Early this year, I was at an event for the opening of the Nobu hotel and restaurant at Caesars Palace, talking shop with other media folk, when the conversation took an unexpected turn. Another local food writer was ranting a bit, saying the food and experience at Nobu had become stale. He wasn’t excited about a second Nobu in Las Vegas.
I didn’t respond, but the negativity caught me off-guard. Nobu Matsuhisa’s innovations on Japanese food have revolutionized the way the cuisine is perceived in this country. He has built more than a restaurant dynasty, he’s crafted his own genre, and that other (grumpy) food writer wouldn’t disagree. But he was talking about Nobu now, and that made me think. I consider it to be a great restaurant, but I haven’t frequented our original Nobu at the Hard Rock through the years. When people ask for a recommendation for excellent sushi and/or Japanese cuisine, it hasn’t always been on my list.
As it turns out, now is the perfect time for me and other local diners to return to this stalwart restaurant, thanks to the newly launched Locals Tasting Menu. It’s six courses of signature dishes for $75—not cheap but a great deal. Some of the most beloved of Nobu’s creations are part of this meal, dishes that are imitated at nearly every Japanese or pan-Asian restaurant you’ve ever visited. Nobu still does them best, from the thinly sliced yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño and yuzu-soy sauce to the famous miso-marinated black cod, broiled to flaky perfection.
Rounding out the Locals Tasting Menu: Atlantic salmon sashimi salad with mixed greens, shredded daikon, and soy-onion dressing; tempura-battered rock shrimp coated in a creamy, spicy aioli; miso soup with tofu; and a sushi plate with salmon, fluke fin, albacore, shrimp and tamago (egg). It’s quite a bit of wonderful food, and a great excuse to get back to this sleek, modern dining room.
Of course, I wanted more. I wanted to push a little. I know what Nobu is known for and I wanted to see what’s new and what direction the kitchen is headed, so I sampled some other dishes. They were stellar, from crispy grilled shishito peppers with sea salt to tiny gyoza-shell tacos filled with wagyu beef or mixed seafood ceviche. Pan-seared sea bass over shaved hearts of palm with a sweet, silky sauce of corn and roasted aji amarillo peppers might replace that black cod as my favorite Nobu dish. There were also crisp miso chips loaded with spicy tuna and osetra golden caviar, and for dessert, luxurious layers of horchata flan and guava sorbet.
An extra, upgraded sushi assortment really captivated, offering nigiri bites of fluke topped with fluke liver, tai (snapper) with a refreshing shiso leaf, and uni tiradito, rich sea urchin served with the Peruvian preparation of lime juice and spicy peppers. It was tough to decide which bite was more sublime, but each was another reason why Nobu is still relevant and wonderfully worthwhile. Maybe that grumpy writer needs to make a return visit, too.
Nobu Hard Rock Hotel, 693-5090. Sunday-Thursday, 6-10:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5-11 p.m. Locals Tasting Menu, six courses, $75.