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Despite being slammed by the hungry tsunami flowing in the door, the kitchen knocked out complex, exotic dishes with magical ease. My group — 17 friends altogether — put in our orders, and the sophisticated soups, shellfish and meat skewers arrived almost simultaneously.
The ingredients are utterly fresh and the flavors electrically vibrant, even when the dish is as humble as mango and sticky rice (do not miss it). It would be a travesty to miss the salted, fried fish chunks, basil-stuffed country pork sausage, and epic curry noodles garnished with pickled vegetables. If the 15-page menu is overwhelming, put your server in charge, and go with the wine recommendation, even if it seems counter-intuitive. Yes, German riesling is a perfect match for pungent Thai flavors. There’s a reason for all those Wine Spectator awards bracketing the huge glass-walled wine cellar.
Sen of Japan
8480 W. Desert Inn Road, Las Vegas; 1-702-871-7781; senofjapan.com
Exceptional sushi in the desert? Sounds like a verse from Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” yet it exists. Another gem tucked into a nondescript strip mall, Sen of Japan serves a dizzying variety of premium seafood, from subtly oceanic flying fish egg and pleasantly savory fluke sashimi to tasty Spanish mackerel. If raw fish isn’t your thing, the offerings can be served tempura style, braised, charcoal grilled or in soups. For non-pescatarians there’s Kobe beef with foie gras, citrus-soy filet mignon, or Japanese pork with mustard soy and veggie selections from mushroom risotto to tofu eggplant.
The restaurant has a dark minimalist interior design that focuses all attention on the artfully composed, gorgeously plated entrees. The Japanese notion that the beauty and pleasure of food can be lost if it is served with neglect or disrespect is honored here. That extends to servers who can suggest a framework for eight diners who want to share. Our vivacious waitress, a Tokyo transplant, was especially helpful with Sen’s impressive collection of sakes and deliciously bitter Japanese beers. I’d go again in a snap but only for dinner. The nighttime view of the Las Vegas skyline is breathtaking.
707 Carson St., Las Vegas; 1-702-534-1515; www.eatdtlv.com
The north end of Fremont Street, Vegas’ old-time glitter gulch, is seeing new signs of life and the first green shoots of gentrification. There’s a nostalgic array of World War II-era signs in the shape of martini glasses and high-heeled shoes. Some hipsterish breakfast and lunch kitchens have made a beachhead. The most inviting is the industrial-upscale gloss of Eat, a breakfast and sandwich bistro near the venerable El Cortez.
Eat’s $7 to $13 entrees will leave you full and happy. This is unpretentious, comforting food — oatmeal, grilled cheese, eggs Benedict or eggs served with red and green chili. The lovingly prepared BLTs with thick-cut bacon slabs and arugula salads are honest home cooking elevated a notch or three. You don’t want your eye-opener to be overly intricate. You’re probably hungover anyway.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186