Small Plates, Big Flavors

Discover creative, elegant Japanese tapas at Kyara

What we all know today as tapas are said to have originated in San Sebastián, the Basque capital of modern Spain. But the Japanese can make an argument for themselves as well, since they’ve been eating dozens of small plates with beer and sake for centuries.

Kyara Japanese Tapas isn’t the first such restaurant in Vegas. We’ve already got sakaba, sake pubs serving food, such as the down-market Ichiza and the more formal and widely celebrated Raku. But Kyara is the first one here, I think, that totally nails the concept. It’s elegant, inexpensive and creative. Neither of the ones mentioned can claim that.

All credit to chef Yasuo Komada, who also has Naked Fish’s Sushi & Grill (3945 S. Durango Drive, Suite A-6, 228-8856). That’s him turning skewers on Kyara’s tiny hibachi shielded by a glass wall behind the counter, where about a dozen of the faithful sit on wooden stools, the better to watch these chefs work their magic.

This is a small place, with a rabbit warren of semi-private rooms that are fronted by white birch slats. Tables are lacquered to a high gloss, and there are tiny white stones (hashi-oki in Japanese) on which to rest one’s wooden chopsticks, so as not to make contact with the table.

I hate to beat a dead horse, but one shouldn’t come here for sushi. Yes, the chef does have hand rolls such as spicy tuna roll on request, but that is beside the point. The menu runs to deep-fried, steamed, stir-fried, simmered and skewered items. The majority of dishes are less than $5; you can eat yourself sick for $30.

Yamakake, grated mountain potato served in a hot iron plate framed by a wooden platter, is astonishingly delicious. So is agedashi tofu, a form of deep-fried tofu in dashi, Japanese broth, and jidori tori kara, a basket of boneless hunks of delicately fried chicken.

Niku jaga, a lissome Japanese stew composed of sukiyaki beef, hunks of potato and carrot, is a revelation. My guests ordered two extra.

This is the season for ayu, a small fish in the trout family, done salt-broiled. It’s served whole, head on, bones and all. Another aquatic creature to try is the smelt, again eaten whole, from the deep fryer.

One of the most exotic items on the menu is same nankotsu, soft shark cartilage, served on thin slices of fresh cucumber. If you’re curious—but not enough so to give it a whirl—I can tell you it’s more of a textural experience, the flavor being mild and slightly fishy.

Skewers, one to an order, typically contain three or four pieces that have been grilled over charcoal on the hibachi. Just a few choices I’d recommend include asparagus bacon, chicken skin, beef tongue and tsukune, soy-glazed chicken meatballs made from thigh meat.

As in Japan, beer, wine and sake flow like a mountain stream here. I prefer a frosty glass of Asahi Dry. My wife likes it hot—sake, that is. If you have a sweet tooth, the creamy, soft, sweet tofu will rock your world. I love the chef’s chocolate fondant, a hefty bowlful served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

So why aren’t there more of these places? Says bilingual consultant Martin Koleff, “The chefs have to feel secure these places will work in Vegas. That’s why, so far, most local Japanese restaurants do sushi.”

Kyara Japanese Tapas may turn out to be a true game-changer.

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