I-Naba: Another Kind of Noodle House

I-Naba entranceIf you go to the right off-the-beaten-path strip malls in Las Vegas you can find all manner of Japanese foods. Having enjoyed the soups at Monta Ramen, I decided to try a different type of Japanese noodle house.

Don’t be confused by the “Na Na” sign at 3210 South Decatur Boulevard Suite 104, Na Na Thai Kitchen has been replaced by I-Naba, a Japanese soba noodle house. I-Naba makes fresh traditional soba noodles using buckwheat flour. Soba noodles are the slender cousin of udon noodles – similar in size and somewhat heavier in texture to spaghetti. Soba noodles are served either hot in soup or cold with a dipping sauce (tsuyu). The latter (cold) is the preparation that I ordered.

I-Naba yuzu limeadeI started off with what was described as a “House Made Yuzu Limeade” ($2.00), which was delicious and refreshing, but turned out to be a mild mistranslation. It’s actually a fresh made, sweet lemonade, with a little taste of fresh mint. It was decked out with a fresh wedge of lemon and I’m pretty sure no limes were harmed in its preparation. Still, a good start.

I-Naba Zuke-DonI-Naba just began serving Donburi (rice bowls), which come with a side salad and you can get a half order of soba or udon for just $4 extra. I went for the Zuke-Don ($11), which was a large bowl of sushi rice smothered in soy marinated tuna sashimi with daikon radish, carrot and ginger and more shreds of nori to the side. The rice was moist and sticky and the tuna tasted clean and fresh – if a bit salty from its soy bath. Overall it was a good, filling dish. The salad that came with it was a simple mixed green salad with a mildly spicy sesame soy dressing and a few slivers of carrot. Even though I was feeling pretty full after the salad and the donburi, I had to try the specialty of the house.

I-Naba cold sobaI went for a half order of “Zaru” ($4 with my donburi, full order is $8). The soba noodles were served cold on a bamboo mat with a few shards of ice underneath. There were a few shreds of nori (dried seaweed) on top, which added an earthy flavor. Served with the noodles was a cold, flavorful soy-based broth (tsuyu). Wasabi and scallion were provided on the side. I mixed in some wasabi and scallion to my broth and twirled the noodles in the broth before each bite. Since every bite of noodles had a different combination of broth, nori, wasabi and scallion, each bite had a slightly different mix of flavors. A fun and delicious adventure.

I-Naba tsuyuOnce my noodles were gone, the friendly (and patient) waitress brought out a small pitcher with the water that my noodles had been cooked in. Sensing I was a novice, she explained that I could add the hot water to my cold broth and drink it. This made for a nice, warm “soup”, which turned out to be quite tasty. I cleared my palate with a couple last sips of my “Limeade” and a couple slices of ginger left over from my tuna bowl.

I-Naba serves up a great, filling meal, full of interesting flavors and textures for a very reasonable price.

  • Go between 5:30 and 7pm and enjoy cold draft Asahi beer for just $2 a glass.
  • Soba is a relatively healthy noodle, containing essential amino acids, B vitamins and antioxidants.
  • I-Naba also has locations in California and Hawaii.

Website: www.inabalasvegas.com
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Kabuto Edomae: Traditional Sushi

Kabuto-EntranceThere are many hidden gems in Las Vegas. These restaurants may not heavily advertise and may be some distance from the Strip – but they also have some of the most amazing dining experiences (and are an absolute bargain when you consider what things cost on the Strip).

Kabuto is a tiny, simply decorated restaurant that seats exactly twenty four people. And, unless you are looking for it, you will probably have a hard time finding it. We even had some trouble, though we were able to find the plaza it is located in using GPS. Once there, you need to look for the restaurant with the smallest possible sign – from a distance it it looks like it doesn’t even have a sign. We had to walk right up to the door to confirm we were at the right place.

Kabuto ChefOnce inside you will notice how small it is – they have ten seats at the bar and four tables – three four tops and a two top. We were seated at a two top and kind of squished into a corner. (I soon forgot any discomfort, though, once amazing food started coming out).

In order to get a good idea of what the chef had to offer, we decided on the Middle Omakase, which costs $80 per person. We decided to just have water for a drink since the goal was to truly enjoy the fish. The waitress asked us if there was any type of fish we didn’t want to eat/couldn’t have. I took this opportunity to inform her that I have a pretty strong dislike for fish roe. I don’t mind it as a garnish on a roll but I won’t eat much of it, otherwise.

