A Japanese restaurant in an old 5 &Diner? Talk about a visual non sequitur.
Although the chain still has outlets in other states, its Las Vegas locations are defunct, leaving behind a number (I think there were five at one time) of big silvery white elephants, designed to evoke the former-train-car origins of a vintage ’50s diner but, when the diners moved out, not really conducive to any other style of restaurant. I know of one that, at least temporarily, found a second diner life, but others have been reborn — somewhat awkwardly and in most cases for short duration — as a variety of ethnic restaurants, the one on Stephanie Street especially following the elephant burial mound model.
For some months now it has been Tokyo Boys, whose “fine Japanese dining” subtext on the exterior is more than a little incongruous with all of that stainless steel. Indoors it’s slightly better, with fairly neutral decor except for the stylized shoji-screen panels above what once was the counter and now is a sushi bar. But that “fine dining” is maybe overstepping the bounds of its location and somewhat slow service just a bit, so consider it as applying solely to the food.
Which, I must say, is certainly equal to the term. The gyoza ($4.50) are advertised as housemade, and after trying them I have absolutely no doubt that this is no exaggeration. The five dumplings had been carefully pan-fried in the pot sticker tradition so that they were very well browned on one side (that’s a good thing). The wrappers themselves were almost impossibly delicate and the meat filling very brightly flavored with the punch of ginger and the spark of scallions.
Braised pork belly ($7.50) was more unexpected but no less delicious. The ultratender and very flavorful chunks of pork, which were far more lean than pork belly usually is, were served in their braising liquid and were quite nice as is. But also tucked into the bowl were two soy sauce-marinated hard-cooked eggs, their firm outer surfaces and multilayered interiors an effective counterpoint to the pork.
The sushi variety was the source of some argument at our table. The purist among us was impressed by the variety of classic sushi and sashimi, which included both freshwater and sea eel, amberjack and striped jack, fluke and sea bream, horse mackerel and various other things you don’t find in the fusion places. The fusion-lover, though, found the selection of specialty rolls somewhat limited.
We compromised, after a fashion, with some of the more basic rolls, like the excellent Tiger Roll ($14), amazingly crisp shrimp tempura topped, above the rice, with spicy tuna that was nicely spicy but also almost creamy, and the only slightly less satisfying Banzai ($9), smoked-salmon and cream cheese that got its crunch from being deep-fried.
Service throughout was very pleasant, but seemed exceptionally slow since the restaurant was very quiet.
Tokyo Boys doesn’t reveal a lot about itself on either website or menu, but rumor has it that the chef is a Nobu grad, which might partially explain the miso-marinated black cod on the menu.
It might also explain the “fine dining,” which Nobu certainly is, with the fine-dining prices to match. I’d place Tokyo Boys somewhat below that lofty level, but for Japanese food in suburbia, it’s hard to beat, dining car or not.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.