Sen 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.
If 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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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