One of the things I’ve always admired about certain restaurateurs is their ability to abandon a concept that isn’t working, and replace it with one that will. Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You springs to mind. He’s done it in Chicago many times, and he’s done it here as well, replacing Café Ba Ba Reeba, a decent Spanish restaurant that had no currency on the Strip, with the less accomplished, more successful El Segundo Sol.
Now, one of the icons of Japanese cooking in this country, Masa Takayama, has done it here, replacing his Shaboo concept, a shabu-shabu restaurant inside his Bar Masa, with a teppan-yaki joint. Where Shaboo was prohibitively expensive, Tetsu, his new concept, is affordable, providing you stay away from his $60 o-toro with caviar appetizer, or Blue lobster, which will set you back something like $110.
You all know what teppan-yaki is. It’s a Japanese import, but it isn’t traditional Japanese cooking either, but rather an art form that evolved in the early twentieth century in Tokyo when newly prosperous Japan started eating more protein and farming better cattle.
Don’t look for any of that flamboyant slicing and dicing here, although the chefs have been instructed to use two knives when chopping, scooping and serving. Sit at the black granite counter, at a grill meant for four, six, eight, or one larger seating area toward the back of the room. Soaring stainless hoods will draw off the steam from the flat top metal grill where most of your food is cooked. This is a strikingly designed place as is the main dining room, with its airplane hangar vastness.
You can eat sushi here that is quite reasonably priced. I had three pieces of fluke for $15, a bargain at this place. But I wouldn’t start that way. Do like the Japanese do and start with sashimi, then save sushi for after your teppan course.
I was invited by the restaurant, and couldn’t resist ordering Masa’ signature dish, o-toro with caviar ($60.) As across the room, this is probably the most delicious dish here, but I realize two people can eat themselves silly at Goyemon for the same price. I also tried a dish called sizzling jalapeno octopus for $13, and found it amazing. The flesh is soft with the scent of the peppers tickling your nostrils gently, sweet, profoundly delicious stuff.
As to the teppan show, it was understated. The server talked me into the Blue lobster, and it was a good suggestion, the meat removed from the shell and amplified with chard and garlic. The beef was Australian Wagyu, six ounces for $66, which we had with four sides, shallots, a pusillanimous but very tasty portion, corn on the cob, eggplant, served in that maddeningly diced Japanese way, and Wagyu fried rice, made with tiny cubes of too rich beef.
The chef did the lobster as a first course, and then laid the other stuff on us all at once. Dessert was a refreshing grapefruit granita, which may have been the best course other than the o-toro. The food here is excellent, and it is possible to eat here more modestly. Two young tourists shared our teppan table, and got out cheap, ordering Jidori chicken, sweet corn, asparagus and vegetable fried rice, items which add up to only $39. I think, though, that they may have left hungry.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meat at Tetsu, and the restaurant is bound to do much better than its predecessor. But is it five times as good as Benihana of Tokyo, considering the price? Well, it’s like they say. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
Inside Aria Las Vegas. 598-7000.
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