Last week I wrote that “gastropub” has become the most overused and meaningless word in the restaurant industry. A few years ago, I was saying the same thing about tapas. You couldn’t turn your head in 2010 without spotting another establishment offering small plates of all sorts of non-Spanish cuisine, and mislabeling it tapas.
The trend has died down over the past year, but new faux-tapas restaurants still pop up from time to time. The latest is 808 Tapas in the Village Square. If it seems counterintuitive to open a tapas restaurant just a stone’s throw from Firefly’s tremendously popular Summerlin location, have no fear. The sushi and Japanese/Hawaiian fusion cuisine being offered at 808 Tapas bears absolutely no resemblance to Firefly’s Spanish-influenced cooking. And while it can be a bit weird at times, it’s definitely original, and a lot of it is pretty damn good.
808 Tapas is brought to us by the owner of 808 Sushi on South Durango Drive, and the late Island Sushi in Henderson. It occupies a mid-sized space just a few doors down from the Regal Village Square Cinema. There’s seating at a sushi bar in the back, at individual tables along the perimeter of the room, or at a long communal table that runs down the center.
The large, diverse menu is heavy on cooked and raw seafood dishes. But there are also various skewered meats, wagyu sliders and even chicken wings. The sushi menu is packed with the type of specialty rolls that purists like me abhor, but which Americans seem to love, including such abominations as a deep-fried California roll and one made with salmon, avocado and cream cheese. This being a “tapas” restaurant, the vast majority of dishes are small and meant to be shared. Nothing is priced over $10, and most items run $4-$7.
The bar features nine types of beer from seven countries. A dozen wines are available by the bottle, starting around $25, but only sparkling wine is offered by the glass. The sake list leans toward the specialty varieties casual drinkers seem to prefer, and there’s a large selection of “saketinis” and other sake cocktails. But you can still get some premium sakes by the bottle at a reasonable price.
At our server’s suggestion, my wife and I began our meal with something called a crab stack ($10). The large, colorful tower has layers of snow crab, avocado, diced tomato, red onion, cilantro and mango, and is sprinkled with pea sprouts and “red caviar” (tobiko), and is mixed at your table like steak tartare. While the chef seemed to go a little light on the crab meat, it was a great combination of flavors. We accompanied that course with a pair of tensai shooters ($3 each): small tasty mixtures of yellowtail, truffle ponzu, pea sprouts, avocado, tobiko and jalapeno served in shot glasses. For our last cold dish, we took another recommendation from our waitress and ordered the lomi lomi salmon caprese: three small slices of mozzarella cheese topped with tomatoes, onions, diced salmon and balsamic reduction ($6). While they weren’t bad, it felt like the chef was trying too hard to be “original.”
I was tempted by a pair of intriguing sea urchin dishes, uni tempura ($10) and uni pasta ($10), but I was also a little concerned. While quality uni is available year round to chefs who take the time to properly source it, the stuff you find at most mid-priced sushi restaurants is generally best in late fall and winter, and at its worst during summer months. Rather than take a chance, I asked my helpful waitress if she could provide me with a small sample from the sushi bar, which she did free of charge. Unfortunately, it had the overly-briny summer taste I feared, so I passed on the urchin dishes.
To finish our meal, we ordered a skewer of pork belly ($4.50) and two small skewers of mantaiko (marinated pollock roe) wrapped in bacon ($6). While the cut of pork left something to be desired, they were both perfectly seasoned and well-prepared.
808 Tapas may not be a real tapas restaurant, but it’s original. And while some of the fusion items can feel a little forced, the menu is large, and if you take the time to explore it, you’ll definitely find some winners.
808 Tapas, 9350 W, Sahara Ave., 485-3433. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.