[The Incidental Tourist]

The weird, wild, sizzling hot, sorta-famous world of Musashi Las Vegas

Tsutomu Molde makes moves at Musashi Japanese Steakhouse.
Photo: Bill Hughes

Musashi is the kind of place someone tells you about, or else you’d never know about it. It’s a restaurant that exists in between Las Vegas.

It’s not on the Strip, but it’s so close—in a food-heavy strip mall on Paradise Road just a few blocks east—that it’s not really off-Strip either. Flanked by conventioneer-packed steakhouses like Del Frisco’s and big-name power luncheries like Gordon Biersch, Musashi is the unlikely independent, started by a local couple.

It’s not a neighborhood restaurant, but it does serve plenty of local regulars who come from all over the Valley. It has tons of tourist regulars, too, frequent Vegas visitors who make it a point to schedule a teppanyaki feast at Musashi any or every time they’re in the city.

The chef and owner, Tsutomu Molde, is far from a celebrity, but he and his restaurant have been featured on the Travel Channel, with the congenial chef showing off his knife skills and talking up the buttery-rich, certified Japanese Wagyu beef on the menu. And Musashi’s walls are lined with photos of Molde with the famous actors, rappers, rock stars and fighters he feeds.

“I’ve been cooking for Floyd Mayweather forever,” Molde says. “He came in Monday, and then Tuesday Big Hoss and Chumlee [from Pawn Stars] were in, and then Wednesday was a big crowd of poker players. I guess we get a lot of in-the-spotlight people.”

He gets a lot of Vegas people. Take a seat around one of his sizzling hot teppan tables and you’re just as likely to fall into a rowdy bachelor party as you are to bump into one of your Green Valley or Summerlin neighbors. Musashi is a regular after-hours haunt for the city’s true night owls—last call for food and sake bombs is 3:30 a.m.

“We do get a diverse late-night crowd,” Molde says suggestively. “We’re probably the only teppan restaurant in the country open that late.”

Teppanyaki restaurants are nothing new, and certainly nothing new to Las Vegas, but they may be a dying breed. The iconic Benihana chain is far past its prime of the 1980s, and Hamada of Japan—where Molde was executive chef for 12 years—vanished from the local landscape when its last restaurant at the Flamingo closed recently. “When I started with Hamada there were two, and I opened six, so at one point there were eight in town,” Molde says. “But this style of restaurant, a lot of them became about the bottom line, get in and get out, how fast can you cook? It didn’t matter if the food was good or not.”

That’s why he wanted to create something different and easier and better at Musashi. The trademark flair of teppan cooking—the quick and flashy moves experienced chefs demonstrate while cooking everything directly in front of their customers—seemed to be fading away.

But not here. Bowls of rice are flipped. Onion ring volcanoes are constructed. Plump bits of shrimp fly into mouths, and knives and spatulas twirl as if they are extensions of the chef. Molde is known for his trademark sauces, eschewing boring soy-ginger and sesame-garlic flavors for made-from-scratch-on-the-grill creations, customized for each eater’s palate. “It’s about interaction ... that’s what was missing,” says the chef.

By focusing on the quality of the food—even if it’s fun food—and making sure the experience is lively, Molde has created a unique reputation for himself and his restaurant. It’s a locals’ joint for more than locals—a secret hot spot in a city where there are no secrets, where every restaurant and bar and nightclub is permanently on blast. It’s exactly what he wanted, and what his regulars wanted from him.

But it isn’t easy to maintain. Musashi just hit the eight-year mark. That’s a lot of Kobe beef, late-night limo drop-offs and rowdy bros chanting and pounding fists on tables until their next shot arrives. Molde has a lot of people expecting him to be behind the grill, but he tries to take three days off every week to spend more time with his family. “I’m cooking a little less, but the stress is still there,” he says. “Sometimes I want to get away a little more and be more of an owner, but it’s tough because I want to keep the system going, keep the quality high and keep the staff running.

“I get phone calls every day asking when I’m cooking, and I’m the type of person that doesn’t want to let anybody down.”

It takes a lot of commitment to keep a 24-hour town running. It takes a lot of non-celebrity chefs at unfamous restaurants creating memorable experiences for all our visitors and friends.

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Brock is an award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently leads entertainment ...

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