Sunday, February 8, 2009

More Sushi in Sin City

It’s no secret that Sin City is in a constant state of flux. It seems that every year or two, a new hotel redefines the skyline, a renamed strip club appears in Private Dancer magazine’s Las Vegas directory, and, of course, another sushi bar announces its arrival.

These days, it seems the new restaurants spring open inside the hotels themselves, right in the middle of its smoky gambling halls, where you simply walk right up (hence the lack of walls or doors). The only major hassles, it seems, are parking your car and then locating the darn place through the dizzying maze of a casino.

Social House at the Treasure Island hotel and casino is one such example. The bar and dark lounge-like appearance of this chic eatery make it blend right into its surroundings, and its name seems odd at first until you find that the subheading “Sushi, Sake, Socialize” explains their intent quite simply.

I found out about this hip dining spot in the city's What’s On magazine, which touted the restaurant’s pan-Asian cuisine and talents of executive chef Joseph Elevado. Because I had no Internet access at the time, I couldn’t browse their menu—and so I called and asked the hostess to name off a few of the sushi rolls that “sounded special,” to help me determine whether the place was indeed worth a visit.

“We have the spicy tuna roll, the samon avocado roll...” she droned. I dismissed both—“Those are pretty common,” I said. “Do you have any special rolls?”

“We have the Curry Lobster roll,” she piped up, and this hooked me. She said the roll costs $20, another sign the restaurant would be of high caliber—high prices.

I fantasized about that roll for hours, since the place only opened for dinner and that was not until five in the early evening.

When it came time to be seated at long last, the hostess took me into an industrial-sized elevator that led up to the second floor of the restaurant, where the sushi bar and dining hall were located. The ambience reminded me of a tiki-themed spa, complete with giant wooden bird cages suspended from the ceilings as part of the décor.

The Curry Lobster roll was smaller than I had imagined it would be, but the sauce did not disappoint. Being tan rather than brown in color, it was surely meant a marriage with mayonnaise, diluting the overpowering essence of the seasoning with a creamier substance that always seems to pair well with maki. There is a sauce almost identical to this one at Tao inside the Venetian hotel, used on their Shrimp Tempura roll, which made me wonder if there was a transfer of chefs.

A charmingly obsequious chef named Carlos made up for his older, dour-faced counterpart, who refused to think outside the bento box when I asked that two orders of sashimi be made into nigiri instead—this was because I just could not eat that much more, but I still wanted to taste the signature sauces on two more items. Also, I didn’t want an astronomical bill that befit my gastronomical indulgences.

Carlos made it happen—and in fact he added a snappy yellow-beet-sculpture of a butterfly that I thought at first was fashioned from oshinko (pickled radish). Soon the "garlic oil-seared" scallop
(with sun dried tomato, ginger, green onion, garlic dust, Calimansi soy) and "crispy jalapeno" yellowtail (with tempura jalapeno, garlic dust, tiny cilantro, and Calimansi soy) manifested as neat and compact nigiri—not the pricey and plentiful sashimi—on my plate. Social House is also unique in that you can mix and match the sauce with the kind of seafood you want it to be paired with. In a sense, you can choose your sauces and then your fish—or vice versa.

I thought, How could I ever eat raw fish plain or with just soy sauce and wasabi…now that I have been spoiled by all these sauces???

And then I thought, Don’t think, just eat…

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