Commercial kitchens, even in the stuffiest restaurants, can be hectic places — an exercise in choreographed chaos. They contain an amazing energy, but can also be jarring. So I enjoy the rare instance when I can watch a chef prepare a dish in a more Zen-like state, painstakingly assembling every element in near silence. If you have the cash, you can see this style of cooking at its most extravagant at MGM Grand’s L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. For my money, it’s a lot more affordable to observe the dim sum chefs at China Poblano’s noodle bar.
Or you can order a dessert crepe at at Suzuya Pastries and Crepes. After you place your order, the chef will place a dollop of batter in the center of the round pan and slowly spiral it outward with a squeegee-looking device, smoothing it as she progresses. When the time is right, she’ll gently lift it by hand to flip it over and cook the other side. The simple process is conducted so thoughtfully and carefully that by the time the perfect crepe is complete, you almost hate to soil it with ice cream, fruit, Nutella or chocolate sauce. But that, of course, is why you ordered it. Japanese crepes are thicker and spongier than their French counterparts, and perfect for desserts.
Suzuya is a tiny establishment run by the husband-and-wife team of Misuzu and Mike Plourde. She previously worked at Aria, while he’s a veteran of Wynn Las Vegas. It’s modestly decorated with illustrations for the Betty Crocker Cookbook, and only seats six people. In addition to crepes, they offer various Japanese baked goods. There’s also a nice selection of Japanese soft drinks and iced teas. (I recently sampled a Misuya Cider, a mild carbonated beverage similar to lemon-lime soda.)
The crepes start with five basic combinations ($4.50). Three — strawberry and whipped cream; banana, chocolate and whipped cream; and blueberry and cream cheese — are served cold. The other two — Nutella and almond; and apricot and custard — are warm. Additional toppings such as vanilla or green-tea ice cream, custard, roasted almonds, crunchy chocolate, chocolate sauce, strawberries or bananas can be added for 25-75 cents each.
While the crepes are clearly the main draw, it would be a mistake to ignore the baked goods ($3-$5). The selection changes daily, and mixes traditional American favorites, such as cream puffs, with more exotic choices. I’ve found that even my less adventurous friends enjoy some of the latter, including the silky smooth tofu cheesecake with an apricot glaze, and a green-tea pastry made with alternating layers of hazelnut chocolate cream and green-tea cake, then topped with green-tea powder and crunchy chocolate. I also enjoyed two varieties of the Italian pastry mont blanc (one made with the sweet Japanese squash kabocha), but a friend found the texture of the chestnut paste a bit too grainy. The only thing I would completely pass on the next time is coffee jelly — but I’m not a big fan of coffee and Suzuya’s version is extremely strong.
The restaurant has only been open about four months, but the place already has a large following in the local Japanese community. When I visited on Christmas Eve it was packed with Japanese-American families picking up special holiday orders, many of whom spoke to the staff in Japanese. That’s always a good sign in an ethnic restaurant. But with sweets this good, I have a feeling the audience will soon be expanding. Hopefully some of them will take the time to enjoy the show after ordering a crepe.
SUZUYA PASTRIES AND CREPES, 7225 S. Durango Drive, 432-1990. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.