaurant we should check out, it never occurred to me that he was referring to the same tiny little place I had walked by so many times. I admit, I was dubious. I should know by now that Las Vegas has a lot of hidden gems – yet sometimes I still need to be reminded.

Le_Thai-Wall-ArtWe came here later on a Friday night and I was worried we wouldn’t get in. The place appears miniscule from the outside and I could tell there were already a lot of people seated. The hostess was apologetic, claiming they only had outside seating. She thought this might not be acceptable since it was cold (in the 50s) outside. Being from New England though we were willing to ‘brave the cold’. She seemed relieved and said something about how nice it is when people are laid back. We were then led through the main part of the restaurant and back to the ‘outdoor seating’.

The main part of the restaurant was dark and small with a lot of small tables. It didn’t appear overly cramped though, like some small restaurants I have been in. The outdoor seating area was a bit more spacious, with tables in the center of the room and seating along the walls. Though they refer to it as outdoors, it is more like a large patio area with walls and a bamboo ceiling. Heating units throughout kept it at a temperature that was almost too warm for me. Definitely not the outdoor seating I was expecting.

We had to wait quite a few minutes for a server but I didn’t mind. It gave us some time to look over both the food and drink menus. When our server did come he was very friendly and even joked around with my boyfriend. He was more than willing to answer any questions and, when asked about the ingredients in one of our dishes, he willingly went back to the kitchen and asked the chef about it.

Le_Thai-Spring-RollsSo, on to the best part – the food. I had to go the traditional route (since it was our first time here) so I chose the Spring Rolls and Pad Thai with a Thai Iced Coffee. I tend to order these items the first time I go to a Thai place with the idea that if the most popular dishes are good then the rest of the food is worth trying. And these things did not disappoint. My coffee was just the right balance of sweet and strong. A lot of places tend to overdo it with the cream but that was not the case here. The spring rolls came out quickly and were crispy and fresh with a nice sauce. The Pad Thai was large and had a lot of good flavor without being greasy.

Le_Thai-Shrimp-Pad-ThaiLe_Thai-Thai-Beef-Noodle-SoupThe boyfriend got Thai Beef and Meatball Noodle Soup and the Lady Boy cocktail (Mekhong Thai Whiskey, ginger ale and lime). I tried the soup and it was incredible. It was full of tasty, savory beef to the point where I would call it more of a stew than a soup. This was the dish that we asked the waiter more about. We found out that the tenderness of the beef was the result of a 3 day process. I thought the Lady Boy was okay though I am not a fan of lime. The boyfriend described it as a lighter, more natural tasting whiskey sour.

Good service and delicious food – this is definitely a place I would like to return to. It is very convenient when you are looking for a place to eat downtown as it’s open until 12am during the week and 2am on weekends. You may need to make a reservation if you want a table at a peak time.

It looks like they have a website in development but right now the best place to go for more info seems to be their Urbanspoon page.
Le Thai on Urbanspoon