A co-worker had suggested Kobe Sushi Bistro as a worthy subject for a review. He'd loved the crusted salmon, he said, presenting a takeout menu for my perusal. Looking it over, I saw a lot of Japanese dishes, a list of traditional sushi and a few token "American" entrees.
That was maybe six months or a year ago, the review list being rather long. And it seems things at Kobe Sushi Bistro have changed somewhat in the interim.
A savvy restaurateur knows how to take the measure of his clientele (and potential clientele) and adapt accordingly. The developing Southwest part of the valley, where Kobe is located, found itself a few years ago with lots of residents and few restaurants. Restaurants started coming in rapid succession, but then it seems that the real-estate slowdown stemmed the tide of new housing a bit, skewing the balance and apparently increasing the competition between the restaurants there, with many good ones not as busy as they should be.
Thus it is that Kobe's menu has changed significantly from the one the co-worker brought me. There's now a list of "fusion" sushi -- more on that later -- and also more dishes designed to appeal to the suburbs. Does this reflect confusion, a loss of mission? In Kobe's case, not at all.
The mozzarella chicken ($19.95) sounded like a suburban specialty if ever there were one. It was chicken with asparagus and melted mozzarella, the menu said, and we ordered it more out of curiosity than anything else, expecting something like chicken Parmigiana with asparagus and without the tomato sauce.
I was quite impressed with both the kitchen and management of Kobe Sushi Bistro when I saw what we were served: The chicken breast had been cut into wide strips and sauteed with lots of fresh mushrooms with the firm texture of shiitake or maybe Baby Bella, with just enough cheese in the equation to add a little interest without overwhelming. The Madeira sauce mixed in with the chicken and mushrooms was light in both flavor and texture, subtly complementing the other flavors. This was a dish of ingredients very user-friendly to Middle Americans but put together with a deft Asian touch that served to elevate them considerably.
The mashed potatoes on the side -- a sort of odd choice, considering, and one that seemed, again, a nod to Middle Americans -- were well executed, but still a little odd.
Fusion sushi also is a nod to Middle Americans and a genre that's been rapidly growing across the valley, as in many parts of the country. It generally involves those fish and seafood with which non-Asians are most familiar and therefore most comfortable, as in tuna, salmon, shrimp and crab, combined with innovation and a sense of whimsy (including the de riguer clever and generally not-for-a-family-newspaper names). At Kobe Sushi Bistro, we chose a fusion-sushi combination that we'd seen before and one that we hadn't.
The former would be the Monkey Special ($11.95), which involves the unlikely sounding but actually quite successful combination of banana and crabmeat. In this rendition the banana was cut into short, thin sections and treated as tempura, with each piece topped with a small mound of spicy tuna and one of crab, with a drizzle of eel sauce all around. It was addictively good.
The latter would be the omelet roll ($6.95). In this case a California roll (crabmeat, avocado and cucumber, with rice and nori) had been wrapped in a thin omelet and then sliced. Again, delicious, the richness of the egg improving on the somewhat austere, by today's standards, California roll. And maybe it's not so unusual, but a true fusion of the roll that reportedly was created in its namesake state but now is quite popular in Japan, and a sort of supersizing of the traditional tamago sushi.
Edamame ($4) were a nice way to start, warm and salted in their attractive little two-part dish. Pot stickers ($6.95 for five, $10.95 for 10) were moist nuggets of gingered pork enclosed in crisp-fried won tons that were made even better by the accompanying mound of Asian slaw of daikon, carrot and more, which was crunchy and refreshing.
For dessert, we tried more of the banana tempura, this time with ice cream ($8) (we passed on the toffee crunch pie, made with "health," although it was tempting). The banana sections had been arranged on the plate in a spokelike fashion with alternating slices of orange, and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center. Perfect.
Service throughout was excellent, with dishes presented and cleared promptly and unobtrusively.
As we ate, we soaked in the atmosphere of the restaurant, which was suitably fusionistic, the Asian lanterns mixing seamlessly with elegant arches and accents of stone and wood, and pondered the mixing of cultures, which when done right can be a delight.
At Kobe Sushi Bistro, it's done right.
Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.