Is udon the new ramen? Maybe, if Henry Fan has a say. His new restaurant, Cafe Sanuki, makes magic of nothing more than wheat flour, water and a dash of salt.
Udon is common in Japanese soups, stir-fries and curries. But at Cafe Sanuki it’s elevated into the realm of the sublime, squared-off and pencil-thick, bouncy and springy with a clean flavor and a chewy quality that shames their eggy Italian counterpart.
The restaurant’s dedication to perfection is most evident in its Kamaage Udon ($6.95). Twenty-nine-inch long noodles are taken straight from the pot and served with some of the water in a large, traditional bowl made of wooden staves. The water keeps the noodles piping hot and makes it easy to focus on the quality while fishing one out to eat plain or dip into the accompanying kamaage sauce, a more concentrated version of dashi, flavored with dried fish and kelp flakes.
Another traditional dish is Kake Udon ($5.55). Kake broth is a variation on dashi, with soy, mirin, bits of scallion and slices of red-and-white kamaboko (fish cake), for subtle flavor notes. Like an ocean mist, it has an ethereal quality that shines the spotlight clearly on the clean, wheaty flavor of the udon.
But Fan and his restaurant aren’t restrained by tradition. Carbonara udon ($8.80) riffs on the Italian classic with fresh Parmesan, though in this case the pork bits and creamy sauce have been infused with miso. It’s an unorthodox coupling that works beautifully.
The border-bending wasn’t as blatant in the House Special Udon ($8.80), although it did resemble a Bolognese. Minced pork is prepped in a feisty mixture of six sauces and two types of chilies for a mild kick, the meaty sauce and crown of cilantro, carrots, scallions and toasted sesame seeds balancing the flavor and texture of the udon without overwhelming it.
The menu also has a few rice dishes, some by-the-piece tempura (a stalk of asparagus was a crispy delight, though a slice of sweet potato, $1.25 each, was a little oily) and hand rolls. Pork belly bao ($3) were oversized both in proportion and flavor, the warm, pliant dough folded around chewy strips of fat-rich meat in a gingery sauce and topped by cabbage slaw marinated in a miso vinaigrette.
At Cafe Sanuki (the name refers to the region where udon is a specialty), it’s easy to feel like you’re in an udon house in Japan, with plastic model depictions of food at the entrance, a cafeteria-style line, Japanese pop music and wood-paneled walls with Japanese objects and books.
It all began in 2016, when owner Henry Fan — who owns a printing business and sees this restaurant as his “passion project” — had a transcendent noodle nibbling experience in Hawaii. He spotted a line outside a restaurant and soon was slurping udon that was “fast, inexpensive, delicious and high-quality.” Just what Las Vegas needs, he thought.
“I didn’t really like it when I had it here,” he said. “Most restaurants probably used frozen udon and soy sauce with water” for the broth. “I was blown away by how tasty the broth was, and the texture of the udon.”
Fan spent a year in Japan and $40,000 to $50,000 on specialized machinery (which he says ensures consistency in thickness and width for even cooking) to create the perfect udon. He imports all of his ingredients from Japan, got the blessing of udon masters before opening his restaurant and periodically flies them over to check on him.
It’s a blessing for Las Vegas udon lovers that Cafe Sanuki is here.
If you go
■ Cafe Sanuki, 4821 Spring Mountain Road; 702-331-9860
■ The essence: Simple udon noodles elevated to high art.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella onTwitter.
Cafe Sanuki, 4821 Spring Mountain Road; 702-331-9860
The essence: Simple udon noodles elevated to high art.