Spicy Tuna Sushi

We figured we’d have to wait to get into Spicy Tuna Sushi early on a recent weeknight. As it turned out, we figured wrong. There was no wait at all, and I’m mystified as to why that was the case.

Because of the window treatments, it’s difficult to tell from the outside how many people are on the inside of Spicy Tuna, which was one reason for our surprise revelation. But the odds for a crowd were good. It’s wedged between a Kmart and a Trader Joe’s in a strip shopping center — which ought to bode well for foot traffic, right? — and at least a few other fusion-sushi joints on that stretch of Eastern Avenue seem to be packing them in.

Service wasn’t the reason. We were greeted warmly as we walked in the door — as was everyone who entered, regulars and strangers alike — and two servers repeatedly popped up to see if we were ready to order, to see if we needed anything, to offer refills, etc.

It’s not the decor. It’s decorated simply but comfortably enough, with a big U-shaped sushi bar as the anchor and booths and tables and chairs clustered around.

It’s not the quality of the food. While we liked some dishes better than others, the quality was consistent and consistently good: fresh fish with no nasty aftertaste, fresh crunchy vegetables, all as it should be.

And it’s definitely not the creativity of the menu. While fusion sushi has been around long enough and in sufficiently ample supply that many of the menus are starting to sound alike (there apparently are a lot of ex-girlfriends out there, for example), we found Spicy Tuna’s menu to be a pretty good balance of the familiar and the innovative.

The spicy tuna roll ($5.99) was obviously firmly in the former camp, but how could we not try the spicy tuna roll at a place called Spicy Tuna? And it was a good thing this one wasn’t brought first, because it was by far the weakest link. It was pretty old-school, as we expected, but the spicy tuna wasn’t very spicy and there wasn’t anything — in terms of garnish or topping or whatever else — to give it the signature status it should have by virtue of the name.

Then again …

We were brought a dish of hot, salty edamame — complimentary, which used to be the norm but isn’t so much anymore. They were great, but we were intrigued by the garlic-butter edamame ($4.25) on the menu, because it seemed like such a good — and obvious — idea. They were spectacular, hot and very garlicky and so buttery that it was worth sucking on the pods before discarding them.

Bacon maki ($7.95) was our other appetizer, pretty firmly in the classic camp, but quite nicely executed. Offered a choice of shrimp or scallops, we chose the scallops and found a great contrast between their sweet succulence and the crisp richness of the bacon.

The SJW Special ($9.95) was an example of a simple, effective combination, and one we hadn’t encountered before. Thinly sliced raw tuna had been fanned out on a plate and topped with a mound of slightly caramelized pan-fried onions, for contrasts in temperature as well as texture and flavor, and a nice interplay between onion and tuna.

We have had dishes similar to the Monkey Special ($10.99), but not executed as well. For some reason, this one hasn’t become ubiquitous; we guess the components may scare some people off. At any rate, it was deep-fried banana (nice and crisp-coated, sweet and yielding within) against the austerity of fresh tuna and the opulence of crab, plus some syrupy eel sauce.

Somehow we couldn’t bypass the Screaming Orgasm ($8.95 for a small, which we had, or $14.95 for a large). It’s a fusion classic, and while I can’t quote any other menu descriptions, this one was mildly amusing: "sliced seared tuna on a bed of radishes with" — wait for it — "orgasm sauce." No, I don’t know what’s in that and assure you that I most definitely don’t want to go there, but a good rendition is necessary for the success of this dish, and this was indeed a good one. The combination of flavors is staggering (hence the name), and has to be experienced to be appreciated (and I’m getting out of this now before I get into trouble).

Ah! The Dr. George Special ($12.99), which maybe sounds a little clinical but is in realty asparagus tempura and spicy yellowtail topped with sliced jalapenos and dots of chili — crunchy, hot and spicy.

And, yes, this was a lot of food, but we were sorely tempted by this menu and generally quite pleased with all of it.

Except the Spicy Tuna’s spicy tuna roll. That’s a missed opportunity, fellas. You ought to work on it.

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.

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