Martin Heierling shares how four sushi rolls were born at Sensi

Chef Martin Heierling of Sensi at the Bellagio.

Editor’s Note: One of today’s guest columnists is Executive Chef Martin Heierling of Sensi at the Bellagio while Robin Leach takes his well-deserved annual vacation to Europe (follow him on his travels at Every day, a new column, plus you never know what Robin will dig up in the wine country north of Rome, so please check back daily.

By Martin Heierling

Hi all,

It’s Martin Heierling, executive chef at Sensi in the Bellagio. Sensi is not a Japanese restaurant. The Japanese design firm Super Potato created the beautiful space, and guests frequently inquire at the door if we are a sushi restaurant.

This not being the case and after getting the same question repeatedly, I decided I wanted to explore sushi rolls but create something that no other restaurants were presenting at the time. I also wanted to make sure we did them in a way that stays true to our commitment of serving only sustainably grown, seasonal and naturally raised products.

I didn’t have much sushi experience before I started doing this, so I collaborated with my Chef de Cuisine Royden Ellamar. Combining his experience and technique with my ideas for flavors and textures, we created four rock-solid rolls worth trying. We wanted them to be different yet memorable.

Leach Blog Photo

Chef Martin Heierling of Silk Road at 2010 Taste of the Nation at Palms Pool on June 2, 2010.

To make them pop and really impress, each individual piece of sushi is topped with one of the roll’s key ingredients, a garnish that adds to the flavor and complexity. Another part of the concept that was very important is I did not want to serve wasabi and ginger because it makes every roll taste the same. So we created a specific dipping sauce specific to each roll.

The first one we came up with is the TLC -- tempura, lobster and crab. We created a lobster and crab salad drizzled in a spicy dressing, and we work furikake into the sushi rice. Then we dip the roll in tempura batter and fry until it’s crispy. We top each piece with more lobster and crab salad and a bit of tobiko. The dip is a blend of spicy sriracha aioli and whipped avocado. This one was Roy’s first creation.

Then we started working on the Tataki Roll, which gets its name from the Japanese method of searing meat on the outside and preserving the raw on the inside. This roll has raw, cured tuna strips rolled inside the rice. Once cut into pieces, we then sear the roll on the outside and top it with spicy tuna tartar and serve it with homemade miso ponzu dipping sauce. This one will blow your mind!

Next came the Ida Roll, which is based on a Philly Roll but stuffed with Idaho trout instead of salmon. We bind it together with a little cream cheese and wrap it in rice and nori. Then we cut it into four pieces and dip it into batter and fry one side in a bit of oil until it’s crispy, almost like a hush puppy. That’s served with a white soy and horseradish sauce and topped with salmon caviar.

Leach Blog Photo

Chefs Akira Back and Martin Heierling at Vegas Uncork'd on May 6, 2011.

The last one we came up with was the Vegetable Roll. We stuff rice with farmer’s market seasonal veggies that we cure and marinate in house, plus a mushroom poke, which is like a mushroom tartar. Before we serve the roll, we dip it in crushed, dry-roasted wasabi peas. This roll is entirely vegan and also quite popular for special requests.

Once we offered our Sensi Rolls on the menu, they immediately were some of our most popular dishes. We even created the Roll Call, which gives diners a piece of each roll.

Now we are able to accommodate guests who crave sushi, and once they sit down, they get an idea of what else is on the menu and what Sensi is all about -- four styles of award-winning cuisine under one roof.

See you all soon!

Tomorrow, welcomes Flamingo headliner comedian Vinnie Favorito and Will Roberts, a cartoonist and one of the cowboys in Viva Elvis at Aria. Guest columnists this year include Holly Madison, Donny Osmond, cast members of Absinthe and Jersey Boys, Chefs Julian Serrano and Charlie Palmer, plus other surprises, including nightlife analysis by Jesse Waits and Jack Colton.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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