A Banner Meal

Dining is an exchange of nostalgic ideas at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill

What are the odds that two globetrotting Caucasian brothers from New York City would open the hottest Japanese restaurant in Vegas? Not long, if you consider that while Bruce and Eric Bromberg ate their way around the planet as kids with their foodie dad—ultimately leading to their careers as 17-year partners in the restaurant business—their travels have never taken them to Japan.

Stints at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, jobs in top restaurants here and in Europe, and the launching of Manhattan’s original Blue Ribbon followed in 1992. The menu at the first Blue Ribbon was eclectic French in essence, but also a place where you could get a cup of matzo ball soup, killer fried chicken and other homey American favorites.

Then, one evening, they had the perfect meal a small Manhattan Japanese restaurant, Mishima. This led to an epiphany. They immediately hired the chef, and Blue Ribbon Sushi was born. The company, today with 11 restaurants in total, hasn’t looked back since.

Incredibly, the Japanese food is completely authentic. While the menu shares space with the original-recipe Fried Chicken Blue Ribbon Style, they pull no punches to bring their guests a style of cooking not Westernized in the slightest.

Their Vegas restaurant, in august company on the Cosmopolitan’s third floor, looks much like their Blue Ribbon Sushi restaurants in New York City. The low ceilings, centralized sushi counters, repurposed industrial wood panels, austere lighting and noisy buzz tell you instantly you are in a Big City restaurant, like you might find in Tokyo.

Eric recently moved his family to Vegas to better represent his products. I ate, at his behest, a delicious and beautifully presented raw octopus sashimi, served along with some crunchy, otherworldly looking suction cups, and usuzukuri (meaning “live before slicing”) of the delicate fluke—both an almost perfect rendering.

The quality of the fish here is impeccable, as the Brombergs have spent years cultivating relationships with the best brokers, mostly in Japan. But Eric remains modest. “We couldn’t have done it without Toshi,” he says, referring to his Japanese sous-chef who moved to Vegas to work at the new restaurant. Toshi was the chef who cooked their dinner at Mishima.

Other products are of the highest standard as well. You’ll get slow-brewed, intensely flavored soy sauce here, and instead of the pasty wasabi served in lesser sushi bars, a grated green horseradish from roots grown in Oregon—it’s the real McCoy.

For starters, try chawan mushi, a fragile custard stocked with chicken and seafood; yaki hama, baked clams in a miso butter broth; or popular inventions such as beef marrow with sea salt and shaved bonito flakes, an essential ingredient in any Japanese dashi, or soup stock.

One of the best salads is hijiki and mache, drizzled with sesame oil vinaigrette and topped with a flurry of cut carrots. After your entrée, you’ll want to indulge in excellent Atlantic seafood, done in the form of nigiri sushi, on top of clumps of vinegared rice. Maguro (tuna), unagi (freshwater eel) and saba (mackerel) are three compelling choices.

The entrée, though, almost has to be the Blue Ribbon fried chicken, which will be on almost every table in the house. It comes in disjointed whole pieces, with a spicy, crunchy crust and a honey dipping sauce. Unfortunately, though, you’ll have to hit the original Blue Ribbon for the matzo ball soup.