Even though Yellowtail has been one of the most consistent restaurants on the Strip for years, and even though I’ve spent lots of time lounging, snacking and sake-ing near the shimmering, 13-foot bronze fish flank at the front of the restaurant, I feel like I haven’t really received the full Yellowtail treatment. Until now.
In 2008, Bellagio and the Light Group brought chef Akira Back to Las Vegas to help transform original Japanese eatery Shintaro into the sleek and sexy Yellowtail. Back left his executive chef gig at Nobu in Aspen, Colorado, and landed at Bellagio the same year he battled Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America. Chef Michael Chen also was part of the Yellowtail opening crew, and now Chen is the chef de cuisine there while Back hops between his Bellagio home, his new Mandalay Bay restaurant Kumi, and his newer namesake restaurants in India and Indonesia.
Back has a lot going on, but nothing has slipped at Yellowtail. I finally tucked into its dark, cool dining room—with a view of the fountains, of course—to experience the seven-course, $150 omakase dinner, a chef’s choice of greatest hits dishes and then some. My meal was something of a collaboration between Back and Chen, demonstrating their collective creativity and individual styles. In the end, I was left in awe; I’ve sampled amazing tasting menus at the finest French restaurants Las Vegas has to offer in the past year and Yellowtail holds its own.
It began with two pristine bites served on an illuminated disc, hirame (flounder) wrapped in kombu (kelp) and toro (fatty tuna) topped with caviar. Just as I was savoring the simple beauty, Chen hit me with one of the dishes that won him the Chef’s Challenge at the recent World Food Championships in Downtown Las Vegas, a clean and crispy winter truffle and green onion tart. Each element of flavor and texture was isolated, the work of a true talent.
Then it was time for Back’s flavors to shine with the jeju domi, sashimi of Korean red snapper with savory, spicy and sweet gochujang red chili paste. It would seem the quiet minimalism of Japanese cuisine would clash with the cacophony of funky flavors that characterize Korean food, but achieving delicious balance is a signature move for the Korean-born Back. This simple dish is one of the best raw fish bites in all of Las Vegas.
Chen sparked Yellowtail’s tuna tataki with corn salsa and spiced ponzu by serving it under glass with applewood smoke, a fragrant cloud of flavor that the fish and sauce absorbed readily. There was duck prosciutto with Asian pear and shallot vinaigrette, then a seared diver scallop and some poached Maine lobster swimming in a bright and beautiful tomato dashi. Slices of perfectly rare grilled ribeye were decorated with cubes of foie gras, and in place of the standard wasabi butter, a black vinegar reduction clung to each bite of juicy meat, essentially the most luscious version of A1 steak sauce ever composed.
To finish, a sushi sampler of chu toro, kinmedai (golden eye snapper), and jack mackerel—plus pieces of Yellowtail’s popping spicy crab and crispy kalbi rolls—arrived and was gobbled up, and then a complete surprise: a cheese plate. At a Japanese restaurant. Each of five different cheeses was served with its own tiny complement, including a creamy Brie-like option topped with walnut snow. Small bites of blackberry cheesecake and sorbet topped with basil arrived for proper dessert, but I was already blown away. There are so many bewildering meals to be had on the Strip, maybe too many. It’s difficult to compare or rank them, but it’s easy to decide which ones shouldn’t be missed. Be sure Yellowtail is on your list.
Yellowtail Bellagio, 693-8865. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5-11 p.m.