Kyara Japanese Tapas adds new flavor to small-plate genre

When you see a good idea, the smart thing is to run with it.

And tapas are a very good idea. Not a recent idea – it took them a long, long time to catch on in this country – but an awfully good one.

Tapas, as you probably know, have their foundations in the roadhouses of Spain, where thirsty travelers could get a slice of Serrano or a wedge of Manchego to go with their sherry. Over the years, a collection of traditional tapas dishes evolved, but pretty much immediately after the convention made its way to our shores it was expanded and diversified, borrowing from the culinary traditions of a number of cultures.

And so you had tapas restaurants serving not only dishes like Tortilla Espanola – not to mention the time-honored Serrano and Manchego – but also egg rolls and french fries and canelloni. What the dishes had in common was that they were/are small – the small-plates genre grew out of this – and they were served in almost random order as they came out of the kitchen, to be passed around the table and shared.

In Las Vegas, we for a number of years have had some very diverse tapas restaurants, many of which don’t borrow much from the Spanish tradition, and even one that specializes in Thai tapas. Now we have a Japanese translation, at Kyara Japanese Tapas in the Southwest part of the valley. And something that seems kind of ironic? Kyara not only doesn’t serve strictly tapas (that is, if you’re a purist), but they don’t serve strictly Japanese food (ditto). And how do I feel about that? If the food’s good, the service accommodating, the atmosphere pleasant and the prices realistic, then it works for me, and Kyara does.

Here’s an example of something that’s neither purely Japanese nor purely a tapa, but that I loved as a Japanese tapa: cheese tempura ($6.80), chunks of havarti, brie and mozzarella with the crisp and light, almost puffy coating that characterizes good tempura, which was an effective contrast to the texture of the three cheeses that were in themselves a study in contrasts. On the side was a dab of fig jam, just the right amount of sweet to balance the salty richness.

Asparagus in bacon ($2.50) isn’t unusual, but it is unusual to find it executed as deftly as it was here, with crisp bacon wrapped around pencil-thin, crisp-tender asparagus.

Butabara ($2.50) – also known as pork belly – had been cut and crisped in squares that were sinful in their richness.

Poke ($8.80) is something that’s available all around the valley, thanks in large part to our status as the ninth island, but rarely as well as it was executed here. The raw tuna was cut in large cubes, which meant they weren’t lost in the tangle (a veritable jungle, really), of shredded vegetables or the light soy-based sauce with the characteristic and pleasing flavor of sesame oil.

A tuna special ($7.50) had the steak peppered thoroughly and seared lightly before it was sliced into delicate fillets, each topped with a pile of shredded daikon and a slice of jalapeno.

Beef tataki ($9.50) was delicate and tender.

And finally, agedashi tofu in broth ($4.80), the deep-fried tofu maybe not as transcendent as some we’ve had but quite appealing nonetheless, the broth sparked by a whole pepper.

We were tempted by the border-bending appeal of the Maccha Affogato, but had to sacrifice dessert on the altar of the preceding tapas dishes.

Service throughout was basically OK, a little mixed because one of the servers didn’t seem secure with his English (which we could understand fine), prompting his co-workers to step in.

And lastly the atmosphere, which impressed us immediately for its serene and soothing dark woods and neutrals. And though this is a strip-center space, it’s broken up creatively, with segmented spaces that, while large, provide almost a private feel.

Like its menu and its mission, Kyara is a hybrid, and quite an effective one.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.

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