The culinary redevelopment of Fremont East didn’t quite make it to 11th Street. That walkable, bar-packed sector of Downtown got Chow, which has closed, and a great new restaurant at Atomic Liquors, but that’s it. Until now.
New restaurants and bars were always part of the plan for the conversion of the old Fergusons Motel, owned by Zappos boss Tony Hsieh, who lives in the Airstream trailer village adjacent to the site. The project is bringing in Dan Krohmer, the chef and restaurateur behind suburban favorite Other Mama, to create and operate two new concepts: a cozy, beachy Mexican eatery and a Japanese dining experience that doesn’t exist anywhere in Las Vegas.
La Monja (“the nun”) will be a Mexican-style raw bar with a huge outdoor grill in the center of its Fremont-adjacent, indoor-outdoor bar, “but that sounds fancier than it is,” Krohmer says. “Imagine being down in Ensenada and going up to a food truck parked right by the beach with plastic chairs outside and all different types of seafood cocktails and combinations. Basically, it will feel like you’re in someone’s backyard. No fancy plates, just real human experience and Tecates with lime shoved in the top.” More tostadas and sopes than tacos and burritos, but he’ll cook whatever people want, everything made from scratch.
La Monja will be the slightly larger space, a very casual spot keeping late hours. Just across the courtyard, Hatsumi could be the kind of destination dining Downtown needs in order to keep its food profile on the rise.
Moving into a linear space created by gutting five motel rooms, Hatsumi will focus on robata and irori grilling, elegant service, a regal gin-and-tonic program and the largest sake selection Downtown.
“It’s almost impossible to find a real robata restaurant in the United States,” says Krohmer. “The closest thing would be Raku, but that’s just one element of it. Real robata restaurants [in Japan] are all about all this crazy, seasonal stuff that’s only available that day. Everything is cooked with Japanese charcoal and it’s very simple.”
Irori grilling is even rarer. Imagine creating a fence of skewers around a central grill, almost an outdoor slow-roasting method. “It’s super old-school, how Japanese fishermen used to cook on the beach,” Krohmer says. “I’ve never seen this in the United States. It’s a lot of show.”
The service will be more elegant and the experience more serene, and Krohmer is working on an affordable tasting menu of five courses. “It needs to be a destination. There are a lot of restaurants down here now so you can’t just open up the doors. The Mexican side, I can see that catering to a lot of younger people and [industry] staff and the Japanese one will need to be a realistic price point so more people can participate.”
Krohmer is partnering with the Fergusons folks, but the restaurant concepts are no collaboration.
“Everything is always influenced by my travels, and you can see that in the Mexican influence on the menu [now] at Other Mama,” he says. “There are Japanese dishes and Mexican dishes all over it now, and this is an expression of each of those, in more concentrated forms. But this is not stuff I had in the bag. It’s just stuff we had talked about [with Fergusons planners] and the more we talked about it, the more I thought, what would I want? I live down here now. I’m drinking at Atomic all the time. Where would I want to eat? And I’m asking all these bartenders where they would want to go and eat after work. It’s an accumulation from that.”
With construction underway at Fergusons, Krohmer is aiming to open La Monja before the end of the year with Hatsumi close behind.