Kabuto SashimiOur first ‘course’ was more of an apertif. It was a small glass filled with the most amazing sake. The waitress told us it was a lemon sake that the chef made at home. It was really light, sweet and refreshing.

This was followed by a Jack Mackeral Salad, with sweet vinegar, cucumber, scallion and nori (seaweed). The sashimi started to come out next. The waitress was very informative, telling us what each fish was and where it had come from. The first grouping was Blue Fin Tuna (Spain), Opal Eye (Japan), Jack Mackerel (Japan) and Orange Clam (Boston). I was immediately struck by how fresh the fish was. I don’t think I’ve ever had sashimi that was quite that fresh – and I live on the Atlantic coast!

Kabuto Breem Kobe and Flying FishThe next set to come out was Breem with miso sauce, Kobe beef with daikon radish and ponzu sauce, and Spanish Mackerel with salt from Japan. The Breem was my favorite, though I also really enjoyed the mackerel. The salt it came with was light and subtle and really added to the taste of the mackerel.

The next two courses consisted of Medium Fatty Tuna (Spain), Blue Fin Tuna (Japan), Deep Sea Porgy (Japan), Snapper, Young Yellowtail, Japanese Mackerel, Sea Eel and Tamago. The Young Yellowtail was substituted for me since instead of Salmon Roe. I was very happy with this unexpected surprise since my favorite roll of all time is made with Young Yellowtail. Kabuto TamagoMy boyfriend received the Salmon Roe, which he said was the best he’d ever had. It came in a tiny bowl with a spoon, like caviar would. I also have to mention the Tamago. While all of the fish in courses 3 and 4 were excellent, the Tamago was hands-down the best I had ever tasted.

At this point the waitress came over and explained that we were finished with our main courses, though we were free to order something extra off the menu. She pointed out some of the options we had not tried and explained what they were. The boyfriend had the Triangle Tuna while I tried the Kamashita Fatty Tuna. Both tasted incredible though the triangle was bit tougher and the Fatty Tuna was smooth and rich. Two very different tastes but both are worth trying if you like Tuna.

Kabuto Fish Miso SoupWe were surprised by two more courses – a premium Fatty Tuna Hand Roll and a bowl of Miso Soup. The roll was great, with a fresh seaweed wrap and the perfect balance of rice and fish.

For dessert we had a strawberry crepe and homemade mochi. The mochi was very tasty, with a relatively thin shell and delicious ice cream. The strawberry crepe was more like a mille feuille pastry. It consisted of very thin layers of alternating strawberry cream and pastry. Much better than I had anticipated.

Kabuto Strawberry CrepeWhile the meal was not exactly cheap, it was overall the best sushi I have ever had. I would definitely do it again.

I am fairly certain that the next Omakase up included the Triangle and Fatty Tuna. I also know that the menu changes with the season and availability of fish so some items I mentioned may not be available for future meals.

Website: www.kabutolv.com
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Monta Ramen – Japanese Comfort Food

Monta entranceUnless you’ve been to a real Japanese ramen house, forget everything you think you know about ramen. This is nothing like the brick of dried, tasteless noodles with a packet of msg that you might have subsisted on while working your way through college. The ramen at Monta (5030 Spring Mountain) is as close to Maruchan Ramen as the fresh-made pasta at your favorite Italian restaurant is to Chef Boyardee. No, I take that back, it’s not even that close.

There is a perpetual line-up at Monta, and for three good reasons: The food is amazing, it’s very affordable, and the restaurant consists of only five tables and a ten seat bar. Service is quick and efficient, though, and most people don’t linger too long, so we only had to wait a few minutes for a table.

Gyoza

Gyoza

We started by sharing an order of Gyoza ($5.15). These pan fried dumplings, filled with fine ground pork and vegetables were served golden brown. The outside of the dumpling comes out al dente, with just a touch of crunch, while the inside is warm, soft and flavorful. A pretty good start.

Tonkotsu Ramen with Nitamago

Tonkotsu Ramen with Nitamago

I ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen ($6.95), with Nitamago ($1.50 add-on) which is Monta’s signature dish. The base for this soup is a strong, rich, silky smooth pork broth. This is one of those savory broths that is the result of hours of boiling bones and fat – transforming remnants into something decadent (much like oxtail soup).

Soaking up that broth are gobs of soft, thin, fresh house-made noodles and a pair of thin slices of chashu (pork belly). Some fresh chopped scallions serve as garnish. The soup is rich and flavorful, the noodles soft and there is hardly a hint of spice or salt. The meat is thoroughly cooked and a little firm, but flavorful. The egg is just shy of hard boiled, and it goes with this soup like a fried egg goes on a burger. This is comfort food, for sure.

