Japanese food is the most interesting thing happening in the Las Vegas dining scene right now, for two reasons: First, it’s largely an off-Strip restaurant phenomenon, which is incredibly exciting. Those don’t happen much. Second, and more important, the great little neighborhood eateries popping up are exhilaratingly diverse. It’s not just sushi, or ramen, or teppan, or any one thing.
- 4983 W. Flamingo Road, 685-8358.
- Daily, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
The latest addition defies categorization. All we can say about Yonaka is that it’s Japanese, it’s new and it’s mostly outstanding. It opened a couple months ago at Flamingo and Decatur, where a friendly French bistro once operated. Now it’s modern and fun, with a gorgeous wooden accent wall, a long sushi counter and a longer menu listing lots of fresh fish combined with creative, bright flavors. Yonaka’s crudo ($12) is impossible to forget, chunks of rich, fleshy sea bass layered with heirloom tomatoes, jalapeño, quinoa and ikura doused gently in citrus-herb oil. Sake orenji ($10) is a neat stack of fatty salmon slices on supreme orange wedges with sea salt, lemon oil and yuzu tobiko roe. You could devour these refreshing small plates day or night, forever.
Some of this experimentation can get muddled. A special with salmon, blueberry, kale, pear and crunchy rice was a bit too sweet, and another attempt, dubbed irodori and built with big eye tuna, green apple, fennel, pineapple and pistachio, had far too many competing flavors, all of which were overpowered by blue cheese crumbles.
Still, there are far more hits than misses. Standard sushi, sashimi and rolls are available, but Yonaka’s kitchen shines brightest with the small plates. There’s hot stuff, too: thick slabs of pork belly ($15) with that Granny Smith and fennel combo; grilled octopus with chorizo, melon and black olive oil; and grilled yellowtail collar with pickled vegetables ($9). My crew couldn’t stop eating the simple, perfect karaage fried chicken ($6) with jalapeño, basil and onion, and crispy fried Brussels sprouts with lemon, chili and mint. Experimenting with experimental Japanese food sure is fun.