Photo by Anthony Mair
Las Vegas is probably one of the only cities where sushi bars boast dishes called “Tastes Like My Ex-Girlfriend.” Not that there aren’t temples of authentic and traditional Japanese cuisine here, but we’re also devoted to places that list “Who’s Your Daddy?” on a menu. Some guests just aren’t interested in traditional Japanese nigiri sushi and sashimi, but instead seek creative combinations of raw fish with other flavors, textures and spices.
Which is why Edwin “Eddy” Lee has built himself a following at Spicy Tuna, the intimate restaurant tucked into a strip mall next to Trader Joe’s, at 10345 S. Eastern Ave. in Henderson (722-2424). His unorthodox upbringing as a chef has led to a variety of sushi innovations, which have kept his fans loyal since he opened shop three years ago. And before many of them migrated from the nearby I Love Sushi.
“I worked there a long time,” Lee says. “When I opened this one up, they followed me.”
They also enjoy the creative, energetic personality behind such sushi rolls as the Screaming Orgasm. The chef is in perpetual motion, zipping back and forth behind his sushi bar, zestfully greeting guests while slicing, dicing and rolling up orders.
Playful sushi names aside, it’s the freshness and quality of each roll that counts the most. His spicy tuna mixture, for example, is made in small batches.
“For just a spicy tuna roll, we put mayonnaise and fish egg and green onion and some chili powder and oil and we mix it,” Lee says. “And the bowl will last about an hour.” After that, a new batch is made. “I do it that way because I know some other places [where] they prepare a lot and use it today and tomorrow, and sometimes if it’s slow, maybe even a third day.”
The South Korea native learned the craft of making sushi from a fellow countryman while he was a teppanyaki chef at Hamada of Japan in Louisville. It used to be that training to be a Japanese sushi chef was a long, arduous process that involved taking two years just to learn to make rice, without even getting to touch the fish. Lee’s own education was fast-tracked. His skills were honed at the high-volume I Love Sushi, and he eventually learned how to run his own kitchen.
At Spicy Tuna, he owes some of the creativity to his regulars, who have a hand in creating the menu. Some rolls and dishes are named after those who order them time and time again (see sidebar). “Pretty much everybody on the list I’ve known for at least 10 years,” Lee says.
And these loyalists bring their friends in from out of town, he says. “It’s the way we run the business.” Perhaps having a roll named after you is just another of those privileges of membership everyone’s always talking about.
No. 15, D’s Guys Special
Crunchy soft-shell crab mixture is piled high over a roll of fresh tuna and rice, soaking up a sweet garlic ponzu and eel sauce highlighted by Japanese schichimi seven spice. $13.
No. 31, Jay Special
The nice textural contrast from a crispy rice square and the creamy, spicy tuna that tops it. $10.
No. 36, Kyle Special
It offers a little bit of everything: shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, soft-shell crab, cucumber, tuna, hamachi and salmon, all served with garlic ponzu and eel sauce. $13.45.
No. 50, Screaming Orgasm
Sliced, seared tuna on a bed of daikon with “orgasm” sauce. According to Lee, no one really knows the origins of this dish, but it’s decidedly an only-in-Vegas special. Small $9; large $15.
No. 83, Scot
This hand roll is clean and crisp, filled with big hunks of salmon, tuna and hamachi with the added crunch of fresh broccoli. $8.50.