Kimchi Fried Rice

Kimchi Fried Rice

What surprised me most about the food at Monta was not the delicious ramen soup – that I had expected. My girlfriend went out on a limb and got something I never would have thought to order – Kimchi Fried Rice ($6.95). Boy am I glad she did. It’s… just… wow! Perfectly cooked rice with just a hint of kimchi flavor – not too spicy, not to oily or greasy. It’s my new favorite fried rice dish.

While I do recommend trying the fried rice and gyoza, most people come here for the ramen. And with good reason. If you want a hearty noodle soup that’s easy on the salt and spice and heavy on the flavor, Monta Ramen has you covered. Forget that shiny package in the Asian food aisle at the supermarket. This is what ramen is supposed to be.

  • If you like it spicy, don’t fret. There are numerous options at your table to spice up your dish.
  • Monta is in good company – other restaurants off the same parking lot include Aribura Raku, Kabuto, Big Wong and Trattoria Nakamura-Ya. More on these restaurants soon.
  • Monta just opened a new location in Henderson at 9310 South Eastern Ave #116.

Website:www.montaramen.com
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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.

Website: www.senofjapan.com
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Bachi Burger: Gourmet Burgers with Asian Flair

Bachi Burger EntranceNow that you’ve got your rental car, it’s time for some eating adventures. The rental center will instruct you “three rights to the Strip and I-215.” I’ve got a better idea. It’s been a long, tiring day of flying and it’s about time you got something to eat that doesn’t come in a little foil packet. Off to Bachi Burger!

Less that 10 minutes drive from the McCarran Car Rental Center at 470 East Windmill Lane lies one of the best places to get a gourmet burger in Las Vegas. It’s in the corner of a strip mall, and I’m told it was once a Dunkin’ Donuts, but don’t let that put you off. Lots of great things in Vegas are found in strip malls, and lots of great things used to be something else. That’s how this city rolls.

Bachi Burger takes the pan-asian influences of Hawaii and inflicts them on the all american burger, using high quality ingredients. Meats are angus and wagyu. Buns are delicious fresh Taiwanese sweet buns – light and slightly sweet, but with a chewy crust strong enough that it won’t fall apart as you eat. Marinades and toppings from the varied cultures of Northeast and Southeast Asia take each burger to new heights.

I arrived at Bachi Burger at noon on a Tuesday afternoon and waited 15 minutes for a table. Service was good, but perhaps not quite as friendly and efficient as I am used to in Las Vegas. My first test of Bachi was my drink. I’m a big fan of Vietnamese iced coffee, but find that only Vietnamese restaurants tend to get it right, so I was a little surprised to see it on the menu here. Bachi delivered: a nice rich brew dripping onto a cup of sweetened condensed milk from a metal coffee press and a glass of ice – perfect.

For my main I went with the Ronin burger – angus beef, caramelized onions, Japanese coleslaw, miso goma dressing, katzu bbq, yuzu citrus aioli, topped with a fried egg. It’s big, it’s messy, and all the flavors mesh perfectly. Crispy truffle parmesan fries in a wax paper cone put the final touch on a fantastic meal for under 25 bucks including tip.

Ronin Burger

Yes, the Ronin burger is a little over the top, but that’s par for the course at Bachi. Other burgers on their menu include such ingredients as nuoc mam (fish sauce) [Banh Mi Burger], kim chee [Kalbi Burger], and enoki mushrooms [Kiki Burger]. All are $10 or less. For the big spenders there’s the Shogun Burger with wagyu beef, unagi (freshwater eel), foie gras, asian pear, miso butter and yamamomo peach for $25. It sounds just crazy enough that I might try it next time I’m there. I’ll be sure to write an update if I do.

Some other specialties of Bachi Burger include house made pickled vegetables, oxtail chili fries, and grilled cheese for the kids. To drink they offer wide selection of beers, sake, house made sodas, bubble and milk teas. Desserts include poached pears and malasadas.

Las Vegas has many Asian restaurants to satisfy your taste for eating adventure, however none that I have found does as good a job of fusing American fare with the varied cuisines of Northeast and Southeast Asia. Actually, my Ronin burger was not only the best Asian influenced burger that I’ve had in Las Vegas, it was simply the best.

Tips:

  • Bachi Burger was recently featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Expect a wait.
  • For those on the western side of town, Bachi Burger has another location at 9410 West Sahara Avenue.

Website: www.bachiburger.com
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